Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/ John Foxe 2
John Foxe (1516 - 1587)[edit | edit source]
Biography[edit | edit source]
John Foxe was born in 1516 in Boston, Lincolnshire, England. His father died when Foxe was a child, and his mother remarried a wealthy landowner by the name of Richard Melton. Foxe studied at Oxford University. He achieved a master’s degree in July 1543, and became a lecturer in logic at the university from 1539 to 1540. In 1545, Foxe was required to take priests orders, but he refused as he did not support traditional Catholic orthodoxy and its requirements of celibacy. In 1538, in Oxford, William Cowbridge was convicted of heresy, due to him being involved in publishing the Bible in English. Foxe was witness to his burning at the stake. Foxe disagreed with the attitudes of the Church during the reign of Henry VIII. He had Protestant beliefs, and as a result he left Oxford and spent time with the Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer. Latimer was ordained as a priest and first preached Roman Catholicism, but later converted to Protestantism. Latimer found work for Foxe as a tutor in the household of Sir Thomas Lucy, in Warwickshire. Here, Foxe married Agnes Randall in 1547 and the couple eventually had six children. Foxe moved to London and worked for the Duchess of Richmond, Mary Fitzroy. He was employed as a tutor to the children of her brother, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Howard was a Catholic who had been executed in January 1547. At their London residence, Mountjoy House, Foxe met John Bale, an English controversialist and the Bishop of Ossory, whom he would later work with on manuscripts and martyrology. Foxe was ordained deacon by the Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley, on 24 June 1550. He strongly opposed the death penalty for adultery and those that preached Protestantism, and published De Censura in 1551, under his own name. He argued that adultery should not be a capital crime, and proposed new approaches to canon law and religious discipline and expression.
Works[edit | edit source]
When Mary I ascended to the throne in July 1553, Foxe left the Richmond household. Having published Protestant writings, Foxe feared being convicted of heresy and fled England. He arrived in Strasbourg, France in 1554. In Strasbourg, Foxe published his first history of the persecution of Christians, focusing particularly on the persecution of Proto-Protestant Christians in England. The second edition of this work was published in Basel, Switzerland in August 1559. This second version concentrates more on the reign of Mary Tudor and her attempt to reverse the English Reformation and persecute Protestants for their religious beliefs. These first two editions would later become a foreshadow to his major work, Acts and Monuments. Following the death of Mary Tudor, Foxe moved back to England. On 20 March 1563, John Day published Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, also known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Acts and Monuments attracted significant attention (Mozley, 1940). Over 1800 pages, Acts and Monuments describes English church history from the year 1000 to the accession of Queen Elizabeth, focusing on oppression by the Catholic Church and the execution of admirable Protestant martyrs (Freeman). Acts and Monuments was issued four times, in 1563, 1570, 1576 and 1583. Foxe provides a detailed history of the English Reformation, focusing on the oppression of the Catholic Church, the execution of heroic Protestant martyrs, and the collapse of Mary Tudor’s reign. In his work, Foxe condemns the false Roman Catholic Church in preference of what he sees to be as the true church; the Protestant church. He attempts to do this by proving that the English church stemmed from the original apostolic church (Morphew, 2017).
Legacy & Death[edit | edit source]
David Loades (2005) describes Foxe’s work as being crucial to English protestant identities, creating influential ideologies into the twentieth century. The Council of Bishops ordered for a copy of Acts and Monuments to be available in every church and cathedral in England, and had become a required reading for English Protestants. (Morphew, 2017). Acts and Monuments was the earliest writing on ecclesiastical discipline by an English Protestant (Davies & Facey, 2011). Fernandes (2020) attributes the formation of a Protestant national identity to the work of Foxe, claiming that the Protestant victims of burning at the stake during the reign of Mary Tudor became heroes due to Foxe’s writing. Burrow (2008) considers Foxe’s work to be “the greatest single influence on English Protestant thinking of the late Tudor and early Stuart period” (296). As Fernandes states, Foxe’s writing created an image of Catholics being the enemy to the English Protestants, emphasising that the Catholics were the enemies and the Protestants burnt at the stake during Mary I’s reign were heroic. Haigh (1986) suggests that Foxe’s history is a key work in modern understandings of the English Reformation and Protestant victory. Cornwall & Gibson (2010) suggest that Foxe created a link between Catholics and religious persecution in eighteenth-century English society. Overall, scholars agree that Foxe’s work was one of the most influential writings of the Tudor period. Today, original copies of Acts and Monuments are extremely rare, but one is held by the British Museum in London. John Foxe died at his London home on Grub Street, on 18 April 1587. He was buried at St. Giles Cripplegate, London.
Works Cited[edit | edit source]
Burrow, John. A History of Histories. Knopf. 2007.
Cornwall, Robert D. & William Gibson. “The Changing Legacy and Reception of John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ in the ‘Long Eighteenth Century’ Varieties of Anglican, Protestant and Catholic Response, c. 1760 – c. 1850” Religion, Politics and Dissent, 1660 – 1832. Ed. 1. Routledge. 2010.
Davies, C. & Jane Facy. “A Reformation Dilemma: John Foxe and the Problem of Discipline” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Cambridge University Press. 2011
Fernandes, Isabelle. “The deformed imp of the devil: John Foxe and the Protestant fashioning of the Catholic enemy” New Perspectives on the Anglophone World. Vol. 10. Open Edition Journals. 2020.
Freeman, Tom. “John Foxe: A Biography” John Foxe’s The Acts and Monuments Online.
Foxe, John. Acts and Monuments. Vol. 6. Ex-classics Project. 2009.
Haigh, Christopher. “The Reformation” in Smith, L. The Making of Britain. Palgrave. 1986.
Loades, David. “The John Foxe Project” History Compass. Wiley Online Library. 2005.
Mozley, F. John Foxe and His Book. Macmillan Company. 1940.
Morphew. A. “Every man may ghesse what a woman she was”: John Foxe and the Problem of Female Martyrdom.” 2017.
Further Reading[edit | edit source]
Achinstein, Sharon. “John Foxe and the Jews” Renaissance Quarterly. Vol. 54, no. 1. Springer. 2001.
Loades, David. John Foxe: A Historical Perspective. Taylor & Francies. 2018.
Olsen, Viggo N. John Foxe and the Elizabethan Church. University of California Press. 1973.
Truman, James C. W. “John Foxe and the Desires of Reformation Martyrology” ELH, vol. 70, no. 1. Johns Hopkins University Press. 2003.