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John Foxe: Historiographer, Disciplinarian, Tolerationist

  • John T. McNeill (a1)


The occasion of this article is the appearance of V. Norskov Olsen's John Foxe and the Elizabethan Church (Berkeley, San Francisco and London: University of California Press, 1973, xi + 264 pages, $11.50). Gleanings from numerous other volumes dealing with Foxe, and from editions of his works, will also be reflected in this treatment. Professor Olsen has closely studied Foxe both as an author and as a churchman moving in the ecclesiastical environment of the Tudor era. His book, however, offers neither a biography of Foxe nor an account of the Elizabethan church. Instead it sheds light on numerous incidents in which Foxe played some part in the history of the church, and clarifies his relation to Puritanism and the establishment. The most distinct impression left in the reader's mind is that of the personality of Foxe as Olsen sees him, namely, a man of widely varied interests and talents but of unified purpose, an irenic spirit amid contending forces, playing a minor role in public while laboriously engaged in the research and writing that brought him lasting fame and influence. One paragraph seems to cry out for repetition here:



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1. Mozley, J. F., John Foxe and His Book (London, 1940). Mozley's biographical section occupies pp. 1–117. Simeon Foxe's “Old Memoir” is described at the outset, pp. 1–11. Simeon, John Foxe's second son (1568–1642), was a distinguished physician and for seven years President of the Royal College of Physicians. He wrote the Memoir of his father in Latin about 1611 and later translated it. It was printed in the 1641 edition of the Martyrology and is more easily available in Seymour's, M. Hobart edition (London, Edinburgh and Dublin, 1850), 1: ixix.

2. Commentarii Rerum in ecclesia gestarum, maximarumque per totam Europam persecutionum, a Vuicleuvi temporibus ad hanc usque aetatem descriptio. Liber primus.

3. Nicholson, William, The Remains of Edmund Grindal, edited for the Parker Society (Cambridge, 1843). Grindal's warm friendship with Foxe is attested by an interchange of letters 1556–1557; these are given (Latin with translation) on pp. 219–238 of this volume. See Nicholson's remarks, p. iii.

4. Collinson, Patrick, “The Authorship of the Brieff Discours off the Troubles Begonne at Frankford,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 9 (1960): 188208.The Brief Discourse is available in the series edited By Edward Arber, A Christian Library, No. 1 (London, 1908).

5. The friendship between Knox and Foxe later survived a disagreement. When Knox sent a copy of his First Blast against the Monstrous Regiment of Women to Foxe at Basel, Foxe was so shocked by its violent language that he wrote a courteous letter of remonstrance. Knox kept the bearer of the letter waiting while, too ill to write, he hastily dictated a friendly reply (May 8, 1558) to his “dearly beloved brother.” He confesses his “rude vehemence and inconsidered affirmations”, but adds in excuse: “Black is not white.” Mrs. Knox, who penned the letter, adds a friendly postscript to Mrs. Foxe along with her husband.

6. Rerum in ecclesia gestarum … Cominentarii (Baael, 1559).

7. John Foxe: Two Latin Comedies, ed. John Hazel Smith (Ithaca, 1973). Mozleys' list (pp. 234254) contains several reprints of the better known minor works.

8. The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (London, 1967), p. 117. See Knappen, Marshall M., Tudor Puritanism (Chicago, 1939), pp. 228ff, and, for a convenient summary of the sections of the document, Carwithen, J. B. S., A History of the Church of England (2d ed., Oxford, 1839), 1: 290295.The Reformatio was reprinted with a preface by Edward Cardwell (Oxford, 1850).

9. Olsen, pp. 149ff.

10. Pauck, Wilhelm, introduction and translation, De Regno Christi, in his Melanchthon and Bucer, Vol. 19 of The Library of Christian Classics, (Philadelphia, 1969), esp. pp. 232, 242, 247.

11. Olsen, pp. 158–159. Four years earlier Samuel, “near seventeen and in stature pretty big”, had taken an unscheduled vacation from Oxford which he spent in France. Thereafter his father visited him often in the college. Mozley, pp. 108–112.

12. Hastings, Robinson, ed., The Zurich Letters, A.D. 1558–1579 (Cambridge, 1842) pp. 22, 25ff., 3538, 4144.

13. Olsen, pp. 464ff., summarizing this dramatic incident from Fuller, Thomas, Church History of Britain, Brewer's, 1845 edition, 4:327.

14. Olsen, pp. 152–163; see also Mozicy, p. 180.

15. See the chapter “English Puritanism,” in McNeill, John T., Modern Christian Movements (New York, 1968), pp. 1548. Olsen, pp. 5–15, discusses the Puritan strain in Foxe.

16. The preface “To the True and Faithful Congregation of Christ's Universal Church” (1570) is conveniently available in Trinterud, Leonard J., Elizabethan Puritanism (New York, 1971), pp. 5266. See esp. pp. 62ff. In Book 5 of the Martyrology Foxe inserte Chaucer's Jack Upland, a sharp attack on the friars.

