Wenceslas (or Wenzel) Hollar was born on 13th July, 1607 in Prague in the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The Sack of Prague in the Thirty Years’ War ruined the Hollar family and the young Hollar, destined for the law, determined to become an artist.
Some of his earliest works are dated 1625 and 1626. One of them is a copy of a ‘Virgin and Child’ by Dürer, whose influence upon Hollar’s work was always great. In 1627 he moved to the region around Stuttgart; before moving to Straßburg, and then, in 1633, to Cologne.
In 1637 he returned with him to England where he remained in the Earl’s household for many years.
He continued to produce works prolifically throughout the English Civil War, but it adversely affected his income. His income fell further as publishers continued to decline his work, and the Royal Court did not purchase his works following the Restoration.
After the Great Fire of London he produced some of his famous ‘Views of London’ and it may have been the success of these plates which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts.
He lived eight years after his return, still working for the booksellers, and continuing to produce well-regarded works of heraldry and ‘natural’ subjects, and included a large plate of Edinburgh dated 1670.
The maps themselves are fairly basic in their format, indicating mainly the division of the counties into ‘hundreds’
The ‘hundred’ in it’s simplest form is an area of sufficient size and population to provide the Lord of the Manor with one hundred men and boys fit and able to undertake military service.
It could therefore come about that large chunks of land, formed of numerous ‘hundreds’, could belong to just one individual.
Fate, favour and personal ambition could, and did, interfere with the official line and although private armies and armed citizens were not countenanced there was little that could be done to prevent their formation or upkeep.
The Cooke maps were later re-used in 1824 by George Carrington Gray in his ‘New Book of Roads’, which could be purchased with or without the county maps.