Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660

Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660

Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660

Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660

Synopsis

Examines how the legendary history of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, continued to influence the Renaissance idea of ancient Britain

Excerpt

Hoc Romanorum iugum quamvis grave, tamen salutare fuit

—William Camden, Britannia

THUS IN THE ABOVE QUOTE DOES THE GREAT WILLIAM CAMDEN, THE name perhaps most readily associated with the “historical revolution” of the English Renaissance, in his 1586 Britannia reassure his countrymen of the benefits conferred on Britain by the Roman occupation: “This Roman yoke, though heavy, was nevertheless healthful.” The question is, should we see Camden’s remark as an invitation to other Englishmen to appreciate even more something which he and they appreciate already? Does he thus address his fellow countrymen as fellow admirers of ancient Rome? Or might there be another possibility, that he is trying to get them to see the bright side of a phenomenon, Roman occupation, which he imagines they dislike? Does he then share something of this dislike with them? Commentators on Renaissance historiography have treated antiquarians like Camden as though the former sense were clearly the prevailing one. He was chief among the scholars who engineered the “historical revolution,” a dramatic leap forward in historiographical understanding and methodology, and with such developments came a greater admiration for classical antiquity and a desire to emulate the achievements of ancient Rome. The present study, meanwhile, offers an exploration of the latter sense: perhaps Camden perceives in his readership a kind of revulsion toward Roman dominion over Britain; perhaps he even feels something of this revulsion himself.

This book sets out to describe how Renaissance English impressions of ancient Britain were disturbed by conceptions derived from the medieval tradition of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and to account for these disturbances by tying them to Protestant anti-Romanism. While we are surely correct to observe the widely held interest in and affinity for Rome which Camden’s . . .

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