Histone-modifying enzymes are required for cell identity and lineage commitment, however little is known about the regulatory origins of the epigenome during embryonic development. Here we generate a comprehensive set of epigenome reference maps, which we use to determine the extent to which maternal factors shape chromatin state in Xenopus embryos. Using α-amanitin to inhibit zygotic transcription, we find that the majority of H3K4me3- and H3K27me3-enriched regions form a maternally defined epigenetic regulatory space with an underlying logic of hypomethylated islands. This maternal regulatory space extends to a substantial proportion of neurula stage-activated promoters. In contrast, p300 recruitment to distal regulatory regions requires embryonic transcription at most loci. The results show that H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 are part of a regulatory space that exerts an extended maternal control well into post-gastrulation development, and highlight the combinatorial action of maternal and zygotic factors through proximal and distal regulatory sequences.