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date: 21 September 2020

Representing Martyrdom in Tudor England

Abstract and Keywords

In the phenomenon of martyrdom, history, religion, and literature meet. Martyrs were made not only by the grim stand-off between a dissident believer and determined authority, but also by writers and readers who represent and interpret an individual death within a religious framework. Representation and interpretation often overlapped cross-confessionally as Reformation-era writers contested an inheritance of Christian literature, history, and exemplars. The construction of martyrdom concerns the writing of historical narrative, the boundaries of genre, the nature of living tradition, the power of exemplarity, the invocation of reading communities, and practices of imitatio or imitation in its literary and devotional forms. The subject of martyrdom can teach us much about the period’s intertwining of religious with literary habits of thought, practice, and belief, and about the long, slow, woefully bloody process through which Christendom, during the Reformation, divided itself.

Keywords: martyrdom, martyrology, genre, Protestant, Reformation, persecution, Catholic, Foxe, Alfield, Allen


In the phenomenon of martyrdom, history, religion, and literature meet. The making of a martyr depends not only upon the grim stand-off between a dissident believer and determined authority, but also upon writers and readers who represent and interpret an individual death within a religious framework.1 Thus Anne Dillon’s seminal book on the construction of Catholic martyrdom in the sixteenth century invokes “construction” not in its strong postmodern sense but in a weaker, more flexible one: representations of English Catholic martyrdom were carefully drawn and deployed for particular communities, contexts, and purposes, a claim that applies to the period’s Protestant martyrologies as well.2 Martyrdom has received much scholarly attention for reasons ranging from martyrdom’s central importance for Reformation-era religion to the resurgence of religion as a force in world politics.3 As the subject demands, the best scholarship is that which studies martyrdom cross-confessionally and from multiple disciplinary perspectives. It is hard to overstate the importance of early modern martyrologies, the focus of this essay: they shape historical narratives, habits of thought and interpretation, models for behavior, and patterns of religious belief.

Early modern England produced numerous deaths with which martyrologists could do their constructing. Under Henry VIII, conservatives such as Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher, and eighteen Carthusian monks were executed for denying royal supremacy over the church in England. Evangelicals also suffered: reformers such as John Lambert (d. 1538), Robert Barnes (d. 1540), and Anne Askew (d. 1546) were burned at the stake for denying transubstantiation. Henry’s successor, Edward VI, pushed the English Reformation forward, establishing, for instance, the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The regime also, to the martyrologist John Foxe’s later discomfort, burned two radical Protestants at the stake.4 When Edward’s short reign ended in 1553, an attempt by Protestant leaders to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne failed, and the Catholic Mary Tudor came to power. Her regime revived medieval heresy statutes in an effort to eliminate resistance to its religious policies. The most notorious of these, De haeretico comburendo (1401), empowered secular authorities to burn those whom church courts found to subvert the Catholic faith and who refused to abjure (or, having abjured, lapsed again).5 Approximately 284 Protestants were burned at the stake between 1555 and 1558, including prominent reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, John Rogers, and Hugh Latimer, and people of low social status, such as the illiterate Welsh fisherman Rawlins White.6

Mary’s death in 1558 brought Elizabeth Tudor to the throne and yet another change of religion. The 1558 Act of Supremacy declared England’s ecclesiastical independence from Rome, the 1559 Act of Uniformity restored the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1563 established clear differences between the English and Roman churches. Relations with Catholic authorities quickly worsened. In 1570, Pius V’s bull Regnans in excelsis absolved Elizabeth’s Catholic subjects of loyalty to her; thereafter, the regime feared its Catholic subjects as a potential fifth column in any invasion attempt. Subsequent events stoked this fear: in 1579 Spanish and Italian troops flying the papal flag landed in Ireland, just nine months prior to the landing of the first Jesuit missionaries, Edmund Campion and Robert Persons, in England. In February 1587 Mary, Queen of Scots was executed, to the horror of continental Catholic regimes, and in 1588 growing tensions with Spain culminated in the Armada attempt. During these years, English Catholics came under increasing pressure from treason legislation designed to drive them into religious conformity, bankruptcy, exile, or the harsh death, by drawing and quartering, of the traitor. In 1571, responding to Regnans in excelsis, the regime declared it treason to import, publish, or put into effect any bull or writing from Rome or to “set forthe, and affyrme that the Queene is an Heretyke Schesmatyke Tyraunt Infidell or an Usurper.”7 Cuthbert Mayne became the first missionary priest executed for treason, in 1576. In 1581, reconciling others to the Catholic Church or being reconciled oneself was deemed treason; in 1585 the Act against Jesuits and Seminarians defined English Catholic priests on English soil as de facto traitors. Under the Tudors, from 1535 to 1603, 239 Catholics died as traitors in the regime’s eyes, martyrs in those of their co-religionists.8

While the scope of English religious persecution pales in comparison with that of the continent, England’s several official changes of religion and its many Catholic martyrs make it a distinct case.9 Still, Tudor martyrdom ought not to be studied in isolation. Foxe’s first Latin martyrology, Commentarii rerum in ecclesia gestarum (1554), was influenced by continental Protestants, such as Matthias Flacius (Illyricus), and the Lutheran martyrologists known as the Magdeburg Centuriators; in turn, the martyrologists Adriaan van Haemstede, Ludwig Rabus, and Jean Crespin made use of the Commentarii.10 Much of Foxe’s second Latin martyrology, Rerum in Ecclesia gestarum (Basle, 1559), was incorporated into Crespin’s Actiones et monumenta martyrum (Geneva, 1560), the title of which influenced that of Foxe’s English martyrology, the Actes and Monuments.11 The fullest Catholic response to Foxe’s Actes and Monuments was written in Latin for a broad audience; the Concertatio Ecclesiae Catholica in Anglia was first published in Trier in 1583 and in subsequent, expanded editions from 1588. Continental interest in English Catholic martyrs was significant.12 Diego de Yepez, bishop of Taracona and confessor to Philip II, wrote a history of the English persecution, and numerous works in Latin and vernacular languages commemorated martyrs from Edmund Campion in 1581 to priests executed during the English Civil Wars in the 1640s.13

As affecting, dramatic offerings of religious testimony, martyrologies served important religious and polemical functions.14 Reformation-era martyrologies seek to establish continuity with Christianity’s foundational martyrdom, that of Christ, and to extend and shape subsequent Christian history. The construction of martyrdom concerns the writing of historical narrative, the boundaries of genre, the nature of living tradition, the power of exemplarity, the invocation of reading communities, and practices of imitatio, or imitation, in its literary and devotional forms. The making of martyrs thus depends upon both contemporary literary practices and religious convictions, as this essay hopes to show.

Historical Continuity

One of the most seemingly persuasive arguments for a religion’s truth, one regularly attempted by martyrologists, was continuity of witness. This argument reveals the conservative dimensions of magisterial Protestantism and Counter-Reformation Catholicism alike: the church with a continuous and presumably therefore orthodox history was the true one. Writers such as John Bale, Anne Askew, John Foxe, Robert Persons, and Reginald Pole worked to situate particular deaths within such a history. But this work was far from straightforward. Numerous volumes written by magisterial Protestants, radical reformers, and Roman Catholics evince an ongoing battle over who might lay claim to the authority history was thought to offer.

