John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’: staking a claim to the past

This beautiful book is a coloured presentation copy of the 1570 edition of perhaps the single most famous early modern martyrology, a work that has been described as one of the most influential books ever published in England. The author John Foxe [1516/17–87] was one of hundreds of English evangelicals who sought refuge overseas during the reign of the Catholic Mary I. It was during this time that he began to gather and compose the material for a history of the Church, which he wove first into a Latin martyrology and then into the monumental English work published in 1563 as Actes and monuments of these latter and perilous dayes […]. This was intended as a Protestant  ‘ecclesiastical history’ ranging far beyond sixteenth-century England, but, as its quickly acquired nickname of the ‘Book of Martyrs’ reveals, the sections dealing with the persecution of Protestants under Mary had the most immediate and enduring impact. The Actes and monuments went through four editions in Foxe’s lifetime alone, and official orders required it to be placed in cathedrals and parish churches. The depiction of Catholic cruelty and evangelical endurance in both Foxe’s text and the many woodcut illustrations that accompanied it shaped generations of English Protestants’ understanding of their own past and identity. CL

The first [- second] volume of the ecclesiasticall history contayning the actes and monumentes of thynges passed in euery kynges tyme in this realme, especially in the Church of England / newly … inlarged by the author, Iohn Foxe (London: John Day, 1570), vol. 1, title page and vol. 2, p. 1767.

CUL: K*.7.15-16(A)

Further reading

The Unabridged Acts and Monuments Online or TAMO (HRI Online Publications, Sheffield, 2011). Available from: (accessed 23.07.17)

Elizabeth Evenden and Thomas S. Freeman, Religion and the Book in Early Modern England: the Making of John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ (Cambridge, 2011).

John N. King, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture (Cambridge, 2006).

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