The Unabridged Acts and Monuments Online [TAMO]: A Five-Minute Introduction

Our understanding of this remarkable protestant martyrology has been transformed. TAMO has taken 15 years to complete and it has been instrumental in that transformation. It has been a collaborative project, whose achievement has been entirely dependant on the willing engagement of many scholars. Their collective contribution is acknowledged gratefully, and specific attribution is provided specifically wherever possible. This introduction summarises very briefly and inadequately what we have learnt.

Foxe sought to create a new kind of history, different from the 'multitude of Chronicles and storywriters, both in England and out of England' that had gone before. It made very bold truth-claims. These were supported by a panoramic depiction of Christian history as a manifestation of God's providence. They were equally sustained by an unrelenting belief that documentary evidence could not be gainsaid. As the title-page of the 1563 edition explained, this was a work of 'Acts and Monuments of these latter and perilous dayes' which had been 'gathered and collected according to the true copies and writings certificatorie, as wel of the parties themselves that suffered, as also out of the Bishops Registers, which were the doers thereof'. The Acts and Monuments was therefore a compilation of materials, a massive dossier whose underlying truth would speak for itself. These documents could only do so, however, if they were 'edited'. By following the leads that Foxe provides, closely examining his substantial, surviving manuscripts, and by independent research on the sources available to him, we have reconstructed Foxe's role as an 'editor'. You may judge for yourselves from the evidence we analyse in TAMO what that role was. Our view is that Foxe was manifestly fallible, capable of omitting material that did not suit his case, or adapting it to fit the needs of the occasion. He was partial in his choice of sources. Yet, by the measure of sixteenth-century scholarship, his energy in the pursuit of relevant information was outstanding. By those same standards, his critical awareness in evaluating it was rarely absent.

These 'truth-claims' were contested almost immediately following the publication of the first edition. The substantial modifications that were made to the next edition (1570), the further revisions (more minor) to the 1576 edition, and then yet further significant changes to the 1583 edition, are proof that the Acts and Monuments was an unstable text. There was no 'Authorised Version'. In each edition, but especially in 1570, Foxe sought to answer his critics, and the commentaries in TAMO identify how he did so. He also adapted the text to the circumstances of the moment, incorporating fresh documentary evidence as he did so, rearranging the text in the process. We document these changes in detail in TAMO, seeking to explain why they were made. That is why the TAMO is a 'variorum' version of Foxe's text. The Acts and Monuments was an important contribution to reformation protestant printed polemic and TAMO enables us to understand that polemical process better, both in respect of the text and the images, which are all available in digital facsimiles with detailed commentaries.

TAMO leads us to reconsider Foxe's role as an 'author'. On the frontispiece of the 1563 edition, his name appears almost as an afterthought, immediately succeeded by 'Imprinted at London by Iohn Day' – a reminder to us that the latter had an important and strategic role that we have only recently come fully to appreciate in the articulation of this work. By 1583, Foxe's authorial claim was more emphatic: 'by the Authour (through the helpe of Christ the Lord) Iohn Foxe, which desireth thee good Reader to helpe him with thy Prayer'. TAMO helps to explain how Foxe sought to keep his own role in the text discreet, even ambiguous, and also how that authorial status became consolidated in the course of Foxe's lifetime.

Prior to 1563, Foxe had already published two martyrologies during his period in exile during Mary's reign. These have often been ignored in considering how and why Foxe came to write the Acts and Monuments. In TAMO we have closely examined the English text in the light of these earlier versions, indicating in our commentaries how Foxe modified his earlier approaches to the task of protestant martyrology. These earlier works are reminders to us that Foxe never saw his work in a narrow 'English' context. He drew on broader humanist understandings of how to write history and emerging protestant perceptions of what constituted martyrological writing. His six years in Basel were crucial in the emerging maturity of Foxe as a historian and martyrologist and, by following the commentaries and prefatory essays in TAMO you may examine for yourself in detail how this was the case. We document how the 1563 edition of the Acts and Monuments was, at the start, part of a wider collaborative project with Heinrich Pantaleon from Basel, whose History of the Martyrs (Martyrum historia) was published that same year. Foxe clearly had ambitions later on to write a further volume, perhaps comparable to that of the Acts and Monuments, which would further consolidate his claim to see the processes of protestant witnessing to truth with their lives as by no means limited to England. Even as it stands, Foxe's treatment of (for example) the 'rise of the Turkish Empire', indicates Foxe's geographical range, diversity of sources, and compilation skills.

Although Foxe translated from Latin many of the documents upon which he based the Acts and Monuments, we have provided translations of all the significant passages which he chose not to translate. These include, in particular, translations to the Latin prefatory verses to each edition, along with a commentary on them. Other prefatory material in some of Foxe's edition included a revised 'Calendar' of saints. Once again, we have examined it closely to understand how it came to be included in the Acts and Monuments.

Foxe wrote and published many other works besides the Acts and Monuments, and we have sought to place it in the context of his other writings. That, however, is research which is ongoing, and to which TAMO will, in due course, be able to make its contribution. It was, however, the Acts and Monuments that contemporaries most associated with his name. We now see more clear how our perception of that work has been mediated to us, both through its immediate reception by Foxe's contemporaries and by that of later generations. Here, too, TAMO provides the framework by which further research can be undertaken.

It is impossible to reflect every aspect of the breadth and detail of our changed understanding of this work in TAMO. We have chosen to provide some 'Prefatory Essays', written by distinguished scholars who have pioneered this fundamentally revised picture of the work. In addition, we have compiled a 'Chronological Table of Marian Martyrs' which addresses a particular issue which divided Foxe's contemporaries and continues to be problematic, viz: 'How many Marian martyrs were there, and what was their geographical spread and social origins?'

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