Sixteenth-century representations of Anne Askew reveal differences even among Protestant writers over how best to situate this outspoken, iconoclastic Henrician martyr within Christian history. As a Carmelite friar, John Bale researched the histories of English saints and martyrs. After his religious conversion, he worked to revise history so that it might embrace evangelical martyrs. Bale’s editions of Anne Askew’s Examinations concern her experiences in 1545 (after her arrest) and from June 1546 until her execution on July 16, 1546, including her interrogations and torture at the rack (rarely used against gentlewomen).15 The Examinations include text purportedly authored by Askew and voluminous commentary by Bale.16 The Examinations became the most popular printed account of a sixteenth-century Protestant martyr; a version of them was incorporated into Foxe’s Actes and Monuments.17

In his preface to the First Examination, Bale links Askew to the early church martyr Blandina: “Blandina was yonge and tender. So was Anne Askewe also. But that whych was frayle of nature in them both, Christ made most stronge by hys grace.”18 Bale stresses the bodily weakness of these female martyrs; they are emboldened by the presence of Christ within.19 Bale’s rhetoric of fragility and faithfulness (Askew is “verye yonge, dayntye, and tender”) places her narrative within a magisterial Protestant project: describing Protestantism as the descendant of a continuously present, faithful, and suffering church.20 Askew similarly argues for continuity but chooses only biblical (and male) precedents for herself: St. Stephen, the first to die for the Christian faith; St. Paul, whose rhetoric and epistolary instruction she adapts in her second examination (and whose strictures against women’s teaching she limits to the pulpit alone); and Christ himself. Bale also invokes Stephen’s and Christ’s examples; for Bale, however, Askew is most typically Christ the lamb, while in her own representation she often resembles Christ rebuking the Pharisees. Askew’s comparatively more radical stance (she leans only upon biblical models) and dismantling of gendered restrictions alongside false religious teachings (she insists on women’s right to teach) may prompt Bale’s overeager assimilation of her into a history of weak vessels made strong by Christ.21

Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, the period’s most important English Protestant martyrology, derives its arguments for historical continuity from multiple texts: the Bible above all, early church historians as Foxe reads them, and the many records, letters, and testimonies Foxe gathered and included in the four editions published during his lifetime (in 1563, 1570, 1576, and 1583). Foxe’s careful editing shapes these materials into a narrative illustrating continuity, not rupture. He thus proclaims the martyrs he commemorates as worthy sucessors of early Christian martyrs, using anaphora to figure continuity in the 1563 preface “A declaration concerning the utilitie and profite of thys history”:22

Those standing in the foreward of the battell, did receive the first encountre and violence of their enemies, and taught us by that meanes to overcome such tiranny. But these as spedely, lyke olde beaten soldiours did winne the field in the rereward of the battaile. Those did, like famous husband men of the world, sow the fieldes of the church, that first lay unmanured and waste. And these with the fatnes of their bloude did cause it to battell and fructifie.23

Foxe adapts Tertullian’s infamous statement that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church to argue that Protestant martyrs both resemble early martyrs (those at the “foreward of the battell”) and are the culmination of earlier struggles as they batten or prosper those ecclesiastical “fields” sown by martyrs’ blood. They are, emphatically, not new fighters (Protestants were regularly accused of novelty) but “olde beaten soldiours” who conquer at battle’s end. Catholics, by contrast, innovate and presume upon the idiosyncrasies of episcopal authorities. Thus Foxe criticizes Innocent III’s papacy in his preface “To the true and faithfull congregation of Christes universall Church”: “what soever the Byshop of Rome denounced, that stode for an oracle, of all men to be received without opposition or contradiction: whatsoever was contrary, ipso facto it was heresy.”24

Foxe asserts fundamental agreement among early church, medieval, and Marian martyrs in doctrine and demeanor. Thus Foxe compares Laurence Saunders (d. 1555)

to S. Laurence, or any other of the old Martyrs of Christes church: both for the fervent zeale of the truth and Gospell of Christ, & the most constant pacience in his suffering: as also for the cruell torments that he in his pacient body did susteine in the flame of fire … the grace & most plentifull consolation of Christ, which never forsaketh his servauntes, & gave strength to S. Laurence gave also pacience to this Laurence.25

Foxe is also quite aware that he must work to unite Protestants whose beliefs or zeal might not match his own. In his revised 1570 preface to Queen Elizabeth, which pushes her toward more energetic reform than she has embraced to date, Foxe connects his historical work to scripture, laying the ultimate claim to continuity: “as by the one [scripture] the people may learne the rules and preceptes of doctrine: so by the other [the A & M] they may have examples of Gods mighty working in his church, to the confirmation of their faith, and the edification of Christian life.”26 Foxe’s historical examples illuminate doctrine and confirm faith by demonstrating God’s work in history; not even monarchs ought to stand in the way of the true church.

The link between scripture and contemporary events was one Catholic writers and martyrs were eager to assert, as they were deeply aware of how the deaths of Catholics, ostensibly for treason, might be interpreted. According to Campion’s first martyrologist, Thomas Alfield, Campion began to address the crowd at his execution but was quickly silenced by the attending sheriff.27 The words Campion began to speak were: “‘Spectaculum facti sumus Deo, Angeli, & hominibus … These are the wordes of S. Paule, Englished thus: We are made a spectacle, or a sight unto God, unto his Angels, and unto men: verified this day in me, who am here a spectacle unto my lorde god, a spectacle unto his angels, & unto you men.’”28 Campion echoes I Corinthians 4:9, a key verse in martyrological discourse at least since Origen’s early third-century Exhortation to Martyrdom.29 The verse recurs in early modern martyrological literature: the Catholic Thomas Tunstal was silenced as he began to speak on the verse at his 1616 execution; the Puritan Henry Burton invoked the verse as he awaited the loss of an ear for defying Archbishop Laud’s regime; and in William Cardinal Allen’s A Briefe Historie of the Glorious Martyrom of XII Reverend Priests (1582) the soon-to-be-martyred Thomas Cottam speaks the verse—“O Lord, what a spectacle hast thou made unto me?”—as he views the head of Laurence Richardson, executed before him.30 Alfield’s martyrology asserts Campion’s claim for continuity when he cannot, and a poem on Campion’s death, entitled “What yron hart that wo’d not melt in greefe,” invokes the biblical passage to similar ends: “a pacient spectacle was presented then,/ in sight of God, of angels, saints, and men.”31

Stung by Foxe’s work, which narrated the continuous history of an often hidden church made visible by persecution’s fires, Catholic writers insist on the easily perceptible continuity of their own church. In his Briefe Historie Allen writes that in the persecution of English Catholics

such as are not skilful in the old histories of the Church, may as in a glasse behold at once al the miseries that she hath suffered in this kinde of calumniation by the Arians, the Gothes, the Vandals, the Lumbards, the Donatistes, Eutichians, Mahometists, Hussists, Hugonots, and by what other sort in times past or present so ever.32

Allen narrates history (“times past”) up to the Reformation (“Hugonots”) and also collapses past and present (“at once”); he both establishes a narrative of continuous time and claims the present as an all-encompassing picture (“as in a glasse”) of Christian suffering. That simultaneous claim for continuity and identity undergirds Allen’s challenge to arguments that Catholics suffer for treason, not religion. Allen insists that such accusations situate the martyrs within, not outside, Christian tradition, and that persecutors’ efforts to discredit them fail:

even in the daies of their persecutors, and in as sharpe punishment, diligence and watchfulnes, that their memories be not recommendable to the world, as ever was used of the old heathen persecutors, against S. Policarp, S. Albon, and other auncient Martyrs, yet their renoume hath passed through al the Christian world, and hath pearsed the very heretikes harts in Fraunce, Geneva and Germany.33

As Foxe asserted with Laurence Saunders, the martyrs’ “torments” and their “constancie” “are comparable truly to the old strange sufferings of the renommed Martyrs of the primative Church in the daies of Nero, Decius and Diocletian.”34 Both Foxe and Allen argue that their martyrs represent the culmination of a lengthy, authoritative historical narrative. Reading martyrdom through the lens of Christian history does not subordinate but rather gives urgency to the present; history helps make and authorize contemporary martyrdom. Innovation is to be shunned, and the true Christian inheritance—manifest in the sufferings of (the right) martyrs—to be embraced.

