William Camden (2 May 1551 – 9 November 1623) 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.
1 Early years
4 Remaines Concerning Britain
5 Reges, reginae
6 Other writings
7 Final years
11 External links
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 Britain to his antiquity". The first
edition, written in Latin, was published in 1586. It proved very
popular, and ran through five further editions, of 1587, 1590, 1594,
1600 and 1607, each greatly enlarged from its predecessor in both
textual content and illustrations. The 1607 edition included for
the first time a full set of English county maps, based on the surveys
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, translated by Philemon Holland, appeared in
1610, again with some additional content supplied by Camden.
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.
Clarenceux King of Arms
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. His fieldwork and firsthand
research set new standards for the time. He even learned Welsh and Old
English for the task: his tutor in
Old English was Laurence Nowell.
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, largely because of the Britannia's reputation, 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.
College of Arms
College of Arms at that time was not only a centre of genealogical
and heraldic study, but also a centre of antiquarian study. The
appointment, however, roused the jealousy of Ralph Brooke, York
Herald, 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
Britannia was recognised as an important work of Renaissance
scholarship, not only in England, but across the European "Republic of
Letters". Camden considered having the 1586 Britannia printed in the
Low Countries, and although that did not happen, the third edition of
1590, in addition to its London printing, was also published the same
year in Frankfurt, and reprinted there in 1616. In 1612 parts were
condemned by the Spanish Inquisition. An abridgement was published in
Amsterdam in 1617 and reprinted in 1639; and versions of the text were
also included in Joan Blaeu's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (published in
Amsterdam in 1645) and in Jan Janssonius's Novus Atlas (again
published in Amsterdam, in 1646).
Frontispiece from a 1675 edition of the Annales
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley suggested that Camden write
a history of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The degree of Burghley's
subsequent influence on the work is unclear: Camden only specifically
mentions John Fortescue of Salden, Elizabeth's last Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and Henry Cuffe, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex's
secretary, as sources. Camden began his work in 1607. The first
part (books 1–3) of the Annales rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum
regnante Elizabetha, ad annum salutis M.D. LXXXIX, covering the reign
up to 1588, appeared in 1615. The second part (book 4, covering
1589–1603) was completed in 1617, but was not published until 1625
(Leiden edition), and 1627 (London edition), following Camden's death.
The first translation into English of books 1–3 appeared in 1625,
done by Abraham Darcie or Darcy (active 1625). Book 4 was
translated into English by Thomas Browne, canon of Windsor, in 1629.
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."
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 (i.e. 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 standard 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). 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
Philipot's 1674 edition.
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.
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
F. P. Wilson (1970)).
Scattered through the book are a number of additional proverbs not
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
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
Latin translation of the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters,
aimed at an international readership; an unpublished essay on
printing; and a number of
Camden (by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, 1609)
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
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 ("Poets' Corner").
Camden left his books to his former pupil and friend, Sir Robert
Cotton, the creator of the Cotton library. His circle of friends and
acquaintances included Lord Burghley, Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney,
Edmund Spenser, John Stow, John Dee,
Jacques de Thou
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.
Camden's Britannia remained a standard and highly regarded authority
for many years after his death. A lightly revised edition of Holland's
1610 translation was published in 1637. A new and greatly expanded
translation, edited by Edmund Gibson, was published in 1695, and was
reissued in revised editions in 1722, 1753 and 1772. Yet another new
and further expanded translation by Richard Gough was published in
1789, followed by a second edition in 1806. In an address given
in 1986, marking the original publication's 400th anniversary, George
Boon commented that the work "still fundamentally colours the way in
which we, as antiquaries, look at our country".
The lectureship in History at Oxford endowed by Camden survives as the
Camden Chair in Ancient History. Since 1877 it has been attached to
Brasenose College, and since 1910 has been limited to Roman history.
The Camden Society, a text publication society founded in 1838 to
publish early historical and literary materials, took its name from
Camden. In 1897 it was absorbed into the Royal Historical Society,
which continues to publish texts in what are now known as the Camden
The Cambridge Camden Society, which also took its name from Camden,
was a learned society founded in 1839 by undergraduates at Cambridge
University to promote the study of Gothic architecture. In 1845 it
moved to London, where it became known as the Ecclesiological Society,
and was highly influential in the development of the 19th-century
After Camden's death, his former home at
Chislehurst became known as
Camden Place. In the 18th century, it was acquired by Sir Charles
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and later Lord Chancellor,
who in 1765 was elevated to the peerage with the title Baron Camden,
of Camden Place. In 1786 he was created Earl Camden, and in 1812 his
son became Marquess Camden. The family owned and developed land to the
north of London, and so, by this circuitous route, William Camden's
name survives in the names of
Camden Town and the London Borough of
^ Camden, William (1610). "The Author to the Reader". Britain, or a
Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes,
England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Ilands adjoyning, out of the
depth of Antiquitie. Translated by Holland, Philemon. London.
^ Levy 1964.
^ a b Piggott 1976.
^ Harris 2015.
^ Dates of excursions based on DeMolen 1984, p. 328; the date of the
northern trip corrected from 1600 to 1599 based on Hepple 1999.
^ Harris 2015, pp. 281–3.
^ Adams pp. 53, 64.
^ a b Kenyon p. 10.
^ Camden, William (1984). Dunn, R. D., ed. Remains Concerning Britain.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2457-2.
^ Dunn, R. D. (1986). "Additions to OED from William Camden's Remains
1605, 1614, 1623". Notes and Queries. 231 (4): 451–460.
^ Dunn, R. D. (1986). "English Proverbs from William Camden's Remains
Concerning Britain". Huntington Library Quarterly. 49 (3).
^ Dunn, R. D., ed. (1986). "Fragment of an Unpublished Essay on
Printing by William Camden". British Library Journal. 12:
^ 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.
^ Harris 2015, p. 281.
^ Boon 1987, p. 1.
Adams, Simon (2002). Leicester and the Court: Essays on Elizabethan
Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
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:
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.
Harris, Oliver D. (2015). "William Camden,
Philemon Holland and the
1610 translation of Britannia". Antiquaries Journal. 95: 279–303.
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.
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.
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
Parry, Graham (1995). The Trophies of Time: English antiquarians of
the seventeenth century. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
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
Woolf, D. R. (1990). The Idea of History in Early Stuart England.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802058620.
Find more aboutWilliam Camdenat's sister projects
Media from Wikimedia Commons
Texts from Wikisource
Data from Wikidata
Jokinen, Anniina (2001): "William Camden."
Britannia (1607) with English translation by Philemon Holland.
The full text of Holland's translation of Britannia, on A Vision of
Britain through Time, with links to places mentioned—use the site's
main home page to search for places mentioned by Camden)
Annales (1615 and 1625) with introduction and English translation.
Thomas Smith's Life of Camden (1691) in
Latin and English.
Withers, Charles W. J. "A Vision of Scotland:
Joan Blaeu and the Atlas
"Archival material relating to William Camden". UK National
ISNI: 0000 0001 0909 2667
BNF: cb128187644 (data)