Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2015 Issue

Foxe News: A Leaf from a Rare but Influential 16th Century English Book

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Foxe's Martyrs.

Recently we received a newly published magnificent leaf book. We will stay away from vagaries of official book sizes to note that it is 10” x 14”, bound in full calf leather, and ornamented in intricate gold patterns. The leaf within just surpassed 450 years in age. Complete editions of the book from which it came are known to exist in fewer than 10 copies. At the time it was published (1563), no book in the English language other than the Bible was so large. Next to the Bible, it was probably the most influential book of 16th century England. It was also quite controversial.

 

The title of this book is A Leaf from the First Edition of the Actes and Monuments Commonly Known As Foxe's Book of Martyrs 1563. The original Book of Martyrs (not its actual title, but its later common name, like Shakespeare's “First Folio”) was written by John Foxe, who lived from 1516 or 1517 to 1587. This leaf book contains an introduction from Benjamin L. Crawford and a lengthy historical essay by Wallace Thornton, Jr.

 

To understand the book, we need to understand its times. Foxe came of age just as the Protestant Reformation was taking hold. It had spread through parts of Europe beginning with the second decade of the 16th century. It would reach England somewhat later, and under different circumstances. In England, the Reformation would be driven by King Henry VIII's personal wishes to divorce his wife, which was rejected by the Pope. However, Foxe's issue which led to his strong support for the Reformation had nothing to do with Henry's personal desires, or attempts to curry his favor. Foxe was driven by theological issues, and his personal interests took a backseat to his deep religious beliefs throughout his life.

 

Life in the 16th century was very different from today. Foxe's book was controversial then, and for some still today. By today's standards, many things Foxe said would be deemed anti-Catholic. Many views held by his opponents would be seen today as anti-Protestant. This is a different time. Today, Christians of all different beliefs would be expected to discuss, debate, and explain their points of view, and if differences remained, sit down and enjoy a friendly meal together. Back then, they burned each other alive. It is very difficult to have a friendly, reasonable discussion with those who seek to burn you at the stake. Hence, viewpoints of the era can seem harsh today. We recently saw, in another part of the world, a group with medieval religious beliefs burn a man to death. We have no wish to talk with such people. This was the context within which the Protestant John Foxe wrote his Book of Martyrs. It should be noted that for his time, Foxe was a very gentle and sympathetic man, though he is unlikely to be a favorite of Catholics even today.

 

By the time of the Reformation, the Catholic Church had been the sole representative of Christianity in the western world for almost a millennium and a half. Few institutions can survive a small fraction of that time without any corrupting influences. It led some to seek God directly, going around the Church they felt acted as a doorkeeper more than a facilitator. What exactly turned Foxe in this direction is not clear, but as he finished his university studies, he found himself looking to the Word, the Bible, not the Church for his way. As we noted, these were contentious times, and being on the wrong side of this issue could prove detrimental to one's career. It limited Foxe's opportunities, which rather than bringing him back to the fold, reenforced his beliefs. He began looking at Church history, and to pre-Protestant “martyrs,” those who had suffered at the hands of the Church for their beliefs.

 

If this time in his life turned him negative to the Catholic Church, what happened next would have an even deeper impact. In 1553, the sickly 15-year-old Protestant King, Edward VI, died, to be replaced by his Catholic half-sister, Mary I. The new Queen began dragging off leading Protestants, many to be executed. Several of Foxe's friends were taken away. He too ended up on the list, but managed to escape to Europe just as authorities were tracking him down. Mary would come to be despised by Protestants, given the name “Bloody Mary” for her treatment of them. Foxe remained in Europe for her five-year reign, but stories of her brutality reached him. He wrote a shorter precursor to his Book of Martyrs, which covered earlier martyrs he had been researching before his exile, and some of those of Mary's era. After Mary died childless in 1558, the throne was passed to her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth. Foxe returned to England, and began work in earnest on this first edition of his famous book. This time, a substantial portion of the book would be devoted to the martyrs of Mary's reign.

