Britannia, by William Camden



Decorative I IN this last Edition, give me leave to address the courteous Reader in the words that I used twenty years since, upon the first publication of this Book; with some very small additions. The great Restorer of old Geography, Abraham Ortelius, thirty years ago, did very earnestly sollicit me to acquaint the World with the ancient State of Britain, that is, to restore Britain to Antiquity, and Antiquity to Britain; to renew what was old, illustrate what was obscure, and settle what was doubtful; and upon the whole, to recover (as much as possible) a Certainty in our Affairs, which either the carelesness of Writers, or credulity of Readers, had bereft us of. A great attempt, not to say impossible! to which undertaking, as none know the Pains that is requisite, so none believe it, but they who have made the Experiment. Yet, as the difficulty of the design discourag’d me on one side, so the honour of my native Country encourag’d me on the other; insomuch, that while I dreaded the task, and yet could not decline doing what I was able for the honour of my Country, I found the greatest Contrarieties, Fear and Courage (which I thought could never have met in any one man) united in my own Breast. However, depending upon the blessing of God, and my own Industry, I set about the Work, and gave all my spare hours, with the utmost attention and resolution, wholly to it.

I have been very wary in my conjectures about the Etymology of Britain, and its first Inhabitants: nor have I positively asserted any thing that admits a doubt; for I know, the originals of Countries are obscure, and altogether uncertain; and, like objects at a great distance, scarce visible. Thus, the courses of great Rivers, their turnings, their confluence, their mouths, are all well known, while the Springs generally lie hid and undiscover’d. I have trac’d the ancient Divisions of Britain, and have given a Summary Account of the States, and the Judicial Courts, of these flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. I have settl’d the bounds of each County (tho’ not to an inch) and examin’d the nature of the Soil, and the places of greatest Antiquity, and what Dukes, and Earls, and Barons there have been. I have briefly mention’d some of the most ancient and honourable Families; for it is impossible to mention all. Let those judge of my performance, that are able to make a true judgment; which will require consideration: but Time, that uncorrupt witness, will best determin this; when Envy, which preys upon the living, shall hold its peace. Yet this I must say for my self, that I have neglected nothing that could give any considerable light towards the discovery of Truth in matters of Antiquity. I got some insight into the old British and Saxon Tongues, for my assistance; I have travell’d almost all over England, and have consulted in each County, the Persons of best skill and knowledge in these matters. I have diligently perus’d our own Writers; as well as the Greek and Latin, who mention the least tittle of Britain. I have examined the publick Records of the Kingdom, Ecclesiastical Registers, and Libraries, and the Acts, Monuments, and Memorials of Churches and Cities.

These, I have built upon, as infallible Testimonies; and have cited them, as I had occasion, in their own words, tho’ never so barbarous; that by such unquestionable evidences justice might be done to Truth. Possibly I may seem bold and imprudent, who, tho’ but a smatterer in Antiquities, have ventur’d upon the Stage of this learned Age, and expos’d my self to such a variety of censures and opinions; when I might quietly have lain hid. But to speak the truth plainly, the natural affection I have for my Country (by far the strongest affection that is) the glory of the British Name, and the perswasions of Friends, conquer’d my natural modesty, and forc’d me, against my own judgment, to undertake and publish a Work I am so unfit for; and for which I expect to be immediately attack’d on all sides by prejudice, censure, detraction, and reproach. Some there are, who cry down the whole study of Antiquities, as a fruitless search after what is gone and past; but as I shall not altogether contemn the Authority of these Men, so I shall not much regard their Judgment. Nor am I destitute of such reasons, as are sufficient to gain the approbation of all true Englishmen, who value the honour of their native Country; and to whom I can promise a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction, in these Studies, becoming Men of Birth and Education. But if there are any, who, desire to be strangers in their own Country, Foreigners in their own Cities, and always Children in Knowledge; let them please themselves, I write not for such humours. There are others, perhaps, who will cavil at the lowness and roughness of my Stile. And I frankly confess, that neither is every word weighed in Varro’s Scale; nor did I design to gratifie the Reader with a Nose-gay of all the Flowers that I could meet with in the garden of Eloquence. But, why should they object this, when Cicero the father of Eloquence, deny’d, that such a subject could Greek, i.e. bear a flourish; and when it is not, as Pomponius said, a proper subject for Rhetorick.

Many, perhaps, will fall upon me, for daring to trace the original of ancient Names by Conjecture only; who, if they will utterly exclude conjecture, I fear will exclude the greatest part of polite Learning, and in that, of human Knowledge: the mind of man being so shallow, that we are forc’d to trace many things in all Sciences, by conjecture. In Physick, there are the Greek, Greek, and Greek, Symptoms, Tokens, and Signs, which in reality are little more than conjectures. In Rhetorick, and Civil Law, and other Sciences, there is an establish’d allowance to Conjecture. And since Conjectures are the signs and tokens of somewhat that lies hid, and are (as Fabius says) the directors of Reason to find the truth; I always accounted them a kind of Engines, with which Time draws up Truth from the bottom of Democritus’s Well.

But if they will admit any conjectures at all, I doubt not but my moderation in the use of them will easily obtain me that Privilege. Plato in his Cratilus directs us to trace the original of Names to the barbarous tongues, as being the most ancient; and accordingly, in all my Etymologies and Conjectures, I have constant recourse to the British, or (as it is now call’d) the Welsh tongue, which was spoken by the first and most ancient Inhabitants of this Country. He would also have a plain agreement between the Name and the Thing; and if these disagree, never to admit the Conjecture. There is (says he) in things Greek, Greek, Greek, a Sound, a Form, a Colour; and if these are not in the word, I reject it with contempt. As for Etymologies that are obscure, strain’d, far-fetch’d, and applicable to other things as well; I thought them not worthy to be inserted. In short, I have been so cautious and frugal in my conjectures, that to an impartial Reader, if I seem not Greek, lucky in my Adventures, I hope I shall not seem Greek, too adventurous. And tho’, in so great a compass, I may here and there have indulg’d my Fancy and made two conjectures upon one and the same thing; yet in the mean time I do not forget, that Unity is the sacred band of Truth.

There are those, it is probable, who will be angry that I have taken no notice of this or that Family; whereas it was not my design to mention any, but such as have been very eminent; nor all such neither (for they would furnish Volumes,) but those only that came naturally under the Method I propos’d in this Work. And I hope (by God’s permission) to have an opportunity hereafter to do right to the English Nobility. But they who take it most hainously, may probably be of the number of those, who have been the least serviceable to their Country, and whose Nobility is of a late date. The same Persons, it may be, will condemn me for commending some who are living; but I have done it briefly, moderately, and upon an assurance of their merit, from the general consent of discerning and good men, and not in the least from a principle of Flattery. And, from the commendation I have given them, they themselves are admonish’d to make their behaviour agreeable to it; and not only to support, but to encrease, their Character. Posterity, whatever Writers say, will do justice to every one’s Character, and to Posterity I appeal from the present age. In the mean while, let them remember, that to praise the Good, is to hang out a light to guide those that come after; for it is a true saying of Symmachus, Imitation is excited by the honour done to good Men; and an Emulation in virtuous Actions, is rais’d by the example of another’s Honour. If any one say, that I have sought occasion to mention and commend one or two persons, I confess it: and hope it is no crime to treat the Good with due respect; and some grains of allowance are also to be made to Friendship. But however it comes to pass, Virtue and Honour have always enemies to encounter; and Men have a Veneration for what is past, and an Envy against what is present. Far be it from me, to judge so unjustly of Men and Things, as to think that our Age, under the government of such brave Princes, can want Men of worth and character; but they who cannot bear to hear the Good commended, may complain also that themselves are pointed at, by a similitude of manners, in the dishonourable mention of the Bad.Caesar

Some will accuse me, of leaving out this or that little Town or Castle; as if I had design’d to take notice of any, but the most famous and ancient: nor could it be worth while to mention them for the sake of the bare Names. For that which I chiefly propos’d to my self, was to search for and illustrate those Places, which Cæsar, Tacitus, Ptolemy, Antoninus Augustus, Provinciarum Notitia, and other ancient Writers, have recorded; the names whereof Time has either utterly extinguish’d, or chang’d, or corrupted. And in this search, I neither affirm what is uncertain, nor conceal what is probable. But it ought not to be laid to my charge, that I have not discovered all (after the expence and trouble of a very diligent search,) any more than it is objected to the Miner, that he finds only the larger Veins, and overlooks the less. Or, to borrow that saying of Columella, As in a great Wood, it is the business of a good Huntsman to take all the game he can; nor was it ever charged on any one as a fault, that he did not take all; the same may be said for me. Somewhat must be left for the Labours of other Men. Nor is he a good Teacher (says a great man) who teaches every thing, and leaves nothing for the invention of others. A new age, a new race of men, will daily produce new Discoveries. It is enough for me, that I have broken the Ice; and I have gain’d my end, if I set others to work; whether to write more, or to amend what I have written.

There are some, I hear, who take it ill that I have mention’d Monasteries and their Founders. I am sorry to hear it; but (with their leave) they are possibly such who are angry, and would have it forgotten, that our Ancestors were, and we are, Christians; since there are not any more certain and glorious Monuments of their Christian piety and devotion: nor were there any other Seminaries for the propagation of Religion and Learning; however, in a corrupt Age, Weeds might run up, which were necessary to be rooted out.

