1. The most pressing problem posed by the present document concerns its nature. Although it is preserved with the title Annales ab Anno 1603 ad Annum 1623, Dr. Thomas Smith, its first editor, pointed out that this title is added in a later hand at the head of the principal ms. that preserves it, and was not conferred by the author himself. Smith suggested that Annalium Apparatus, “Outline for an Annals,” would be a more accurate title, and went so far (in the Praefatio to the volume in which it appeared) as to write:

Quod vero observatiunculas de tempestatibus, et de ominibus, caeteraque eiusmodi leviuscula de se vitaeque suae accidentibus, quae infra dignitatem annalium longe subsidunt, illis immiscuerit, facile quidem excusabunt aequissimi rerum aestimatores, si velint meminisse Camdenum in proprios usus, et ut sibi soli placeret, non aliis, in diario quicquid aut cuiuspiam aut plane nullius momenti, uti minus intelligentibus fortean videbitur, occurrisset, pro re nata adnotasse; illud vel istarum minutiarum omissione, ne laesae fidei quispiam postulaverit, mutilare me penitus noluisse; hanc denique futuri operis rudem impolitamque sciagraphiam, annalium compendiariam summam fuisse. Ex hac vero informi materia, observationumque, quibus sua impleverit adversaria, mole, quam pulchri.

Annales Iacobaei, Elisabethianis haud inferiores, divino Camdeni ingenio formati et digesti, si vixisset, additis stylo eleganti documentis ex usu civilis vitae petitis, surrexissent!

“Fair-minded judges will readily pardon the fact that he intermingled with these [historical facts] insignificant observations about weather and omens, and other trifles about the accidental events of his life, which sink far beneath the dignity of an Annals, if they bear in mind that, for his personal convenience and to please nobody but himself, not others, Camden recorded in his diary whatever was of any importance, or of virtually none whatsoever (as it may perhaps strike readers of little understanding); it is, in sum, the crude and unpolished silhouette of a future work, a summary of annalistic records. But out of the shapeless matter and mass of observations with which he filled is jottings, what fair Annals of the Reign of James, not inferior to his Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth, shaped and arranged by the divine genius of Camden (had he lived), supplemented by lessons drawn from his experience of civil life, would have emerged!”

  1. A similar diagnosis that this was the skeleton for an intended history was offered independently by the seventeenth century Anthony à Wood (in the biographical sketch in his Athenae Oxonienses — all subsequent descriptions of this document depend on one or both of these two writers). But I must count myself as one of Smith’s readers of small understanding: taken as an outline for a history, the document seems frustrating and baffling, a weird mixture of nuggets of genuine historical value, chronicles of Court scandal and gossip, and the most banal of trivia, set down in a jumble by someone pathologically unable to prioritize. As Smith observed, interspersed with records of events in the public sphere, the document contains a number of notations about purely private events in its author’s life, and notations on the weather (Camden appears to have entertained some notion that weather phenomena have astrological causes) and occurrences that could be interpreted as omens. Material of this order indeed does not rise to the “dignity” of annalistic history, and the same might also be said of entries that reflect Camden’s professional fascination (he was a senior Herald of the College of Arms) with squabbles within the College, details of ceremonial, questions of rank and precedence, promotions both secular and ecclesiastical, and the births, marriages, and deaths of the armigerous. Absent the author’s name, one would scarcely imagine this undigested factual miscellany to be the work of same man who wrote the Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabetha, surely the greatest historical work by an Englishman written prior to the Earl of Clarendon’s history of the Civil War. The document does exhibit some features of a chronology such as might provide a framework for an annalistic history of the reign of James I, and if one wished to press the point, it could be observed that in this document, as in the Annales, he begins each year on January 1 rather than the then-standard March 15. Yet it is impossible to conclude that all that is needed to convert Camden’s hodgepodge into an equally great annalistic history, or indeed into a historical work of any kind at all, is the touch of Camden’s inspired genius, sage experience, and eloquent pen. To a large extent the published Annales lays the foundation for all subsequent histories of Elizabeth’s reign because Lord Burghley granted Camden free access to the state papers of her government. The bare-bones facts collected here obviously are no substitute for the diligent research of a historian.
  2. The alternative, that we are dealing with essentially a private diary, requires a more careful and open-minded consideration than Smith gave it. NOTE 1 Any consideration of the document’s genre and purpose should begin with the observation that it was only begun in 1615. The entries for 1603 - 1614 are few and short, but then become dramatically more copious. The entry for December 26, 1613, the marriage of James’ favorite, the Earl of Somerset, to Frances, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, is described as “inauspicious,” an observation that could not have been made prior to the fall from grace of this couple in connection with the Thomas Overbury scandal, in October 1615. It looks, therefore, as if the document was actually started in 1615, and that the records for the previous portion of James’ reign were written after the fact, in a very cursory way. And there may well be significance in the fact that it was begun at about the same time the first part of the Annales went to the press (March 13). Perhaps in the first flush of pride in his accomplishment Camden did at least entertain some such idea. The fact that he felt obliged to go back and begin the document on the day of James’ proclamation as King suggests as much. On the other hand, the entries for 1603 - 1614 entirely consist entirely of notes about public events, but the inclusion of such unhistorical information as personal notes and weather observations commences at the beginning of 1615.
  3. In this sense, therefore, it is accurate to say that the document has a strikingly diary-like character from its inception, and it is likely that any interest in constructing a chronological skeleton for a possible history was purely secondary. In the main, the connection between the entries in this document and Camden’s work as a historian seems very tenuous indeed. I therefore have no hesitation in dispensing with the title traditionally associated with this work, and identifying it as a personal diary, albeit one maintained by a man whose predominant interest was life’s public sphere. Indeed, viewing the document from this new angle, I suspect many readers will agree that it gains considerably in stature and interest, and that Camden deserves to be regarded as an important diarist of the early Stuart period. As Clarenceux King of Arms, and as a highly regarded, gregarious, and well connected individual, he was situated close enough to the center of power to be privy to the detailed developments of James’ Royal Court, as well as its pomp and pageantry, on a day-by-day basis. NOTE 2 His Annales abundantly shows that he had the intelligent discrimination to discern the proper matter of history, and yet he had an endless fascination with the surface events of quotidian public life such as a historian would resolutely ignore, and never tired of recording them with the assiduousness that is the hallmark of the faithful diarist. Once he began, he did not cease until slightly less than three months before his death in November 1623, the true hallmark of the assiduous diarist (one of the last entries obviously records a cerebral accident, which may explain why he broke off).
  4. As explained by Dr. Thomas Smith, the text is preserved in an autograph that was bequeathed by John Hackett, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, to Trinity College, Cambridge. An imperfect copy made by Sir William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms, is owned by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and Anthony à Wood wrote of having been shown a third copy by Sir Henry St. George, a subsequent Clarenceux King of Arms, “[in] which, having been transcribed by one that understood not Latin, there are innumerable faults therein, and therefore [it is] not at all to be relied upon.” I do not know the location of this third copy, if extant. The text, based on the Trinity College ms., was printed by Smith as in appendix to his V[iri] Cl[arissimi] Guilielmi Camdeni et Illustrium Virorum ad G. Camdenum Epistolae (Londoni, impensis Richardi Chiswelli ad Insigne Rosae Coronatae in Coemeterio D. Pauli, 1691) [Early English Books, second series, reel 448:7]. It has never been reprinted. Nor, for that matter, has a full English translation ever been published, although a partial one was incorporated into the third volume of the Complete History contributed by White Kennett (London, 1706), and the diary was not infrequently quoted in translation by a great antiquarian of a later age, John Nichols, in his The Processions, and Magnificent Festivities, of King James the First, His Royal Consort, Family, and Court (London, 1828).
  5. At least in the Trinity College ms. (I do not know about the others) there is an appended list of events in Camden’s life through the year 1622. For the period covering his mature years, this becomes little more than a chronicle of his physical woes, and serves to emphasize the personal, diary-like nature of the document it follows. There is no harm in including it here as an Appendix.
  6. Smith’s text is reproduced here, with a few necessary corrections (though sometimes I am unclear whether I am correcting a mistake of the author or of the printer). Other editorial changes: 1.) wherever possible, abbreviations are written in full; 2.) some entries are out of chronological order — although this was likely Camden’s own doing, it seems to make better sense to insert them at their proper place, which is done silently. Immediately after the text of the diary, Smith printed an Addenda of extra entries pertaining to the years 1603 - 1603, almost all written in English, that deal with foreign and diplomatic developments. Entries for January 4 and March 5, 1603, suggest that in writing them Camden began the year with March 25 rather than January 1 (James came to the throne on March 24), but the fact that the first entry for 1605 is dated March 11 complicates the situation. Since the chronology of these additional notes are thus unclear, it would be dangerous to incorporate them into the main body of the text, as I otherwise would have been tempted to do. Accordingly, the text of these Addenda is reproduced as found in the book. I have not attempted a historical commentary on the text, and limited my annotations to explaining a few features that would otherwise be incomprehensible to the average reader. The reader in need of a detailed running commentary on the historical facts recorded by Camden can do no better than to read his diary side-by-side with Nichols’ Processions, and Magnificent Festivities, which very frequently covers the same incidents.


NOTE 1. At least in introducing the text, as quoted above. Curiously, in his Gulielmi Camdena Vita prefacing the same volume in which the text appears (p. xlviii), speaking of the frequent visits Camden received from foreigners, Smith wrote ideo ipsi merito condonabitur, quod nihi humani a se alienum putans, id partim sui, partim illustrissimorum virorum, qui illum tanto honore dignati fuerint, causa, in diario reliquerit annotatum. Here, clearly, the present document is intended by the word diario.

NOTE 2. Although not uniformly. Sometimes he fell behind and caught the entries up later (as is self-evidently true, for example, of the entry for April 27, 1620). To see a commentary note click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.

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