William Camden

(1551–1623) English antiquarian

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.


  • [My aim is] to restore Britain to its Antiquities, and its Antiquities to Britain, to renew the memory of what was old, illustrate what was obscure, and settle what was doubtful, and to recover some certainty in our affairs.
    • Preface to Britannia, quoted in Graham Parry, The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (1995), p. 25

Quotes about Camden

  • The character of Queen Elizabeth as it emerged in the pages of Camden's history was that of a moderate who ruled her heart with her head, and who sought the good of her country above all other felicities. Camden admired Elizabeth's prudence, respected her judgment, and never underestimated the responsibility that she ultimately bore for the security and prosperity of England. The likeness of Camden's portrait of Elizabeth has, in general, been borne out by modern historical research. Camden never doubted Elizabeth's greatness. And although he was sympathetic, he was not adulatory; some practices he condoned as necessary, but without approving them. Many later historians have drawn on Camden's account of Elizabeth. Few have shown themselves superior to Camden in good judgment, impartiality, and respect for truth.
    • F. S. Fussner, The Historical Revolution: English Historical Writing and Thought, 1580-1640 (1962), p. 250
  • [The Annales] is a work whose subtlety many modern historians would envy, and whose total picture of ‘The Elizabethan Age’, in war, trade, exploration and the arts, has fixed our concept of the reign right down to the present day; in fact, it was Camden who first viewed the later sixteenth century as a great explosion of the national genius, controlled and orchestrated by the great queen.
    • John Kenyon, The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance (1983; rev. edn. 1993), p. 10
  • Cambden the nourice of antiquitie,
    And lanterne unto late succeeding age
    • Edmund Spenser, The Ruines of Time, quoted in Complete Works of Edmund Spenser, ed. R. Morris (1873), p. xlv. Inscribed on his tomb in Westminster Abbey are the words "Camden, the Nurse of antiquity and the lantern unto succeeding ages", quoted in R. C. Richardson, ‘William Camden and the Re-Discovery of England’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaelogical and Historical Society, Vol. 78 (2004), p. 108
  • 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.
Wikipedia has an article about: