John Foxe (1516 - April 8, 1587) is remembered as the author of the famous Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
Education and Resignation from Oxford
Foxe was born at Boston, in Lincolnshire, England. (In 1551, one Henry Foxe, a merchant and possible relative, became mayor of that town.) In about 1534, at the age of sixteen, John Foxe entered Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was the pupil of John Harding or Hawarden, a fellow of the college. (Hawarden was perhaps a family friend; he had become rector of Coningsby in 1533, and Foxe's mother, her husband having died when Foxe was young, had married Richard Melton, a yeoman of Coningsby. Three decades later Foxe made a dedication to Hawarden in one of his books, thanking Hawarden for enabling his education.) At Brasenose Foxe shared rooms with Alexander Nowell, afterwards dean of St Paul's Cathedral. A year later he was admitted to Magdalen College School, where at the advanced age of seventeen he may either have been improving his knowledge of Latin or acting as a junior teacher. He progressed on to Magdalen College as a probationer fellow in July 1538, becoming a full fellow the following July.
Foxe took his bachelor's degree on July 17, 1537 and his master's degree in July of 1543. He was lecturer of logic in 1539-40. He wrote several Latin plays on biblical subjects, of which the best, De Christo triumphante or Christus triumphans, an allegorical, Latin verse drama concerning the history of the church, was printed in London in 1551 and by Oporinus in Basel in March, 1556. It was performed at Cambridge and probably Oxford in the 1560s; it was translated into French in 1562 and English in 1579. The latter translation was produced by Richard Day , son of the printer, John Day or Daye, who published Foxe's Actes and Monuments. Foxe's earliest extant literary creation is Titus et Gesippus (w. 1544), a Latin comedy based on Boccaccio.
Foxe resigned from his college in 1545, refering to it as a prison in a letter he wrote that year. At some point during his time at Oxford he had become an evangelical, meaning he subscribed to Protestant beliefs not sanctioned by the Church of England under Henry VIII. (Other evangelicals of future renown at Magdalen then were Henry Bull , Laurence Humphrey , Thomas Cooper, and Robert Crowley.) It was said that Foxe refused to conform to the rules for regular attendance at mass and other services. Foxe was also obliged to take holy orders by Michaelmas of 1545, after a year of obligatory regency (public lecturing), and as he dissented from the requirement of clerical celibacy--which he described in letters to friends as self-castration and circumcision (BL, Lansdowne MS 388, fols. 80v, 117r)--this is probably the primary reason for his resignation.
The customary statement that Foxe was expelled from his fellowship is based on the untrustworthy biography attributed to his son, Samuel Foxe , but there is evidence that Foxe was pressured out of the college in a general purge of its evangelical members. College records state that he resigned of his own accord and ex honesta causa, but there exists in Foxe's papers a draft of a letter to Owen Oglethorpe, president of Magdalen, in which Foxe protests against the charges of irreverence and of belonging to a new religion, which were brought against him by some of the college's masters who are not named by Foxe (BL, Lansdowne MS 388, fols. 53r–58r). Foxe says these masters were persecuting other fellows, including Thomas Cooper, later bishop of Lincoln and Winchester under Elizabeth, and Robert Crowley, a lifelong friend and associate of Foxe's who also left the college at this time. Foxe's letter is printed in Pratt's edition (vol. i. Appendix, pp. 58-61); see also J. F. Mozley's biography of Foxe.
Once determined to leave Oxford, Foxe looked to other evangelicals for help but received only advice and a little money. Hugh Latimer invited Foxe to live with him, but Foxe's best prospect was employment as tutor in the household of Thomas Lucy of Charlecote , near Stratford-on-Avon. Here Foxe married Agnes Randall on February 3, 1547. Shortly after marrying, Foxe left the Lucys. The reasons for his departure are not known. According to short remembrance written by Simeon Foxe in 1611 and appended to the 1641 Actes and Monuments, Foxe stayed with the Randalls in Coventry before returning to his parents' in Coningsby. Foxe's stay there was brief, perhaps because, as Simeon states, Foxe's step-father was Catholic and their relationship was difficult. On the other hand, a 1547 publication of Foxe's contains a dedication to his step-father, thanking him for his help.
