Britannia, by William Camden

Islands in the German Ocean.⌉

Big B BELOW Thule to the South, lies the German Ocean; wherein Pliny will have the seven Acmodæ,Acmodæ. or Hæmodes (as Mela calls them) to be situate. But because it is certain that these belong to Denmark, and are the Isles of Lelant, Fuynen, Laglant, Muen, Falstor, Leyland, and Femerem in the Sinus Codanus, or the Baltick, they fall not within the compass of my design; any more than Glessaria, or Electrida, so call’d from the Electer or Amber which the Sea casts up, and which Sotacus believ’d to drop originally from the trees in Britain. And, by the way, since the old Germans call’d Amber, Glesse; I readily concur with the learned Erasmus Michael Lætus, that the Isle of Lesse near Scagen, a Promontory of Denmark, was the old Glessaria.Glessaria.

In the German Ocean, upon the Coast of Britain, there are very few Islands besides those in the Frith of Edinburgh, namely May, Basse, Keth, and Inche-Colme, or the Isle of Columba. On the coast of Northumberland over-against the river Lindi, we see Lindis-farne,Lindis-farne. call’d by the Britains Inis Medicante, which (as Bede says)In the life of St. Cuthbert. is twice Isle, and twice Continent, in one day; being incompassed with water at every flow, and dry at every ebb; whereupon, he calls it very aptly a semi-Isle. Towards the west, it is narrow, and left wholly to the rabbets; which is joyn’d to the east part (where it is much broader) by a very small slip of land: towards the south, it has a small Town, with a Church and Castle; which was formerly a Bishop’s See, erected by Aidan the Scot. He was call’d hither to preach the Gospel to the Northumbrians, and was much taken with the solitude and retiredness of the place. Eleven Bishops presided in this See. Afterwards, upon the Danish Invasion, it was translated to Durham. Under the Town, lies a good commodious Harbour, defended by a Fort upon a Hill to the South-east.

This Island, from the Monks who liv’d in it, is call’d by the English Holy-Island.Holy-Island. Of which, Alcuin, in a Letter to Egelred King of Northumberland, writes thus: The most venerable place in Britain is left to the mercy of Pagans; and where the Christian Religion was first preach’d in this Country, after St. Paulinus left York, there we have suffer’d it’s destruction to begin. Seven miles from hence, to the South-east, lies Farn-Island,Farn-Island. distant about two miles from Banborrow-castle; it is surrounded by the main Ocean, and edg’d round with a ridge of rocks. Almost in the middle of it there is a Fort; in the very place, as some say, where CuthbertBede, in the life of Cuthbert. Bishop of Lindes-farn, the tutelar Saint of the North, built a City for Religious Retirement, fit for his own Government (as Bede expresses it,) with Houses therein, suitable to that end. For the building was almost round, and four or five perches wide between wall and wall. The wall on the out-side was more than a man’s height; but he made it much higher within by sinking a huge rock, to restrain the eyes and thoughts from rambling, and to fix the mind upon Heaven, by hindering the devout Inhabitants from any other prospect. The wall was not made of square-stone or brick, nor cemented with mortar; but of rough unpolish’d stone, and turf dug-up in the middle of the place. Some of them were so big, that it hardly seem’d possible for four men to lift them. In this Mansion, he had two Houses, a Chapel, and a Room for common use. The walls were the natural earth, made * * Circum­fodiendo sive cæ digging or paring off within and without. The roof was timber unhew’n, and thatch’d. Moreover, at the Harbour of this Island, was a larger House, wherein the Brethren who came to visit him, might be receiv’d and lodg’d; not far from which, there was a Fountain convenient for them. Near this, lie some lesser Islands to the North, namely, Widopens,Widopens. and Staple-Island,Staple-Island. which is two miles off, with Bronsman; and two less than these, call’d the The Wambes.The Wambes. After these, over-against the mouth of the River Coquet,Coquet, riv. lies an Island call’d Coquet, where is great store of Sea-coal.

These are the remarkable Islands on this Coast; but over-against it are the Saxon Isles,The Saxon Isles. (now Heilichlant, that is, the Holy Island,)Holy Island. which lie in a continu’d range, along the Coast of East and West-Friesland. Of these, that which Strabo calls Birchanis,Birchanis. was best known to the Romans: PlinyLib.7. calls it Burchana, and the Romans Fabaria, from a grain like a bean naturally growing there; which (that I may restore it to its proper place, tho’ not within the compass of my design) is undoubtedly that BurkunBurkun. which is over-against the mouth of the Ems; as the name it self demonstrates.

