Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/John Foxe

John Foxe (1516-1587) edit

John Foxe was an English historian and martyrologist in 16th century England. Foxe is most known for his book titled Actes and Monuments, or more popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Foxe's work was written in the height of the English Reformation and was extremely popular and influential to the Protestant cause, due to polemic accounts on persecuted Protestant men and women.

Biography: edit

John Foxe, born 1516 in Boston, England, was an English Historian and martyrologist. His father passed when he was young, his mother remarried, and he entered Brasenose College when he was 16. Foxe attended Oxford University where he personally witnessed the burning of William Cowbridge, He resigned from Oxford due to a possible change and conflict of religious opinion and his opposition of celibacy. This change caused conflict between his peers and the relationship with his stepfather. Because of his change in religious opinion, he was forced to abandon his academic career, but also met his wife and mother of his children. Foxe also experienced a period of hardship, being offered a place to live with his friends as he was in need. The accession of Mary I in 1533 forced him to flee overseas where he travelled around and started publishing his accounts. He returned home later after Mary I’s death and waited to see the religious changes. Foxe was ordained an Angelic priest in 1560. “In the plague of 1563 he ministered to the victims and wrote a moving tract of consolation. When Anabaptists in 1575 and Jesuits in 1581 were condemned to death, Foxe wrote vehement letters to Queen Elizabeth and her counsellors, begging reprieves.” Foxe died on 1587 and was buried in St Giles’s, Cripplegate. After his death, his son, Samuel, preserved his fathers’ manuscripts and they are held in the British Library.

He was described as a workaholic as he took his study very seriously and worked hard writing his manuscripts to publish his work. He also took his role as Angelic priest seriously as he came to the aid of many victims in need during the plague. He worked with what he wrote about and was involved with his passion of awareness, writing about the victims of those who participated in their beliefs and were killed for it, becoming martyrs. He was dedicated to his work and also his family, taking his time to travel with them during Mary I’s accession.

He was open about his beliefs and dislikes in life, disagreeing with people and speaking his honest opinion, not shy to debate. He spoke out against cruelty and used his advocacy to be heard. He became a man of the people and used his place in society and amongst people to stand up for his beliefs and others, becoming well known and mourned by many at his funeral.  

Works: edit

Foxe’s work commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, also known as Actes and Monuments, his greatest succession and was published in English in 1563. Foxe revised his work four times in his lifetime. He wrote this book about the sufferings of people who were subjected to torture and execution for not succeeding to Queen Mary I and to the Catholic Church. Foxe wrote in detail about the sufferings of Christians and how they took their punishment and death willing in respect of their faith.  

As warnings to people who continued to protest the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Mary ordered for more executions, and over three hundred men, women and children were burnt alive. Foxe had fled England as a result of this but tried to incorporate information of the victims into his book. Once the first edition of his book was published in Latin, Elizabeth had succeeded the throne and he was able to return to England. When Foxe returned, he was able to collect a significant amount of evidence and documentation of the victims of Mary and put it together in his book which became his most famous work, Book of Martyrs, showing the rejection and brutality that the people of the Christian Church faced when they refused to convert. It also explained that the sufferings of people caused by religion are brutal, as even if the victims willingly subject themselves to their punishment through praying or singing at the same time while they die, this proves that conversion does not work causing more death and harm than good. Foxe’s depiction of Catholic’s in his book are constantly referred to as blood thirsty, merciless and brutal and are accompanied by graphic images of people being burned alive, tortured and beaten. The victims always stayed true to their faith and dying with their religion. Though the accuracy is always questioned in his book, it is certainly the most significant work Foxe has produced.

Book of Martyrs holds great significant in the identity of England and religion today as it details the events and hardship that England experienced for a period of time. Scholars have studied the accuracy of Foxe’s book since its early edits, wondering about the exaggeration of events that occurred during Mary I’s reign. His book has been studied as a major contestant for England becoming a protestant nation, the first edition containing over eighteen hundred pages, which was the largest project ever completed in England that time.

Legacy: edit

The legacy of Foxe is established through the popular read that his books provide to his great audience of readers, his work being published long after his death. Foxe's legacy lives on through his son, Samuel, who went on to care for his works and made sure they were well-preserved. Samuel went off to enter the service of the vice-chamberlain of the Queen.

In his examination of The Practyse of Prelates, Rankin stated Foxe's work Actes and Monuments was critical in shaping the "religious and cultural life in England down at least to the eighteenth century" (Rankin 159). It is further explored by him that Foxe's text made Tyndale's work more complete and well known (Rankin 191). As such, he was a critical figure at his time and his contribution to the area is still recognised and appreciated today.

King also asserts that Foxe illustrated the crucial idea that Protestantism and print culture worked alongside each other (King 53). It is portrayed that Foxe made it possible for Tyndale's role of the "Father of Reformation" to become apparent as he was able to transform Tyndale's ideas into a more accessible form (King 56).

Further Reading: edit

For more a detailed reading and better lay out of his life through stages, along how the different influences of the throne had on his writing, Spartacus Educational delivers with information ripe with learning and details. www.spartacus-educational.com

Foxe Voices of the Martrys: A.D. 33 - Today, by John Foxe and Voice of the Martyrs

Examinations and Martyrdom of Dr. Rowland Taylor, A.D. 1555, by John Foxe

The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: With a Preliminary Dissertation by the REV. George Townsend, Volume 3, by John Foxe and George Townsend

For a compilation and account of Foxe's works, Warren Wooden has composed a book that focuses on this; Wooden, Warren W. John Foxe. vol. TEAS 345., Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1983.

References edit

“Book of Martyrs”. Encyclopaedia.com. 2019

Simkins, John. “John Foxe.” Spartacus Educational Publishers Ltd, Peter McMillan.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “John Foxe British Clergyman” Britannica. 14 April 2021.

“FOXE, Samuel (1560-1630), of Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxon. and Warlies, Essex” The History of

Parliament, British Political, Social & Local History. nd. 0

Rankin, Mark. "John Foxe and the Earliest Readers of William Tyndale's the Practyse of Prelates (1530) [with Illustrations]." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 46, no. 2, 2016, pp. 157-192.

King, John N. ""the Light of Printing": William Tyndale, John Foxe, John Day, and Early Modern Print Culture." Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 1, 2001, pp. 52-85.