Foxe's Book of Martyrs

views updated


John Foxe (151687) entitled his work Actes and Monuments of these latter and perillous dayes, touching matters of the Church, wherein ar comprehended and described the great persecutions & horrible troubles, that have bene wrought and practised by the Romishe Prelates, speciallye in this Realme of England and Scotlande, from the yeare of our Lorde a thousande, unto the tyme nowe present. Gathered and collected according to the true copies & wrytinges certificatorie as wel of the parties them selves that suffered, as also out of the Bishops Registers, which wer the doers thereof, by John Foxe. The title gives the scope, the viewpoint, and the methodology of the work. The preface of the first English edition (1563) contained among other matters a dedication to Queen Elizabeth I and an address "To the Persecutors of Gods truth, commonly called Papists." Another address contrasts it with the Golden Legend; however, it is broadly within that tradition. It is a martyrology and a church history. The 1570 edition had the title the Ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the Actes and Monumentes of thynges passed in every kynges tyme in this Realme . Seven subsequent editions followed, bearing thetitle Book of Martyrs (1576, 1583, 1596, 1610, 1632, 1641, 1684). In 1837 the modern eight-volume edition was launched by S. R. Cattley and revised in 1870 by Josiah Pratt.

The work was severely attacked by S. R. Maitland as dishonest and inaccurate. Mozley has done much to rehabilitate its reputation. Haller has placed Foxe fully into the context of his time and demonstrated the meaning of the work as a polemic against Roman Catholicism and an apologetic for the Elizabethan church. Foxe was inaccurate at times, but the charge of dishonesty is unjust. He could be negligent of chronology, discursive, and prejudiced. In citing documents he is usually reliable and the large amount of original source material he quoted directly still gives usefulness to his work, although it must be used with care. Abridgments and revisions of his book were made for partisan purposes or for profit.

Foxe was influenced greatly by the centuriators of Magdeburg. Originally his work was called Rerum in ecclesia gestarum narratio (1559), but he expanded it greatly in the first English edition. The work ranges from the 1st century to the end of Mary I's reign (1558). The materials from the 14th and 16th centuries are particularly voluminous. Foxe supplied the English reading public with an account of the work of Luther, Zwingli, and other Continental figures; most notable, however, is the narrative of the church in England during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. E. Gordon Rupp said, "Foxe's Book counted in English history as much as Drake's drum." It was accepted as authoritative by most Englishmen of 2½ centuries; therefore its historical importance as a work of ecclesiastical historiography is preeminent.

Bibliography: w. haller, The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (New York 1963). h. c. white, Tudor Books of Saints and Martyrs (Madison 1963). j. f. mozley, John Foxe and His Book (London 1940). s. r. maitland, Six Letters on Fox's Acts and Monuments (London 1837). s. lee, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900, 63v. (London 18851900) 7:581590.

[c. s. meyer]