 

When his book was finally published in 1563, it became enormously popular with English Protestants. There was much residual anger from Mary's reign, and still great fear that Elizabeth would be overthrown and another Catholic monarch installed. Elizabeth would rule for 45 years, but no one knew at the time this would come to pass, and several attempts were made to overthrow her along the way. Foxe became, through his book, the defender of Elizabeth's Protestant reign against what her followers saw as attempts by a Satanic Church in Rome to retake control of England. His accounts of terrible things the Church had done to his book's martyrs reenforced this image of good vs. evil, and the book's woodcut illustrations of martyrs being consumed by fire, or papists being dragged into Hell, did not aid in bringing about mutual understanding. This was the 17th century, and there was little room for seeing shades of gray between the black and white of good and evil.

 

If one looks past the language about papists, there was more to see in John Foxe than a simple, extreme advocate of one side. He saw the Church as a hindrance to communion with God, so to him it became a false Church. The Mass, rather than connecting people to God, stood in the way. The Word was the real Church. His martyrs became symbols of the real Church, the papists of the false.

 

There were, naturally enough, martyrs on the other side, and Catholics would see him as blind to this. However, these were terrible times, and those in a war rarely stop to look at the good side of their enemies, or for their own shortcomings. In time, we can perhaps look at our roles in the battle more objectively, but during the fighting, we usually see things as black and white. Foxe saw the wrongs done to his martyrs, often, though not always, had it right, and told the story as his side saw it.

 

It should be noted that Foxe was a notable humanitarian for his time. He did not seek to make martyrs of others in return for what was done to people of his view. He opposed execution for heretics, common at the time. He interceded with authorities (usually without success) to save the lives of those whose views he vehemently rejected. He favored excommunication, hoping they would one day return to the fold. This is not to say he developed any particular tolerance for beliefs different from his own. He was not an objective observer. What he did believe in was humanitarian treatment of others, even if he had no doubt their beliefs were wrong.

 

Perhaps his views toward Catholics might have fit better with the 19th century. At that time, there was much condemnation of “popery” and the like among Protestants, but they weren't burning each other then either. From today's standpoint, we might say he is two centuries behind the time. But Foxe did not live in the 21st century. He lived in the 16th, and from that vantage point, we might say he was two centuries ahead of his time.

 

Of course, the theological issues underpinning his beliefs are still disputed today, and Foxe remains an influence on Protestant thought, an anathema to Catholic thought. That is a difference of opinion not a topic for this look at Foxe, and this book with a leaf from the major achievement of his life. What we can do is celebrate this beautiful new book with its very old leaf, and contemplate the man and his times, the good and the bad, and realize how far we have come from the days when we settled our differences by fire.

 

The leaf book from Foxe's Martyrs is available ath the following website: www.rarebibles.com/john-foxe-leaf-book.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> RATZER, Bernard. <i>Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767.</i> London: Jefferys and Faden, “Jan.y” 12, 1776. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. COCKERELL, Sydney C. <i>Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897 [issued 1898]. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GOLDEN COCKEREL PRESS]. KEATS, John. <i>Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems.</i> Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1928. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GRANT, Ulysses S.— GRANT, Julia, First Lady]. Carved Applewood and 18-karat Gold Jewelry Suite, Browne & Spaulding, Jewelers, New York City, 1865. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [LINCOLN ASSASSINATION]. GARDNER, Alexander. <i>Incidents of the War |Sic Semper Sicariis</i> [caption title]. Washington, D. C.: Philip & Solomons, 1865. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> A COMPLETE COLLECTION of 115 titles published in R. R. Donnelley's Lakeside Classics series. Chicago, 1903-2017. COMPLETE RUN OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING CONTINUOUS SERIES OF BOOKS IN THE WORLD. $5,000 to $7,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> GLEIZES, Albert. METZINGER, Jean. <i>Du Cubisme.</i> Paris, 1947. LIMITED EDITION, number 19 of 20 copies on papier d'Auvergne. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [THE LITTLE REVIEW]. ANDERSON, Margaret, ed. POUND, Ezra, ed. HEAP, Jane, ed. <i>The Little Review.</i> Vol. I, No. 1 through Vol. XII, No. 2. 1914-1929. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [MOUNTENEY, Leonard, binder]. LOUŸS, Pierre. <i>Songs of Bilitis.</i> Chicago: Argus Books, 1931. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [HANCOCK, John]. Partly-printed U.S. Loan-Office Transfer Certificate issued on behalf of Hancock. Sgn’d on recto by William Imlay, as Commissioner of Loans of Connecticut. 28 February 1793. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DE CORDOBA, JACOB. <i>Map of the State of Texas.</i> New York, 1866. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Autograph bookseller's receipt for Dr. John Dickinson, Signed ("B. Arnold"), February 1767. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 4 Typed Letters Signed ("A Einstein") to Cleveland E. Dodge offering early reports on the meetings of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D. Typed Letter Signed ("Dwight D. Eisenhower") to General Henri Giraud written from a secret bunker in Gibraltar on the eve of Operation Torch, November 4 [but 6], 1942. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> Early Broadside Printing of the GADSDEN PURCHASE, Puebla, August 16, 1854. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ALLEN, ETHAN. Autograph Letter Signed to Crevecouer during the Constitutional Debates in Congress, 2 pp, August 29, 1787. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> DARWIN, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> London John Murray, 1859. FIRST EDITION. THE VERY FINE MELLON-GARDEN COPY. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ECKERT, J. P, H. H. GOLDSTINE, and J. G. BRAINERD. <i>Description of the ENIAC and comments on electronic digital computing machines.</i> N.p., 1945. FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED BY GOLDSTINE. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> EUCLID. <i>Elementa geometriae.</i> Translated from the Arabic by Adelard of Bath. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> [HAMILTON, Alexander, James MADISON and John JAY]. <i>The Federalist: A Collection of Essays…</i> New York: John and Andrew M'Lean, 1788. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Dialogo...Dove ne i congressi di quattro giornate si discorre sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano.</i> Florence, 1632. FIRST EDITION. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922. FIRST EDITION, ONE OF 100 COPIES SIGNED BY JOYCE. $120,000 to $180,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> KEYNES, John Maynard. <i>The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money.</i> London: Macmillan, 1936. FIRST EDITION. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> NEWTON, Isaac, Sir. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.</i> London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society, 1687. FIRST EDITION. $150,000 to $250,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ROWLING, J. K. <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.</i> London: Bloomsbury, 1997. FIRST EDITION, SIGNED BY ROWLING. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> SMITH, Adam. <i>An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.</i> London: for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776. FIRST EDITION. $70,000 to $90,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Sir Isaac Newton, <i>Opticks,</i> first edition, first issue, London, 1704. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Johannes Jacobus Canis, <i>De modo studendi in utroque iure,</i> first edition, Padua, 1476. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Pope Clemens V, <i>Constitutiones,</i> Nuremberg, 1482. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Panormitanus de Tudeschis, <i>Lectura super V libris Decretalium,</i> Basel, 1480-81. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Michael Faraday, <i>Experimental Researches in Electricity,</i> complete set, first editions, London, 1832-56. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> William Gilbert, <i>Tractatus sive physiologia nova de magnete,</i> Sedini, 1628. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> John Bulwer, <i>Philocophus,</i> first edition of the first book in English on the deaf, London, 1648. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> James Cook, complete set, 9 volumes, London, 1773-84. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Bertrand, <i>Opus de Tholosano[rum] Gestis ab Urbe Condita,</i> with the earliest known view of the city of Toulouse, 1515. $2,000 to $3,000.

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