Picture of William Camden

William Camden

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Introduction: The Author to the Reader

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I hope it shall be to no discredite, if I now use againe by way of Preface, the same words with a few more, that I used twenty foure yeeres since in the first edition of this worke. Abraham Ortelius the worthy restorer of Ancient Geographie, arriving heere in England above thirty foure yeares past, dealt earnestly with me that I would illustrate this Ile of Britaine, or (as he said) that I would restore antiquity to Britaine, and Britaine to his antiquity; which was as I understood, that I would renew ancientrie, enlighten obscuritie, cleare doubts, and recall home veritie by way of recovery, which the negligence of writers and credulitie of the common sort had in a manner proscribed and utterly banished from amongst us. A painfull matter, I assure you, and more than difficult, wherein what toyle is to be taken, as no man thinketh, so no man beleeveth but hee that hath made the triall. Neverthelesse how much the difficultie discouraged me from it, so much the glory of my country encouraged me to undertake it. So while at one and the same time I was fearefull to undergoe the burden, and yet desirous to doe some service to my Country, I found two different affections, Feare and Boldnesse, I knowe not howe, conjoined in me. Nothwithstanding by the most gratious direction of the Almighty, taking Industrie for my consort, I adventured upon it, and with all my studie, care, cogitation, continuall meditation, paine, and travaile I emploied my selfe thereunto when I had any spare time. I made search after the Etymologie of Britaine and the first inhabitants timerously, neither in so doubtfull a matter have I affirmed ought confidently. For I am not ignorant that the first originalls of nations are obscure by reason of their profound antiquitie, as things which are seene very deepe and farre remote: like as the courses, the reaches, the confluents, and the out-lets of great rivers are well knowne, yet their first fountaines and heads lie commonly unknowne. I have succinctly runne over the Romans government in Britaine, and the inundation of forraine people thereinto, what they were, and from whence they came: I have traced out the ancient divisions of these Kingdomes, I have summarily specified the states, and judiciall Courts of the same. In the severall Counties I have compendiously set downe the limites [borders] (and yet not exactly by pearch and pole to breed questions), what is the nature of the soile, which were the places of greatest antiquitie, who have been the Dukes, Marquesses, Earles, Vicounts, Barons, and some of the most signall and ancient families therein (for who can particulate all?). What I have performed, I have to men of judgment. But time, the most sound and sincere witnesse, will give the truest information, when envie, which persecuteth the living, shall have her mouth stopped. Thus much give mee leave to say, that I have in no wise neglected such things as are most materiall to search and sift out the Truth. I have attained to some skill of the most ancient British and English-Saxon tongues: I have travailed over all England for the most part; I have conferred with most skillfull observers in each county, I have studiously read over our owne countrie writers, old and new, all Greeke and Latine authors which have once made mention of Britaine. I have had conference with learned men in other parts of Christendome: I have beene diligent in the Records of this Realme. I have looked into most Libraries, Registers, and memorials of Churches, Cities, and Corporations. I have poored upon many an old Rowle, and Evidence: and produced their testimonie (as beyond all exception ) when the cause required, in their owne words (although barbarous they be) that the honor of veritie might in no wise be impeached.

2. For all this I may be censured unadvised and scant modest, who, being but of the lowest forme in the schoole of Antiquity, where I might well have lurked in obscurity, have adventured as a scribler upon the stage in this learned age amidst the diversities of relishes [tastes] both in wit and judgement. But to tell the truth unfainedly, the love of my Country which compriseth all love in it, and hath endeared me to unto it, the glory of the British name, the advise of some juditious friends hath overmastered my modesty, and (wild I, nild I) hath enforced me against my owne judgement to undergoe this burden to heavy for me, and so thrust me forth into the worldes view. For I see judgements, prejudices, censures, reprehensions, obtrectations, detractions, affronts, and confronts, as it were, in battaile array to environ [surround] me on every side: some there were which wholy contemne and avile [revile] this study of Antiquity as a back-looking curiosity; whose authority as I do not utterly vilefy, so I doe not overprise or admire their judgement. Neither am I destitute of reasons whereby I might approove this my purpose to well bread and well meaning men which tender the glory of their native Country: and moreover could give them to understand that in the studies of Antiquity (which is alwaies accompanied with dignity, and hath a certaine resemblance with eternity) there is a sweet food of the minde well befiting such as are of honest and noble disposition. If any there be which are desirous to be strangers in their owne soile, and forrainers in their owne City, they may so continue and therein flatter themelves. For such like I have not written these lines, nor taken these paines. Some there be who may object the silly web of my stile, and rough hewed forme of my writing. Verily I acknowledge it, neither have I waied every word in Goldsmithes scales, as Varro commanded, neither purposed I to picke flowres out of the gardens of Eloquence. But why should they object this, when as Cicero, the father of Eloquence, denieth that this kinde of argument can ἀνθηρογραφείσθαι, that is, be flourished out, and as Pomponius Mela said, is incapable of all Eloquent speech?

