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William Camden
William Camden by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger.jpg
William Camden
Born 2 May 1551
London, England
Died 9 November 1623(1623-11-09)
Chislehurst, England
Occupation Antiquarian, historian, topographer
Nationality English

William Camden (2 May 1551 in London – 9 November 1623 in Chislehurst) was an English antiquarian, historian, topographer, and herald, best known as author of Britannia, the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Annales, the first detailed historical account of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

Early years

Camden was born in London. His father Sampson Camden was a member of The Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers. He attended Christ's Hospital and St Paul's School, and in 1566 entered Oxford (Magdalen College, Broadgates Hall, and finally Christ Church). At Christ Church, he became acquainted with Philip Sidney, who encouraged Camden's antiquarian interests. He returned to London in 1571 without a degree. In 1575, he became Usher of Westminster School, a position that gave him the freedom to travel and pursue his antiquarian researches during school vacations.


In 1577, with the encouragement of Abraham Ortelius, Camden began his great work Britannia, a topographical and historical survey of all of Great Britain and Ireland. His stated intention was "to restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britaine to its antiquity." The first edition was published in 1586. The work, which was written in Latin, was very popular, going into seven editions by 1607, each considerably enlarged from its predecessor. The 1607 edition included for the first time a full set of English county maps, based on the surveys of Christopher Saxton and John Norden, and engraved by William Kip and William Hole (who also engraved the fine title page). The first English language edition, again expanded, translated by Philemon Holland (probably in collaboration with Camden), appeared in 1610.

Britannia is a county-by-county description of Great Britain and Ireland. It is a work of chorography: a study that relates landscape, geography, antiquarianism, and history. Rather than write a history, Camden wanted to describe in detail the Great Britain of the present, and to show how the traces of the past could be discerned in the existing landscape. By this method, he produced the first coherent picture of Roman Britain.

Camden as Clarenceux King of Arms in the funeral procession of Elizabeth I, 1603.

He continued to collect materials and to revise and expand Britannia throughout his life. He drew on the published and unpublished work of John Leland and William Lambarde, among others, and received the assistance of a large network of correspondents with similar interests. He also travelled throughout Great Britain to view documents, sites, and artefacts for himself: he is known to have visited East Anglia in 1578, Yorkshire and Lancashire in 1582, Devon in 1589, Wales in 1590, Salisbury, Wells and Oxford in 1596, and Carlisle and Hadrian's Wall in 1599.[1] His fieldwork and firsthand research set new standards for the time. He even learned Welsh and Old English for the task. (Camden's tutor in Old English was Laurence Nowell.) The resulting work is one of the great achievements of sixteenth century scholarship.

In 1593 Camden became headmaster of Westminster School. He held the post for four years, but left when he was appointed Clarenceux King of Arms. By this time, he was a well-known and revered figure, and the appointment was meant to free him from the labour of teaching and to facilitate his research. The College of Arms at that time was not only a centre of genealogical and heraldic study, but a centre of antiquarian study as well. The appointment, however, roused the jealousy of the herald Ralph Brooke, who, in retaliation, published an attack on Britannia, charging Camden with inaccuracy and plagiarism. Camden successfully defended himself against the charges in subsequent editions of the work.

The Britannia continued to be published in editions in 1610, and frequently until the 1670s.[2]


Frontispiece from a 1675 edition of the Annales

In 1597, Lord Burghley suggested that Camden write a history of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The degree of Burghley's influence on the work is unclear, though; Camden only specifically mentions Sir John Fortescue, Elizabeth's last Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Henry Cuffe, the Earl of Essex's secretary, as sources.[3] Camden began his work in 1607. The first part of the Annales Rerum Gestarum Angliae et Hiberniae Regnate Elizabetha, covering the reign up to 1597, appeared in 1615. The second part was completed in 1617, but was not published until 1625 (Leiden), and 1627 (London), following Camden's death. The first translation into English appeared in 1625.[4]

The Annales were not written in a continuous narrative, but in the style of earlier annals, giving the events of each year in a separate entry. Sometimes criticised as being too favourably disposed towards Elizabeth and James I, the Annales are one of the great works of English historiography and had a great impact on the later image of the Elizabethan age. Hugh Trevor-Roper said about them: "It is thanks to Camden that we ascribe to Queen Elizabeth a consistent policy of via media rather than an inconsequent series of unresolved conflicts and paralysed indecisions."[4]

Remaines Concerning Britain

Camden's Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine was a collection of themed historical essays, conceived as a more popular companion to Britannia. This was the only book Camden wrote in English, and, contrary to his own misleading description of it in the first edition (1605) as being merely the "rude rubble and out-cast rubbish" of a greater and more serious work [Britannia], manuscript evidence clearly indicates that he planned this book early on and as a quite separate project. Remaines subsequently ran into many editions. The most authoritative modern edition, edited by R.D. Dunn, is based on the surviving manuscript material and the three editions published in Camden's lifetime (1605, 1614, and 1623).[5] Editions published after 1623 are unreliable and contain unauthentic material, especially the bowdlerized edition of 1636 by John Philipot. Thomas Moule's edition of 1870 (of which many copies survive) is based on the 1674 edition of Philipot's.

