English county histories, in other words historical and topographical (or "chorographical") works concerned with individual ancient counties of England, were produced by antiquarians from the late 16th century onwards. The content was variable: most focused on recording the ownership of estates and the descent of lordships of manors, thus the genealogies of county families, heraldry and other antiquarian material. In the introduction to one typical early work of this style, The Antiquities of Warwickshire published in 1656, the author William Dugdale writes:
I offer unto you my noble countriemen, as the most proper persons to whom it can be presented wherein you will see very much of your worthy ancestors, to whose memory I have erected it as a monumentall pillar and to shew in what honour they lived in those flourishing ages past. In this kind, or not much different, have divers persons in forrein parts very learnedly written; some whereof I have noted in my preface: and I could wish that there were more that would adventure in the like manner for the rest of the counties of this nation, considering how acceptable those are, which others have already performed
Thus his work was designed primarily to be read by his fellow county gentry of Warwickshire, whose public lives and marriages were largely confined within their own county of residence, which they administered as Justices of the Peace and Sheriffs, and represented in Parliament. The genealogical and heraldic tradition continues with the series of Victoria County Histories commenced in the late 19th century.
Other forms recorded archaeological sites. A closely related genre, which emerged in the second half of the 17th century, was the county "Natural History", which focused on the county's flora, fauna and natural phenomena, but which also often included chapters on antiquities. The best known examples were Robert Plot's two volumes on Oxfordshire (1677) and Staffordshire (1686); and John Aubrey's unpublished work on Wiltshire.
Dugdale quotes as his foreign models César de Nostredame (1553-1629), historian of Provence in France, author of Rerum antiquarum et nobiliorum Provinciae, written c.1560, published 1615; Ottavio Rossi, historian of Brescia in Italy, author of Memorie Bresciane, Opera Historica, E Simbolica (1626); Guillaume Catel (1560-1626), historian of Languedoc in France, author of Mémoires sur l'histoire du Languedoc (1633); Samuel Guichenon (1607-1664), historian of Bresse in France, author of Histoire de la Bresse et du Bugey (1650) and Antonius Sanderus (1586-1664), historian of Flanders, author of Flandria Illustrata (1641).
William Lambarde's Perambulation of Kent (completed 1570; published 1576) is generally acknowledged as the first example of the genre in England. It was followed by Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall (1602), and William Burton's Description of Leicester Shire (1622), as well as a number of other projects (such as those of Sir William Pole, Thomas Westcote, and Tristram Risdon in Devon, and Sampson Erdeswicke in Staffordshire) which, although they sometimes circulated in manuscript, did not come to completion or publication. Following the appearance of William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656), a pattern was set. In the nineteenth century John Bowyer Nichols followed the line of a history of Leicestershire compiled by his father John Nichols, and saw numerous counties histories through the press at his printing firm. The scope of county histories varied, but the titles became quite standard: "Antiquities of", "Worthies of", "Geological survey", "Description of", later "Directory of", all could indicate the intention of producing a "history", a term that only in later times acquired the narrower meaning it carries today. Chorography, topography and toponymy might all be involved. Materials and collections for their counties were made by antiquaries, but publication might await sponsorship or enough subscriptions, as well as a capable author who would make a readable book, perhaps of multiple volumes, from notes.
See: History of Bedfordshire; Category: History of Bedfordshire;
See: History of Buckinghamshire; Category: History of Buckinghamshire; Victoria County History edited by William Page
The Cornwall history was supported by Francis Vyvyan Jago Arundell.
This goes back to the manuscript Accompt of the most considerable estates and families in the county of Cumberland of about 1603 by John Denton. Through copies made by Daniel Fleming, it used material collected by Christopher Rawlinson. Joseph Nicolson (born 1706, baptised William – 1777), son of John Nicolson of Hawkesdale, was a nephew of Bishop William Nicolson, and inherited from him collections relating to Carlisle. Burn and Nicolson used in particular material collected by Thomas Machell, vicar of Kirkby Thore, and collated by William Nicolson.
Glover made use of, and expanded, an unpublished history by William Woolley.
John Swete supplied material to Polwhele.
Both Hutchinson and Surtees drew on the work of George Allan. John Brewster assisted Surtees.
Morant used collections of Thomas Jekyll; and also material from Richard Symonds he obtained via Gregory King. A major source was the parish descriptions of William Holman. These had been acquired by Nicholas Tindal, for whom Morant worked as a curate; Tindal made a small start on publishing Essex history, around 1732. They then passed via Nathaniel Salmon, Anthony Allen and John Booth, before Morant had them from Booth about 1750.
Thomas Leman and probably Joseph Strutt assisted.
Rudder's work was based on Atkyns and a manuscript of Richard Furney.
Duncumb used work by Richard Blyke; and an older manuscript by Silas Taylor (Domville).
See: History of Hertfordshire; Category:History of Hertfordshire; Victoria County History
Salmon drew on unpublished material of Chauncy.
Clutterbuck used collections of Thomas Blore.
Philipot drew on materials originally collected by his father, John Philipot, and the Villare Cantianum is sometimes said to be John's work published under Thomas's name. He also drew on notes inherited from Robert Glover, his great-uncle.
Baines used Edwin Butterworth as researcher and author; he also took much from Gregson's Portfolio.
Burton made use of notes of Augustine Vincent.
Nichols included unpublished material from William Burton, Francis Peck, and Richard Farmer.
Blomefield used materials from Peter Le Neve and Thomas Martin of Palgrave. Charles Parkin worked to complete the history. Blomefield used material collected by Antony Norris, who later worked on completing and revising the history with John Fenn.
By Crouse and Booth of Norwich, this was largely copied from Blomefield.
This resulted from a project started by John Bridges, and took several generations to come to fruition.
This included an edition of the 1779 History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury by Thomas Phillips, which drew on the work of James Bowen and John Bowen.
Dukes used a manuscript of Edward Lloyd.
Dugdale used notes from William Burton; and much material from Simon Archer.
Nash used collections of Charles Lyttelton, including older research of Thomas Habington. He also was aware of the work of Thomas Dingley.
Histories were also written of cities, ancient boroughs, newer municipalities, and even individual parishes (parochial histories).