Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1575
This vast work, a history of the Christian Church from the earliest times, dwells particularly on the sufferings of the Protestant martyrs, and was immensely popular in its day. The printer, John Day ‘dwelling over Aldersgate’, was himself a refugee from the Marian persecution, returning to England in 1557. Updike refers to Day as the London printer who left the most distinct mark on the typography of his time ; but this book shows clearly the declining standards of English book production in the second half of the 16th Century, due to commercialisation and the burden of censorship.
Actual page size – 32cm x 22cm, printed on both sides. Mounted on grey board.
Original Leaf from a Famous European Book, each work with one-page letterpress index, the idea is that each leaf is mounted and subsequently framed to provide a unique wall decoration.
This was an old fund-raising exercise perfected by the Folio Society
A relevant history
After the death of Mary I in 1558, Foxe was in no hurry to return home, and he waited to see if religious changes instituted by her successor, Elizabeth I, would take root. Foxe was also so poor that he was unable to travel with his family until money was sent to him. Back in England, he seems to have lived for ten years at Aldgate, London, in the house of his former pupil, Thomas Howard, now Fourth Duke of Norfolk. Foxe quickly became associated with John Day the printer and published works of religious controversy while working on a new martyrology that would eventually become the Actes and Monuments.
Foxe was ordained a priest by his friend Edmund Grindal, now Bishop of London, but he “was something of a puritan, and like many of the exiles, had scruples about wearing the clerical vestments laid down in the queen’s injunctions of 1559.” Many of his friends eventually conformed, but Foxe was “more stubborn or single-minded.” Some tried to find him preferments in the new regime, but it “was not easy to help a man of so singularly unworldly a nature, who scorned to use his powerful friendships to advance himself.”
Day rose to the top of his profession during the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553). At this time, restrictions on publishers were relaxed, and a wave of propaganda on behalf of the English Reformation was encouraged by the government of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, many Protestant printers fled to the continent, but Day stayed in England and continued to print Protestant literature. In 1554, he was arrested and imprisoned, presumably for these illicit printing activities. Under Queen Elizabeth I, Day returned to his premises at Aldersgate in London, where he enjoyed the patronage of high-ranking officials and nobles, including William Cecil, Robert Dudley, and Matthew Parker. With their support, he published the Book of Martyrs and was awarded monopolies for some of the most popular English books, such as The ABC with Little Catechism and The Whole Booke of Psalmes. Day, whose technical skill matched his business acumen, has been called “the master printer of the English Reformation”.
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