British Antiquities

Return to English 344 home page Return to Siân Echard's home page Return to Hub Page

N the early modern period, antiquaries began to devote themselves to recording and recovering the texts and artefacts of the medieval past. UBC Library's department of Rare Books and Special Collections has several volumes that show how antiquaries charted Britain's past across its landscape. The pictures on this page come from works by William Camden (1551-1623) and William Lambarde (1536-1601). William Camden was an historian and herald. In the latter capacity he was the Clarenceux King of Arms, one of the senior heralds of the College of Arms. William Lambarde was a lawyer and antiquary.


The first edition of Camden's Britannia appeared in 1586. The first illustrations concentrated on antique letterforms, inscriptions and so on: the image to the right shows an alphabet-table from the 1594 edition. The table was intended to help readers decipher the Saxon characters that appeared in the text, frequently in passages outlining the origins of placenames. Below is an example of Saxon script in the 1594 edition, in the explanation of the origins of the name Penrith.








Both of the above images are taken from Britannia: sive Florentissimorvm regnorvm Angliæ, Scotiæ, Hiberniæ, et insularum adiacentium ex intima antiquitate chorographica descriptio (London, 1594). This edition may be found in Rare Books and Special Collections at DA610 .C166 1594.




ritannia was translated into English in 1610, and from then on, editions were often large and lavishly illustrated. The titlepage below on the left features a map of Britain: maps were to become more and more important in later editions. On the right is a plate with engravings of early British coins: the interests of antiquarian collectors were reflected in the increasing number of such illustrations.

The above illustrations are taken from Britain, or, A chorographicall description of the most flourishing kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the ilands adioyning, out of the depth of antiqvitie : beavtified with mappes of the severall shires of England / written first in Latine by William Camden ; translated newly into English by Philémon Holland (London, 1610), available in Rare Books and Special Collections at DA610 .C17 1610.

The map of Cornwall above, also from the 1610 edition, is decorated with an illustration of Launceston Castle (click on the castle in the map to open a detail window). Increasingly editions of Britannia and similar books included pictures of ancient buildings and monuments. The picture on the left shows how Stonehenge was depicted in the 1610 edition. Click on the boxed Latin legend to open a new window with a detail of the English captions to the drawing.

Click here to visit the English Heritage site dedicated to Stonehenge.


You might also enjoy the Megalithic Portal: the Megalithic Map of Ireland and the UK is particularly fun

In addition to coins, other objects of interest to antiquarians and collectors were increasingly featured in the illustration programs of books like Britannia. The illustration on the left below is the Glastonbury Cross as it appeared in the 1610 edition of Britannia. You can read about the discovery of the cross on our Arthur in History page. Below on the right is an engraving of the Alfred jewel, taken from a 1722 printing of Edmund Gibson's much expanded revision of the text (1695), Camden's Britannia newly translated into English, with large additions and improvements, available in Special Collections at DA610.C17.

The Alfred Jewel is now housed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The Museum's Anglo-Saxon Discovery site, aimed at children, includes some detailed photographs of the Jewel.

William Lambarde's Perambulation of Kent appeared first in 1576. The pictures below are taken from the 1596 edition: A perambulation of Kent; conteining the description, hystorie, and customes of that shyre. Written in the yeere 1570, by William Lambarde ... First published in the year 1576, and now increased and altered from the author's owne last copie, found in Rare Books and Special Collections at DA670.K3P4. First is a map of the beacons of Kent. Below it is Lambarde's account of the origins of the custom of wasseil: you will recognize the story from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britannie, where he tells how Vortigern was besotted with the Saxon princess Renwein. You will see that, as in Camden's Britannia, Saxon characters are used when Old English is printed.


Return to English 344 home page Return to Siân Echard's home page Return to Hub Page

©Siân Echard. Not to be copied, used, or revised without explicit written permission from the copyright owner.