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William Camden 1551-1623

William Camden was born a Londoner on May 2, 1551 and died at age seventy-two on November 9, 1623. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. His father, Sampson Camden, was a painter and his mother, Elizabeth Curwin, came from a very old and prominent family named Cumberland. Camden started school at Christ's Hospital very young and then went to St. Paul's school at age thirteen. Between fifteen and twenty, Camden attended Oxford University.

William Camden, a young man with a most inquisitive mind, was encouraged by Gabriel Goodman, Dean of Westminster, to devote the next few years to travel. Camden, an antiquarian and historian, took up the opportunity and for the next few years, traveled abroad to study topography and collect many archeological materials. In 1575 he returned from his travel abroad and embraced his new position of Second Master of Westminster School. This position was a blessing not only because he was able to continue his research, but it also gave him the funds to continue his travel during school vacations.

In 1577 Camden decided, with the encouragement of fellow antiquary Abraham Ortelius, to begin his work on his publication entitled Britannia. It took him ten years to finish his first publication which was so wildly successful that it spurred him to produce several more editions. By 1607, Camden had published six later editions. Research for Camdens' Britannia Editions were long and thorough; he studied many local histories and public records. In Britannia, Camden observed that when Saturn is in capricornus, a great plague is certainly in London. Remarkably, Saturn was positioned exactly so in the Great Plague of 1625 and in the last Great Plague of 1665.

William Camdens' texts were all written in Latin. The only ones he wanted in another language were his Britannia Editions, translated in 1610 by Phileman Holland. Eighteen years after receiving the position of Second Master of Westminster school, Camden received the honored position of Headmaster. That same year he received the honored title of Clarenceux King -at-arms. A man named Ralph Brook was so angry he was not chosen for the title that he launched an attack on Camdens' Britannia, saying how there were many inaccuracies within the text. He argued that Camden had plagiarized the book. This prompted Camden to enter in the appendix of his fifth edition that his text was a work of history and topography rather than as one of geography or heraldry.

In 1608 at the age of fifty-seven, Camden fell from his horse resulting in severe injuries which kept him in bed for over nine months. During this time, he was able to start on his second major publication which focused upon the history of Queen Elizabeth's reign. This publication was delayed by a severe illness, but was finally completed and published in 1615. The title was Annales rerum Anglicarum et annum; he wrote a second part completed in 1617. William Camden expressly asked that it not be published until after his death.

A year before he died, Camden was struck down with paralysis. It is thought that before Camden passed, John Hacket, Bishop of Coventry and Linchfiel, arrived at Camdens' deathbed and stole his two page memoirs he wrote about his life, but that is pure speculation. It is known however that all Camdens' manuscripts and books he wrote are being kept in the library of Westminster Abbey, along with his body.

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