Fox's Book of Martyrs by John Foxe

A history of the lives, sufferings and triumphant deaths of many early Christian martyrs.

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Edited by William Byron Forbush

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

"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.




"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 life."
-- Douglas Campbell,
"The Puritan in Holland, England, and America"

"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"



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

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

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, etc.

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

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 years old.

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, their aunt.

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 at Nieuport.

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

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

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.

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 1 Chronicles 12:1 (KJV)
Now these [are] they that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul the son of Kish: and they [were] among the mighty men, helpers of the war.
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