Commentary on the Woodcuts for Book 5


The order and maner of taking up the body of Iohn Wickliffe and burning his bones 41. yeares after his death.
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The first of five large illustrations, which cover the period from Wyclif to Luther. The chance survival of 'proof sheets' from the 1563 edition indicate problems that arose with the printing of a picture of Wyclif's body being posthumously burned. The sheets were identified as 'proof sheets' (even though they are only printed on one side) in the revised STC (no.11222a). Wyclif, who died in his bed, exiled from Oxford where he had recruited a following that proved so challenging, did not make an easy martyr. His views were condemned but he was but by no means persecuted by the Church (though it was long believed by Foxe and others that he had gone into exile abroad for a time). It was the Council of Constance that made it possible to elevate the English heresiarch to new heights, by the judgement that condemned him as a notorious heretic and ordered his body and bones to tbe exhumed and -- providing they could be distinguished from those of others -- cast out of consecrated ground. That was in 1415, when the bishop of Lincoln, who would have had to act, was Philip Repingdon, who might well have found this a repugnant duty. Twelve years later, by which time English heresy seemed to be assuming new dimensions, Pope Martin V took up the case and ordered Bishop Fleming (Repingdon's successor and a man of different mettle) not only to exhume Wyclif's body and bones, but to have them publicly burned. It amounted to an accolade for some of his followers. In order to celebrate the English heresiarch in this posthumous martyrdom Foxe had to anticipate a later part of his narrative on the Council of Constance. The image of the event had no hesitation in portraying each stage of this gruesome process, labelling the church, coffin, and various episcopal officials, who unpacked the bones piece by piece to go into the fire which is already consuming the skull, while the bishop's commissary pours the ashes into the river to prevent any posthumous veneration of the heresiarch's remains. This vivid image might have informed Fuller's commemorative words about how 'this brook hath convey'd his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; they, into the main Ocean. And thus the ashes of Wickliff are the emblem of his doctrine, which now, is dispersed the world over'. CUL copy: Note that the faces of those depicted are particularly well detailed, e.g., figure detailed 'Com[m]issari' has a flush of colour in his lips, cheeks and ear lobes, which are depicted in a pinkish red. There is also well defined shading of the hands, provided by a pale brown wash. WREN: same stock of colours but not so well executed.
1563 Edition, page 157 | 1570 Edition, page 573 | 1576 Edition, page 470 | 1583 Edition, page 487[Back to Top]

The burning of William Sawtre
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William Sawtry, a priest, was important for Foxe's narrative as the first Wycliffite martyr to be burned at the stake after the passage of the statute De heretico comburendo in 1401. He was accordingly given significant pictorial presence, but it proved problematical. The striking image of a youthful looking man chained to the stake in a ferociously flaming fire that encircles his torso, with flaring hair, outstretched hands, belonged to a small group of woodcuts used in the first edition that proved difficult to accommodate. (See introductory note on the format of the A&M) They shared certain features, including the winding bandaroles: Sawtry's reads 'Jesu have mercy'; words that were changed when this block was reused for Thomas of Rennes in 1563, but reinstated for illustrating Sawtry once more in 1570. The Sawtry block was twice cut down in an effort to make it fit better on the page. In the first edition it lost the left side of its frame but even so jutted awkwardly into the margin. In 1570 it was cut back on the right side, but still took too much space. So in 1576 the block was jettisoned and Sawtry was then and in 1583 represented by one of the small cuts that had been added in 1570, which in that edition illustrated the burning of Rawlins White. This might seem unsuitable, since Sawtry was unlikely to have been an 'old man' though the choice could perhaps have been a mark of respect. The striking earlier image of Sawtry lived on, and had an afterlife adorning an early seventeenth-century ballad. The words attributed to Sawtry in the bandarole cannot, given his resolute stand, signal a change of heart, as John Badby's similar call was taken to be (see following woodcut). CUL copy and WREN copy: A startling use of yellow and orange for the flames; a very vivid depiction. Note also the attention to shading of the stake and of Sawtre's body. The banderole is edged with a pinkish purple shading its tips. There are additional spatters of orange on his right arm and torso, which go beyond colouring in of the detail in the illustration.
1563 Edition, page 194 | 1570 Edition, page 639 | 1576 Edition, page 525 | 1583 Edition, page 542[Back to Top]

