Review of Staffordshire and Shropshire described by William Camden in 1586.



The first editions of Camden’s Britannia were printed in Latin, and revised many times. The works were first translated and published in English, in 1610, 13 years before Camden’s death. Again, further revised editions were published later.

These notes are from the 1722, second edition; [see The Archive CD Books Project]. 


The general tribal groupings of the ancient Britons were Danmonii; Durotriges; Belgae; Attrebatii; Regni; Cantium; Dobuni; Catteuchlanii; Trinobantes; Iceni; Coritani; for ‘our’ area, the Cornavii [Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Cheshire.] Then the Silures; Dimetae; Ordevices; Brigantes; and the Ottadini.


Camden confesses that he does not know the origin of the name Cornabii / Cornavii, and that also, there appears to be no remnant of the name in his time.  He assures that the name was extant however up to and including the decline of the Roman Empire, “for the troops of the Cornavii served under the later Emperors; as may be seen in the Breviary of the Western Empire”.


The Reverend Bede called the people of this area, (living in the heart of England) the Angli-Mediterranie.  Camden describes Staffordshire as “lying south to north, almost in the form of a rhombus, being broad in the middle, but narrow and contracted toward the ends.  The north part is mountainous, and less fertile; but the middle, which is water’d by the Trent, is fruitful, and woody, and is render’d pleasant, by an equal mixture of arable and meadow grounds; so also is the south, which has much pit-coal, and mines of Iron; but whether to their loss or advantage, the natives themselves are the best Judges; and to them, I refer it.”


Following the course of the river Sow, from Gerard’s Bromley Camden continues his progress thus:-

“The Sow keeps in a parallel line, at equal distance from the Trent, and runs by Chebsey, which formerly belong’d to the Lords Hastings; and then, not far from Eccleshal, the residence of the Bishop of Lichfield.  [This castle was either built or at least repair’d, by Walter de Longton, Bishop of Lichfield and Lord Treasurer of England, in the reign of Edward the first.  Not far from whence is Wotton, where is a high-pav’d way, which Dr Plot believes to have been a Roman Via-Vicinalis, or by-way, from one Town to another,] and Ellenhall, which formerly was the seat of the Noels, a famous family, who founded a Monastery at Raunton hard by: from them, it descended hereditarily to the Harcourts, who are of an ancient and noble Norman race, and have flourished for a long time in great dignity.  Of the male-line of these Noels, was Andrew Noel, of Dalby, an eminent Knight;  as also the Noels of Wellesborow, in the county of Leicester, [and those of Hilcote-Hardby, with Baptist Earl of Gainsburrow] and others, remaining at this day.

         From hence the Sow runs by Stafford, heretofore call’d Statford, and before that, Betheney, where Bertelin lived an Hermit, with the reputation of great sanctity.  Edward the elder, in the year 944, built a Tower on the north-side of the river here.

When William the first took his Survey of England, as it is laid in Domesday-book, the King had only eighteen Burgesses here, belonging to him, and twenty mansions of the Honour of the Earl; it paid for all customs, nine pounds in deniers.  In another place; the King commanded a castle be made there, which was lately demolish’d.  But at that time, (as at this day), Stafford was the chief Town of the County; [in favour of which, a Law passed in the first year of Queen Elizabeth , for the Assizes and Sessions to be holden here.]  It owes its greatest glory to Stafford, a Castle adjoyning to it, built by the Barons of Stafford for a seat.  [It is certain that Ethelfleda, the Mercian Queen, built a Castle at Stafford, whereof there is nothing remaining; this upon the hill, at a mile’s distance from the Town, being built by Ranulph, or Ralph, the first Earl of Stafford, a long time after.  Tho’ Mr. || Erdeswick indeed concludes, that he only re-edify’d the Castle, and did not new build it; because he had seen a certain Deed dated from the Castle near Stafford long before the days of the Earl Ralph.  But Dr. Plot is of the opinion, that the old Castle there mention’d, might rather stand within the entrenchment at Billington, which perhaps (says he) may be only the remains of this Castle; the lands, wherein these entrenchments are, being not far distant, and still remaining part of the demesne land of the Barony of Stafford.] “



And so to Shropshire.

“The fourth division of that Country which (as is generally believed ), the Cornavii inhabited,”…. Later writers [after the Saxons] (call it)  [“.. Salopshire, Scropscire, and Shropshire,] we Shropshire, and the the Latins Comitatus Salopiensis. It much exceeds the rest in compass, and is now inferior to any in fruitfulness or pleasure.  It is bounded on the East by Staffordshire, on the West by Montgomeryshire and Denbyshire, on the South by Worcestershire, Heredfordshire and Radnorshire, and on the North by Cheshire.  It is environ’d on every side by towns and castles, [insomuch that a late Author says, it may seem on the west to be divided from Wales by a wall of continu’d castles ;  and Speed tells us, that beside several towns strongly walled, thirty two castles have been built in it;]  being a frontier County, or, (as Siculus Flaccus words it) Ager arcifinius ; and of great use in checking the excursions of their Welsh neighbours.  From whence, the borders of it towards Wales, were called by a Saxon name, the Marches, being the limits, between the English and Welsh.”


There is then much interesting discussion on the ‘Marchers’ and their Palatines.


Camden then goes on to describe much of Shropshire that is more close to the West, with this warning-

“I would not be understood (therefore I give this caution) that all the County belong’d to the Cornavii, but only so much as lies on this side of the Severn.  That on the other side, belonged to the Ordovices….”

  Thereafter, unfortunately,  although there is much of interest in the reading, there is no mention of ‘our’ area closer than the Wrekin, (or, Gilbert’s Hill), even though it is, interesting.



An addendum which will become clear-

Not far from the confluence between the Sow and the Trent:-

“[stands Ingestre, an ancient seat of the family of the Chetwinds; the last owner of which, (who dy’d without issue A.D. 1693) was Walter Chetwind Esq., a Gentleman, eminent, as for his ancient family, and great hospitality, so for his admirable skill in ancient Antiquities; the History of Staffordshire, receiving great encouragement from him.  He was likewise, a person of a charitable and public spirit, as appear’d by new building of the parish-church of Ingestre after a very beautiful manner, and also adding to the Vicarage, such tythes as remain’d in his hands].”


Universal British Directory of 1791: Stafford






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