Continuity and Change

The notion of a living tradition, central to sixteenth-century literary and religious culture, undergirds arguments like those of Allen and Foxe. Sixteenth-century martyrologists test and develop their work against and through inherited generic forms. Thus, scholars have long remarked upon “how similar were the underlying conceptions and assumptions of both Protestant and Catholic about martyrdom.”35 Because of the importance of prior Christian models, not least Christ’s own martyrdom, and despite some confessional differences (such as Catholic emphasis on relics), Protestant and Catholic characterizations of martyrs frequently overlapped.36 Most early modern martyrologists represented martyrs as sanguine, usually calm and passive (with allowances for brief jeremiads), and patient in suffering. They neither shunned nor sought death; they were articulate about their faith (even when, as with some of Foxe’s lower-status martyrs, they speak simply, or when, as with many Catholic martyrs, attempts to speak are cut short); they claim to act according to their consciences and in concert with Christian tradition. Conformity to generic expectations helped martyrs and their martyrologists present a given death as testimony for the true faith.

At the same time, martyrologists treat genre as sixteenth-century writers of imaginative literature do: with some flexibility.37 In reaction to Romantic and modernist rejections of genre as stifling creativity and individual expression, literary theorists typically understand genre not as prescriptive, as a set of expectations to which a particular instantiation must adhere, but as a dialogue (sometimes peaceful, sometimes fraught) between a literary work and literary history.38 Like descriptive linguists, genre theorists study not what a work ought to be but what it is, how it responds to and alters generic histories.

These ideas are helpful for studying Reformation genres of martyrdom. Freeman argues that during the early modern period conceptions of martyrdom narrowed from comparatively broad late medieval models to, predominantly, imitatio Christi.39 This narrowing is visible in Bale’s preface to Askew’s Latter Examination, in which saints such as S. Edwyn (who died in battle) or S. Edward (who died after falling off a horse) are contrasted with Askew, who, Bale says, followed Christ.40 Writers’ assimilation of martyrs to Christ recuperated otherwise humiliating deaths, for the more humiliations a martyr suffered, the closer that martyr came to Christ’s example. For Catholic martyrologists, imitatio Christi transformed deaths for treason into martyrdoms. In “A Complaint on Campion,” Campion’s treason conviction is aligned with the (false) accusation made before Pilate, as in Luke 23:2, that Jesus discouraged the payment of tribute to Caesar:

  • They …. say he is not Caesars frende,
  • accusing him of treasone.
  • But shal we mutche lament the same,
  • or shall we more rejoyce,
  • Such was the case with Christ our lord,
  • sutche was the Jewish voyce.
  • So wer their wrathful words pronounst,
  • so was their sentence wrong,
  • For Christ did give to Caesar that
  • which did to him belong.
  • So Christ his true disciples here
  • no treason do pretend,
  • But they by Christ and Christ his lore
  • their fayth till death defende.41

Both Campion and Christ were accused—wrongly, the writer insists—of subversive political behavior; the similitude undergirds martyrdom for defense of “fayth.” Allen reports that after Campion’s arrest a paper was placed on his hat reading “CAMPION THE SEDITIOUS JESUIT.” This indignity furthers, and does not hinder, the imitatio Christi: “the herodians once revested his Maister for the like cause, and in like kind of mockerie with kingly robe, crowne, and scepter.”42 Arguing similarly, Foxe writes that George Eagles, one of the few Marian martyrs executed for treason rather than heresy, was betrayed by a “Judas” and died between two people executed on either side of him, a clear allusion to the crucifixion of Christ between two thieves.43

Numerous martyrs imitate Christ’s words in Luke 23:34 (echoed by Stephen in Acts 7: 58–59): “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”44 Foxe writes that John Hooper addressed his executioner thus: “God forgeve thee thy sinnes & doe thine office, I pray thee” (in the end, Hooper had much to forgive: his execution was horribly drawn out).45 The motif is common cross-confessionally; Allen writes that the priest Ralph Sherwin forgave his persecutors.46 Such echoes do not necessarily indicate martyrological fabrication: we know that martyrs such as Joyce Lewes planned what to say and do at their deaths so as to bear effective witness, and English Catholic priests training for the mission were encouraged to meditate upon the witness and conduct of martyrs.47 As Alec Ryrie observes, Reformation-era Christians “were from the beginning conscious of the historical context and significance of their actions.”48

If the imitation of Christ was the period’s dominant model for martyrdom, it is also true that hagiographic genres were in flux. Early humanists, such as Juan Vives, Melchior Cano, and Georg Witzel, anticipated Protestant attacks on hagiographic excesses; they needed no John Foxe to tell them that the Legenda Aurea, the popular late medieval hagiography, ran with lead feet.49 Counter-Reformation writers, such as Caesar Baronius and Laurentius Surius, reformed martyrologies to fit their understandings of historia sacra, or sacred history.50 English writers also self-consciously revised hagiography. Before later sixteenth-century writers found in treason executions the echoes of Roman persecutions for refusal to perform state religion, earlier writers defined a new cause for martyrdom: death for the church’s unity and the papacy’s authority. English Catholics were initially reluctant to celebrate Thomas More or Bishop John Fisher as martyrs as they hoped that Henry VIII might yet restore Catholicism. Reginald Pole broke with this reluctance; his De unitate set forth More and Fisher as martyrs for a unified church, and he likened Henry to persecutors such as Nero and Domitian.51 Nicholas Harpsfield, Pole’s protegé, wrote a biography of More in which both martyr and biographer evince humanist values of learning, reasoned argument, and restraint. The lack of miracles in More’s biography reflects the reform of hagiography that began in the fifteenth and accelerated in the sixteenth centuries.52 Humanist values undergirded the editorial strategies behind English Catholic martyrologies printed for circulation on the continent. Those martyrologies stress martyrs’ heroic virtue and reasoned arguments, while downplaying or eliminating miracles; since these martyrs died for the church’s unity, not the conversion of a new territory, no miracles were required. Martyrologies circulated in manuscript for English Catholic readers, by contrast, admit more miracles to encourage devotion and faithful persistence.53

