Timothy Duke, Norroy and Ulster and Picture Officer, writes:

The White Lion Society has most generously given the College of Arms a portrait of William Camden (1551-1623), Clarenceux King of Arms, which fills a notable gap in its collection.  Painted on panel measuring 58 x 46 cms it shows the sitter in a tall black hat and white lace ruff, holding a small book in his right hand.  The strapwork frame is surmounted by a shield bearing the arms of office of Clarenceux impaling those of Camden. Below the portrait is a panel bearing the following the inscription:


1551       ANTIQUARY       1623

The picture was acquired from Colin Ellis Franklin FSA, a bibliographer and book collector, who kindly felt that it would find a suitable home in the College of Arms.

The image of head and shoulders differs from known pictures and engravings of Camden, which makes it particularly interesting.  Two versions of a half-length portrait painted in 1609 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger survive, one in the Bodleian Library and the other in the National Portrait Gallery.  Another half-length portrait by an unknown artist is at Worcester College, Oxford. 

According to his biographer Thomas Smith (1638-1710), further portraits of Camden were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, perhaps painted by artists such as his father Sampson Camden, a Painter-Stainer, and his cousin John Wyatt, to whom he left £100 in his will.  Also destroyed in the Great Fire was a portrait by Sylvanus Morgan, which was engraved and the engraving used as a model for a three-quarter length portrait presented to Painters’ Hall in 1676.  It is tempting to think that the new painting may derive from one of the lost originals, but research would be needed to uncover the truth. 

Camden was the foremost scholar among the heralds of his generation and a member of the original Society of Antiquaries.  From 1575 to 1597 he was a master at Westminster School, and headmaster in the final four years.  During that time he developed a new form of historical writing, drawing on primary sources for his history of Britain, Britannia (1586).  In 1597 he was made Clarenceux King of Arms, having been appointed Richmond the day before for the sake of form.  Such preferment displeased some of his colleagues, undoubtedly Ralph Brooke, York (died 1625), who carried on a dispute until Camden’s death in 1623 and failed to take part in his funeral procession.  However, his skill brought a thoughtful and orderly leadership to the College.

This picture, now hanging on the west staircase (see back cover of this issue of the Newsletter), is a most welcome addition to the College’s collection, reminding the heralds, staff and visitors of Camden ‘the Learned’.

(c) The White Lion Society 2018