15 July 2023
If you have been following the news recently, you may have seen that we've been doing specialist imaging on the draft manuscripts of William Camden's Annals of the Reign of Elizabeth I, with sensational results. This research has been undertaken by Helena Rutkowska, a collaborative DPhil student in partnership between the University of Oxford, Open University and the British Library, with the imaging generously funded by the British Library Collections Trust, carried out by Eugenio Falcioni, and co-ordinated by Calum Cockburn.
The specialist imaging of Camden's Annals, using transmitted light, being carried out at the British Library
Camden's Annals has long been regarded as one of the most important, contemporary accounts of the reign of this famous Tudor queen. The work was originally requested by William Cecil, Lord Burghley (d. 1598), and was then completed by command of King James I of England and VI of Scotland (d. 1625). William Camden (d. 1623), an antiquarian scholar and Clarenceux King of Arms, is credited with authorship of the work, but he was probably writing in collaboration with others, including Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), founder of the famous Cotton library. The first three books, covering the period to 1587, were published in Latin in 1615, with the remainder of the work published after Camden had died, in 1625.
Helena's research has focused on the ten volumes of manuscript drafts of the Annals (Cotton MS Faustina F I–X). These manuscripts reveal a continuous process of revision of the text prior to publication, with multiple crossings out, amendments and additions. Most notably, there are dozens of pages on which the original text has been pasted over, with new wording written on top. By using transmitted light, the Library has now been able to reveal what is under those pastedowns, and to read the original text of Camden's Annals for the first time in 400 years.
The draft manuscripts of Camden's Annals contain numerous revisions, with many parts of the original text pasted over and over-written
The new discoveries will be outlined in Helena's doctorate, and we also plan to make the images available online. Early analysis has made some startling revelations, including earlier accounts of Elizabeth's excommunication by Elizabeth I in 1570, the death of King Philip II of Spain in 1598, and the implied involvement of James VI in a plot to assassinate the English queen. There are also subtle changes in the manuscript drafts which suggest that Elizabeth did not nominate James on her deathbed as her successor, unlike the version that made its way into print. Helena suggests that this all indicates that Camden was self-censoring his work, for fear of upsetting his patron, King James, and to paint him (and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots) in a more flattering light.
The British Library is delighted to have been able to support this groundbreaking research, and we look forward to discovering what else has been covered up in the manuscripts of Camden's Annals.
We are very grateful to the British Library's Collections Trust for supporting this project. You can read more about Helena Rutkowska's research in this article by Dalya Alberge, published in The Guardian on 14 July.
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval