Red cloth binding with black embossed river boats image . Gilt title on the spine and front board.
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A very clean edition of this historic book.
Foxe began his Book of Martyrs in 1552, during the reign of Edward VI, with the Marian Persecutions still in the future. In 1554, while still in exile, Foxe published in Latin at Strasbourg the first shadow of his great book, emphasizing the persecution of the English Lollards during the 15th century.
As word of the contemporary English persecution made its way to the continent, Foxe began to collect materials to continue his story to the present. He published the first true Latin edition of his famous book at Basel in August 1559. Of course, it was difficult to write contemporary English history while living (as he later said) “in the far parts of Germany, where few friends, no conference, [and] small information could be had.” But Foxe, who had left England poor and unknown, returned only poor. He had gained “a substantial reputation” through his Latin work.
On 20 March 1563, Foxe published the first English edition of the Actes and Monuments from the press of John Day. It was a “gigantic folio volume” of about 1800 pages, about three times the length of the 1559 Latin book. As is typical for the period, the full title was a paragraph long and is abbreviated by scholars as Acts and Monuments, although the book was popularly known then, as it is now, as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Publication of the book made Foxe instantly famous – “England’s first literary celebrity” – although because there were then no royalties, Foxe remained as poor as ever although the book sold for more than ten shillings, three weeks’ pay for a skilled craftsman. This publication would then go on to become the second most popular book written in English, after the Bible.
Actes and Monuments was immediately attacked by Catholics such as Thomas Harding, Thomas Stapleton, and Nicholas Harpsfield. In the next generation, Robert Parsons, an English Jesuit, also struck at Foxe in A Treatise of Three Conversions of England (1603–04). Harding, in the spirit of the age, called Actes and Monuments ‘ “that huge dunghill of your stinking martyrs,” full of a thousand lies’.
Intending to strengthen his book against his critics, and being flooded by new material brought to light by the publication of the first edition, Foxe put together a second edition in 1570 and where the charges of his critics had been reasonably accurate, Foxe removed the offending passages. Where he could rebut the charges, “he mounted a vigorous counter-attack, seeking to crush his opponent under piles of documents.” Even though he deleted material that had been included in the first edition, the second edition was nearly double the size of the first, “two gigantic folio volumes, with 2300 very large pages” of double-columned text.
The edition was well received by the English church, and the upper house of the convocation of Canterbury meeting in 1571, ordered that a copy of the Bishop’s Bible and “that full history entitled Monuments of Martyrs” be installed in every cathedral church and that church officials place copies in their houses for the use of servants and visitors. The decision was of certain benefit to Foxe’s printer Day because he had taken great financial risks printing such a mammoth work.
Foxe published a third edition in 1576, but it was virtually a reprint of the second, although printed on inferior paper and in smaller type. The fourth edition, published in 1583, the last in Foxe’s lifetime, had larger type and better paper and consisted of “two volumes of about two thousand folio pages in double columns.” Nearly four times the length of the Bible, the fourth edition was “the most physically imposing, complicated, and technically demanding English book of its era. It seems safe to say that it is the largest and most complicated book to appear during the first two or three centuries of English printing history.” The title page included the poignant request that the author “desireth thee, good reader, to help him with thy prayer.”
Foxe based his accounts of martyrs before the early modern period on previous writers, including Eusebius, Bede, Matthew Paris, and many others. Foxe’s own contribution was his compilation of the English martyrs from the period of the Lollards through the persecution of Mary I. Here Foxe had primary sources of all kinds to draw on: episcopal registers, reports of trials, and the testimony of eyewitnesses, a remarkable range of sources for English historical writing of the period. All this contributed to reinforcing the “English association of Catholicism with bigotry and cruelty”.
Foxe’s material is more accurate when he deals with his own period, although it is selectively presented, and the book is not an impartial account. Sometimes Foxe copied documents verbatim; sometimes he adapted them to his own use. Foxe’s method of using his sources “proclaims the honest man, the sincere seeker after truth.”
Foxe often treated his material casually, and any reader “must be prepared to meet plenty of small errors and inconsistencies.” Furthermore, Foxe did not hold to later notions of neutrality or objectivity. He made unambiguous side glosses on his text, such as “Mark the apish pageants of these popelings” and “This answer smelleth of forging and crafty packing”, as Foxe’s age was one of strong language as well as of cruel deeds. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica went so far as to accuse Foxe of “wilful falsification of evidence.” Nevertheless, Foxe is “factually detailed and preserves much firsthand material on the English Reformation unobtainable elsewhere.” According to J. F. Mozley, Foxe presented “lifelike and vivid pictures of the manners and feelings of the day, full of details that could never have been invented by a forger.”
John Foxe (1516 / 1517 – 18 April 1587), an English clergyman, theologian, and historian, notable for his martyrology Actes and Monuments (otherwise Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), telling of Christian martyrs throughout Western history, but particularly the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the 14th century and in the reign of Mary I. The book was widely owned and read by English Puritans and helped to mould British opinion on the Catholic Church for several centuries.
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