William Camden 1551-1623

From Book Owners Online

William CAMDEN 1551-1623

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Sampson Camden, painter-stainer. Matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford 1566, BA Christ Church 1574. Appointed second master of Westminster School 1575, Headmaster 1593; Librarian of Westminster Abbey, 1587. During the 1570s and 80s he travelled extensively around Britain, gathering topographical, historical and antiquarian information which led to the publication of Britannia (1586). Using a variety of historical evidence to reconstruct ancient British history, while also providing a county by county portrait of antiquities, the work was immediately well received and established Camden’s reputation. He left Westminster School in 1597 on being made Clarenceux King of Arms, the office he held till his death. He continued to pursue antiquarian research and published Annales … regnante Elizabetha, a chronicle of Elizabeth I’s reign, in 1617. Endowed the Camden professorship in history at Oxford, 1620. Camden was a leading figure in the Society of Antiquaries between its formation in 1586 and its cessation in 1607, and widely respected as an unofficial court chronicler and historian.


Camden acquired books throughout his life and assembled a collection whose importance was recognised by his contemporaries – his library was noted in 1622 in a list of major libraries of the time drawn up by John Selden, and several people sought to acquire it after his death. His correspondence shows how he exchanged books with scholars across Europe. A modern attempt to reconstruct the collection traced 618 printed books and 2 manuscripts, although originally it must have been larger. Of these, ca. 55% are 16th-century imprints, 45% 17th-century. The subject coverage is strong in history, economics and law and also embraces theology, philology, classics, literature, science, medicine and mathematics. 53% of the titles are Latin, 32% English, 16% French and the remainder in Greek, Italian or Spanish.

Camden's inscription, from British Library 51.a.14, C. Peucer, Commentarius de praecipuis, 1560

Camden bequeathed his library to Sir Robert Cotton, except for books relating to heraldry, which were to go to his successor as Clarenceux provided that some payment was made; this did not happen although some manuscripts on grants of arms passed to the College of Arms. Much of the collection was given to Westminster Abbey by Cotton, following a request by John Williams. Many are still there although many have also been dispersed over the centuries. Examples: Bodleian L.23.Art.Seld; Quaritch 1363 (2008)/25.

Camden's motto, from the same British Library book

Characteristic Markings

Commonly inscribed his name on titlepages, sometimes with other information (e.g. the source or donor of the book); regularly used the motto Jovis omnia plena.