Life in London under Edward VI
With the death of Henry VIII in January of 1547, the accession of the boy-king Edward VI and the formation of a Privy Council dominated by pro-reform Protestants, Foxe's prospects (and those of the evangelical cause generally) changed for the better. In the middle or latter part of the year, Foxe moved to London and probably lived in Stepney. Between 1547-48 he completed three translations of Protestant sermons which were published by Hugh Singleton . One sermon was by Martin Luther (ESTC 16983), another by Urbannus Regius --An Instruction of the Christian Faith (ESTC 120847). At some point during this time Foxe found a patron in Mary Fitzroy , Duchess of Richmond , who hired him as tutor to the orphan children of her brother, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a Catholic who had been executed for treason in January 1547. Surrey's his father, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk was then imprisoned in the Tower of London. The children were Thomas, who would become the fourth duke of Norfolk and a valuable friend of Foxe's); Jane , later countess of Westmorland ; Henry, later earl of Northampton; and Charles , who would command the English fleet against the Spanish Armada. Foxe lived in the duchess' London household at Mountjoy House and later Reigate Castle .
Foxe was ordained deacon by Nicholas Ridley on June 24, 1550. His circle of friends, associates, and supporters at this time included John Hooper, William Turner, John Rogers, William Cecil, and John Bale. Bale is thought to have had a strong material influence in Foxe's interest and work on a definitive English martyrology . From 1548-1551, Foxe wrote works of religious controversy, arguing with reformer George Joye on such topics as adultery, excommunication, and canon law.
On the accession of Mary I in July 1553, Foxe was deprived of his tutorship by the childrens' grandfather, the Duke of Norfolk, who was now released from prison. Foxe stayed in London, writing in January 1554 to a friend in the Dutch Stranger Church in London that he did not wish to leave. But leave he soon did, sailing with his then pregnant wife from Ipswitch to Nieuwpoort, and then travelling to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Frankfurt and Strasbourg, which he reached by July 1554. In Strasbbourg Foxe occupied himself with a Latin history of the Christian persecutions, which he had begun at the suggestion of Lady Jane Grey. He had assistance from two clerics of widely differing opinions--from Edmund Grindal, who was later, as Archbishop of Canterbury, to maintain his Puritan convictions in opposition to Elizabeth; and from John Aylmer , afterwards one of the bitterest opponents of the Puritan party. Bale too is also thought to have been a critical assistant in the production of this book which dealt chiefly with figures deemed precursors to the Protestant Reformation: John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Savonarola and Reginald Pecock. It was printed in Strasbourg by Wendelin Richelius with the title of Commentarii rerum in ecclesia gestarum in 1554.
In the fall of 1554 Foxe removed to Frankfurt, where he lived with Anthony Gilby in the English colony of Protestant refugees. He found the group divided into two camps of Calvinists and Anglicans. The former group was led by John Knox and supported by Foxe; the latter was led by Thomas Lever and later Richard Cox. Knox's faction used a revised 1552 prayer book, and the others used it without revision. Knox's side eventually lost, and in the fall of 1555 Foxe and about twenty others left.
Foxe then removed to Basel where he lived with John Bale and worked as proofreader to Johann Herbst (or Oporinus ) and as an assistant for Hieronymus Froben in the production of a Latin edition of St. John Chrysostom's works. Foxe made steady progress with his own great book, which was aided by the work of continental Protestant martyrologists and scholars such as Conrad Gesner, Alexander Ales (or Alesius), Heinrich Pantaleon , and Matthias Flacius. As he received reports from England of the religious persecutions there, Foxe issued from the press of Oporinus his pamphlet Ad inclytos ad praepotentes Angliae proceres ... supplicatio (1557), a plea for toleration addressed to the English nobility. Foxe also worked on a Latin translation of Thomas Cranmer's arguments against Stephen Gardiner in An Answer . . . unto a Crafty Cavillation, but it proved too controversial for any continental printer.
Perhaps headed by Grindal with an English version being worked on by other exiles (though it was never completed), Foxe's largest project during this time was a new and comprehensive Latin martyrology building on his earlier effort. Titled Rerum in ecclesia gestarum . . . commentarii, this project never incorporated all the material that was slated for inclusion, particularly European martyrs with the exception of Hus and John of Prague who were included, but it did constitute an important precursor to the Actes and Monuments. Printed by Oporinus and Nicholas Brylinger in 1559, it came to about 750 pages and ended with the early part of Mary's reign and the martyrdoms of Foxe's friends and allies John Rogers and John Hooper.
