Christopher Highley and John N. King eds. John Foxe and his World. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002. 297pp. ISBN 0 7546 0306 7.

Allyna Ward
University of Newcastle

Ward, Allyna. Review of John Foxe and his World. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 3.1-7<URL:>.

  1. This is the third volume of essays on John Foxe, published in the St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History series. The book includes essays from established and new scholars on five important areas of Foxe studies: Historiography; the History of the Book; Visual Culture; Roman Catholicism; and Women and Gender. For those familiar with recent Foxean studies, the essays complement the recent British Academy task to bring John Foxe into the twenty-first century and the contributions in this book function to explore the world Foxe inhabited and offer new insight into that world.

  2. “The Burning of William Sawter” (1570), reprinted in colour at the start of the book, epitomises the cultural importance of the Reformation and is a striking reminder of the violence and persecution of the martyrs in England: as Sawter’s body burns among rising flames, he is pictured crying out to Jesus for mercy. Patrick Collinson then starts the collection with a general overview of Foxe studies and the idea of John Foxe and national consciousness. He disputes the received understanding of Haller’s thesis that Foxe’s work came to represent “the grand edifice of apocalyptic nationalism” and suggests instead that most people only knew Foxe from an abridged “Foxe”, which makes nothing of the Englishness of the martyrdom of the Reformation.

  3. In the section entitled “Historiography”, the essays work to place Acts and Monuments within a cultural and historical frame. Anthony Martin investigates Thomas Norton’s “v periods” and the idea of providence within those periods. This is a particularly interesting point of comparison for Foxe scholars who dispute Haller’s thesis of the elect nation since Norton firmly asserts the providential nature of British history leading up to Elizabeth’s restoration of the nation under a Protestant framework. Benedict Scot Robinson shares this concern with the nationalistic tendency of Foxe’s work and offers a reading of Foxe’s isolation of “British” history from its Anglo-Saxon origins. He argues that the reformers intentionally passed over Anglo-Saxon history in England because it identified the Catholic origins of the Church in England.

  4. In Part Two, “History of the Book”, the contributors’ essays look at the process of publishing and the reading practices for Foxe’s text and John Bale’s works. The essays in this section are tied in with the essays by Robinson and Sara Wall, both of whom also look at the intertextuality between Foxe and Bale. Here, David Kastan’s “Little Foxes” considers the iconic status of Acts and Monuments as both a visual monument to the Reformation and an historical text which participated in the forging of a national identity. Kastan concludes that the story of Acts and Monuments in early modern England is not just “how a book shaped the nation but how the nation shaped the book”.

  5. In the third section, the essays complement Kastan’s essay on the visual impact of Foxe’s text as they consider how certain Protestant texts contribute to a visual culture of the period. In this section Andrew Pettegree looks at Calvinistic iconophobia and its effect on the reception of the woodcuts that accompanied Acts and Monuments in England, and Thomas Betteridge addresses the conflict between the text as a religious work and the text as an historical work.

  6. In the afterword, David Loades addresses the reception history and the editing process of Foxe’s work, which included demonising the Catholic Church. The different editions of Foxe’s text printed during his lifetime indicate Foxe’s changing agenda about the reformed faith and also his desire to adjust his text in response to new information and criticism. Due to this quality in the text Loades locates Acts and Monuments as both a sourcebook for the history of the Reformation, and as the most influential polemical text from the Reformation period. Loades concludes by describing how the forthcoming electronic edition of Acts and Monuments by the British Academy endeavours to rectify the inaccuracy of past Foxe studies and will contribute to a future understanding of the influential text: this edition will offer a search engine for all four texts at the same time, allowing scholars to compare the variations in the different editions. This new edition is exciting because it is the first time scholars will be offered a text (first on CD-ROM and later in print) that is not corrupted by the editor’s intentions.

  7. The importance of this collection rests in its scholarly approach to early modern documents and iconographic images that enhance our understanding of Foxe’s world and work. This collection of innovative essays and powerful images is essential reading for literary and historical scholars. No one can deny the importance or relevance of Foxe’s text to English political and religious thought and the essays here emphasise that relevance in areas not normally associated with Foxe.

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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).