A cross-confessional perspective on miracles further highlights martyrology’s flexibility. Foxe condemns the “monkish miracles” that cluttered the lives of early martyrs such as S. Alban, England’s protomartyr, and wishes that stories of early martyrs had been handed down “simple and uncorrupt.”54 His claim that his work differs from “Legends” unable “to abide the touch of history” has been called “distinctively Protestant.”55 But Foxe also includes death scene wonders meant to testify to the sanctity of martyrs (such as the wondrous glowing of Rawlins White, or Thomas Haukes’s clapping of his hands thrice before expiring); he glories in wondrously providential rescues of the godly or punishments of the wicked.56

Foxe found precedent for wonders in sources he considered reputable, such as Eusebius’s fourth-century Ecclesiastical History, respected by Catholics as well.57 Differing Protestant and Catholic uses of Eusebius’s account of the martyr Polycarp demonstrate martyrology’s flexibility. For Foxe, Polycarp is a crucial figure; the martyrdoms of Bishops Hooper and Latimer are shaped after Polycarp’s example.58 Foxe maintains many of Eusebius’s miracles most obviously out of respect for his fellow ecclesiastical historian.59 Those miracles also reinforce paradigms dominant in his stories of Marian martyrs: they stress a providential shape to history, crowd reaction and approbation, and subtle divine approval of a martyr’s sacrifice. Thus as Polycarp proceeds to his execution, Foxe follows Eusebius in reporting that “a voyce from heaven” said “be of good cheare Polycarpus, and playe the man.”60 Foxe first includes this story, as with all material on early church martyrs, in his second (1570) edition. In that edition, Foxe also—infamously—gives Latimer the words heard at Polycarp’s execution. Speaking to his fellow martyr Nicholas Ridley, Latimer urges him to “Be of good comfort M. Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day lyght such a candle by Gods grace in England, as (I trust) shall never be put out.”61 While it is conceivable that Foxe’s main source for these executions, George Shipside, suddenly remembered a pithy anecdote he’d forgotten when he first gave Foxe the story, it seems unlikely.62 The words may instead reflect “typological commonplaces that permeated thinking” among Foxe and his collaborators.63 Latimer’s newly added words embed the Eusebian wonder in contemporary history, transferring the voice from heaven to another aged bishop-martyr. Latimer’s expansion of Polycarp’s words locates a biblical metaphor—the brightly burning candle of Matthew 5:15 (“Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house”)—in his and Ridley’s bodies. The historical fire of heretical punishment figures the spread of the gospel.

As the fire around Polycarp rages, Foxe narrates “A miracle”:

the fire, being made in the similitude of a roufe or vaute of a house, & after the maner of a shipmans sayle, when it is filled with wynde, compassed aboute the bodye of the Martyr, as with a certayne walle, and was in the middle of the same, not as fleshe that burned, but as golde and silver when it is tryed in the fire. And surely we smelt a savour so sweete, as if Myrre or some other precious Balme had geven a sent.64

This passage alludes to Proverbs 17:3, in which God tries hearts as a furnace does gold, or a refining pot silver.65 Biblical language is again realized in a miracle proclaiming the successful trial of the martyr’s faith. Foxe adjusts the scent wafting from the burning body from Eusebius’s “incense” to the Christological “myrrh” or “balm”—associated with the gifts of the Magi, the anointing of Christ’s feet with myrrh in Luke 7, and the mixture of “wine” and “myrrh” offered to Christ on the cross. The “miracle” links biblical language with martyrological history; the correspondence between Christ and the martyr, and between simile and materiality, together constitute testimony.

By contrast, the author of the Flos Sanctorum found many of these miracles unenlightening. The popular Counter-Reformation answer to the Golden Legend, the Flos Sanctorum was composed in Spanish by Alonso de Villegas; its English translation, by Edward Kinesman, went through at least eight editions between 1609 and 1638. In the Flos Sanctorum, no “play the man” voice cries from heaven. The miracle concerning the fire’s appearance and the martyr’s body is retained, but its biblical precedent is adjusted. Kinesman writes that the fire “came not neere the S. but encompassed him like a tabernacle, so that he shone like gold.”66 The fire’s similarity to a tabernacle may link the martyr to the Jerusalem Temple, the prefiguration, in Catholic exegesis of Revelation, of the Catholic Church, which became the center of worship after the Temple’s destruction. For Alonso and Kinesman, Polycarp is exemplary because he refuses to deal with heretics. At his execution he becomes a purified exemplar of the ecclesiastical body.67 At this moment, Alonso and Kinesman follow Eusebius more closely than does Foxe, writing that the scent wafting from the fire is “incense,” used in Catholic liturgies. In the Flos Sanctorum the wonders that remain render Polycarp’s martyrdom a witness to the importance of a church free from heresy’s taint.

For Foxe, writing the history of an often invisible church means reading marvels for the diachronic patterns they form and the biblical language they literalize, thereby rendering a hidden ecclesiastical body readable through time and marking it as holy. For Alonso and Kinesman, writing historical hagiography means reabsorbing early church martyrs into the proper ecclesiastical body, affirming the continuity both of miracles and of the true church. Neither uses Eusebius’s text as one might predict based on the authors’ confessional identity; instead, literary concerns intersect with religious imperatives to shape the genres of testimony.

Reading Communities and the Exemplarity of Martyrs

Both versions of Polycarp’s martyrdom stress ecclesiastical community. Indeed, martyrdom was used to call community into being, to shape boundaries between newly divided faith communities. Conversely, those communities supported the production of martyrology in crucial ways. Recent scholarship has begun to trace networks of informants and correspondents whose contributions (often anonymous or unheralded) and agendas undergird the period’s martyrologies.68 Foxe relied heavily upon such contributions. His sections on the medieval church (added to the 1570 edition) lean upon manuscripts made accessible by Archbishop Matthew Parker and his circle, and his narratives of sixteenth-century martyrs drew explicitly on numerous informants.69 The publication of the 1563 edition spurred witnesses to offer Foxe their accounts; thus, the twenty-five-word account of Rawlins White’s burning in the 1563 edition was replaced in 1570 with detailed information about his life and death.70 Two prefaces added to Foxe’s 1570 edition (“The Names of the Authors alleged in this Booke, besides many and sondry other Authors whose names are unknowen, and also besides divers Recordes of Parlament, and also other matters found out in Registers of sondry Byshops of this Realme,” and “The names of the Martyrs in this booke conteined”) establish his book as an authoritative product of a broad textual and interpersonal community.71 Flexible notions of early modern authorship help account for the fact that contemporaries knew Foxe had not written much of the book and yet credited him as its “author.”72

Catholic martyrologists too sought out authoritative sources, in part to counter government-sponsored treatises proclaiming their martyrs to be traitors. The distribution of such a treatise at Everard Haunse’s execution (July 1581) preempted Catholic defenses of him. At Campion’s execution later that year (December 1581), the priest Thomas Alfield made sure to attend in order to record what happened, as “divers and contrary reportes falsely and maliciously bruted and published of M. Everard Haunse, directly executed for cause of Religion, after his late martyrdome, gave just feare of the like practise.”73 Similarly, Alfield asserts that authoritative records reached him from the martyr Alexander Briant’s own hand, and Allen’s title page proclaims that his information is “Set furth by such as were much conversant with [the martyrs] in their life, and present at their arraignment and death.”74 Material on martyrs was regularly sent to exiles; the writer, polemicist, and printer Richard Verstegan was one important clearinghouse for such information.

