Renæssanceforum 8 • 2012

Geoffrey Eatough
William Camden's insula romana

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Camden's Britannia, this most English of works, written by a contemporary of Shakespeare, which told the English especially who they had been and were, and helped shape the politics of the country, is written in Latin, Camden's preferred historical language, and is informed by Roman civic values, well exemplified in the introduction to the 1607 edition, where Camden confronts the rancours of contemporary society. The Britannia is historical chorography where Roman remains are the major key to understanding the English landscape, and Roman culture remains inwoven in the history of the people, even in its religion, and in its imperialism. The Britannia is a dynamic not just a monumental work, it engages with the future as well as the past, the past being used to deconstruct the prejudices and assumptions of the present, or reinforce them. The history of Rome had been a history of ethnic assimilation, and the British had become Romano-British and for this and historico-geographical reasons had evolved as nations of mixed races. The sea was part of the chorography of Britain. It made Britain a trading nation but also encouraged imperialistic designs. The narratives on Ireland are followed by a classically inspired poetic of islands and territories adjacent to Britain which serve also as images of an imperial future.