Camden's Remaines is often the earliest or sole usage cited for a word in the Oxford English Dictionary; and further significant early usages (including new words and antedatings) have since been identified.[6] Remaines also contains the first-ever alphabetical list of English proverbs, since heavily exploited by the editors of the principal modern dictionaries of proverbs (including those of Burton Stevenson (1949), M.P. Tilley (1950) and the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, edited by F. P. Wilson (1970)). Scattered through the book are a number of additional proverbs not recorded elsewhere.[7]

Reges, reginae

In 1600 Camden published, anonymously, Reges, reginae, nobiles et alii in ecclesia collegiata B. Petri Westmonasterii sepulti, a guidebook to the many tomb monuments and epitaphs of Westminster Abbey. Although slight, this was a highly innovative work, predating John Weever's Ancient Funerall Monuments by over thirty years. It proved popular with the public, and two expanded editions appeared in 1603 and in 1606.

Other writings

Among Camden's other works were the Institutio Graecae grammatices compendiaria in usum regiae scholae Westmonasteriensis (1595), a Greek grammar which remained a standard school textbook for over a century; Actio in Henricum Garnetum, Societatis Jesuiticae in Anglia superiorem (1607), a Latin translation of the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters, aimed at an international readership; an unpublished essay on printing;[8] and a number of Latin poems.[9]

Final years

In 1609 Camden moved to Chislehurst in Kent, now south-east London. Though often in ill health, he continued to work diligently. In 1622 he founded an endowed lectureship in History at Oxford – the first in the world – which continues to this day as the Camden Chair in Ancient History. That same year he was struck with paralysis. He died in Chislehurst on 9 November 1623, and was buried at Westminster Abbey, where his monument, incorporating a demi-figure of Camden holding a copy of the Britannia, can still be seen in the south transept.

Camden left his library to his closest friend, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton. His circle of friends and acquaintances included Lord Burghley, Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, John Stow, John Dee, Jacques de Thou and Ben Jonson, who was Camden's student at Westminster and who dedicated an early edition of Every Man in His Humour to him.

See also


  1. ^ Dates of excursions based on DeMolen 1984, p. 328; the date of the northern trip corrected from 1600 to 1599 based on Hepple 1999.
  2. ^ Camden, William, and Philemon Holland. 1637. Britain, or A chorographicall description of the most flourishing kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the islands adjoyning, out of the depth of antiquitie beautified vvith mappes of the severall shires of England: vvritten first in Latine by William Camden Clarenceux K. of A. Translated newly into English by Philémon Holland Doctour in Physick: finally, revised, amended, and enlarged with sundry additions by the said author. London: Printed by F. K[ingston] R. Y[oung] and I. L[egatt] for Andrevv Crooke. OCLC 606545577
  3. ^ Adams pp. 53, 64
  4. ^ a b Kenyon p. 10
  5. ^ Camden, William (1984). Dunn, R.D., ed. Remains Concerning Britain. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2457-2. 
  6. ^ Dunn, R.D. (1986). "Additions to OED from William Camden's Remains 1605, 1614, 1623". Notes and Queries 231 (4): 451–460. 
  7. ^ Dunn, R.D. (1986). "English Proverbs from William Camden's Remains Concerning Britain". Huntington Library Quarterly 49 (3). 
  8. ^ Dunn, R.D., ed. (1986). "Fragment of an Unpublished Essay on Printing by William Camden". British Library Journal 12: 145–9. 
  9. ^ Johnston, George Burke, ed. (1975). "Poems by William Camden: with notes and translations from the Latin". Studies in Philology 72 (5): 1–143.  OCLC 6478930


