(Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from the 1583 edition.)
In writing An Apology for Poetry at about the date of publication of the fourth edition of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (1583), Sir Philip Sidney defines the function of poetry (i.e., fiction) with reference to the Horatian dictum of 'to teach and delight' (docere et delectare). In subscribing to this widely accepted maxim, Foxe positions the Book of Martyrs, the title by which his ecclesiastical history was known from the beginning, at the didactic end of the scale. Nevertheless, its array of theological disputations, treatises, heresy examinations, instructive accounts of the painful deaths of martyrs who were burnt alive, and other texts afford frequent moments of aesthetic pleasure through the employment by Foxe or his sources of a diversity of rhetorical schemes, stylistic figures, and devices of characterization. Drawing upon elements of this kind, the Book of Martyrs functions as an encyclopedia of literary genres including many kinds of verse, martyrologies, fables, ballads, beast fables, fanciful tales, romanticized adventure narratives, and many other writings.
Foxe speaks of the exemplary story as a fundamental narrative unit, in which it is important to follow chronological order as in the case of Thomas Hawks: 'first, beginning briefly with his godly conversation and institution of life, then showing his troubles, also of his examinations and conflicts with the bishop and other adversaries according as the order of his story doth require'. (p. 1585a). Declaring that he will not go beyond written records or verifiable oral reports, he opposes his 'true' reports to 'false' fables and 'lying' histories. This skeptical gloss on an account of a dream vision is typical: 'Mark here a fable.' (p. 361)
Enjoyment of reading stories of persecution and suffering is an important component of one of the best-known publications of its era. In The Saints' Encouragement in Evil Times: Or Observations Concerning the Martyrs in General (1651), Edward Leigh claims that 'it was usual to spend the long winter evenings in reading it' (Al0r). A continuation appended to the seventh edition of the Book of Martyrs (1631-32) declares that the 'persecutions of the faithful ... are not only profitable but pleasant also'. Clement Cotton similarly counsels the reader of The Mirror of Martyrs (1613) that his popular abridgement of the Book of Martyrs contains a gathering of wise sayings and final prayers of the martyrs that is both enjoyable and profitable: 'Yet mayest thou here behold the choice of many memorable things, which will yield thee sound comfort, and profitable delight' (A3v; emphasis added). This goal accords with that of Thomas Fuller, who declares of his History of the Worthies of England (1662), a book that draws heavily from the Book of Martyrs, that he 'purposefully interlaced (not as meat, but as condiment) many delightful stories, so that the reader if he do not arise (which I hope and desire) Religiosior or Doctior, with more piety or learning, at least he may depart more Jucundior, with more pleasure and lawful delight'.
An eighteenth-century reader named J. Crossley exemplifies the way in which early readers apprehended the story as the fundamental narrative unit of the Book of Martyrs. Over and over again, marginal inscriptions that he entered in a copy of the second edition exclaim that he experiences pleasure in reading 'stories' that are 'wonderful' or 'tragical' (Folger Shakespeare Library, shelfmark 11223.2). His notations are compatible with this collection's status as a massive martyrological history, because early modern readers tended to fuse 'story' and 'history', which share a common origin in the French and Latin words 'histoire' and 'historia'. This etymology accords with the difficulty experienced by early readers at drawing a sharp line between 'fiction' and 'fact' in their reception of connected narratives of past events.
The uneasy coexistence of fact and fiction does not extend to 'truth' and 'falsity', which Foxe and his co-religionists perceived as polemically charged antitheses associated with the persecuted congregation of Christians, on the one hand, and the persecuting church headed by the Bishop of Rome, on the other, whose claim to primacy in religion and politics allegedly derived from Antichrist or the Devil. Like Sidney, Foxe includes fiction among the adiaphora ('indifferent things'), whose acceptance or rejection are determined by whether they are rightly used or abused. Just as the Apology for Poetry disassociates 'right poetry' from lying, in response to an attack on fiction that originates with Plato, Foxe aligns 'falsity' and 'truth' with religious and ethical principles rather than strict adherence to the recording of verifiable events in the past. In addition to anxiety about the status of poetry, religious doctrine motivates Foxe's accusation that Sir Thomas More 'juggle[s] with truth' (p. 1009a) both in creating the fantastic world of Utopia and in his interrogation of Protestants for heresy.