Writers went to great lengths to ensure that their martyrs were worthy examples: readers were to imitate martyrs, though the range of imitation might be quite broad. In some cases, imitators followed closely. Germain Gardner and John Larke (More’s parish priest) both stated at their 1544 executions that Fisher, More, and the Carthusian martyrs had inspired them.75 A manuscript ballad on Campion combines stanzas from the poem “Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen?” with an original stanza, apparently to persuade a reader toward martyrdom; an endorsement in the manuscript may indicate that the intended reader was George Jarves, a priest executed in London on April 11, 1608.76 The York martyr Margaret Clitherow refused to plead when faced with treason charges, a refusal that the 1594 edition of the Concertatio explains as charitable protection of others: “She would not be the cause of any death, nor would she drag any into such miseries of torture, or give occasion to any of ruin in faith.”77 Clitherow inspired Jane Wiseman, a would-be martyr, to maintain silence before authorities.78

In other instances, less literal forms of imitation were advised and practiced. Broad forms of imitatio martyriorum help account for martyrdom’s pervasive influence on the period’s often highly emotive, seemingly crisis-driven religiosity. In his preface titled (in 1563) “A declaration concerning the utilitie and profite of thys history,” Foxe suggests that readers imitate martyrs if not through witnessing to the death, then by chastising the flesh (in the Pauline sense of concupiscence) and avoiding worldliness:

though we repute not their ashes, chaines, and swerdes in the stede of reliques: yet let us yelde thus muche unto their commemoration, to glorifie the Lord in his Saintes, and imitate their death (as muche as we maye) with like constancy, or their lives at the least with like innocencye. They offered their bodies willinglye to the rough handling of the Tormentours. Is it so great a matter then for our part, to mortifie our flesh, with all the members thereof? They neglected not onelye the riches and glorye of the worlde for the love of Christ, but also their lives. And shall we then keepe so great a stirre one with an other for the vaine and transitorye trifles of this world?79

Imitation in lived experience replaces the replication of wonders through relics. The examples of martyrs should move readers toward godliness and even, Foxe suggests, “charity”: as they forgave their persecutors, so should we forgive each other.

Contemporary records verify the use of Foxe’s book in Protestant devotion. Lady Grace Mildmay’s diary records that her mother allowed her to read just a handful of books, among them the Bible, the Imitatio Christi, Wolfgang Musculus’s Common Places, and Foxe’s Actes and Monuments; her written meditations contain points from the Bible as well as summaries of saintly lives and virtues based on Foxe’s accounts.80 The Nicholas Ferrar community at Little Gidding read Foxe’s Actes and Monuments regularly; the story of Bishop Robert Ferrar (not an ancestor) was a particular favorite.81 Alec Ryrie argues that accounts of martyrdom, alongside the psalms, were critical in weaving “a constant awareness of crisis into the substance of the Protestant devotional life itself”; reading about accounts of martyrs helped Protestants in their struggles against “routine and hypocrisy.”82 Those accounts may also have soothed spiritual crises. Evidence from Foxe’s extant papers suggests that stories of martyrs were a way to soothe anxieties about predestination and foster assurance. Letters written to the martyrologist indicate that Foxe was an early modern agony aunt, his expertise on martyrdom lending him the authority to ease spiritual suffering.83 A popular abridgement of the Actes and Monuments, Cotton Clement’s The Mirror of Martyrs, strips the work’s doctrinal and theological debates but maintains “two godly Letters written by M. Bradford, full of sweet consolation for such as are afflicted in conscience.” Those letters occupy roughly 20 percent of the book and emphasize assurance and certainty.

Catholic writers also presented martyrs as figures to be imitated. The concluding stanzas of “Why do I use my paper, inke, and pen?” state that “we learne to play the constant christians parts” by viewing the posted quarters of executed Catholic priests, and that from Campion’s head, placed on a stake, we learn how to “frame ourselves to live.”84 Each step of Campion’s martyrdom—his drawing on a hurdle, his final speeches, his gruesomely drawn-out death—is interpreted in a moral sense (perhaps following long-standing habits of biblical reading): each “shew[s] the way that leadeth unto blisse.”85 As this line implies, the imitation of martyrs was seen as a way to confirm Catholics in their faith. The York martyr Margaret Clitherow (d. 1586) was defiant, even flagrant, in her Catholicism, which included pilgrimages to sites of Catholic martyrs’ deaths. Her biographer and confessor John Mush uses her life to reprove conformist Catholics, those who complied with the Elizabethan regime’s directive to attend Church of England services once per month. From 1568, the papacy had decreed that Catholics were not to conform, but English Catholics such as the priest Alban Langdale argued that conformity was possible provided Catholics gave some outward sign of their faith.86 By contrast, Clitherow was a strict recusant, or nonconformist. Mush’s Life of Margaret Clitherow intervenes in a heated debate among English Catholics both in York and nationally: may Catholics in good conscience comply with the regime’s requirement or was recusancy the only spiritually correct path?87 Mush chastises “emulous” Catholics reluctant to imitate Clitherow’s recusancy as well as the sacrifices she made on behalf of the Catholic community—acting as their “common mother,” he writes—to shelter priests and foster the faith.88 The double sense of “emulous”—its Latin root, aemulus, may signify both “jealous” and “worthy of imitation”—condenses Mush’s message: conformist Catholics are scolded for jealousy of her piety and enjoined to imitate her. In the end, Clitherow’s (and Mush’s) position prevailed: by the 1590s, intensified persecution of Catholics, ever-more restrictive legislation (such as the notorious 1593 Act against Recusants which confined them within five miles of their homes), and the high-profile apostasy of Thomas Bell, a leading defender of the conformist position, rendered untenable the Catholic conformity that Clitherow’s Life was meant to challenge.89

As the Life indicates, the accounts of martyrs called for communal cohesion and the imitation of martyrs, but they also highlighted divisions (sometimes inadvertently) within religious communities. Foxe’s work both urges the imitation of martyrs and raises questions about what exactly that imitation should entail. Foxe’s book was an establishment project insofar as its (expensive) printing was supported by William Cecil’s patronage.90 But the book’s importance for seventeenth-century nonconformists is also well known: they valued Foxean martyrs’ challenges to authorities and saw in those martyrs a model for nonconformity.91 Foxe praises Rowland Taylor as “a right and lively image or paterne of all those vertuous qualities described by S. Paule in a true Byshop, a good salt of the earth savourly biting the corrupt maners of evill men, a light in Gods house set upon a Candlesticke for all good men to imitate and folow.”92 By contrast, “popish” religion is bad imitation, mere “apishe ceremonies.”93 Taylor’s anti-papal fervor motivates his twice crying out, as he is carried to prison and at his degradation, a prayer: “from the tiranny of the Byshop of Rome, and all his detestable errours, Idolatries, and abhominations, good Lord deliver us.”94 The phrase appears in Edwardian litanies—those in the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer—but it was dropped from the 1559 Elizabethan BCP as too divisive. Sidenotes in Foxe’s text underscore Taylor’s fierce anti-papalism: “D. Taylours prayer agaynst the pope and his detestable enormities.” The prayer is not, of course, Taylor’s; his speaking of it authorizes a phrase that the Elizabethan BCP disallowed. Bishop John Hooper offers another instance of a reformer whose example pushes at the edges of post-1559 orthodoxy. Under Edward VI, Hooper resisted wearing vestments despite stern pressure from other soon-to-be martyrs (Ridley among them) to do so. Foxe too would resist the use of vestments in the Elizabethan church. Foxe’s account of Hooper has recently been read as an uneasy attempt to tame the fiery reformer into a calm, poised martyr.95 But in the Elizabethan context, when the wearing of vestments would again become controversial, Hooper’s account might also be seen as lending support to Foxe’s own position. Foxe writes that Hooper’s life was “to the church and all churchmen … a light and example, to the rest a perpetuall lesson and sermon.”96 Just what exactly would Hooper’s life would preach to Elizabethan readers—patient, long-suffering martyrdom, as in Foxe’s lengthy comparison of Hooper to Polycarp, or passionate resistance to supposedly incomplete reform?

