Britannia

Britannia, 1610
William Camden (1551-1623)
Printed book
34 x 48 (cm)
Society of Antiquaries of London

Kendrick 1950; Piggott 1976, pp. 33-54; Parry 1995, pp. 22-48; London 2007, no. 17
full bibliography (pdf)
 This book, the seminal work of antiquarian studies, first published in England in 1586, put Britain on the map of European humanist scholarship. Camden's early interests in the history and antiquities of his country were given focus by the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, who suggested in 1577 that he should give an account of Roman Britain to the scholars of continental Europe. Initially, Camden had wanted to identify and comment on the places mentioned in the lists of military stations that had survived from antiquity. However, the project soon grew to become a perambulation of the land with a description of the peoples who had inhabited it, their languages and customs, and a county-by-county survey that reviewed the geography, history, ancient remains and towns of each region.

Camden made many journeys through Britain to gather information and see the sites at first hand. By observation, attention to local knowledge, use of documents and study of classical histories and medieval chronicles, he produced a work of unprecedented originality and authority. Successive editions of Britannia up until 1607 contained new material, much of it emphasising the contribution of the Saxons to the shaping of the nation that became England. Translated into English in 1610 by Philemon Holland, Britannia inspired a large number of county surveys and several topographical poems. Much of the antiquarian writing of the seventeenth century had its genesis in Britannia.