Return to England
In 1559, with Mary I dead the previous year and having completed his work in Basel, Foxe returned to England. He lived for some time at Aldgate, London, in the house of his former pupil, Thomas Howard, now Fourth Duke of Norfolk, who retained a sincere regard for his tutor and left him a small pension in his will years later when Norfolk was executed for treason. Foxe quickly became associated with John Day the printer and started publishing works of religious controversy while working on a new martyrology, which would become the Actes and Monuments.
Foxe was ordained priest by Edmund Grindal, now Bishop of London, on January 25, 1560, and he moved to Norwich to live with its bishop, John Parkhurst , where he preached and engaged in research before returning to Norfolk's residence in London in the fall of 1562. On March 23 of the following year the first edition of Actes and Monuments was published.
Actes and Monuments (Foxe's Book of Martyrs)
Issued from the press of John Day, the first English edition of the Actes and Monuments was an unprecendented historical work in English, running to about 1800 folio pages. The full title is Actes and Monuments of these latter and perilous Dayes, touching matters of the Church, wherein are comprehended and described the great Persecution and horrible Troubles that have been wrought and practised by the Romishe Prelates, especiallye in this Realme of England and Scotland, from the yeare of our Lorde a thousande to the time now present. Gathered and collected according to the true Copies and Wrytinges certificatorie as well of the Parties themselves that Suffered, as also out of die Bishop's Registers, which were the Doers thereof, by John Foxe. It was and remains commonly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
Several gross errors which had appeared in the Latin version, and had been since exposed, were corrected in this edition. Its popularity was immense and signal. The Marian persecution was still fresh in men's minds, and the graphic narrative intensified in its numerous readers the fierce hatred of Spain and of the Inquisition which was one of the master passions of the reign. Nor was its influence transient. For generations the popular conception of Roman Catholicism was derived from its bitter pages.
The Actes and Monuments ' accuracy was immediately attacked by Catholic writers like Thomas Harding and Thomas Stapleton but most notably in the Dialogi sex, contra summi pontificatus, monasticae vitae, sanctorum, sacrarum imaginum oppugnatores, et pseudomartyres (1566). Nominally from the pen of a Catholic exile, Alan Cope , but in reality by Nicholas Harpsfield , former archdeacon of Canterbury under Mary I, Dialogi sex's sixth dialogue, which is also the longest, systematically attacks Foxe's work. Robert Parsons' Three Conversions of England (1570) also struck heavily at Foxe.
Thus it was success and criticism alike that induced Foxe to produce a second corrected edition, Ecclesiastical History, contayning the Actes and Monuments of things passed in every kynges tyme in 1570, a copy of which was ordered by Convocation to be placed in every collegiate church. In it Foxe responded to his critics by silently making corrections and loudly rebutting other arguments, such as thos surrounding the status of the Lollard Sir John Oldcastle.
Foxe based his accounts of the martyrs partly on authentic documents and reports of the trials, and on statements received direct from the friends of the sufferers, but he worked under the pressure of publishing schedules and was not laboring under modern notions of neutrality or objectivity as ideals in historiography, which are problematic in their own right. Anthony à Wood says that Foxe "believed and reported all that was told him, and there is every reason to suppose that he was purposely misled, and continually deceived by those whose interest it was to bring discredit on his work," but he admits that the book is a monument of his industry, his laborious research and his sincere piety. Many errors due to carelessness, time constraints, and the collaborative nature of the project have been exposed, and there is no doubt that Foxe, like many of his contemporaries, was ready to believe evil of the Catholic opposition, but he cannot always be exonerated from the charge of wilful falsification of evidence. It should, however, be remembered in his honor that Foxe's advocacy of religious toleration was far in advance of his day. Foxe pleaded for the despised Dutch Anabaptists, and remonstrated with John Knox on the rancor of his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.
Life under Elizabeth I
On May 22, 1563, shortly after the first edition of Actes and Monuments was published, Foxe was appointed prebend of Shipton in Salisbury Cathedral, ostensibly in recognition of his achievement. Foxe never visited the cathedral and performed no duties associated with the position except to appoint a vicar, William Masters, a highly educated, fellow evangelical and former Marian exile. Foxe gave Masters the right to cut and sell trees on the vicarage ; Masters did not exercise this right, however. Foxe's inaction as a canon of the cathedral led him to him being declared contumacious , and he was charged with failing to give a tithe for repairs to the cathedral.
