Humphrey Llwyd

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Humphrey Llwyd map of Wales

Llwyd’s map © National Library of Wales

Up until the age of GPS, humans relied on maps to navigate the world. Some, like me, still do!

The people who journeyed to record the intricate and sometimes previously unvisited places to make it easier for us to understand how the landscape looks left a huge legacy to us. It wasn’t always as we know it today but is that surprising given he tools they had at their disposal?

Ptolemy, Muhammed Al-Idrisi, Mercator and Abraham Ortelius are just a few of the cartographers who have had tremendous influence on the way we consider our landscapes.

There is another name that should be considered but which is forgotten by many today. The person who contributed the map of England and Wales to Ortelius’s atlas was Humphrey Llwyd.

A Welshman, in 1567, he was paid by the government in London to create the first published map of Wales. His Cambriae Typus was published after his death in 1568 but his original map has disappeared. All we have left is the published version, the original of which is in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. As to its accuracy, the Gower peninsular is no peninsular but merges into the main body of the land. It is the names that he uses that remind people that places known from the middle ages still remain as names in his time.

His fascinating map shows that he considered Wales included parts of what is now England such as Hereford, Leominster and Ludlow

In commemoration of his death 450 years ago, the library is mounting an exhibition about Llwyd which opens tomorrow. It shows some of his works and explains his many achievements which, apart from the map, include helping to steer the Bill for the translation of the Bible into Welsh through Parliament, fostering the idea of Wales as a nation, popularising the story of Prince Madoc’s discovery of America and coining the phrase British Empire.

Lest readers think that his legacy only applies to Wales, he also indirectly helped to create one of the core collections of the British Library, the Royal Collection, through his work collecting books for his patron the Earl of Arundel.

The exhibition only runs until the end of the month, a very short time considering that his map was the main source for travellers for over a century.

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