William Camden

William Camden ( born 2 May 1551 London, † November 9, 1623 in Chislehurst in London ) was an English historian and antiquarian.

Camden wrote a topographical survey of the British Isles, and the first presentation of the reign of Elizabeth I, as well as a book about the tombs in Westminster, the first book on the English sculpture ever. In his extensive correspondence he set up a network with scholars throughout Europe. He corresponded with Fulke Greville, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, John Stow, John Dee, Jacques- Auguste de Thou, Fabri de Peiresc and Ben Jonson. He founded the first chair of history at the University of Oxford, which still exists as Camden Chair in Ancient History today.

Life and work

After leaving school at Christ 's Hospital and at St Paul 's School, one of the most prestigious public schools of England, Camden studied at Oxford University. There he became acquainted with the poet Philip Sidney know who directed his attention to the history of the ancient world. In 1571 he returned to London without an academic degree. In 1575 he got a job at Westminster School, which left him plenty of free time for travel and for its antiquarian Sammlertätigket. In 1577 he met the cartographer Abraham Ortelius know who encouraged him to arrange his collection and to use it for a presentation of the British Isles.


In the same year Camden began his extensive project a topographical and historical account of Britain. The first edition was published in Latin in 1586. She was dedicated to Lord Burghley, ministers and advisers of Queen Elizabeth and then the principal patron of science and art. The work was extremely successful until 1607 came out seven each significantly increased spending. The first English translation by Philemon Holland (1552-1637) appeared in 1610.

In the book he describes in succession all counties and Britain in terms of the geography, history and historical monuments, especially the Roman antiquities. It was to show his concern, the extent to which tracks and works of antiquity characterize the present. In this way he succeeded in a first coherent account of the Roman period in Britain.

He looked at his book, never completed as work, but continued his research, his study of the sources and his collecting activities continued throughout his life. To understand the ancient written sources, he learned Celtic and Old English. Camden did not rely on outdated authorities and doctrines, but always taught his own view of his research subjects.

The Annals

1593 to 1597 he was head ( Headmaster ) of Westminster School, where he taught, among others, Ben Jonson, his book Every Man in His Humour dedicated to him. In 1597 he became chairman of one of the three royal offices for Heraldry and Genealogy ( Clarenceux King of Arms for the area south of the River Trent ). At this time the office was not only responsible for heraldry and genealogy of the nobility, but also the center of antiquarian scholarship. Camden was largely exempted here for his scientific work.

1597 commissioned him to Lord Burghley, a history of the reign of Elizabeth I. to write. Camden had access to all the files and private papers and correspondence. 1607 he started to work. The first part, which covers the period to 1597, appeared in 1615, the second was completed in 1617 but was not published until after Camden's death in 1625 in Leiden and in 1627 in London.

The annals offer no historical synopsis, but chronologically in the traditional form, with one section per year of rule, is applied. The work was made by contemporaries of the allegation of partiality in favor of Elizabeth and James I.. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent basis for the work of historians up to the present only because of its privileged access to historical source material.


Camden was buried in 1623 in Westminster. The Classicist tomb was probably built to a design by Nicholas Stone. A portrait shows him with a copy of his Britannia in hand.


  • Britannia. London 1586, final edition London 1607
  • Reges, Reginae, Nobile et alii in ecclesia collegati. London in 1600.
  • Annales Rerum Angliae et Gestarum Hiberniae Regnate Elizabetha. 1615