Camden, William

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Camden, William (1551–1623). Camden was one of the finest of schoolmaster-historians. Born in London, he was educated at St Paul's and then at Oxford. From 1575 until 1597 he taught at Westminster School, where he became headmaster. From 1597 his position as Clarenceux king-of-arms gave him more time to devote to his passion for history. He produced two major works—Britannia (1586), a survey, county by county, of the antiquities of Britain as a successor to Leland, and Annals of Queen Elizabeth (1615), which established the view of her reign as a via media. Camden's work was an example of the new civic history, intended as a handbook for statesmen: he eschewed invented rhetorical speeches, made use of state papers obtained through his patron Lord Burghley, and wrote beautifully, with piquant and jocular personal touches. Worcestershire perry he dismissed as ‘cold and flatulent’; the ruggedness of Northumberland ‘seems to have hardened the very carcases of its inhabitants’; Britain is certainly ‘the masterpiece of Nature, performed when she was in her best and gayest humour; which she placed as a little world in itself, by the side of the greater, for the diversion of mankind’. He endowed the Camden chair of history in his University of Oxford.

J. A. Cannon

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William Camden

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