1610 William Camden


In 1577, with the encouragement of Abraham Ortelius, Camden began his great work Britannia, a topographical and historical survey of all of Great Britain and Ireland. The first edition was published in 1586.  The first English language edition,expanded and translated by Philemon Holland (probably in collaboration with Camden), appeared in 1610.

A river called of some Brius, which ariseth out of that great and wide wood in the East-side of this shire, which the Britons named Cort Maur , the Saxons Selwood , that is (by Asserius interpretation), The great wood, but now not so great. This river first visiteth Bruiton, to which he leaveth his name (a place memorable for that the Mohuns there entombed, who built a religious house), ? and then entertaining a brooke comming by Rodlinch, a well knowne house of the Fitz-James, ? runneth a long way by small villages and, encreased with some other brooks, it watereth goodly grounds untill it meete with softer soile then, and there it maketh certain marshes and meres, and when the waters rise, environeth a large plot of ground, as an Isle, so called of old time in the British tongue the Isle of Avalon, of Appuls; afterwards named Inis Witrin , that is, The Glassy Isle, like as in the Saxon idiome, the same sense Glastn-ey , and in Latin Glasconia . Of which, a Poet of good antiquity writeth thus: 

The Apple-Isle and fortunate, folke of the thing so call,
For of it it selfe it bringeth forth corne, forage, fruit and all.
There is no need of country clowns to plough and till the fields,
Nor seene is any husbandry but that which nature yeelds.
Of the owne accord there commeth up corne, grasse and herbs good store,
Whole woods there be that apples beare, if they be prun'd before.

11. ? In this Isle, under a great hill rising in great height with a tower thereon, which they call the Tor , ? flourished the famous Abbay of Glastenbury, the beginning whereof is very ancient, fetched even from that Joseph of Armithaea who enterred the bodie of Jesus Christ, and whom Philip the Apostle of the Gaules sent into Britaine for to preach Christ. For thus much both the most ancient records and monuments of this Monasterie testifie, and also Patrick the Irish Apostle (who lived there a Monke thirtie yeeres) in an Epistle of his hath left to memorie. Whereupon this place was by our Auncestors named The first land of God, The first land of Saints in England, The beginning and fountaine of all religion in England, The tombe of Saints, The mother of Saints, The Church founded and built by the Lords Disciples . Neither is there any cause why we should much doubt heereof, sithence I have shewed before that the beames of Christian religion in the very infancie of the primitive Church were spred and shined upon this Iland, yea and Freculphus Lexoviensis hath written that the said Philip conducted barbarous nations, neere unto darknesse and bordering just upon the Ocean, to the light of knowledge and port of faith . But to our Monasterie, and that out of Malmesburie his booke touching the matter. When that old Cell or little chapell which Joseph had built by continuance of time was in the end decaied, Devi Bishop of Saint Davids erected a new one in the same place, which also in time falling to ruinne, twelve men comming out of the North part of Britaine repaired it, and lastly King Ina (who founded a schoole in Rome for the training up and instruction of English youth, and to the maintenance thereof, as also for almes to be distributed at Rome, had laid an imposition of Peter-pence upon every house thorowout his realme) having demolished it, built there a very faire and stately Church to Christ, Peter, and Paul, and under the very highest coping thereof round about caused to be written thee verses:

Two mountaines high that reach the stars, two tops of Sion faire
From Libanon two cedar trees their flouring heads doe beare.
Two roiall gates of highest heaven, two lights that men admire,
Paul thundreth with his voice aloft, Peter he flasheth fire. 
Of all the Apostles crowned crew, whose raies right glittering bee,
Paul for deepe learning doth excell, Peter for high degree. 
The one doth open the hearts of men, the other heaven doore, 
For Peter lets those into heaven whom Paul had taught before. 
As one by meanes of doctrine shewes the way how heaven to win, 
By vertue so of th' others Keys men quickly enter in.
Paul is a plaine and ready way for men to heaven hie,
And Peter is as sure a gate for them to passe thereby. 
This is a rocke remaining firme, a Master builder hee.
Twixt these a Church and altar both to please God built we see.
Rejoice, o England, willingly, for Rome doth greet the thee well,
The glorious Apostles light in Glaston now doe dwell.
Two bulwarks strong afront the Foe are rais' d. These towres of faith
In that this this Citie holds, the head even of the world it hath.
These monuments King Ina gave of perfect meere good will
Unto his subjects, whose good deeds remaine and shall doe still.
He with his whole affection in godlinesse did live,
And holy Church to amplifie great riches also give.
Well might he our Melchisedech, a Priest and King, be thought,
For he the true religious worke to full perfection brought.
The lawes in common weale he kept, and state in Court beside,
The onely Prince that prelats grac' d, and them eke rectifide.
And now departed hence to heaven, of right he there doth reigne,
Yet shall the praise of his good deeds with us for ay remaine. 