Among the many 'stories' that fill the Book of Martyrs, martyrology constitutes the foremost genre. Catholics and Anabaptists join Foxe in subscribing to the Augustinian dictum that the cause rather than the suffering determines sainthood, but he adopts a distinctively Protestant position in claiming that his collection of martyrological 'histories' (A and M , B5v) differs from old-fashioned saints' lives that are unable 'to abide the touch of history' because they are mingled with 'untrue additions and fabulous inventions of men' (p. 132). Explaining that his counter-generic stories about the persecution of faithful witnesses should instruct the reader to 'imitate their death (as much as we may) with like constancy' (A and M 1563, B6v), he rejects the intercession of saints who effect miraculous cures and magical feats in late medieval legends of the saints.
Foxe attacks The Golden Legend as the best-known compilation of hagiographical 'fables' (1570, B3v). Indeed, he describes it as the antithesis of the Book of Martyrs in 'Ad doctum lectorem', his prefatory address to readers learned in Latin. In rebutting attacks on the veracity of his martyrological history, Foxe declares that 'it is finally a shame to Catholics that their Golden Legend is so fabulous. But it does not shame them that these fables deceived the world for so long. … Nothing can be more impious than to stain the faith with fables, delights, and fictions of this kind separate from the true faith'. He mocks it as a collection 'filled with prodigious portents and most empty and utterly vain fictions' that enables 'those Papists and impure monks to wallow in the ridiculous portents of their miracles'. Denying that the Book of Martyrs 'contain[s] anything fabulous', the martyrologist declares that he tells the truth because he has drawn his documents 'from the archives and registers of bishops and from the letters of the martyrs themselves, drawn together to be seen side by side' (translated from *1v-2v)
Jacobus de Voragine compiled The Golden Legend for priests to read to congregations in accordance with the calendar of saints that designates feast days throughout the Christian year. His stories demonstrate saintly intercession in the everyday life of the laity. Although the Book of Martyrs played no cognate role in church services, the first and fourth editions retain a 'Kalender' that guides readers to appropriate readings for each day of the year. It was controversial among Roman Catholic readers because it supplants medieval hagiographies with stories about historical individuals who willingly died for the sake of their religious beliefs. Asserting the primacy of patience and faith over the working of saintly miracles, Foxe does claim that divine providence intervenes to deliver the faithful or wreak vengeance on their opponents.
The Book of Martyrs juxtaposes many instances of 'true' versus 'false' martyrdom. Traditional saints whose martyrological credentials Foxe does accept include 'blessed' Alban, 'the first martyr that ever in England suffered death for the name of Christ.' (p. 88) Foxe begins the 'Life and History of Thomas Becket', by contrast, with this blunt assertion: 'If the cause make a martyr (as is said) I see not why we should esteem Thomas Becket to die a martyr, more than any others whom the prince's sword doth here temporally punish for their temporal deserts.' (p. 205) This attack affords a sharp contrast to The Golden Legend, which recounts miraculous cures of the blind, deaf, and crippled as evidence of the sanctity of the Archbishop of Canterbury whose murder for adherence to papal, rather than royal, authority gave rise to cult devotion centered upon miraculous acts of intercession. Devotion to the relics of Becket inspired pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral, which sheltered the wealthiest shrine in England prior to its disestablishment by Henry VIII. Indeed, the woodcut of Becket's murder in William Caxton's translation of The Golden Legend (1483) functioned as an object of ritual devotion. This picture underwent defacement in a copy preserved at the Bodleian Library (shelfmark Arch. G.b.2, B5r). It seems likely that it sustained this damage at the hand of the iconoclast who inserted anti-papal emendations in sixteenth-century script.