Tales of Protestant martyrdom were turned against the established church as early as the 1580s. In 1585, Robert Waldegrave, a Puritan sympathizer famous for printing the first four Martin Marprelate treatises, printed an edition of Askew’s Examinations. As we have seen, both Foxe and Bale temper Askew’s account.97 But in the context of Puritan anti-episcopal struggles in the mid-1580s, and because Askew was interrogated not by Roman Catholic bishops but Church of England authorities, Askew’s text has some edge restored. When Bale writes that “yee should beware, if yee come in like daunger of any such foxish Byshop” the warning might seem fitting for anti-episcopal Puritans.98 Similarly, Bale’s note on his edition’s first page that Askew was martyred by “the Romysh popes upholders” is moved to Waldegrave’s title page and rephrased as “the Romish Antichristian Broode.” This ambiguous phrase could refer to Roman Catholics or, in Puritan parlance, to the anti-Christian brood at home, episcopal authorities whose very positions indicated papist corruptions in the English church. Bale’s anti-episcopal commentary becomes relevant to intra-Protestant struggles, while Waldegrave and his co-religionists are in Askew’s line, imitating and authorized by her boldness and suffering.99 The exemplarity of martyrs, then, proved at least double-edged: the imitation of their piety was promoted in contemporary devotional practices and used to firm up the boundaries of religious communities, but the martyr’s bold confession of faith in the face of persecution contained within it the seeds not only of the church, but also of anti-authoritarianism, rebuke, and division.

The Struggle over Martyrdom

Reformation martyrdom inscribed confessional divisions with shared tools. The shared inheritance of martyrological conventions is visible when martyrdom is studied cross-confessionally, as this essay has done. Indeed, cross-confessional reading was the norm, not the exception, in the period. “Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen?” was transcribed into a 1581 edition of Thomas Watson’s secular lyric collection Hekatompathia. The poem appears under the heading “A good verse, upon a badd matter,” and a gloss is added after its final line: “What is it that those flattered of the Popes will shame to speake, to winne and continue their favor?”100 The same heading appears before the poem’s transcription into John Lilliat’s manuscript anthology of poetry.101 A second poem on Campion (“What iron heart that would not melt in grief?”) is also transcribed into the Hekatompathia volume, with an added stanza refuting the poem’s claims: “Is this your Sainct, whose prayers you so singe? … His mendacia sunt opes et aurum.”102 Mason’s Certamen Seraphicum (1649) was owned by John Selden; a copy of the Flos Sanctorum sporting notes by a snarly Puritan was owned by Henry Savile.103

In these instances (possibly excepting the voracious reader Selden), cross-confessional reading seems to have been undertaken to affirm religious divisions. But cross-confessional considerations of martyrdom did not always produce such results. The Augustinian cry that the cause, not the death (non poena sed causa) makes the martyr is ubiquitous in the Reformation period: martyrologists and polemicists insisted that doctrinal conformity, not suffering, defines true martyrdom. Yet stories of onlookers swayed by the manner of a martyr’s death abound. Henry Walpole, a witness at Edmund Campion’s execution, converted to Catholicism, became a Jesuit priest (like Campion), and later suffered his own martyrdom in 1595. Joyce Lewes, who witnessed Laurence Saunders’s 1555 burning, converted to his faith. Julins Palmer, fellow at Magdalen College, asked for an account of Hooper’s burning and witnessed the executions of Ridley and Latimer; his conversion to Protestantism led to his own death at the stake.104 Contemporary literature extolls martyrdom’s persuasive force. The poem “Why do I use my paper, ink, and pen?” asserts that Campion’s patience at his arrest “did worke as much or more,/ as had his heavenly speeches done before.” Adapting Tertullian’s statement that martyrs’ blood is the seed of the church, the poet writes that “the seede will take which in such blood is sowne.” (Defending the regime’s prosecution of Campion and others, Cecil takes a dim view of those seeds; Catholic missionary priests are “seedmen of sedition.”105 One suspects that the Augustinian refrain would not have needed repeating had martyrologies not been so moving. Polemicists from Cecil to Robert Persons complained that the other side’s martyrologists swayed readers with affecting narratives; thus, Persons bemoans that Foxe narrates Askew’s torture and death “so pittifully … as he would moove compassion on her side.”106

The problem of competing martyrdoms seems to have been a pressing one; it is not anachronistic to suppose that early modern people sometimes struggled to identify who, exactly, were the true martyrs.107 Writers such as Persons, whose A Treatise of Three Conversions systematically challenges Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, or the government apologist Anthony Munday, who insisted that Campion died a traitor, or Foxe himself, who in an addition to his 1583 title page stressed that his book concerned “true” martyrs, labored to clarify what seems to have been a murky situation for some. The period’s imaginative literature is a valuable archive of thought about the shared literary-religious phenomenon of martyrdom. Repeatedly that literature represents confrontations between martyrs for competing causes. Spenser’s Faerie Queene offers hints of rival St. Georges intruding on and frustrating Redcrosse Knight’s quest for holiness. Dekker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr juxtaposes Christian and pagan forms of martyrdom. Not surprisingly, the former triumphs. But such confrontations could also give way to a mournful recognition of the Reformation’s human toll, as in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII, in which both Katherine of Aragon and Thomas Cranmer are treated sympathetically, and in which More and Cranmer (anachronistically) confront each other.108 Confrontations between martyrs for competing causes in the period’s imaginative literature suggest that there was some work to do to sort out the period’s many would-be martyrs. We ignore this literary archive at our peril.


The phenomenon of martyrdom demands a rapprochement between literary and historical methods; neither is adequate alone. This essay has traced broad areas of overlap between literary culture and religion that undergird representations of early modern martyrs: the importance of continuity, the power and flexibility of genre, practices of imitation, and readerly communities. The stakes were high (pun perhaps intended), for martyrs were made, not only found. To assert this is not to make a statement about the reliability of martyrological accounts but rather about the importance of writerly and readerly interpretation in the shaping of deaths to fit paradigms that were themselves under intense pressure in the Reformation period. Those habits of interpretation, as we have seen, often overlapped cross-confessionally; the Reformation was in many ways a family fight over an inheritance of Christian literature, history, and exemplars. The subject of martyrdom is vast, with the potential to teach us much about the period’s intertwining of religious with literary habits of thought, practice, and belief, and about the long, slow, woefully bloody process through which Christendom, during the Reformation, divided itself.


(1) Brad Gregory in Salvation at Stake (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999) writes that “‘Martyr’ was an essentially interpretive category, inseparable from one’s religious commitment” (5).

(2) Anne Dillon, The Construction of Martyrdom in the English Catholic Community, 1535–1603 (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2001).

