William Camden
Died: 09 Nov, 1623
Burial Date: 19 Nov, 1623
Field: Writer; historian
Location in the Abbey: South transept
Type of memorial: Bust
Type of material: Marble

William Camden, author and antiquary, was buried in the south transept  of Westminster Abbey on 19 November 1623. Through the influence of Dean Gabriel Goodman he had been appointed Second Master at Westminster School in 1575 and he became Head Master 1593-97. He was also Librarian of Westminster Abbey 1587-97 and sang in the Choir 1584-5. He was author of the first guidebook to the monuments in the Abbey, published in 1600. His monument of white marble is on the west wall of the transept with a bust (unfortunately the inscription gives an incorrect age). He has his left hand on his famous book Britannia and in his right he holds some gloves. In the arcade behind is a gilded coronet (referring to his King of Arms office) and two shields of arms. The Latin inscription can be translated:

William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms, who illustrated the British Antiquities, by ancient truth and indefatigable industry, and adorned his innate simplicity with useful literature, and illustrated his pleasantness of humour with candour and sincerity, lies here quietly, in hopes of a certain resurrection in Christ. He died 9 November 1623, aged 74.

The bust was damaged during the Civil War but the monument was restored by the University of Oxford in the late 18th century. The coats of arms show “argent, St George’s cross, on a chief gules a lion of England” (for Clarenceux King of Arms) impaling “argent a fess engrailed between six crosses crosslet fitchee sable” (for Camden).

His life

William was born on 2 May 1551 in London, son of Sampson and his wife Elizabeth (Curwen). He was educated at Christ’s Hospital, St Paul’s school and Oxford university. During his time at Westminster School he was able to travel extensively around the country during the holidays collecting antiquarian and topographical information. In 1586 his book Britannia (a description of Britain and Ireland) was published, which went into many editions. One of his pupils was the Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson and Camden made many improvements at the school, with patronage from Lord Burghley. His Greek grammar became a standard work and his other major work was the Annals of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Although a layman William was appointed to the prebend of Ilfracombe at Salisbury Cathedral and in 1597 he was appointed Clarenceux King of Arms (one of the three principal officers or heralds at the College of Arms). He died unmarried at his home at Chislehurst in Kent on 9 November 1623. His executor William Heather, the composer, was buried near him.

A photograph of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

“William Camden. A life in context” by Wyman Herendeen, 2007.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.