Monday, April 25, 2011

On eve of a Royal wedding ...

As the world anticipates the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at the end of the week, we pause to consider the biography of another royal, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the last monach of the House of Tudor. William is of the House of Windsor.

William Camden's The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, Late Queen of England was published in 1675. A copy of the third edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

William Camden, historian
Camden was already well known throughout the United Kingdom as an authority on British antiquity when Lord William Cecil, the treasurer of England, suggested that Camden write a definitive history of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Camden had already published Britannia, an exhaustive survey of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1856. Cecil, who was known as Lord Burghley, had an abiding interest in a history of Elizabeth. He had been a close adviser to the queen, and would figure prominently in the story of her rule.

The book is a collection of separate entries of the events of each year of Elizabeth’s 44-year reign. It is considered an important work that has had great influence on how the Elizabethan age is perceived today.

Camden writes in The Author to the Reader section of the volume that he had access to “great Piles and Heaps of Papers and Writings of all sorts …” that seemed to a bit daunting at the beginning. Nevertheless, his desire to preserve the memory of the queen, to keep from disappointing Lord Burghley, and to seek “the real Truth of Passages lodged, as it were, in so many Repositories” spurred him to undertake the project.

The volume contains four books, the first three originally published in 1615. Camden finished the fourth book in 1617 but asked that it be published after his death. He died in 1623. The final book was pubished two years later.

Camden was headmaster of Westminster School and was later an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London, a center for genealogical and antiquarian study. The position allowed him freedom to pursue his antiquarian research.

Queen Elizabeth I
Among his students was Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, who became Camden’s close friend. Cotton amassed possibly the most important private collection of antiquarian manuscripts in Britain and it apparently fell to Cotton to publish the final book of Camden’s history of Queen Elizabeth I.

Camden also gave a copy of his manuscript to author and statesman Sir Francis Bacon. Some scholars suggest that Bacon’s ideas and suggestions for revision are incorporated into later versions of Camden’s work.

In this edition, before Camden’s note to the reader, there is a section titled To the Reader written in first person. It is not clear who the writer is but it is clearly not Camden because it refers to him: “I Shall not trouble thee with any large Account of the Author of this History, whose Learned Writings sufficiently set forth his singular Worth …” The note goes on to say that this edition has been greatly revised from the orginal to correct errors, put historical periods in their proper order and rewrite or edit the text to be “more consonant of the mind of the Author.”

This revised edition cleaned up and modernized the phrasing in order to make it more appealing to a newer audience, some 80 to 90 years after it had first appeared.  English is an ever evolving language. The phrasing likely to be used by Prince William and his new bride is a far cry from the language used even in this revision, published in 1675!

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