Lower down, upon the Coast of Holland, and near the old mouth of the Rhine, the foundation of a very ancient Arsenal appears sometimes at low water; which is indeed an admirable piece of Antiquity, and shows how noble the building it self has been; as Abraham Ortelius (the great restorer of antient Geography, and my very intimate friend) has elegantly describ’d it, and as it were fish’d it out of the Sea. I was the more willing to take notice of it in this Work, because the Hollanders call it by the name of Huis te Britten,Britten Huis. that is a British house; so that the name at least is our’s. For as it is granted, that Caligula in that mock-expedition against Britain built this for a Watch-tower; so it is manifest from an old Inscription dug-up here, that Septimius Severus repair’d it. As for the original of this name Britten, it is uncertain: but it is most likely from the Britains; from whom also Bretta, the birth-place of Philip Melancthon, had its name, as himself thinks; and we read that the Mountains in Heinault, call’d Breten, took their name from the Britains. And therefore, as Pliny thinks it very unaccountable, that an herb peculiar to Holland should be call’d Britannica, unless the People bordering upon the Ocean may be suppos’d to have call’d it so, because of the vicinity to Britain; so I cannot but wonder, why this tower should be call’d British, unless the Dutch gave it the name, as being over-against Britain. Portus Morin­orum Britan­nicus. Pliny calls a place in Picardy the Portus Morinorum Britannicus, i.e. the British Harbour of the Morini, either because they took Ship there for Britain, or because it lay opposite to Britain. Why therefore might not this tower be call’d Britten for the same reason? For it cannot be deny’d, that the Britains came often hither, and that this was a common passage from Germany into Britain; since Zosimus particularly computes the breadth of the Ocean between Britain and the mouth of the Rhine (as a common passage) at nine hundred Stadia; and writes, that supplies of Corn were brought hither out of Britain, and convey’d in boats up the Rhine, to the Roman Camps: and since also Julian the Emperor, as Marcellinus tells us, built Granaries for the reception of the Corn usually transported from Britain. About that time, this tower seems to have been converted into a Granary, and call’d from the British Corn, Britten; which is the more probable, because it is written Britenburg, in the Records of Holland. For in that age, they call’d such Castles as stood conveniently for that purpose, and were stor’d with Corn, Burgs;Burg, what. as appears by the History of the Burgundians. But what if we should say (for this is only multiplying conjectures upon a point that has already puzzl’d many an Enquirer) that the Britains took this tower, and left it the name, when they set up Magnus Maximus,Zosimus, l.4. or Clemens Maximus as others call him, against Gratian: for he certainly landed at the mouth of the Rhine: Or, if the name be of later date, what if we say, that it was called Huis de Britten by the Saxons? since they set sail from hence, when they infested our Coast with their Pinaces, or Cuiles as they call them. Saxons in Holland. For Zosimus tells us, that the Saxons drove out the † Salij Franci.Salian Franks, and possess’d themselves of Batavia; and, that thence they made their descent into Britain, is manifest. This seems also to be intimated by the noble and learned Janus Dousa,Janus Douza. in an Ode of his upon Leyden; as I observ’d before. But lest I seem partial to my own Country; I must add, that seeing the learned Hadrianus Junius,In his Vocabulary, the herb Britten. a Dutchman born, deduces the herb Britannica from Britten (a word of his own country) as growing plentifully upon those turfs which they call Britten, and of which they make dikes to keep the Ocean from breaking in; there seems to be no absurdity, if we give this Huis de Britten the same Original, and suppose it to be so call’d, because it was fenc’d with banks of turf or Britten, against the incursions of the Sea, and that it might be overflow’d by the Sea, upon some breach made in these banks. But I leave the determination of this Controversie to them who are better acquainted with the nature of the word, and the situation of the place; after I have ask’d their pardon for trespassing thus far, where I had no right.

On this Coast, lie also the Isles of Zealand,Zealand. surrounded by the rivers Scald, Maese, and the Ocean. I have only this to say of them, that the name Valachria (this is the chief of them,) is guess’d by Lemnius Levinus to come from Wallia or Wales. Over-against Zealand, lies the mouth of the Thames, the noblest river in Britain; where Ptolemy places Toliapis,Toliapis. and

Canvey. Cauna or Convennos. I have treated of Toliapis, which I take to be Shepey,Shepey. in Kent; ⌈and, of Convennos, in Essex.⌉

Beyond the mouth of the Thames eastward, before the Isle of Tanet, lies a long shelf of Sand very dangerous to Sailors, call’d the Goodwin-Sands;Goodwin-Sands. where, in the year 1097, our Annals tell us, that an Island which belong’d to Earl Goodwin, was swallow’d up. submerged underwater sank sunken John Twine writes thus of it, This Isle was very fruitful, and had good Pastures, and was situated lower than Tanet, from which there was a passage of about three or four miles, by boat. The said Isle, in an unusual storm of wind and rain, and a very tempestuous Sea, sunk down, and was cover’d with heaps of Sand, and so, was irrecoverably chang’d into an amphibious nature, between Land and Sea. I know very well what I say; for sometimesTota floats, and some times at low water one may walk upon it.** How these Sands hap­pen’d, and why so call’d, See Somn. Forts and Ports. This is perhaps the old Toliapis; unless you had rather read Thanatis for Toliapis, which is written Toliatis in some Copies. But of this we have already spoken in Kent.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06