Among many other examples, Foxe mocks Simon of Swinstead, a monk alleged to have claimed status as a martyr at the time when he received anticipatory absolution from his abbot for murdering King John. The monk's use of a poisonous wassail cup to assassinate a monarch whom Foxe heroizes because of his opposition to and excommunication by papal authority affords a fancifully effective parody of the Roman-rite Mass (p. 256). In yet another instance, he claims that the hanging, drawing, and quartering of 24 monks of the Charterhouse, who rejected Henry VIII's claim to supremacy in religious affairs, does not warrant Roman Catholic declarations concerning their martyrdom (p. 1210a).
Foxe or his sources call attention to the cheerfulness or gloominess of victims condemned for heresy as indices of the respective presence or absence of martyrological sanctity. Although accounts of the final deeds of martyrs such as Anne Askew, Hugh Latimer, and John Philpot, record intense suffering, their cheerful jesting as they approached the stakes where they were burnt alive constitute an enjoyable component of their stories. According to first-hand transcriptions of their heresy examinations by Askew and Philpot, for example, these prisoners enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for quibbling with their interrogators. Latimer's punning levity provides an outstanding example of a demeanor that was not only 'merry, but savory'. A comment to a warder at his prison in Oxford, which was unheated during the dead of winter, exemplifies his wittiness: 'For you look, I think, that I should burn: but except you let me have some fire, I am like to deceive your expectation, for I am like here to starve for cold' (p. 1740).
Letters written by the Marian martyrs record many instances when they emulated St Paul's observation concerning the affliction of faithful believers: 'We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.' (Rom. 5:3-4) In many letters that he sent from prison, for example, John Bradford counseled correspondents to be 'Be merry in the Lord.' (p. 1651) In writing to Bradford and his fellow prisoners at the King's Bench in Southwark, Nicholas Ridley affirmed that 'We shall by God's grace one day meet together, and be merry.' (p. 1725) At the point of death, Bradford declared to John Leaf, the young man with whom he was burnt alive: 'Be of good comfort, brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night.' (p. 1623).
These instances of witty merriment call attention to the comic or tragicomic modulation of many stories that take on martyrological coloration. Deriving its material from the Book of Martyrs, the second edition of Holinshed's Chronicles of England (1587) accordingly glosses an anecdote about a goat in 'The Miraculous Preservation of Lady Elizabeth, Now Queen of England' as a 'merry story concerning the strict keeping [i.e., imprisonment] of the lady Elizabeth'. The compiler not only aligns this tale with contemporary jest books, but also presents it in a tragicomic light: 'And now by the way as digressing, or rather refreshing the reader, if it be lawful in so serious a story.' (p. 1156)
'The Story of Queen Catherine Parr' affords another good example of tragicomedy, which centers on a courtly plot that threatened to entrap her at risk of death for subscribing to illicit Protestant doctrines. This tale functions as a sequel to the martyrdom of Anne Askew, whom plotters attempted to associate with Queen Catherine and a conventicle made up of aristocratic women who met in the queen's privy chamber for the 'study of the holy scriptures' and hearing of sermons that 'ofttimes touched such abuses, as in the church were then rife' (A and M , p. 1422). The queen had the temerity to debate biblical interpretation with Henry VIII, a self-styled theologian, whom the tale exonerates for cruelly endangering his sixth and final wife. The intriguers become the butts of heavy dramatic irony when the witty heroine outwits her enemies at last-minute submission to her husband' s authority as 'lord and husband.' (p. 1424) The irony does not extend to Henry VIII, in all likelihood because of political difficulty that it might entail. Although the humor is macabre, given the executions of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Anne Askew, this plot line is closer to that of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew than the stock format of Foxean martyrology.
Published in Basel during Foxe's exile under Mary I, Christus Triumphans (1556) affords a model for the overarching comic trajectory of martyrological stories in the Book of Martyrs. He terms this five-act Latin drama an 'apocalyptic comedy' because it enfolds the 'tragic' sufferings of persecuted Protestants within the overarching trajectory of providential history. The play dramatizes the Marian persecutions within the unfolding of the history of the 'true' church in accordance with Foxe's reading of the Book of Revelation. Under the guise of the martyrdom of preachers named Hierologus and Theosebes, the play's fifth act alludes to the burning of Latimer and Ridley as a climactic instance of 'wondrous tragedies' that ensue following the loosing of Satan after his imprisonment of one thousand years. Under duress from Antichrist in the guise of the Roman pontiff, Ecclesia personifies the true' church cast in the role of the Woman Clothed with the Sun, who flees into the wilderness to await the Second Coming. Intense apocalyptic expectation inform the chorus that brings the play to a conclusion in 'comic' anticipation of the descent of the New Jerusalem.
