*Camden, William


William Camden (1609) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. National Portrait Gallery.

William Camden (1609) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. National Portrait Gallery.

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William Camden

“Camden! the nurse of antiquity,
And lantern unto late succeeding age.”
—Spenser

Scholar, historian and antiquary, William Camden was born in London on May 2, 1551, son of painter Sampson Camden. He attended both Christ’s Hospital and St. Paul’s School, and then, at Oxford, from Magdalen College to Broadgate’s Hostel, and Christ Church. Camden became second master at Westminster School in 1575, and educated and inspired sharp young minds such as Ben Jonson.

In 1582, Camden travelled throughout England, gathering bits of folklore and teaching himself Welsh and Anglo-Saxon in order to be able to study ancient accounts of Britain. This began for him the long research that would result in his Latin works Britannia (1586), a study of the British Isles, and Annales (1615 and 1625), a eulogistic account of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Britannia was first translated into English in 1610 by Phileman Holland under Camden’s supervision. The two parts of Annales Rerum Gestarum Angliae et Hiberniae Regnante Elizabetha were translated into English in 1625 and 1629, respectively. Britannia enjoyed such popularity that by 1607 a total of seven editions had been printed.

In 1593, Camden was made headmaster of Westminster School, and in 1597 was appointed both Richmond Herald and Clarencieux King of Arms. In 1605, his Remains were published, a work described by Camden as the “rubble” of a greater work.1 Camden’s minor works include a school book of Greek grammar, a poem on Thames and Isis, as well as chronicles and histories. In 1621, Camden endowed a chair of history at Oxford. Camden was struck down by paralysis the year before his death, and was buried in Westminster Abbey at his death in 1623.

1 The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998. 146.

Books for further study:
Camden, William. Remains Concerning Britain.
Toronto: Univ of Toronto Press, 1985.
Daly, Peter and Mary V. Silcox (Editors). The English Emblem Tradition.
Toronto: Univ of Toronto Press, 1999.
Trevor-Roper, H. R. Queen Elizabeth’s first historian: William Camden and
the beginnings of English “civil history”. London: Cape, 1971.

Camden on the Web:

* William Camden – The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
* William Camden – The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
* Gibson’s Edition of Camden’s Britannia – The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
* Ben Jonson’s “To William Camden” – Luminarium

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