(3) See, inter alia, Gregory, Salvation at Stake; Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom; and Elizabeth Evenden and Thomas S. Freeman, Religion and the Book in Early Modern England: The Making of John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Megan Hickerson, Making Martyrs in Tudor England (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Sarah Covington, The Trail of Martyrdom (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003); and Susannah B. Monta, Martyrdom and Literature in Early Modern England (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

(4) David Loewenstein, Treacherous Faith: The Specter of Heresy in Early Modern England Literature and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 131–132. The regime burned George van Parris, a Dutch radical, and Joan Bocher as heretics; Foxe passes lightly over both executions.

(5) 2 Henry IV c. 13–16, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 2 (London: Eyre & Strahan, 1816), 125–128.

(6) On these numbers, see Freeman, “Appendix: The Marian Martyrs,” in Susan Doran and Freeman, eds., Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 225–271.

(7) 13 Elizabeth c. 1, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 4 (London: Eyre & Strahan, 1819), 526.

(8) Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom (3) notes that others died in prison. Gregory’s numbers indicate that at least another sixty-one English Catholics, “executed as … traitors … but understood and honored as religious martyrs,” died between 1603 and 1680 (Salvation at Stake, 6).

(9) Between 1523 and 1565 approximately 4,400 Protestants and Anabaptists were executed for heresy in Europe (Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 6); the figure includes but also dwarfs the number of English Protestant martyrs.

(11) Ibid., 93.

(12) Dillon discusses the importance of English Catholic martyrs for continental Catholics (Construction of Martyrdom, chap. 2); Walsham notes that “the martyrdoms of Margaret Clitherow and Edmund Campion etch[ed] themselves on the imagination of French men and women who supported the Guise and the League” (“‘Domme Preachers’? Post-Reformation English Catholicism and the Culture of Print,” Past & Present 168 (2000): 100.

(13) Diego de Yepez, Historia particular de la persecución (Madrid: Por Luis Sanchez, 1599); on Campion see, inter alia, Pietro Bombino, Vita et Martyrium Edmundi Campiani Martyris Angli e Soceitate Jesu (Mantua: Apud Fratres Asannas, 1620); martyrologies on priests executed in the 1640s include Ambrose Corbie, Certamen Triplex (Antwerp: Apud Ioannern Meursivm, 1645), Jean Chifflet, Palmae Cleri Anglicani (Brussels: Ex officina typogrophiea Joannis Monmarti, 1645), and Richard Mason, Certamen Seraphicum Provinciae Angliae Pro Sancta Dei Ecclesia (Douai: Typis Baltasaris Belleri, 1649).

(14) The etymology of “martyr” (Gk. martyria) suggests the martyr’s function as witness.

(15) Askew’s accounts were probably written in part to explain her seeming recantation (Freeman, “Introduction: Concepts of Martyrdom,” in Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, c. 1400–1700, edited by Thomas S. Freeman and Thomas Mayer, Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2007). Askew was also likely arrested in June 1546 but dismissed after no witnesses against her appeared; see the introduction to Beilin’s edition of The Examinations (the text cited here) for the likeliest timeline (Anne Askew, The Examinations of Anne Askew, edited by Eliane V. Beilin, xx–xxii [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)]).

(16) Most concur that the words attributed to Askew are probably hers. The reprinting of a similar account of her ordeal by Haemstede, independent of Bale, lends credence to this supposition.

(17) On Foxe’s changes to the account, see Monta, “The Inheritance of Anne Askew, Reformation Martyr,” in Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 94 (2003): 134–159; Coles discusses the text’s popularity, especially in editions lacking Bale’s commentary (Religion, Reform, and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008]).

(19) Kemp notes that more than half of the attributes of Bale’s ideal female martyr relate to Askew’s body or to the physicality of her death (“Translating (Anne) Askew,” 1030–1031).

(20) Askew, Examinations, 7; Thomas Betteridge, “Anne Askewe, John Bale, and Protestant History,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27(2) (1997): 265–284.

(21) See Monta, “Inheritance”; in Bale’s commentary, Foxe’s text, abridgements of Foxe, and popular ballads, Askew may testify for her faith and the right of women to teach about religious matters provided her bodily fragility and suffering are foregrounded, or she may serve as a model of piety provided her gender is not stressed.

(22) On the development of Foxe’s historical methods, see Evenden and Freeman, Religion and the Book.

(23) John Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1563), Bviiv. Foxe’s 1570 revision sharpens the anaphora.

(24) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), iiiv. This preface was added to the 1570 edition, in response to Catholic criticism of Foxe’s work; see Evenden and Freeman, Religion and the Book, 139–140.

(25) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 1498–1499.

(26) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), *iiv.

(27) The claim that authorities tried to silence martyrs is a common motif; see Foxe on John Rogers, for instance, or Diego de Yepez, Historia particular, on the priest John Cornelius.

(28) Thomas Alfield, Robert Parsons, and Henry Walpole, A true reporte of the death & martyrdome of M. Campion Jesuite and preiste, & M. Sherwin, & M. Bryan, preistes … (1582), B4v-C1r.

(29) Helen C. White, Tudor Books of Saints and Martyrs (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963), 220.

(30) Richard Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, revised and edited by John H. Pollen (London: Burns and Oates, 1924), 80–81; A Briefe Relation (London, 1638), 48–49; A Briefe Historie of the Glorious Martyrdom of XII Reverend Priestes (1582), fviir.

(32) Challoner, Briefe Historie, aiiiv.

(33) cviir.

(34) fvir.

(36) See Monta, Martyrdom and Literature, chaps. 1–3.

(37) I quibble with Dailey, The English Martyr from Reformation to Revolution (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), who uses a fairly rigid sense of genre to argue that Foxe succeeds in making martyrs while Catholic writers do not, as the treason charge under which Catholic martyrs suffer makes generic conformity impossible. The popularity of martyrologies about English Catholics in Latin, English, and other vernaculars does not indicate generic failure. Nor is it the case, as Dailey supposes, that English Catholics were trapped outside martyrdom’s discourse because they could not prove themselves orthodox (by vocalizing support for Regnans in Excelsis) without justifying treason charges. Catholic orthodoxy was not so narrowly defined, and prominent English and continental Catholics were divided in their opinions on the (suspended) bull; see Brian Lockey, Early Modern Catholics, Royalists, and Cosmopolitans: English Transnationalism and the Christian Commonwealth (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2015).

(38) David Duff, introduction to Modern Genre Theory (New York: Longman, 2000), 1–6.

(39) Freeman, “Introduction: Concepts of Martyrdom” and also Danna Piroyansky, “‘Thus may a man be a martyr’: The Notion, Language, and Experiences of Martyrdom in Late Medieval England,” in Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, c. 1400–1700, edited by Thomas Freeman and Thomas Mayer (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2007), 70–87.

(42) Challoner, Briefe Historie, dviv.

(43) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), 2202–2203.

(44) The wording is identical in the 1599 Geneva and 1582 Douai-Rheims translations.

(45) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 1510.

(46) Challoner, Briefe Historie, e8r.

(48) Alec Ryrie, “Death and Memory,” Reformation 6, 188.

(49) Sherry L. Reames, The Legenda Aurea: A Reexamination of Its Paradoxical History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), part 1.