The description of the horrible burning of Iohn Badby, and how he was vsed at hys death.
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This is another of the five burnings between Wyclif and Luther that were accorded large illustrations. In 1563 the woodcut has no heading, but three lines of small type carried over from the previous pages are set above it. Badby, unlike Sawtry, was a layman, described as scissor, taylor, in the trial record , and this standing affected both the proceedings against him and what Foxe made of them. The woodcut that portrays his 'horrible burning' represents vividly the two unusual features of his demise. The condemned stands in the fire in an open-ended barrel (the stake to which the text tells us this was bound with chains is not depicted), at unusually close quarters to the surrounding officials and spectators. If this arrangement was intended to intensify the fire and so shorten the suffering of the condemned, that might be connected with the other exceptional feature of this case: namely the efforts of the Prince of Wales to extract a last-minute recantation . Such high-powered secular intervention, itself unprecedented and extraordinary at this final phase, is shown in the outstretched hand of the mounted prince, who was ready to offer the condemned man a life pension as well as a pardon if he recanted and returned to the church. The Prince interpreted Badby's cry for mercy as a sign of his change of heart. He had the fire quenched and Badby removed from the barrel, but to no avail. Badby was returned to the barrel and died in the relit flames. Foxe's text points to the accuracy of this depiction; 'for the manifestation of which torment, we have here set forth the picture of his burning, in such manner as it was done'. CUL copy: thick, heavy orange paint used for flames, which is clumsily extended on the flames close to Badby's body, which lessens the effect of the original illustration, as the flames look thicker tipped than those at the base of the fire. Those flames at the base look much more realistic – their tips do rise into points. The sheriff is mounted on a white steed. Badby is dressed in white The scroll depicting his words is edged in purple (like that of Sawtry's final words) but it is not so distinct, since purple is used copiously for the clothes of the onlookers. WREN copy: the flames are depicted crudely in this copy also.
1563 Edition, page 224 | 1570 Edition, page 645 | 1576 Edition, page 530 | 1583 Edition, page 546[Back to Top]

A description of the poore men doyng their penance, with their straw on thyr backe. Alternative Title: This bagge full of strawe I beare on my backe, because my Lordes horse his Litter did lacke. If ye be not good to my Lordes graces horsse, you are like to goe barefoote before the crosse.
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This woodcut, added to the A&M in the 1570 edition, is unusual both for its content and for the fact that it can be compared with the original from which it was taken: namely Archbishop Courtenay's Canterbury register (f. 337v). The delineation of a man performing in 1390 the penance of carrying a load of straw was not the kind of thing to be expected in such a record. For Foxe it served several purposes, including a demonstration of the authoritarian pomp of medieval prelates, the 'Romish prelates' of his title-page; and the proof that his account was derived from authentic records, important among which were the archiepiscopal registers where so much invaluable material was garnered by the martyrologist and his assistants. It is possible that Foxe himself drew this figure. See also commentary on Placement of text and woodcut for his knowledge of this illustration when writing the text. CUL copy: The man is wearing a purple outfit with a blue lining and orange undergarments. Flecks of orange provide detail in the regions of his knees and ankles. The top of the illustration, and the sack are shaded in blue. The ground upon which he walks is light green and there is a thin strip of yellow at the horizon line. WREN copy: in this copy the sack is in white. The outfit is purple but the lining is yellow with orange shading. His undergarment is orange. The ground is brown at the horizon line and brownish-orange in the foreground. His face is crudely whitened, although there is some attempt to detail a flush to the cheeks, lips and earlobes.
1570 Edition, page 682 | 1576 Edition, page 558 | 1583 Edition, page 579[Back to Top]

The picture of the hanging and burning of diverse persons counted for lollardes, in the I. Yeare of the reigne of K. Henry the V.
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Given the intractable problems Foxe encountered in defending the religious integrity of those who were condemned of treason, it was defiant to include an illustration of twenty of so individuals suffering the double penalty of hanging and burning after the abortive plot attributed to Sir John Oldcastle in January 1414. The martyrologist was to provoke and himself expend many words in defence of these individuals, though it is to be noted how some of his remarks were hedged in 1563. Reports of these sentences varied, he wrote, citing divergences on the places of punishment, and the sentences of hanging and burning. The actions of the rebels and the reactions of the Leicester Parliament of 1414 made the pursuit of heresy a secular responsibility, and 'the hearing of God's word' potentially treasonable. But who was to know whether the Christians congregating in back fields, and thickets, bearing only their books, were not simply intent on hearing preaching and praying? As Foxe put it, now that 'the sincere worshipping of Christ is counted for heresy, and an heretic counted a traitor, what citizen can, in that commonwealth, live in savitie without sin and wickedness, or be godly without peril and danger?'. In fact Foxe's picture is quite misleading, since only a small proportion of those condemned after the rising were found guilty of heresy as well as treason, and these were burned after being hung. Of the thirty-eight drawn on hurdles from Newgate to St Giles's Fields on 13 February, where they were hanged in batches on four new pairs of gallows, only seven were afterwards burned. CUL copy: there is close attention to detail in the colouring in of this picture. Note the chains and chords used to hang the Lollards. The chords binding their arms are coloured black, the chains in a bluish grey. The flames are coloured a rich orange, with the tips of the largest flames reddened. There is considerable detail in the faces of those depicted also: a white undercoat, with a light brown for shading, a pinkish-red for their cheeks, lips and ears. WREN copy: this painting is not executed as well as the CUL copy. Note that details are provided crudely in black. This appears to be a different, less competent painter at work in this copy. Note that black ink and a quill have been used to put the detail back here. See in particular the faces and belts of the two men guarding the fire in the foreground and, especially, the detail added to the man on horseback at the front right corner of the illustration. The horse's eyeball and lid are detailed in black ink, as are the man's individual figures. The features of many of the hanged Lollards are likewise detailed, although those to the rear are not outlined, to emphasise perspective.
1570 Edition, page 720 | 1576 Edition, page 590 | 1583 Edition, page 611[Back to Top]