17. Quoted by Olsen, p. 180. The Defensor pacis has been edited and translated by Gewirth, A., Marsilius of Padua, Defender of Peace, 2 vols., Records of Civilization, no. 46 (New York, 1951).

18. Concerning Heretics, Whether they Are to be Persecuted … Attributed to Sebastian Castellio. Now first done into English by Roland H. Bainton, Records of Civilization, no. 32, (New York, 1935), pp. 38–41.

19. Olsen, pp. 198–202.

20. Mozley, pp. 35ff. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, ed. Josiah Pratt (8 vols., London, (18531870), 5:699, 860.

21. Mozley, pp. 86–89; Olsen, pp. 198ff.

22. Simeon Foxe thought that his father endangered himself by his importunity in these cases. Olsen, p. 212, cites evidence that Foxe's name was already on a list kept at Rome of those to be executed if the effort to overthrow Elizabeth should succeed.

23. Foxe's remarkably favorable presentation of the women among his martyrs has been noted and illustrated in numerous quotations by Bainton, Roland H. in his book Women of the Reformation in France and England (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973), pp. 211229. It is evident that Foxe took pleasure in reporting the fearless conduct of many women before their accusers, their alert and witty responses under questioning, their steadfastness under inhuman tratment in prison and unfaltering resolution when condemned. We discern here not a romantic or chivalric admiration of women but a more modern appreciation of their qualities of personality as at best in no way inferior to those most laudable in men.

24. English Reformers, Vol. 26 of The Library of Christian Classics, (Philadelphia, 1966), p. 68.

25. Olsen, p. 45; Haller, William, Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the Elect Nation (London, 1963), p. 62.

26. Pratt's edition 1, 2:387ff. On the editions, see below.

27. Pratt's edition 1, 2:87, 288ff; 2, 2:72–328, and elsewhere.

28. Supra, n. 20.

29. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, a Complete Edition, with a Preliminary Dissertation By George Townsend, edited by Stephen Reed Cattley (8 vols. London, 18371841).

30. Maitland's, book, Notes on the Contributions of the Reverend George Townsend to the New Edition of Fox's Martyrology (London, 1841), is in three parts separately paged. For “personal dislike” see Part 1, p. 39. He insisted on the spelling “Fox”, against the best evidence. His sarcastic comments are leveled more at Townsend than at Foxe himself, and he more respectfully disagrees at the times with those venerated authorities John Strype and Thomas Fuller. See Mozley, pp. 180ff. Townsend's letter containing the challenge quoted is in The British Magazine 21 (January 1842): 23–29.

31. On Harpsfield, see also Mozley, pp. 175ff.

32. The English Reformation (New York, 1964), p. 26.

33. See Tillinghast, Pardon E., The Specious Past: Historians and Others (Reading, Massachusetts and London, 1972), pp. 135151.

34. One finds remarks in Townsend favoring the view that the borrower was Flacius, while Pratt's notes tend to the opposite view. The question of their relationship is complicated by the variety of Foxe's succeeding editions. His treatment of the early centuries is, of course, brief by comparison with that of Flacius and his friends. Olsen, p. 21, regards Foxe as having “adopted the subject matters and objectives” of Flacius. A clarification of the relationships of the two works is called for, in which due attention would be given to dates of the common elements.

35. I am informed by Cyriac Pullapilly, whose Chicago dissertation on Baronius is soon to be published by the Notre Dame University Press, that he knows of no reference to Foxe in the Annales, but that Baronius was in touch with Stapleton. He may have left to the English Catholics the task of refuting Foxe. Professor Pullapilly also first called my attention to the words of Stapleton just quoted. We should bear in mind that the twelve ample volumes by Baronius himself, apart from the work of his continuators, end with the year 1198, at which date Foxe, having completed his interesting and moderately hostile treatment of Becket, was dealing (in his Book 5) with the age of Richard I. Baronius has thus relatively little of common historical territory with Foxe.

36. John Knox in his Reformation in Scotland joins the same fraternity.

37. Professor Olsen's work is of such merit that a second edition may well be called for. In that case some minor defects should be eliminated. The printer's devil plays some of his familiar pranks. We find “Licenius” for Licinius, p. 22; “sanctum” for sanctam, p. 179; “Catecism”, p. 141. The expression “as best as”, p. 26, can hardly have been intended. In the notes some secondary works are cited in editions that have been superseded. On p. 123 and elsewhere the Beveridge edition of Calvin's Institutes, first published in 1845, is utilized in disregard of the modernized translation by Battles, Ford L., which is furnished with ample notes in The Library of Christian Classics vols. 20,21 (Philadelphia, 1960). On p. 187 reference is made to the original edition of John Ponet's Shorte Treatise of Politike Power (1556) without indication that it is available in facsimile in Winthrop Hudson's, S. dissertation, John Ponet, Advocate of Limited Monarchy (Chicago, 1942) and apparently without knowledge of this valuable study. For “Shorte” in Ponet's title, Olsen here has “Short”, but this is corrected in the Bibliography.


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