Puritans Who Changed the World: John Foxe 1517-87

Posted on November 21, 2008. Filed under: Church History |

Overview: John Foxe was a Protestant and then Puritan preacher who believed that the story of ordinary saints who were faithful unto death should be told and that this history would encourage and build up the faith of true believers and help establish the Church of England. Foxe took no royalties for his work and lived in poverty.

Biography: Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England to a middle class family, 1537 graduated from Magdalen College School, Oxford, and received his Master’s Degree in 1543; able to read in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

  • Left Oxford in 1545 due to his becoming an evangelical and going against the commands of King Henry VIII. He wrote against clerical celibacy.
  • After giving up his academic career, he was impoverished and lived with the reformer Hugh Latimer (executed by Bloody Mary in 1555) until he was hired as a Tutor in the household of Thomas Lucy of Charlecote.
  • 1547 he marries Agnes Randall and leaves the Lucy home soon afterwards. The move to London where Foxe is hired by Mary Fitzroy, duchess of Richmond, to serve as tutor to her deceased brother’s children. Mary enables Foxe to enter the elite ranks of the Protestants in England.
  • 1550 ordained as a deacon by Nicholas Ridley (martyred with Latimer by Bloody Mary in 1555). His circle of friends included John Hooper and John Bale who influenced him to begin his first martyrology.
  • 1553 With the accession of Queen Mary, Foxe had to flee for his life with his pregnant wife, to Holland where he began the first edition of Acts and Monuments, about the early Christian persecutions, and a focus on the persecutions of the Lollards in England.
  • 1554 Foxe and his family move to Frankfurt where he pastors a church for exiled Englishmen. He engages in a controversy over following the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer or the Reformed liturgy of John Calvin. He sides with John Knox of Scotland in following Calvin.
  • Foxe and his family live in deep poverty in their exile for the sake of the Gospel.
  • 1559 Foxe publishes his Acts and Monuments in Basel. After Mary’s death, Foxe returns to England well known due to his well received book even though it had only been published in Latin.
  • 1563 Foxe publishes the first English version of his book Actes and Monuments, after many additions; it is now a huge 1800 page folio. It is popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
  • 1570 Foxe publishes the second edition of his Actes and Monuments, now 2300 pages long and thoroughly revised and updated. Foxe actually seems to have listened to some of his Catholic critics and, where they were right, he made corrections; but where they were wrong, he attacked with a huge amount of documented evidence. This edition was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
  • By 1565 Foxe was a part of the Vestments Controversy, not wearing the vestments of the priesthood.
  • 1587 Foxe dies. His son, Samuel, becomes wealthy and preserves his father’s writings and papers.

Impact: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is his greatest legacy. Published just about 5 years after the death of Bloody Mary, the book greatly assisted in providing a historical foundation for the Church of England separating from the Roman Church.

· In 1563 Foxe’s Actes and Monuments was the largest publishing project undertaken in England up to that time. Published by John Day the volume made extensive use of woodcuts throughout

· The first part of the book covered the Early Church persecutions through the Wycliffe period and the Lollards. Foxe was a leading advocate of naming Wycliffe as a forerunner, Morning Star, of the Reformation.

· The second part of the book covered the reigns of King Henry VIII and Edward VI.

· The third part deals with the reign of Queen Mary and the brutal persecutions and executions that were still fresh on people’s minds.

· Catholics object to the work as an inaccurate partisan piece of anti-Catholic propaganda. The Church of England, however, so loved the book that by 1571 it was required to be placed in every cathedral church in the land and that every church official have a personal copy so that all servants and visitors in their houses might read it.

· Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was considered to have had the biggest impact on the Church of England of any book except the Bible in the Tudor and early Stuart periods, and, together with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion has been in constant print since its first publication.

· By the early 1800’s the book had fallen into disfavor in England, as had Puritanism in general. By the middle of the 20th century though, its accurate reputation was being restored and scholars were studying it anew.

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One Response to “Puritans Who Changed the World: John Foxe 1517-87”

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This entry gives me the basics of John Foxe’s participation in the reformation, but I wish it gave his early life’s influences. This account is brief and organized which makes it easier to understand.


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