British Library researcher throws new light on Elizabeth I

pages from Camden Annals - open book

An opening from one of the manuscripts of Camden’s Annals ©The British Library Board

If you are as student of Tudor-Stuart English history, you will be familiar with the Camden Annals.

William Camden’s Annals is a valuable source on early modern Britain. Many consider it to be the official contemporary account of Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603).

Written in Latin, the text is based on first-hand evidence such as eyewitness reports and official parliamentary records, collected by the historian William Camden (d. 1623).  Begun during Elizabeth I’s lifetime, they were completed in the first decades of the 1600s at the command of Elizabeth’s successor, King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).

It is also true that for centuries, dozens of passages in the original manuscript drafts of William Camden’s Annals have been invisible to the naked eye. Paper covers the original text and some passages are over-written.  Thanks to advances in enhanced imaging, concealed lines are now readable! Now using transmitted light, what was lost is now found – offering a deeper insight into the political machinations of Elizabeth’s court.

Often regarded as the most important source in shaping the image of Elizabeth I and her reign, modern historians have commonly relied on Camden’s Annals as an impartial and supposedly accurate record. This new research reveals revisions to key sections of the Annals before publication. These changes include Elizabeth I’s obituary. Also changed are accounts of King James VI of Scotland and Elizabeth’s arch-rival King Philip II of Spain. These changes imply deliberate rewriting to present a version of Elizabeth’s reign that was more favorable to her successor.

Questions to Answer

Did James plot to assassinate Elizabeth?

How did Philip II die?

Was Rome plotting again Elizabeth I?

Did Elizabeth I really name James as her successor?

These questions and more are explored as the Camden’s Annals are being viewed afresh!

The Manuscript Research

Analysis continues on the handwritten manuscript drafts.  DPhil student Helena Rutkowska is researching the Annals as part of a Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford in partnership with the British Library and Open University. It represents a significant finding in early modern historical scholarship.

For the complete article and some of the changes exposed Click Here.

Thank You to society member Paul Albright for sharing this article.