Foxe's Book of Martyrs  

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The Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe (first published by John Day in 1563, with many subsequent editions, also by Day), is an apocalyptically oriented English Protestant account of the persecutions of Protestants, mainly in England, and other groups from former centuries who were seen by Foxe and others of his contemporaries, such as John Bale, to be forerunners of the Reformation through whom the lineage of the Church of England could be traced. Though the work is commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, the full title is Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, touching Matters of the Church. The work was lavishly produced and illustrated with a large number of woodcuts.

The first part of the book covered early Christian martyrs, a brief history of the medieval church, including the Inquisitions, and a history of the Wycliffite or Lollard movement, as Wycliffe was viewed by men such as Foxe to be "the morning star" of the Reformation. The second part dealt with the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and the third with the reign and persecutions of Mary.

Foxe's account of Mary's reign and the martyrdoms that took place during it became extremely influential in the formation of an English and Protestant national identity. Foxe's intention was to attack the Roman Catholic Church, centred primarily on the persecution under Mary Tudor, and to establish a historical justification for the foundation of the Church of England as the contemporary embodiment of the true and faithful church rather than a newly established Christian denomination.

The passionate intensity of the style and the vivid and picturesque dialogues made it very popular among Puritan and Low Church families down to the nineteenth century. The church history of the earlier portion of the book, with its grotesque stories of popes and monks contributed much to anti-Catholic thought in England as had the sufferings of those Protestants burnt at the stake by Mary and the notorious Bishop Bonner.

Foxe's account of the Marian years is based on Robert Crowley's 1559 extension of a 1549 chronicle history by Thomas Cooper, itself an extension of a work begun by Thomas Lanquet. (Cooper, who became a bishop under Elizabeth, stridently objected to Crowley's appropriation of his history and soon issued two new "correct" editions. It is interesting to note that Cooper, Crowley and Foxe were all students and fellows at the same time at Magdalen College in Oxford University; prior to his and Crowley's apparently pressured resignation from the college, Foxe objected in a letter to the college president that all three were persecuted by some masters of the college for their evangelical beliefs.)

Some historians dispute the accuracy of Foxe's claims regarding martyrdoms under Mary, centering primarily on the reasons for the executions themselves. Of the 273 people Foxe claimed were martyred by Mary, nearly 200 were listed by name and occupation only; this compares with the 277 people burnt as heretics stated in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Some of the victims may have been intent on removing Mary from the throne.

Foxe continued to collect material and to expand the work throughout his life, producing three revised editions. After the completion of the second edition (1570), the Convocation ordered that every cathedral church should own a copy.

Foxe's work was enormous (the second edition filling two heavy folio volumes with a total of 2300 pages – estimated to be twice as long as Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) and its production by the printer John Day (who worked closely with Foxe) was the largest publishing project undertaken in England up to that time.

The Book of Martyrs was the primary propaganda piece for English anti-Catholicism, and contributed to the continuing use of Mary Tudor's nickname "Bloody Mary".

In later years abridged editions, often also containing accounts of later persecutions, were produced. The Wikisource version, edited by William Byron Forbush, is one of the most popular of these editions.

See also

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