  • Adams, Simon (2002). Leicester and the Court: Essays on Elizabethan Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719053242. 
  • Boon, G.C. (1987). "Camden and the Britannia". Archaeologia Cambrensis 136: 1–19. 
  • Collinson, Patrick (1998). "One of us? William Camden and the making of history". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 6th ser. 8: 139–63. doi:10.2307/3679292. 
  • Copley, Gordon J. (1977). "Introduction". Camden's Britannia: Surrey and Sussex. London: Hutchinson & Co. ISBN 0091220009. 
  • DeMolen, R.L. (1984). "The Library of William Camden". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 128: 326–409. 
  • Hepple, Leslie W. (1999). "Sir Robert Cotton, Camden’s Britannia, and the early history of Roman Wall studies". Archaeologia Aeliana. 5th ser. 27: 1–19. 
  • Herendeen, Wyman H. (2007). William Camden: a life in context. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843831266. 
  • Jones, H. Stuart (1943). "The Foundation and History of the Camden Chair" (PDF). Oxoniensa 8–9: 169–92. 
  • Kenyon, John (1983). The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-78254-1. 
  • Kunst, Christiane (1995). "William Camden’s Britannia: history and historiography". In Crawford, M.H.; Ligota, C.R. Ancient History and the Antiquarian: essays in memory of Arnaldo Momigliano. Warburg Institute Colloquia 2. London: Warburg Institute. pp. 117–31. ISBN 0854810951. 
  • Levy, F.J. (1964). "The Making of Camden’s Britannia". Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance 26: 70–97. 
  • Levy, F.J. (1967). Tudor Historical Thought. San Marino: Huntington Library. 
  • Parry, Graham (1995). The Trophies of Time: English antiquarians of the seventeenth century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198129629. 
  • Piggott, Stuart (1976). "William Camden and the Britannia". Ruins in a Landscape: essays in antiquarianism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 33–53. ISBN 0852243030. 
  • Richardson, R.C. (2004). "William Camden and the Re-Discovery of England" (PDF). Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 78: 108–23. 
  • Rockett, William (1995). "The Structural Plan of Camden’s Britannia". Sixteenth Century Journal 26: 829–41. doi:10.2307/2543789. 
  • Trevor-Roper, H.R. (1971). Queen Elizabeth's First Historian: William Camden and the beginnings of English "civil history". London. 
  • Trevor-Roper, H.R. (14 June 1985). "William Camden: Remains Concerning Britain, edited by R.D. Dunn [review]". Times Literary Supplement: 671–2. 
  • Woolf, D.R. (1990). The Idea of History in Early Stuart England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802058620. 

External links

2 Annotations

gerry sheehan  •  Link

William Camden (1551-1623) was an English historian, whose memory is preserved in the name of the Camden Society (founded 1838). Born in London and educated at Oxford University (Pembroke College), Camden became headmaster of Westminster School in 1593. His best-known work is Britannia (1586), a survey of Britain based on his own extensive travels and investigations, written in Latin. In 1597 he became Clarenceux king-at-arms (a heraldic appointment), and in 1615 produced his Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth to 1588. He died at Chislehurst and is buried in Westminster Abbey. He left his books and papers to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.

Bill  •  Link

CAMDEN, WILLIAM (1551-1623). antiquary and historian; educated at Christ's Hospital and (1564-6) at St. Paul's School; servitor (apparently to Thomas Cooper, schoolmaster) at Magdalen College, Oxford, 1566; migrated to Broadgates Hall, and afterwards to Christ Church (perhaps as servitor); asked grace for B.A., 1570; left Oxford, 1571, having been excluded from an All Souls' fellowship by the catholic fellows; began to travel up and down England, probably subsidised by Gabriel Goodman (d. 1601), dean of Westminster, collecting archaeological material; usher of Westminster School, 1575-93; appointed head-master, 1593; continued in vacations, 1578-1600, his personal tours of antiquarian investigation; published 'Britannia,' 1586; asked grace for M.A., June 1588; prebendary of Salisbury (though a layman), 1589-1623; published a Greek grammar, 1597; Clarenceux king-of-arms, 1597-1623; answered in his fifth edition of ' Britannia,' 1600, the criticisms (printed, 1599) of Ralph Brooke (or Brookesmouth); printed the epitaphs in Westminster Abbey, 1600; published certain chronicles (being some of his early collections for the 'Britannia'), 'Anglica ... a veteribus scripta,' Frankfort, 1603, containing in the text of Asser the interpolation about King Alfred's foundations in Oxford, and, 1605, 'Remains concerning Britain'; issued the sixth (greatly enlarged) edition of 'Britannia,' and printed the official account of the Gunpowder plot trials, 1607; named a foundation fellow of Matthew Sutcliffe's projected college at Chelsea, 1610; offered M.A. by Oxford University, 1613; communicated to Thuanus (Jacques Auguste de Thou) his manuscript history of Elizabeth's reign, c. 1607; published 'Annales . . . regnante Elizabetha ... ad annum 1589,' 1615 [the second part was printed posthumously, 1628]; wrote a skeleton life of James I (printed, 1691); founded a chair of history in Oxford University, 1622; memorial verses, 'Camdeni Insignia,' printed after his death by Oxford University, 1624; his correspondence printed by Thomas Smith, 1691.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.