12. In this first age of the primitive Church very holy men, and the Irish especially, applied the service of God in this place diligently, who were maintained with allowances from Kings, and instructed youth in religion and liberall sciences. These men embraced a solitarie life that they might the more quietly studie the scriptures, and by an austere kind of life exercise themselves to the bearing of the crosse. But at length Dunstane, a man of a subtile wit and well experienced, when he had once by an opinion of his singular holinesse and learning wound himselfe into the inward acquaintance of Princes, in stead of these, brought in monks of a later order, called Benedictines, and himselfe first of all others became the Abbat or ruler heere of a great convent of them; who had formerly and afterward gotten at the hands of good and godly Princes a roiall revenue. And having reigned as it were in all affluence 600 yeres (for al their neighbors round about were at their beck), they were by King Henry the Eighth dispossessed and thrust out of all, and this their Monastery, which was growen now to be a prety Citie, environed with a large wall a mile about and replenished with stately buildings, was raced and made even with the ground: and now onely sheweth evidently by the ruines thereof how great and how magnificent a thing it was.

13. Now, I might be thought one of those that in this age have vanities in admiration, if I should tell you of a Walnut tree in the holy Churchyard heere, that never did put forth leave before S. Barnabees feast, and upon that very day was rank and full of leaves, but that is now gone, and a young tree in the place, as also of the Hawthorne in Wiral-park hard by, which upon Christmasday sprouteth forth as well as in May. And yet there be many of good credit, if we may beleeve men of their word, who avouch these things to be most true. But before I returne from hence, I will briefly set downe unto you that which Giraldus Cambrensis, an eie-witnesse of the thing, hath more at large related touching Arthurs Sepulcher in the Churchyard there.

When Henrie the Second King of England tooke knowledge out of the Songs of British Bards, or Rhythmers, how Arthur that most noble Worthy of the Britans, who by his Martial prowesse had many a time daunted the fury of the English-Saxons, lay buried here between two Pyramides or sharpe-headed pillars, hee caused the bodie to be searched for, and scarcely had they digged seven foot deepe into the earth but they lighted upon a Tomb or Grave-stone, on the upper face whereof was fastned a broad Crosse of led grosly wrought: which being taken forth shewed an inscription of letters, and under the said stone almost nine foot deeper was found a Sepulchre of oake made hollow, wherein the bones of that famous Arthur were bestowed, which Inscription or Epitaph, as it was sometime exemplified and drawen out of the first Copie in the Abbey of Glascon, I thought good for the antiquitie of the characters heere to put downe. The letters, being made after a barbarous maner and resembling the Gothish Character, bewray plainly the barbarism of that age, when ignorance (as it were) by fatall destinie bare such sway that there was none to be found by whose writings the renowme of Arthur might be blazed and commended to posteritie, a matter and argument doubtlesse meet to have been handled by the skill and eloquence of some right learned man, who in celebrating the praises of so great a prince might have wonne due commendation also for his own wit. For the most valiant Champian of the British Empire seemeth even, in this behalfe only, unfortunate, that he never met with such a trumpetter as might worthily have sounded out the praise of his valor. But behold the said Crosse and Epitaph therein.

14. Neither will it be impertinent if I annex hereunto what our Countreyman Joseph (a Monke) of Excester, no vulgar and triviall Poet, versified sometime of Arthur in his Poeme Antiocheis , ? wherein he described the warres of the Christians for recoverie of the Holy Land, and was there present with King Richard the First, speaking of Britaine.

