Viewing the Changing 'shape or pourtraicture of Britain' in William Camden's Britannia, 1586-1610

Stuart Morrison


In the introduction to his Britannia William Camden is keen to deny the historicity of the text and prefers to define it as belonging to the discipline of chorography. This article argues that Camden's definitions to not strictly hold true, especially in the opening section of the Britannia. By tracking changes and continuity across the seven editions published during Camden's lifetime  this article intends to explore the influences of continental humanist teaching on Camden's approach to writing the Britannia. Investigating the interplay between words and images within the Britannia provides fascinating case studies for the discussion of the European influence on Camden's work whilst also stressing the centrality of typographical issues to our understanding of the Britannia. This article also takes into account Camden's role as a school master as well as his other professional positions and how these may have influenced the production of this hugely popular work. Finally this article suggests that Camden's Britannia is representative of the growing influence that humanism had on insular literature, and highlights the fact that this narrative of a nation was part of a much larger European intellectual endeavour.


William Camden; Britannia; book history; typography; maps

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