This is a book that will never die-one of the great English classics.
Interesting as fiction, because it is written with both passion
and tenderness, it tells the dramatic story of some of the most
thrilling periods in Christian history.
Reprinted here in its most complete form, it brings to life the
days when "a noble army, men and boys, the matron and the
maid," "climbed the steep ascent of heaven, 'mid peril,
toil, and pain."
"After the Bible itself, no book so profoundly influenced
early Protestant sentiment as the Book of Martyrs. Even in our
time it is still a living force. It is more than a record of persecution.
It is an arsenal of controversy, a storehouse of romance, as well
as a source of edification."
James Miller Dodds, English Prose.
FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS
A HISTORY OF THE LIVES, SUFFERINGS AND TRIUMPHANT DEATHS OF THE
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND THE PROTESTANT MARTYRS
FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS
"When one recollects that until the appearance of the Pilgrim's
Progress the common people had almost no other reading matter
except the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs, we can understand
the deep impression that this book produced; and how it served
to mold the national character. Those who could read for themselves
learned the full details of all the atrocities performed on the
Protestant reformers; the illiterate could see the rude illustrations
of the various instruments of torture, the rack, the gridiron,
the boiling oil, and then the holy ones breathing out their souls
amid the flames. Take a people just awakening to a new intellectual
and religious life; let several generations of them, from childhood
to old age, pore over such a book, and its stories become traditions
as individual and almost as potent as songs and customs on a nation's
Douglas Campbell, "The Puritan in Holland, England, and
"If we divest the book of its accidental character of feud
between churches, it yet stands, in the first years of Elizabeth's
reign, a monument that marks the growing strength of a desire
for spiritual freedom, defiance of those forms that seek to stifle
conscience and fetter thought."
Henry Morley, "English Writers"
"After the Bible itself, no book so profoundly inflienced
early Protestant sentiment as the Book of Martyrs. Even in our
own time it is still a living force. It is more than a record
of persecution. It is an arsenal of controversy, a storehouse
of romance, as well as a source of edification."
James Miller Dodds, "English Prose"
SKETCH OF THE AUTHOR
John Fox (or Foxe) was born at Boston, in Lincolnshire, in 1517,
where his parents are stated to have lived in respectable circumstances.
He was deprived of his father at an early age; and notwithstanding
his mother soon married again, he still remained under the parental
roof. From an early display of talents and inclination to learning,
his friends were induced to send him to Oxford, in order to cultivate
and bring them to maturity.
During his residence at this place, he was distinguished for the
excellence and acuteness of his intellect, which was improved
by the emulation of his fellow collegians, united to an indefatigable
zeal and industry on his part. These qualities soon gained him
the admiration of all; and as a reward for his exertions and amiable
conduct, he was chosen fellow of Magdalen College; which was accounted
a great honor in the university, and seldom bestowed unless in
cases of great distinction. It appears that the first display
of his genius was in poetry; and that he composed some Latin comedies,
which are still extant. But he soon directed his thoughts to a
more serious subject, the study of the sacred Scriptures: to divinity,
indeed, he applied himself with more fervency than circumspection,
and discovered his partiality to the Reformation, which had then
commenced, before he was known to its supporters, or to those
who protected them; a circumstance which proved to him the source
of his first troubles.
He is said to have often affirmed that the first matter which
occasioned his search into the popish doctrine was that he saw
divers things, most repugnant in their nature to one another,
forced upon men at the same time; upon this foundation his resolution
and intended obedience to that Church were somewhat shaken, and
by degrees a dislike to the rest took place.
His first care was to look into both the ancient and modern history
of the Church; to ascertain its beginning and progress; to consider
the causes of all those controversies which in the meantime had
sprung up, and diligently to weigh their effects, solidity, infirmities,
Before he had attained his thirtieth year, he had studied the
Greek and Latin fathers, and other learned authors, the transactions
of the Councils, and decrees of the consistories, and had acquired
a very competent skill in the Hebrew language. In these occupations
he frequently spent a considerable part, or even the whole of
the night; and in order to unbend his mind after such incessant
study, he would resort to a grove near the college, a place much
frequented by the students in the evening, on account of its sequestered
gloominess. In these solitary walks he was often heard to ejaculate
heavy sobs and sighs, and with tears to pour forth his prayers
to God. These nightly retirements, in the sequel, gave rise to
the first suspicion of his alienation from the Church of Rome.
Being pressed for an explanation of this alteration in his conduct,
he scorned to call in fiction to his excuse; he stated his opinions;
and was, by the sentence of the college convicted, condemned as
a heretic, and expelled.