In a manner that parallels this play, Foxe concludes the first volume of the 1570 edition of the Book of Martyrs with a restatement of the overarching pattern of tragic descent in anticipation of apocalyptic comedy. In this way he summarizes the course of English history until the coronation of Henry VIII:
'And thus stood the government of this realm of England all the time before the Conquest, till Pope Hildebrand … began first to bring the emperor (which was Henry IV) under foot. Then followed the subduing of other Emperors, Kings, and subjects after that ... till at the last, the time of their iniquity being complete, through the Lord's wonderful working, their pride had a fall, as in the next volume ensuing (the Lord so granting) shall by process of history be declared'. (2M2v)
The ensuing sequence of woodcuts portrays papal depositions of kings and emperors in a cartoonlike adjunct to the recitation of papal failings in the 'Proud Primacy of Popes'. The reassertion of royal supremacy over the Church of England by Henry VIII and his Protestant successors will feature the downfall of the Bishop of Rome in a de casibus tragedy that will sweep him to damnation, by contrast to the ultimately comic outcome of the tragedies of salvation of persecuted martyrs.
Foxe accepts tragedies of double issue of the kind that Aristotle disapproved, whereby the reprobate suffer perpetual damnation but the saved are destined for a heavenly reward. His tragedies of salvation and damnation follow the model of de casibus tragedy in stories concerning the downfall of proud individuals from high estate. Derived from Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrorum ('Concerning the Falls of Illustrious Men'), it is a distinctive feature of contemporary writings such as The Mirror for Martyrs and Shakespeare's history plays. Foxe thus describes the first heresy examination of John Philpot as 'the beginning of this tragedy' (p.1796). He similarly employs the title of 'The tragical history of Gregory the VII' for his life of the pope otherwise known as Hildebrand (p. 174). The compiler invokes the Wheel of Fortune, a conventional feature of de casibus tragedy, in recounting the murder of the little princes as the means by which Richard III attained the throne: 'The ambitious protector and unnatural uncle, having the possession of his two nephews, and innocent babes, thought himself almost up the wheel where he would climb'. (p. 727). In the manner of a related tragedy in the poetic Visions of George Cavendish, Foxe recounts the downfall of Edward Seymour, Protector of the Realm during the minority of Edward VI, as 'the tragical history of the worthy Lord Edward, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector, with the whole cause of his troubles and handling'. (p. 1367)
A multiplicity of polemical gestures informs the engagement of the Book of Martyrs with complaint and satire, but they all involve literary attack by means of more or less laughable instances of linguistic appropriation, imitation, or innuendo. Because they are literary modes rather than genres, one cannot differentiate between them with precision. Rooted in medieval practices, the more unambiguous and oratorical mode of complaint gives way over time to the more indirect play of satirical irony. Instances of satire gravitate toward raillery against vice characteristic of Juvenalian invective rather than the genial urbanity and delicate wit of Horace. The remote family resemblances associated with the satirical mode link texts in the manner of distant cousins within a far-flung clan.
Scabrous humor pervades satirical modulations that involve debasement, vilification, or ridicule of recognizable historical particulars. Satire encompasses beast fables that contain thinly veiled allegorical attacks; indecorous polemical vocabulary; puns and quibbles; and more. We may think in terms of a satirical spectrum that ranges from polemical abuse colored by rhetorical figures that stop short of fictiveness, to constructions that are more or less fictive, to a point where satire shades into comedy unconcerned with discernible historical particulars.