3. Many happily [perhaps] will insult over me for that I have adventured to hunt after the originals of names by conjectures who if they proceed on to reject all conjectures, I feare me a great part of liberall learning and humane knowledge will be utterly outcast into banishment. For the edge of our understanding is so blunt that we are of necessity enforced to prosecute many matters in all professions conjecturally. In Physick σήμεια, τεκμήρια, εἴκοτα, which are nothing else but conjectures, have their place, and stand in good steed; likewise in Rhetorike, Civil Law, and other artes they are admitted and allowed. And whereas conjectures are certain detections of things unknowne, and, as Fabius tearmeth them, directions of reason to verity, I have alwaies thought that they were to be accounted among the skuppers wherewith Time worketh and draweth Veritie out of Democritus his deep dungeon. But if these men may be induced to attribute ought to conjectures, I doubt not but my modesty and moderation in conjecturing may withall purchase my pardon. Plato in his Cratilius commandeth that we recall the originals of names to the barbarous tongues (for so he called all but Greek), as being most ancient. I thereupon in Etymologies and my conjectures have made recourse to the British, or Welsh tongue (so they now call it) as being the same which the primitive and most ancient inhabitants of this land used, and to the English-Saxons tongue which our Progenitours the English spake. He commandeth that the name be consonant to the nature of the thing, and the nature thereof to the name: if they be heerin dissonant, I admit them not. In things, saith he, there is φωνή, σχῆμα, χρῶμα: that is, but I cannot aptly expresse them, a sound, a forme, and colour , if these discover not themselves in the name I reject the conjecture. As for obscure Etymologies, far fetched, hardly wrested, and which may be drawne diversely, I have vouchsafed them no place in this worke. Finally I have beene so sparing and cauteously forecasting in my conjectures that if I be not thought εὔτολμος, that is, happily adventurous, I shall not seem τολμηρός, that is, presumptuously audacious. And albeit I have once or twice framed two conjectures in one and the same name, yet I forget not in the meane time that Unity is consecrated unto Verity.

4. There are some, peradventure, which apprehend it disdainfully and offensively that I have not remembred this or that family, whenas it was not my purpose to mention any but such as were most notable, nor all them truly (for their names would fill whole volumes) but such as hapned in my way according to the methode I proposed to myselfe; and with Gods grace I may have a more convenient occasion to deserve well of the Nobility and Gentry. But happily they wil be most offended heerin who have least deserved of their country, or over vallew themselves most, or whose Gentry may be but newly blossomed. Of whom yet I protest I would not offend any, and therefore desire and hope their noble natures will not take it offensively upon such causelesse apprehensions.