His friends, upon the report of this circumstance, were highly
offended, when he was thus forsaken by his own friends, a refuge
offered itself in the house of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Warwickshire,
by whom he was sent for to instruct his children. The house is
within easy walk of Stratford-on-Avon, and it was this estate
which, a few years later, was the scene of Shakespeare's traditional
boyish poaching expedition. Fox died when Shakespeare was three
In the Lucy house Fox afterward married. But the fear of the popish
inquisitors hastened his departure thence; as they were not contented
to pursue public offences, but began also to dive into the secrets
of private families. He now began to consider what was best to
be done to free himself from further inconvenience, and resolved
either to go to his wife's father or to his father-in-law.
His wife's father was a citizen of Coventry, whose heart was not
alienated from him, and he was more likely to be well entreated,
or his daughter's sake. He resolved first to go to him; and, in
the meanwhile, by letters, to try whether his father-in-law would
receive him or not. This he accordingly did, and he received for
answer, "that it seemed to him a hard condition to take one
into his house whom he knew to be guilty and condemned for a capital
offence; neither was he ignorant what hazard he should undergo
in so doing; he would, however, show himself a kinsman, and neglect
his own danger. If he would alter his mind, he might come, on
condition to stay as long as he himself desired; but if he could
not be persuaded to that, he must content himself with a shorter
stay, and not bring him and his mother into danger."
No condition was to be refused; besides, he was secretly advised
by his mother to come, and not to fear his father-in-law's severity;
"for that, perchance, it was needful to write as he did,
but when occasion should be offered, he would make recompense
for his words with his actions." In fact he was better received
by both of them than he had hoped for.
By these means he kept himself concealed for some time, and afterwards
made a journey to London, in the latter part of the reign of Henry
VIII. Here, being unknown, he was in much distress, and was even
reduced to the danger of being starved to death, had not Providence
interfered in his favor in the following manner:
One day as Mr. Fox was sitting in St. Paul's Church, exhausted
with long fasting, a stranger took a seat by his side, and courteously
saluted him, thrust a sum of money into his hand, and bade him
cheer up his spirits; at the same time informing him, that in
a few days new prospects would present themselves for his future
subsistence. Who this stranger was, he could never learn; but
at the end of three days he received an invitation from the Duchess
of Richmond to undertake the tuition of the children of the Earl
of Surry who, together with his father, the Duke of Norfolk, was
imprisoned in the Tower, by the jealousy and ingratitude of the
king. The children thus confided to his care were, Thomas, who
succeeded to the dukedom; Henry, afterwards Earl of Northampton;
and Jane who became Countess of Westmoreland. In the performance
of his duties, he fully satisfied the expectations of the duchess,
These halcyon days continued during the latter part of the reign
of Henry VIII and the five years of the reign of Edward VI until
Mary came to the crown, who, soon after her accessiopn, gave all
power into the hands of the papists.
At this time Mr. Fox, who was still under the protection of his
noble pupil, the duke, began to excite the envy and hatred of
many, particularly Dr. Gardiner, then Bishop of Winchester, who
in the sequel became his most violent enemy.
Mr. Fox, aware of this, and seeing the dreadful persecutions then
commencing, began to think of quitting the kingdom. As soon as
the duke knew his intention, he endeavored to persuade him to
remain; and his arguments were so powerful, and given with so
much sincerity, that he gave up the thought of abandoning his
asylum for the present.
At that time the Bishop of Winchester was very intimate with the
duke (by the patronage of whose family he had risen to the dignity
he then enjoyed,) and frequently waited on him to present his
service when he several times requested that he might see his
old tutor. At first the duke denied his request, at one time alleging
his absence, at another, indisposition. At length it happened
that Mr. Fox, not knowing the bishop was in the house, entered
the room where the duke and he were in discourse; and seeing the
bishop, withdrew. Gardiner asked who that was; the duke answered
that he was "his physician, who was somewhat uncourtly, as
being new come from the university." "I like his countenance
and aspect very well," replied the bishop, "and when
occasion offers, I will send for him." The duke understood
that speech as the messenger of some approaching danger; and now
himself thought it high time for Mr. Fox to quit the city, and
even the country. He accordingly caused everything necessary for
his flight to be provided in silence, by sending one of his servants
to Ipswich to hire a bark, and prepare all the requisites for
his departure. He also fixed on the house of one of his servants,
who was a farmer, where he might lodge until the wind became favorable;
and everything being in readiness, Mr. Fox took leave of his noble
patron, and with his wife, who was pregnant at the time, secretly
departed for the ship.