(50) Baronius’s Martyrologium Romanum (1586) insists that the text has been revised “per viros eruditos ad fidem historiae”; Baronius is close here to Foxe’s Ad Doctum Lectorem, which separates his work from the Legenda Aurea. See Simon Ditchfield on historia sacra (“What was historia sacra? (Mostly Roman) Catholic uses of the Christian past after Trent,” in Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World, edited by Katherine Elliot van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, 72–97 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

(52) Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom, chap. 2; see also Alison Frazier, Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

(53) Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom, 84–85, 98–100, 113.

(54) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 89, 95.

(55) John N. King, “Literary Aspects of Acts and Monuments,”; Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 95.

(56) Monta, Martyrdom, chap. 3; Alexandra Walsham argues that even godly Calvinists had difficulty drawing firm lines between providential wonders and miracles (Providence in Early Modern England [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999]).

(57) A translation of Eusebius by Mary Roper Bassett, More’s granddaughter, suggests his importance to Marian Catholics; see Jaime Goodrich, Faithful Translators: Authorship, Gender, and Religion in Early Modern England (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2013).

(58) Although Foxe’s Marian martyrs claim the lion’s share of scholarly attention, these early martyrs were important to Foxe’s reading public. A pull-out woodcut detailing the ten persecutions of the early church was popular in its own right, affecting the literary imaginations of, for instance, Bunyan and Dekker (on Foxe and Bunyan see Freeman, “A Library in Three Volumes: Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ in the Writings of John Bunyan,” Bunyan Studies 5 (1994): 48–57). These martyrs are crucial for the development of Foxe’s text as it moves from what Tom Betteridge has called prophetic to apocalyptic history in the 1570 edition (“From Prophetic to Apocalyptic: John Foxe and the Writing of History”).

(59) Foxe’s only significant departure has to do with the gathering of relics, something Eusebius records and that Foxe minimizes in later revisions. The 1570 edition follows Eusebius, noting that “many … had a desyre” to “take and devide his bodye,” to be “partakers of some parte of his holy fleshe” (Foxe, Actes & Monuments [1570], 61). Foxe revises this passage to indicate officials’ “feare least the remnaunts of the dead corps should be taken away, & so worshipped of the people,” not that the people actually desired to do so (A&M 1583, 43).

(60) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), 60. Compare Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, translated by Kirsopp Lake, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1926), book 4, chap. 15, 346–347 (also at

(61) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), 1937.

(62) See Freeman’s note at www.hrionline/johnfoxe.html. Shipside was Ridley’s brother-in-law.

(63) King, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 56.

(64) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1570), 61.

(65) The image recurs (with reference only to gold) in Wisdom 3:6–8 and 1 Peter 1:7.

(66) Flos Sanctorum, translated by Kinesman (1623), 179. Kinesman follows the Spanish closely.

(67) See Kinesman’s preface to the account.

(68) Freeman, “Fate, Fact, and Fiction”; Evenden and Freeman, Religion and the Book; Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom; Paul Arblaster, Antwerp and the World: Richard Verstegan and the International Culture of the Catholic Reformation (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2004). See also Victor Houliston’s forthcoming edition of Robert Persons’s correspondence.

(70) Ibid., 143; Foxe, Actes & Monuments [1563], 1101; Foxe, Actes & Monuments [1570], 1726–1729.

(71) See Freeman and Monta, “Foxe’s Prose” (in The Oxford Handbook to Early Modern English Prose, ed. Andrew Hadfield, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 522–543) on Foxe’s careful editing.

(72) See the 1570 title page; Freeman and Monta, “The Style of Authorship in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments,” in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1500–1640, edited by Andrew Hadfield, 522–543 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(74) Ibid., D2r; Allen, title page to Briefe Historie.

(76) Richard Williams and W. R. Morfill, eds., Ballads from Manuscripts, vol. 2, (Hertford, U.K.: Stephen Austin and Sons, for the Ballad Society, 1873), 160; the poem may be authored by Henry Walpole and was published in Alfield, Parson, and Walpole’s A true reporte.

(77) 410v; translation mine.

(78) John Gerard, John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan, translated by Philip Caraman (London: Longmans, Green, 1951), 53.

(79) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1563), Bviv.

(80) Randall Martin, ed., “The Autobiography of Grace, Lady Mildmay,” Renaissance and Reformation 18.1 (1994): 33–81; Retha M. Warnicke, “Lady Mildmay’s Journal: A Study in Autobiography and Meditation in Reformation England,” Sixteenth Century Journal 20(1) (1989): 55–68.

(81) Margaret Aston, “Moving Pictures: Foxe’s Martyrs and Little Gidding,” in Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, edited by Sabrina A. Baron, Eric N. Lindquist, and Eleanor F. Shevlin, 82–104 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).

(82) Alec Ryrie, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 422, 424.

(83) Monta, Martyrdom, 20–21.

(85) Ibid., F1v.

(86) See Michael Questier, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006) on Langdale; see Dillon, Construction of Martyrdom, on the papal decision (11).

(87) Peter Lake and Michael Questier, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom, and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England (New York: Continuum, 2011), offer a detailed interpretation of Mush’s Life in light of this controversy.

(88) Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bar Convent, York, ms. (c. 1653), 68, 29.

(90) Evenden and Freeman, Religion and the Book, discuss in detail the support Foxe and Day received.

(91) John R. Knott, Discourses of Martyrdom in English Literature, 1563–1694 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chaps. 4–7; Freeman, “A Library in Three Volumes.”

(92) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 1543.

(93) Ibid., 1545.

(94) Ibid., 1545.

(95) Loewenstein, Treacherous Faith, 134–139. Foxe does not always idealize mildness in his martyrs, as his portrait of Taylor suggests.

(96) Foxe, Actes & Monuments (1583), 1505.

(97) Thomas Betteridge, “Anne Askew, John Bale, and Protestant History,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 27 (1997): 265–284.

(98) C1v (compare Beilin’s edition, 39).

(99) See Monta, “Martyrdom in Print in Early Modern England: The Case of Robert Waldegrave,” More Than a Memory: The Discourse of Martyrdom and the Construction of Religious Identity in the History of Christianity, edited by Johan Leemans with Jürgen Mettepenningen, 271–293 (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2005).

(101) Arthur F. Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995), 6. Lilliat’s miscellany is Bodleian MS Rawlinson Poetry 148; the printed copy of Hekatompathia with the same inscription came to the Bodleian with the Rawlinson MSS.

(103) The notes appear in the Bodleian Library’s copy of the work. Henry Savile may be the Savile involved with the founding of Merton College.

(105) The poem appears in Alfield, Parsons, and Walpole, A true reporte; Cecil, The Execution of Justice in England, edited by Robert M. Kingdon (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1965), 37.

(106) Persons, A Treatise of Three Conversions, 1603–1604, vol. 2 (Ilkley, U.K.: Scolar, 1976), 492.

(107) Thomas M. McCoog suspects such a view of anachronism (see the introduction to The Society of Jesus in Ireland, Scotland, and England, 1541–1588 [New York: E. J. Brill, 1996]); the period’s imaginative literature suggests otherwise.

(108) See Gerard Wegemer, “Henry VIII on Trial: Confronting Malice and Conscience in Shakespeare’s All is True” (Renascence 52.2 (2000 Winter), 111–130) for the play’s distortion of historical time to allow More (the play’s Lord Chancellor) to confront Cranmer; Monta, Martyrdom and Literature, 184–185.