The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

The Elect Nation: The Meaning and Relevance of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Excerpt

Professor Trevelyan has told us that the 'most influential writer in the age of Shakespeare, if it was not Foxe the Martyrologist, was Hakluyt, author of The Principall Navigations Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation'. By the time, however, that Hakluyt's book was published in 1589, Foxe's book had been circulating in print for at least thirty years, Shakespeare was twenty-five years old, and the queen's reign was more than half over. Foxe had begun in 1554 as a Protestant refugee in Strasbourg by publishing the stories of certain fifteenthand early sixteenth-century victims of persecution in a small Latin octavo of 212 leaves. At Basle in 1559 he had published a folio of over 700 pages in which to these earlier stories he added the reports that had so far reached him of victims of persecution in the reign of Mary, which had just come to an end. In 1563, back in England, he published an English version of his book, a folio of over 1,471 pages, enlarged by the addition of more stories of recent victims of persecution, illustrated with over fifty woodcuts, and dedicated to the new queen. In 1570, at the time of the revolt of the northern earls and the Pope's bull excommunicating Elizabeth, Foxe issued a second edition, a folio of over 2,314 pages, enlarged by the addition of still more martyr stories and an extended account of ecclesiastical and national history. The work was now ordered to be set up along with the Bible for all to read in churches and other public places, where in some instances it remained until quite recent times. Two more editions appeared before the year of the Armada, another in 1596 after the author's death, and four more in the following century, the ninth and last in 1684. Thus by the end of the seventeenth century something like ten thousand copies . . .

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