The vessel was scarcely under sail, when a most violent storm
came on, which lasted all day and night, and the next day drove
them back to the port from which they had departed. During the
time that the vessel had been at sea, an officer, despatched by
the bishop of Winchester, had broken open the house of the farmer
with a warrant to apprehend Mr. Fox wherever he might be found,
and bring him back to the city. On hearing this news he hired
a horse, under the pretence of leaving the town immediately; but
secretly returned the same night, and agreed with the captain
of the vessel to sail for any place as soon as the wind should
shift, only desired him to proceed, and not to doubt that God
would prosper his undertaking. The mariner suffered himself to
be persuaded, and within two days landed his passengers in safety
After spending a few days in that place, Mr. Fox set out for Basle,
where he found a number of English refugees, who had quitted their
country to avoid the cruelty of the persecutors, with these he
associated, and began to write his "History of the Acts and
Monuments of the Church," which was first published in Latin
at Basle in 1554, and in English in 1563.
In the meantime the reformed religion began again to flourish
in England, and the popish faction much to decline, by the death
of Queen Mary; which induced the greater number of the Protestant
exiles to return to their native country.
Among others, on the accession of Elizabeth to the throne, Mr.
Fox returned to England; where, on his arrival, he found a faithful
and active friend in his late pupil, the Duke of Norfolk, until
death deprived him of his benefactor: after which event, Mr. Fox
inherited a pension bequeathed to him by the duke, and ratified
by his son, the Earl of Suffolk.
Nor did the good man's successes stop here. On being recommended
to the queen by her secretary of state, the great Cecil, her majesty
granted him the prebendary of Shipton, in the cathedral of Salisbury,
which was in a manner forced upon him; for it was with difficulty
that he could be persuaded to accept it.
On his resettlement in England, he employed himself in revising
and enlarging his admirable Martyrology. With prodigious pains
and constant study he completed that celebrated work in eleven
years. For the sake of greater correctness, he wrote every line
of this vast book with his own hand, and transcribed all the records
and papers himself. But, in consequence of such excessive toil,
leaving no part of his time free from study, nor affording himself
either the repose or recreation which nature required, his health
was so reduced, and his person became so emaciated and altered,
that such of his friends and relations as only conversed with
him occasionally, could scarcely recognize his person. Yet, though
he grew daily more exhausted, he proceeded in his studies as briskly
as ever, nor would he be persuaded to diminish his accustomed
labors. The papists, forseeing how detrimental his history of
their errors and cruelties would prove to their cause, had recourse
to every artifice to lessen the reputation of his work; but their
malice was of signal service, both to Mr. Fox himself, and to
the Church of God at large, as it eventually made his book more
intrinsically valuable, by inducing him to weigh, with the most
scrupulous attention, the certainty of the facts which he recorded,
and the validity of the authorities from which he drew his information.
But while he was thus indefatigably employed in promoting the
cause of truth, he did not neglect the other duties of his station;
he was charitable, humane, and attentive to the wants, both spiritual
and temporal, of his neighbors. With the view of being more extensively
useful, although he had no desire to cultivate the acquaintance
of the rich and great on his own account, he did not decline the
friendship of those in a higher rank who proffered it, and never
failed to employ his influence with them in behalf of the poor
and needy. In consequence of his well-known probity and charity,
he was frequently presented with sums of money by persons possessed
of wealth, which he accepted and distributed among those who were
distressed. He would also occasionally attend the table of his
friends, not so much for the sake of pleasure, as from civility,
and to convince them that his absence was not occasoned by a fear
of being exposed to the temptations of the appetite. In short
his character as a man and as a Christian was without reproach.
Although the recent recollection of the persecutions under Bloody
Mary gave bitterness to his pen, it is singular to note that he
was personally the most conciliatory of men, and that while he
heartily disowned the Roman Church in which he was born, he was
one of the first to attempt the concord of the Protestant brethren.
In fact, he was a veritable apostle of toleration.
When the plague or pestilence broke out in England, in 1563, and
many forsook their duties, Fox remained at his post, assisting
the friendless and acting as the almsgiver of the rich. It was
said of him that he could never refuse help to any one who asked
it in the name of Christ. Tolerant and large-hearted he exerted
his influence with Queen Elizabeth to confirm her intention to
no longer keep up the cruel practice of putting to death those
of opposing religious convictions. The queen held him in respect
and referred to him as "Our Father Foxe."
Mr. Fox had joy in the fruits of his work while he was yet alive.
It passed through four large editions before his decease, and
it was orderred by the bishops to be placed in every cathedral
church in England, where it was often found chained, as the Bible
was in those days, to a lectern for the access of the people.
At length, having long served both the Church and the world by
his ministry, by his pen, and by the unsullied luster of a benevolent,
useful, and holy life, he meekly resigned his soul to Christ,
on the eighteenth of April, 1587, being then in the seventieth
year of his age. He was interred in the chancel of St. Giles',
Cripplegate; of which parish he had been, in the beginning of
Elizabeth's reign, for some time vicar.