The description of the Popes councell holden at Rome, in which appeared a monstrous Owle, to the vtter defacing of the Pope and all his Clergy.
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The Council of Constance, designed to end the papal schism and to repress heresy, condemned Hus and Jerome of Prague, both of whom were burned, and did its best to see Wyclif given the same treatment by ordering that his bones should be exhumed and burned. Foxe, who anticipated his narrative of the council in order to include the subsequent burning of the heresiarch's bones in his life story, naturally found congenial the story narrated by Nicholas of Clamanges of the synod called in Rome in 1412 by the anti-pope John XXIII. According to this tale ('the merry story of an owl'), a dreadful owl (represented in Foxe's illustration as formidable in size) was said to have appeared and disrupted the proceedings by fixing its gaze on the presiding pontiff -- something that was inevitably taken as an evil omen. The summons of the Council of Constance and the deposition of the pope fulfilled this prediction. The illustrator, picturing a scene of utter dismay in which all eyes are fastened on the presiding bird, did his best to portray a building of Roman character. CUL copy: in this copy, as with the image of the Lollards, the faces have been detailed in black ink, to highlight eyebrows, lashes and profiles. Lips are frequently detailed with a rosy red. The cardinals wear orange; the pope's pallium is in orange, his cassock is in yellow with purple shading. The bishops surrounding him wear variously white or shades of purple and there is one monk, dressed in black. The owl has a white chest and face, with the rest of its body and wings in a light brown. Taking into account the average height of those depicted in this image, the owl stands at around 3 feet tall, perched and poised on a beam up above those gathered, making one rather wonder what tactics it is about to use 'to the utter defacing' of those below. The tyrian purple pillars are detailed in white, to indicate the marbling. One straight white line is added centrally to each pillar to indicate a reflection in the glossy exterior of the columns. WREN copy: note that the painting in this copy is more finely executed. See, in particular the marbling effect added to the pillars in the background. There is, however, no gold detail to this picture in the Wren copy.
1570 Edition, page 727 | 1576 Edition, page 595 | 1583 Edition, page 616[Back to Top]

The description of the burning of John Hus, contrary to the safe conduict graunted vnto hym.
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This is one of the five large woodcuts illustrating the period from Wyclif to Luther. The iconography of the famous Bohemian martyrs who died at the Council of Constance was well-established by the time the illustrators of Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs' went to work. Already in the fifteenth century features of the two heretics at the stake depicted in copies of Ulrich Richental's German chronicle included characteristics that carried over into later printed works, Foxe's included. Hus was delineated with short bunched hair sticking out of his humiliating martyr's hat, painted with devilish figures (or labelled 'heresiarcha'). These features carried over into the woodcut in Flacius Illyricus's work on the two martyrs which Foxe used extensively. The neat bundles of wood (asparagus-like in their appearance) that are already catching fire round the two chained men, might seem echoed in the bound bunches of fuel, still unlit, in the prepared fires in Foxe's work. More obvious suggestions of probable borrowing are the chain round Hus's neck and the square stake, the fetter on his left ankle (all distinctive details in Flacius), and the helmeted officials -- all specific to these illustrations. Continental influences seem clear. Hus and Jerome of Prague were singled out for pictorial attention from the first edition onwards, and their woodcuts seem significant reflections of these European sources. Both this, and the following large woodcut of Jerome of Prague, spread acrosss the whole page of the 1563 edition into the margins beyond the columns of text. CUL copy: This image is an example of unnecessary embellishment of details. The figures on Hus's 'crown of paper', the bridles of the horses, and the belts and hands of the men encouraging the flames are all detailed with black ink. The paint has not obscured these details so they look stark and somewhat distracting. Hus is dressed in white. His 'crown of paper' is white with black details. WREN copy: note that the black detailing added to this copy is poorly executed, particularly on the bridles on the horses on the left.
1563 Edition, page 292 | 1570 Edition, page 761 | 1576 Edition, page 624 | 1583 Edition, page 648[Back to Top]