For famous death and happie birth hence floursh' d next in place,
Arthur the flower of noble Kings, whose acts with lovely grace
Accepted and admired were in peoples mouth and eare
No lesse than if sweet hony they, or pleasant musicke were.
See former Princes, and compare his worth even with them all:
That King in Pella borne, whom we great Alexander call,
The trumpe of fame doth sound aloft. The Roman Stories eke
Much praise and honour both of their Triumphant Caesars speake,
And Hercules exalted is for taming Monsters fell.
But Pine-trees hazels low (as Sunne the Starres) doe farre excell:
Both Greeke and Latine Annals read, no former age his Peere,
Nor future time his match can shew. For this is plaine and cleere,
In goodnesse hee and greatnesse both surmounts Kings all and some,
Better alone than all before, greater than those to come. 

And this worthy Knight (that I may note so much also by the way out of Ninnius the Britan, if it be worth the noting) was called Mab-uter , that is, A terrible dreadfull Sonne, because hee was from his childhood cruell; and Artur , which in the British tongue importeth as much as an horrible beare, or an yron mall wherewith the Lions jawes are bruised and broken.

15. Lo here also, if it please you, other monuments of this place, though they bee not of the greatest antiquitie, out of the foresaid William of Malmesburie. That (quoth he) which to all men is altogether unknowen I would gladly relate, if I could picke out the truth: namely, what those sharp pillars or pyramides should meane, which being set distant certaine feet from the old Church, stand in the front and border of the Churchyard. The highest of them, and that which is neerer to the Church than the rest, hath five stories, and carrieth in height six and twentie foot. Which albeit for age it be ready to fall, yet hath it certaine antiquities to bee seen, that plainly may be read, although they cannot so easily bee understood. For in the uppermost storie there is an Image in habit and attire of a Bishop; in the next under it, the statue of a King in in his roiall robes, and these Letters, HER. SEXI. and BLISWERH. In the third, these names likewise, and nothing else, WEMCHESTE. BAMPTOMP. WINEWEGNE. In the fourth, HATE. WULFREDE and EANFLEDE. In the fifth, which is the lowest, a portaict and this writing, LOGVOR. WESLIELAS and BREGDENE. SWELSWES. HWINGENDES. BERNE. The other Pyramis is eighteene foot high and hath foure floores or stories, in which you may read HEDDE Bishop &, BREGORRED & BEORWALDEE. What all this should signifie, I take not upon me rashly to define: but by conjecture I gather that in some hollowed stones within are contained the bones of those whose names are read without. Surely LOGWOR is affirmed for certaine to be the same man of whose name the place was sometime called Logweresbeorgh which now they call Mont-acute. And BEORWALDE sembably was Abbat next after HEMGISELUS. 

16. To reckon up here the Kings of the West-Saxons that were buried in this place would be but needless. Howbeit, King Edgar the Peaceable, who alwaies tendred peace, in regard if there were nothing else, I cannot but remember and put downe his Epitaph, not unbeseeming that age where in he lived.

That Well of wealth and scourge of sinne, that honour-giver great,
King Edgar hence is gone to hold in heaven his roiall seat.
This second Salomon that was, law-father, Prince of peace,
In that he wanted warres, the more his glorie had increase.
Churches to God, to Churches Monkes, to Monkes faire Lands he gave,
Downe went in his daies wickedness, and Justice place might have:
A pure crowne for a counterfeit he purchased once for all,
An endlesse Kingdome for a short, a boundlesse for a small. 

17. Beneath Glascon three Rivers which there meet doe make a meere, and issuing forth at one little mouth, runne all in one chanell West-ward to Uzella Frith, first by Gedney or (as other will have it) Godney moore, which (they say), signifieth Gods Iland, and was granted to Joseph of Arimathea; then by Wead-moore, a Mannour of King Aelfreds, which by his last Will and Testament hee gave as a legacie to his sonne Edward, and so by that moory or fenny countrey Brentmarsh, that runneth out verie farre, which the Monkes of Glastenburie interpreted to be the Countrey of Fen frogges, like as the little towne Brentknoll there, which signifieth Frog-hill.


All images and text © Glastonbury Antiquarian Society 2022

Site Map