The Mathematicians will lay to my charge the palpable Mistakes I have committed in stating the Degrees of Longitude and Latitude. But spare me a little: I have collated all the Astronomical Tables, new and old, printed and Manuscript, those of Oxford, those of Cambridge, and those of King Henry the fifth. In the Latitudes, they differ much from Ptolemy, but agree pretty well with one another (not that I believe with Stadius, that the Globe of the Earth is remov’d from its Centre;) and for that reason I have follow’d them. But all differ as to Longitude; and agree no where. What therefore could I do? Since our modern Sailors have observ’d, that there is no variation of the Compass at the Isles of Azores, I have thence, as from the great Meridian, commenc’d the Accounts of Longitude, but not every where with a critical Nicety.

I need not ask pardon for being obscure, or fabulous, or for extravagant digressions: For I apprehend no danger of being thought obscure, unless it be by those, who have no taste of ancient Learning, nor have so much as dip’d in our own Histories: and as for Fables, I have shown them no countenance: and to keep my self from Digressions, I took Pliny’s advice, and often read the title of my Book, and at the same time put the question to my self, What it was I had undertaken? Maps have been hitherto wanting and much desir’d in this Work; as that which would not only add much to the beauty of it, but be of infinite use too, as they are in all Studies of this kind; especially when improv’d and explain’d by Descriptions of the Places. But this is a defect, which it was not in my power to supply: however, it is now supply’d by the care of George Bishop and John Norton, according to the description of those excellent Chorographers, Christopher Saxton and John Norden.

But I exceed the bounds of a Preface, and therefore shall only add, That for many years I have apply’d my self to this Work with the utmost diligence and integrity, in order to explain the Antiquities of my Native Country: I have slander’d no Family, blasted no Man’s Reputation, nor sported with any Man’s Name: I have impeach’d the Credit of no Writer, not so much as Jeffrey of Monmouth’s whose History (which I am inclinable enough to favour) is yet of little authority among Learned Men. Neither have I affected to be thought knowing in any respect, unless it be that I am desirous to know. I frankly own my ignorance, and am sensible that I may oft-times have been mistaken; nor will I patronize my own mistakes. What Marks-man that shoots a whole day, can constantly hit the mark? There are many things in these Studies Cineri suppôsta doloso, which glittering, are not Gold. Many Errors are owing to a treacherous memory; for who is able to treasure up every thing there, so as to be able to produce it at pleasure? Many again proceed from unskilfulness; for who is so good a Pilot, as to cruise in this unknown Sea of Antiquity, without splitting upon Rocks? And it is possible, I may have been led into Errors by the Authority of Writers, and of others whom I reckon’d I might safely rely on. There is nothing more dangerous (says Pliny) in the search after Truth, than when a stanch Author asserts a false thing. Inhabitants may better observe the particulars of the places where they live; and if they will inform me of any mistake, I will thankfully amend it: what I have omitted I will add; what I have not sufficiently explain’d, I will explain better, when I am better inform’d: All I desire, is, not to be censur’d out of Malice or a Contentious humour, which will ill become Men of Candour and Integrity.

These favours, most courteous Reader, let thy good nature, and my pains, our common love for our Country, and the glory of the British Name, obtain for me at thy hands; viz. That I may speak my mind freely without offence to others, That I may stand upon the same bottom as others have done before me in these Studies; and, That what Errors I own, you will pardon. These Favours are rather to be expected, than desir’d from the Candid; and as to those mean partial persons, whose tongues are slandering whenever their teeth are going, who are carping in all Companies, and are full of Envy, Reproach and Malice; I value them not. I have learn’d of the Comedian, That Slander is the treasure of fools, which they carry in their tongues; and have found by experience, that Envy (in spight of Envy be it spoken) never harbours but in a mean, narrow, sneaking breast. Generous and candid Souls, as they know how to slight Envy, so they know not how to practice it. As for me and my Works, I humbly submit them, with the greatest deference, to Men of Virtue and Learning, who if they do not approve, will I hope pardon, what I have here attempted out of a most zealous Affection to my Native Country.





Through dangerous Fords, o’re ways unbeaten too
The Searchers after Truth are bound to go;
This poor employ can few Professors get,
A boyish Task, below the Men of Wit.
But ’tis a work of Hardship when begun,
A Load uneasie to be undergone.

Line Decorative

Pro captu Lectoris habent sua fata Libelli.

Books take their doom from each Peruser’s will,
Just as they think, they pass for good or ill.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52