The burning of maister Hierome of Prage.
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Foxe, like the predecessors on whose work he built, accorded the honour of visual presence to Hus's co-martyr, Jerome of Prague (both of whom were represented in the handful of large woodcuts included in the period from Wyclif to Luther). The same considerations and range of possible influences apply to the woodcut of Jerome of Prague as to its twin, of Hus. His bearded, long-haired visage, contrasting with that of Hus, descends through the visual sources just described, but Foxe's woodcut, unlike that in Flacius, gives him no heretic's hat. His prepared pyre and official attendants share the seemingly continental features noticed in the image of Hus. As self-evidently paired depictions it seems reasonable to attribute similar influences on both. (See references for preceding entry). CUL copy: The detailing of Jerome's torso is impressive: it looks like flesh. He has brown hair and a substantial brown beard. There is also some impressive, detailed shading of the faggots on the pyre. The flames (in orange and red), however, and the colouring of the horse nearest the front of the picture (in a pale orange) are very unrealistic. Note that what little can be seen of the linen cloth placed on his person is coloured in white. WREN copy: this is another example of poorly executed colouring. There is hardly any shading provided to the faggots; they appear monotone on the pyre. Also, there is too much detailing of the features of those depicted; the end result here is that the people look as though they are wearing stage makeup.
1563 Edition, page 301 | 1570 Edition, page 775 | 1576 Edition, page 637 | 1583 Edition, page 660[Back to Top]

The burning of Iohn Claydon, and Richard Turming.
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The London skinner, John Claydon, enters the annals of Lollard history (and martyrology) chiefly on account of his possession and reading (or rather hearing read, since he was illiterate) of the still extant text, The Lanterne of Light. It was this which brought him to his death in 1415. The associate who was tried and burned with him, variously named Richard Gurmyn, Turmyn and Baker (presumably his trade), may have participated in Oldcastle's rising the previous year. Foxe went to the Canterbury Registers to verify the case against these two men, as part of his investigation into the case against Lord Cobham (part of whose story precedes this in the Acts and Monuments). Note that Claydon had been under suspicion of heresy for twenty years, so he was not a young man when executed. CUL copy: if Claydon is the figure on the left then his age is suggested by the colouring in of this copy, that depicts this man as having both greying hair and beard. The figure on the right has rich brown chosen for his hair and beard. Both men are dressed in white. Wren: the same attention to detail appears in the colouring of this copy also.
1570 Edition, page 779 | 1576 Edition, page 641 | 1583 Edition, page 664[Back to Top]

The description of the cruell Martyrdome of Sir Iohn Oldcastle, Lorde Cobham.
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As the most distinguished of all Lollard supporters, it is interesting to reflect on the different ways in which Oldcastle was pictorially celebrated by his posthumous admirers. He was one of those granted a larger woodcut in the 'Book of Martyrs' from 1563 on (one of the five for the period from Wyclif to Luther), but not in the guise in which he had appeared in some earlier publications. The visual 'description' presented to Foxe's readers showed him, unsparingly, suffering the final penalties of the law that condemned him, as guilty of both heresy and treason, to be hanged and burnt hanging at the place of his offence. He is suspended in chains from the new gallows in St Giles's Fields (scene of that earlier insurrectionary assembly), inside the wooden structure of which the exterminating fire, curiously and unconvincingly, is somehow contained and framed. Hemmed in by the pikemen this seems to be an awed and silent all-male throng (including a few religious). Oldcastle's death took place where his followers had gathered and died a few years before. If this was an indisputable martyrological image, it replaced a very different knightly martial image that had adorned both John Bale's Brefe Chronycle in 1544 and Foxe's own Rerum in Ecclesia Gestarum in 1559. Here the warrior of Christ advances into the fray with drawn sword, antique armour and a shield bearing the image of the crucifixion. By 1563 a 'description' of this kind was unthinkable. CUL copy: As with the Hus and Hierome cuts, the detailing is excessive, indeed, crude in places. The foliage in the distance is very bright green and smudged on the far right-hand side. WREN: there is little shading added to the outfits; indeed, the whole picture is coloured in rather a pale wash. There is, however, some bright green foliage in the distance.
1563 Edition, page 329 | 1570 Edition, page 783 | 1576 Edition, page 644 | 1583 Edition, page 667[Back to Top]
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