5. Others will call me in question for that I have commended some persons now living; yet I have done it sparingly, and that of an assurance of verity, out of the common consent and voice of such as can well judge of worth, and from no base flattery. By these sparing commendations such as are commended may be lessoned that their deportments may be answerable, and that they preserve and daily increase the same. Succeeding ages, which I respect more than the present, will render to every man his right, whatsoever is now scribled in papers. In the meane time I wish them to remember, that to praise good men is but to shew a light of directions as out of a watch towre to posterity. True is that saying of Symmachus, Imitation is encouraged with the seemely praises of the good, and imitating vertue is cherished by the example of others honour. If any say I have sought occasion to commend some one or other, I confesse it. Neither is well-meaning without leasing [lying] to be blamed among the good, and well deserving friends are not to be forgotten. Howsoever Virtue and Glory hath alwaies opposites, and men usually envy the present, and reverence what is past; yet God forbid that we should be so partially injurious as to thinke our times under most worthy Princes to be barrain of praiseworthy persons. As for such as maligne the praise of the good, I feare me least in their owne giltinesse they may apply the dispraise of the bad to themselves. There will be great offence and sclender thankes, for, albeit in the loosenesse of the world there is much more to be discommended than commended, yet if you commend you shal be taxed as oversparing; if you discommend you shall be censured as overlavish, although you doe the one most completely, and the other most moderately.

6. Some will blame me for that I have omitted this and that towne and Castle, as though I proposed to mention any but such as were most notorious, and mentioned by ancient authors. Neither verily were it worth the labour once to name them, when as beside the naked name there is nothing memorable. Truly it was my project and purpose to seeke, rake out, and free from darknesse such places as Caesar, Tacitus, Ptolemee, Antonine the Emperour, Notitia Provinciarum , and other antique writers have specified and Time hath overcast with mist and darknesse by extinguishing, altering, and corrupting their old true names. In searching and seeking after these, as I will not avouch uncertainties, so I doe not conceale probabilities. That I have not found out every one, although I have sought after them with painfull and chargeable inquiery, let it be no imputation to me, as it is not to a Spadiard [digger] that worketh in Mines, who while he findeth and followeth the maine vaines, seeth not the hidden small fillets; or, that I may use that which Columella did, as it is the commendation of a good Huntsman to finde game in a wide wood, so it is no imputation if he hath not caught all , and likewise to mee, some things are to be left to the inquisitive diligence of others. Neither, as a learned man said, he teacheth wel which teacheth all. An other age, and other men may daily finde out more. It is enough for me to have begun, and I have gained as much as I looke for, if I shall draw others into this argument, whether they undertake a new worke or amend this.

7. There are certaine, as I heare, who take it impatiently that I have mentioned some of the most famous Monasteries and their founders. I am sorry to heare it, and with their good favour will say thus much, they may take it as impatiently, and peradventure would have us forget that our ancestours were, as we are, of the Christian profession, when as there are not extant any other more conspicuous and certaine Monuments of their piety and zealous devotion toward God. Neither were there any other seed-gardens from whence Christian Religion and good learning were propagated over this isle, howbeit in corrupt ages some weeds grew out over-rankly.

8. Mathematicians will accuse me as thought I had wholly missed the marke in the Cosmographical dimensons of Longitude and Latitude. Yet heare me, I pray you. I have carefully conferred [compared] the locall tables new and old, Manuscript, and printed, of Oxford and Cambridge, and King Henry the Fifth. In the Latitude they do not vary much from Ptolemee, but agree wel together, neither doe I thereupon imagine with Stadius that the globe of the earth is removed from his centre, therefore I have relied upon them. But in the Longitude there is no accord, no consent at all. What should I then do? Whenas therefore the moderne navigatours have observed that there is no variation of the Compasse at the Isles of Asores, I have thence begun with them the account of Longitude as from the first Meridian, which yet I have not precisely measured.

9. As for obscurity, fables, extravagant digressions, I trust there is no cause to sue out my pardon. There will be no obscuritie but to them which have not sipped the first elements of Antiquity and our histories: uon fables I have in no wise relied, and that I might not digresse extravagantly, I have had often recourse to the title of my booke (as Plinie adviseth) and eftsoones [often] demanded of myselfe why I tooke penne in hand. Many have found a defect in this work that Mappes were not adjoined, which doe allure the eies by pleasant portraiture, and are the best directions in Geogaphicall studies, especially when the light of learning is adjoined to the speechlesse delineations. Yet my abiity could not compasse it, which by the meanes and cost of George Bishop and John Norton is now performed out of the labours of Christopher Saton and John Norden, most skilfull Chorographers.

