Saturday, April 23, 2011

Question from Guy- Reliability of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

How reliable is Foxe's Book of Martyrs?

And is there an equivalent Catholic martyrologist?


shtove said...

I don't know how reliable Foxe's Martyrs is, but it was certainly influential.

On the catholic side, I have a copy of this somewhere, printed in 1803 by Bishop Challoner:

It's basically a sequence of short biogs of the martyrs 1577-1684, with many interesting details of trials in the late Elizabethan period, taken from contemporary accounts.

Apart from the delicious gore of the executions, the most disturbing bits are the methods of the priest hunters in pursuit of their prey.

Interesting book. All bias taken into account, of course.

Foose said...

Born in 1516, Foxe was at Oxford with Tyndale and the future bishop Hugh Latimer. He became a chaplain in the early 1540s to Katherine Willoughby, duchess of Suffolk, and subsequently to Mary Howard, duchess of Richmond. Through Mary's influence he was appointed to be the tutor to her orphaned nephews and nieces, children of the executed earl of Surrey, in 1548.

When Mary Tudor succeeded, she released from the Tower the old duke of Norfolk, a conservative Catholic who immediately removed Foxe from his post. Witnessing the first persecutions, Foxe decided to flee to the Continent, where he began his career as printer and propagandist among the Marian exiles, many of them prominent figures under King Edward.

Consequently, Foxe has a lot of first-hand knowledge of events at Henry's court and his second-hand knowledge comes from well-known people, including Ralph Morice, Cranmer's secretary. He was in touch with the Protestants in exile, the "Nicodemites" conforming in England, and the uncompromising reform circles who produced the martyrs. Moreover, he was a dedicated researcher who collected and assembled a mass of historical documents concerning the Church when he was writing his Acts and Monuments, also known as the Book of Martyrs. He carefully annotated his work in the margins with his sources and the relevant dates, too.

The problem is that Foxe has a clear agenda, and that is to represent the Catholic Church as the fount of iniquity across the ages. While he is accurate in describing many specifics, modern scholars have noted his efforts to editing or omitting information that might discredit the Protestant movement or portray it as less than orthodox and united. It can be assumed that this caveat also applies to his accounts of religious intrigue at Henry's court.

Many historians use Foxe, but weigh his views against other contemporary sources and primary documents, like letters and deeds, to try to get at the real truth of the situation. For instance, Foxe is very down on "wily Winchester," Gardiner, whom he portrays as an arch-dissembler and persecutor, but you get a different view of the man from the Spaniards trying to work with him under Mary, from Gardiner's own writings, and from the views of his friends and allies.

Regarding a Catholic equivalent to Foxe, there really isn't one - part of the reason his influence has been so pervasive and formative in shaping Protestant England. Catholics were generally hanged for treason, not heresy, under Elizabeth, and fear of being associated with treason may be behind the lack of any comparable Catholic hagiography (although there are many individual moving accounts of Elizabethan Catholic martyrdoms, just not an overarching narrative like Foxe's). Although Protestant heretics were considered agents of the devil under Queen Mary, the devil is not a foreign power and I don't think those who burned feared being regarded as less than true Englishmen. Under Elizabeth, Catholicism was associated with disloyalty and attempts to bring in Spanish rule, or rule by Jesuits. To write something comparable to Foxe's Book of Martyrs would have required the author to propose essentially bringing in "foreigners" to rule an England that was more xenophobic than ever.

Annie said...

I'm currently writing a research paper on Mary I and I just read earlier today in Linda Porters's The First Queen of England that "John Foxe’s luarid accounts of a country suffering religious repressions find no echo in the accounts of the Marian period given by London merchant Henry Machyn.
So you must read Foxe with knowledge that he had a bias and those who he spoke to had a bias.

shtove said...

Annie, Machyn doesn't compare to Foxe.

Machyn's editor considers him a minor observer, who didn't understand or try to explain what was going on in London. His observations are interesting, but Foxe was attempting a much greater project. Also Machyn's business was as funeral director - the more lavish, the more lucrative - so he was probably more for the old religion than for the new.

Machyn's diary is at this link: