Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Elizabethan Fact of the Day: William Camden's Priceless "Annals of Queen Elizabeth"

The frontispiece and title page from the 1675 edition of The Annals (History) of Queen Elizabeth. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

William Camden (1551-1623) was an Elizabethan/Stuart antiquarian and author. His Annals of Queen Elizabeth is widely considered to be the most accurate contemporary source account of Elizabeth I and her reign (Wagner, 12). The Annals full and proper title, it should be mentioned, is The Annals or the History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, Late Queen of England. Containing All the Most Important and Remarkable Passages of State, Both at Home and Abroad (So Far as They Were Linked with English Affairs) during Her Long and Prosperous Reign. Phew!

The account was begun only five years after Queen Elizabeth I's death, in 1608, and Camden had experienced her reign personally. Unlike other "Annals" of the time, which had a distinct tabloid flavor, (example: Holinshed's Chronicles) Camden's work is based entirely on oral interviews and written sources, rather than hearsay and gossip (Wagner, 12).

Camden had personal access to the state papers of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and other members of the Elizabethan administration. Many of these members were still living, and they shared information with him personally (Wagner, 12).

My favorite portrait of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, riding a mule. Although Burghley was dead at the time of Camden's research and writing, Camden had access to the extensive records that Burghley kept. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Camden had a great regard for Elizabeth I, and he believed her memory, "...among Englishmen ought ever to be...sacred." Still, he sought to write the facts, rather than his opinion of her and the events that transpired during her reign. Though an Anglican, Camden's work was written in Latin, (ANNALES RERUM ANGLICARUM et HIBENNICARUM REGNANTE ELIZABETH). His Annals is also surprisingly void of the anti-Catholic sentiment which filled the writing of the early 17th century, under the reign of James I.

William Camden was depicted in the famous Funeral Procession of Queen Elizabeth illustration. He is the man wearing the hood in the middle, and the inscription above him describes his role, saying "The coat borne by William Cambden, Clarenceux King of Arms". The 'coat' is the tabbard he holds, bearing the royal heraldry of the House of Tudor. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

The first volume was started in 1608, and published in 1615 (Wagner, 12). Needless to say, it was a huge success.Volume 1 covered the years 1558 (the years when Elizabeth took the throne) to 1588 (the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada). The second volume was completed in 1617, but was unfortunately not published in London until 1627, four years after Camden's death.

A 1609 engraving of William Camden. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

I encourage all admirer's and scholars of Queen Elizabeth I and her achievements to purchase, or at least read a translated copy of William Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth.


The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princes Elizabeth, Late Queen of England edited by Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Wagner, John A. The Historic Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. Print.

(Page 12)