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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.