Britannia siue Florentissimorum regnorum Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae
William Camden (1551–1623) was admitted into Magdalen College in 1566 and finished his studies at Christ Church. He returned from Oxford to London in 1571 and took a position at Westminster School, where he became headmaster in 1593. Camden devoted his free time to antiquarian studies, using the opportunities afforded by school vacations to travel and pursue research. His strenuous journeys to investigate antiquities—ruins, inscriptions, artifacts, and such—took him to almost every part of England and Wales over the next decade. Camden was among the first to make effective use of archaeological evidence together with written sources to reconstruct history. He was the most respected chorographer/antiquary of the time and accordingly, a close associate of both William Lambarde and John Stow. Today, he is the honored namesake of the Camden Society, founded in 1838 to print unpublished historical documents.
Camden’s first edition of Britannia appeared in 1586. Four more were published in England before 1600—each one added materials. The present book is a copy of the 1607 folio edition, the first to include maps of the shires. It has a magnificent map of Great Britain on the title page, fifty-seven further maps, and eight additional engraved plates of antiquarian interest. Engraved by William Kip and William Hole, the maps are, for the most part, smaller versions of the ones Saxton used in 1579 in the first atlas of English and Welsh counties. Each of the counties has a separate map in Britannia, which was not the case for Saxton, and the decorative ornamentation differs. The 1610 and subsequent editions of Britannia were printed in English rather than Latin.
Britannia is a chorographical work—in effect, a traveler’s guide for someone with keen interest in the history of places. It is divided into two parts. The first is a chronologically arranged summary of British history from the earliest times to the Norman Conquest. Camden’s purpose was not to present a long narrative history; rather, to provide a summary of the main sources of information together with a synopsis and critical evaluation of them. The second part begins with a series of short essays to provide background to a detailed county-by-county survey. In the words of the author, “In my treatise of each county I will shew with as much plainness and brevity as I can who were the ancient inhabitants, what was the reason of the name, what are the bounds of the county, the nature of the soil, the places of greatest antiquity, and most eminent at present; and lastly, who have been the dukes or earls of them since the Norman Conquest.”
Chrzanowski 1607c *