10. But least I should runne at random in my Praeface, to accomplish this worke the whole maine of my Industrie hath beene emploied for many yeares with a firme setled study of the truth, and sincere antique faithfulnesse to the glory of God and my countrie. I have done dishonour to no nation, have descanted upon no mans name, I have impaired no mans reputation, I have impeached no mans credit, no not Geffray of Monmouth whose history (which I would gladly support) is held suspected amongst the judicious. Neither have I assumed upon my selfe any perswasion of knowledge, but onely that I have beene desirous to know much. And so I right willingly acknowledge that I may erre much, neither will I sooth and smooth my errours. Who shooting all day long doth alwaies hit the marke? Many matters in these studies are raked under deceitfull ashes . There may be some escapes from memorie, for who doth so comprehend particularities in the treasury of his memory, that he can utter them at his pleasure? There may be mistakings in regard of my unskilfulnesse, for who is so skilfull that, strugling with Time in the foggie darke sea of Antiquity, may not run upon rockes? It may be that I have been mislead by the credit of authors and others whom I tooke to be most true, and worthy of credit. Neither is there verily (as Pliny saith) any easier slipping from truth, than when a grave Authour warrenteth an untruth. Others may be more skilfull and more exactly observe the particularities of the places where they are conversant. If they, or any other whatsoever, will advertise me wherein I am mistaken, I will amend it with manifold thankes. If I have unwitting omitted ought, I will supply it. If I have not fully explicated any point, upon their better information I will more cleere it, if it proceed from good meaning, and not from a spirit of contradiction and quareling, which doe not befit such as are well bred and affect the truth. Meanewhile let your kinde courtesie, my industrie, the common love of our common mother our native Country, the ancient honour of the British name obtaine so much upon their entreaty, that I may utter my judgment without prejudice to others, that I may proceed in that course that others have formerly done in the like argument, and that you would pardon my errours upon my acknowledgement, which may be aswell hoped as requested from good indiffrent and reasonable men; so passe not for the unresonable and worser sort which gnaw upon all at tables, carpe in conventicles, envy, back-bite, sclaunder, and detract. For I have learned of the Comicall Poet that sclaunder is the treasure of fooles which they carry in their tongues, and I know for certainty that Envy is seated (I will say it altough Envy stood at my elbow) in none but in degenerous, unnoble, and base mindes. The honest good and noble natures as they detest envy, so they cannot envy. As for my selfe and this worke, I doe most humbly submit it to the censure of the godly honest and learned with all respective reverence of whom if it be not approoved, I hope in regard of my professed love to our native Country, that it may be excused. Farwell.




If it is allowed to boast of the great gods' gifts and to take pleasure in one's true endowments, why should I not deem myself the most fortunate land of all? He deserves ills who knows not his own goods. Far-off India is haughty over its wool-bearing groves, and the Arab takes pride in his fragrances. Rich Panchaea rejoices in its incense-bearing sands, and Spain boasts of its golden stream. The Nile's seven mouths cheer the Egyptian and the Rhine's celebrated wines uplift its inhabitants. Nor is happy Africa displeased with its rich fields. This land takes pride in its harbors, that one in its wares. But I am not lacking in fountains, nor in rich rivers, fat fields, nor smiling meadows. I am fertile in men, fertile in beasts, and fertile in ore. I should not be boastful that the surrounding sea provides me great wealth, nor that for no other land is the the climate friendlier, the air sweeter. For me, Phoebus is late in plunging into the western seas, and his sweet sister brings nights that shine. Could I scorn the fleeces of famed Spain? Where is there softer wool for white sheep than here? And I can disdain your wonders, Memphis, for this glory of mine is greater and it is juster, that I, Britain, have been celebrated by the Romans and the Greeks, for antiquity called me a separate world.

William Camden, Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: George Bishop and John Norton, 1610) Copyright 2004 by Dana F. Sutton. This text was transcribed by Professor Sutton, of the University of California, Irvine, from Philemon Holland's 1610 translation [British Library Short Title Catalogue 4509, Early English Books reel 911:1]. For a full critical edition presenting Camden's original Latin text in parallel with Holland's translation, visit Professor Sutton's site at:


Placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall.

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