By 1565 Foxe was caught up in the vestments controversy precipitated by Robert Crowley (1517-1588). Foxe's name was on a list of "godly preachers which have utterly forsaken Antichrist and all his Romish rags" (i.e., early Puritans) that was presented to Lord Robert Dudley some time between 1561 and 1564 (Magdalene College, Cambridge, Pepys Library, "Papers of state", 2.701). He was one of the twenty clergymen who on March 20, 1565 petitioned to be allowed to choose not to wear vestments, but unlike many of the others, Foxe did not have a London benefice to lose when Archbishop Parker enforced conformity. Rather, when Crowley lost his position at St Giles-without-Cripplegate, Foxe stepped in for him. A few years later (c. 1568) Foxe moved out of Norfolk's house to Grub St. in this parish, and his associate John Field (divine) became curate at the church.
Foxe's move was probably motivated by his concerns about Norfolk's actions which led to his his imprisonment in the Tower on October 8, 1569 and his condemnation to death on January 26, 1572 following the Ridolfi Plot. Foxe and Alexander Nowell ministered to Norfolk from this time until his execution, which Foxe attended, on June 2, 1572.
At Grindal's behest, though complaining of being burdened by his literary endeavors and liable to be hissed at by the audience, Foxe preached on 2 Cor. 5.20-21 at Paul's Cross on [Good Friday], March 24, 1570 in an exposition of the Protestant doctrine of redemption with an attack on the mass. The sermon was published that year as A Sermon of Christ crucified (STC 11242).
On February 2, 1577 Foxe preached at Paul's Cross and drew a complaint from the French Ambassador to the Queen that he had said that the French Protestants "had great cause to take arms against their king, for that he admitted their public enemy the Pope." When called to answer to the Bishop of London, Foxe said he had been responding to Osorius' assertion that French Protestants rejected lawful sovereignty.
Foxe was one of the earliest students of Anglo-Saxon, and he and Day published an edition of the Saxon gospels under the patronage of Archbishop Parker.
Foxe died on the 8th of April 1587 and was buried at St. Giles's, Cripplegate.
Other publications and papers
A list of his Latin tracts and sermons is given by Wood, and others, some of which were never printed, appear in John Bale's Catalogus. Four editions of the Actes and Monuments appeared in Foxe's lifetime. The eighth edition (1641) contains a memoir of Foxe purporting to be by his son Samuel, the manuscript of which is in the British Museum (Lansdowne manuscript 388). Samuel Foxe's authorship is disputed, with much show of reason, by Dr S. R. Maitland in On the Memoirs of Foxe ascribed to his Son (1841). The best-known modern edition of the Martyrology is that (1837-1841) by the Rev. Stephen R. Cattley, with an introductory life by Canon George Townsend. The numerous inaccuracies of this life and the frequent errors of Foxe's narrative were exposed by S. R. Maitland in a series of tracts (1837-1842), collected (1841-1842) as Notes on the Contributions of the Rev. George Townsend, M.A. ... to the New Edition of Fox's Martyrology. The criticism lavished on Cattley and Townsend's edition led to a new one (1846-1849) under the same editorship. A new text prepared by the Rev. Josiah Pratt was issued (1870) in the "Reformation Series" of the Church Historians of England, with a revised version of Townsend's Life and appendices giving copies of original documents. A later edition was produced by W. Grinton Berry (1907), but none of these satisfy contemporary scholarly needs and requirements for critical editions. Thus in recent times, (1990-) renewed interest in and scholarship on Foxe as a seminal figure in early modern studies created a demand for a new critical edition of the Actes and Monuments that is not based solely on one of Foxe's editions or an ahistorical hybrid of all or several. To that end, the Foxe's Book of Martyrs Variorum Edition was conceived and is partially complete, with a complete date of 2008.
Foxe's papers are preserved in the Harleian and Lansdowne collections in the British Museum. Extracts from these were edited by J.G. Nichols for the Camden Society (1859). See also W. Winters, Biographical Notes on John Foxe (1876); James Gairdner, History of the English Church in the Sixteenth Century.
J. F. Mozley, John Foxe and His Book (London: SPCK, 1940)
MacLure, Millar, Register of Sermons Preached at Paul's Cross 1534-1642, Revised and expanded by Peter Pauls and Jackson Campbell Boswell (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 1989)