View of London in Civitates Orbis Terrarum


This is a contemporary image of the London in which Shakespeare lived and worked for much of his life. As we can see, it is substantially smaller than contemporary London: at the time, the population was roughly 200,000, compared to over 8.6 million in 2016. Nevertheless, this concentration of people made it susceptible to outbreaks of disease and most famously the ‘Black Death’ of bubonic plague.

London was then navigable chiefly by the River Thames, which brought much of the trade which made the city wealthy. As can be seen in this bird’s-eye view, it was crossed by the medieval structure of London Bridge, which included various buildings and shops across its length, as well as being simply a thoroughfare. At various points in Shakespeare’s life – 1565, 1595, and 1608 – the river froze in winter.

Where does the view appear?

It forms part of an opulent atlas of the world’s cities, the Civitates orbis terrarum, first published in six parts between 1572 and 1617, and printed in this early 17th-century edition (c. 1600–23).

This ambitious collection of 546 engraved views of cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and Mexico was edited by the German Georg Braun and largely engraved by Frans Hogenberg. They relied heavily on first-hand drawings and engravings produced by over a hundred other artists like the Flemish Joris Hoefnagel.

Shakespeare and London

Besides being the location in which much of Shakespeare’s work was written and performed, London also features in the work itself. Shakespeare paints a particularly vivid portrait of the city’s varied social life in Henry IV Parts I and II. Chiefly in the scenes around Falstaff, we see the ‘low’ life of the brothels and taverns, in contrast to the more restrained and upper-class life of the court. It is perhaps more this section of society that we see in the foreground illustration of the map.

Full title:
Civitates Orbis Terrarum
c. 1600–23?, Cologne
Map / View / Engraving / Illustration / Image
Georg Braun, Frans Hogenberg, Joris Hoefnagel
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Maps C.29.e.1.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Recording cities in print

Article by:
James Elliot
Town and city

James Elliot traces the early development of the printed topographical view.

Braun & Hogenberg and after: the town plans of the 17th century

Article by:
James Elliot
Town and city

James Elliot explores the influence of Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg's seminal atlas, the Civitates Orbis Terrarum, on 17th-century map-making.

An introduction to the poetry of Aemilia Lanyer

Article by:
Christina Luckyj
Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Poetry, Renaissance writers

Aemilia Lanyer was one of the first Englishwomen to publish a volume of original verse. Christina Luckyj analyses her long religious poem Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, the bittersweet ode 'The Description of Cooke-ham' and the ways in which Lanyer presents herself as a poet.

Related collection items