Parody, burlesque, or travesty of recognizable literary styles, devices, and forms provided an abundant reservoir for anti-Catholic satire. Burlesques collected by Foxe include both a mock letter and a mock oration. The first consists of a counterfeit letter addressed to 'popish' prelates by Lucifer, who employs the following salutation: 'Given at the center of the earth, in our dark palace; present, crowds of devils, specially for the purpose called unto our most dolorous consistory; under the character of our terrible seal'. Attributed to a Lollard dissident, it associates clerics with the Seven Deadly Sins. Entitled 'The Image of Antichrist', the second is a prolonged ironic speech that consists of a panoply of extracts from papal bulls and decretals (pp. 784-92).
The heavy use of animal imagery in stories in the Book of Martyrs is in keeping with the conventional use of beast fables as vehicles for anti-Catholic satire. This practice is grounded not only on biblical tropes that inform Jesus' parables concerning the Good Shepherd who tends to the needs of his sheep and his invective in the Sermon on the Mount against 'false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves' (Matt. 7:15), but on medieval antifraternal satire on clerics as hypocritical foxes. Hugh Latimer supplies an example of the latter in stating to a friar: 'When they paint [i.e., portray] a fox preaching out of a friar's cowl, none is so mad to take this to be a fox that preacheth, but know well enough the meaning of the matter, which is to paint out unto us what hypocrisy, craft and subtle dissimulation lieth hid many times in these friars' cowls, willing us thereby to beware of them' (pp. 1734-35).
In the instance of Simon Fish's Supplication of Beggars, Foxe assimilates the whole of an inflammatory complaint articulated in the collective voice of England's impoverished beggars against 'the ravenous wolves, going in herds' clothing, devouring the flock, bishops, abbots, priors, deacons, archdeacons, suffragens, priests, monks, canons, friars, pardoners, and summoners.' Arguing in favor of the monastic dissolutions that proceeded during the reign of Henry VIII, this 'libel' appeals to the King for the redistribution of the wealth of England's abbeys - 'more than the third part of the realm'- to impoverished commoners (p. 1014)
The chief object of attack in polemical beast fables was Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester who served Mary I as Lord Chancellor of England. Protestants vilified him as the eminence grise who was the prime mover behind heresy prosecutions under Henry VIII and Mary I. In an outstanding instance, Foxe assimilates 'Stephen Gardiner's Creed', twelve articles of belief from the bishop's 'Examination of the Hunter' (pp. 1793-94) a treatise that remains extant in no other form than William Turner's The Rescuing of the Romish Fox (1545). This propagandist joined John Bale in writing tracts that employ allegorical hunts for 'Romish' foxes and wolves as devices for directing bitter satire against covert 'papists', who disguised their motives with foxlike cunning, and their overt colleagues such as Gardiner, who was known as the predatory 'Winchester Wolf'.
Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, joined Gardiner as the butt of vicious attacks that employ them as sometimes cartoonlike personifications of episcopal injustice. Foxe attaches marginal glosses that call attention to gibes against Bonner. Thus he points out an 'apothegm touching Bonner', namely Sir Thomas Jocelyn's 'merry conceit' concerning the Bishop's inability to control his temper following release from prison at the outset of the reign of Mary I: 'For now that he is come forth of the Marshalsea, he is ready to go to Bedlam'. That is, he is fit to go directly from prison to an asylum for the insane, (p. 1474) Not only does 'Bloody Bonner' undergo caricature as a grotesque torturer in three woodcuts, but also he is the object of a biting invective letter circulated in manuscript by 'a godly and zealous gospeller' in protest against the burning of John Philpot and his fellow martyrs. As its text, this sermonic diatribe applies the archetypal attack on 'false' pastors in Ezekiel 34:2-3: 'Woe be unto the idolatrous shepherds of England, that feed themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flock? But ye have eaten the fat, ye have clothed you with the wool, the best fed have ye slain, but the flock have ye not nourished'. This open letter exploits Bonner's ravenous appetite functions as a figure for sadistic cruelty: 'It is wisdom for me and all other simple sheep of the Lord, to keep us out of your butcher's stall as long as we can: especially seeing that you have such store already, that you are not able to drink all their blood, lest you should break your belly' (p.1842).
In general, the bishop's obesity as an outward figure for depravity. The following satirical poem, a translation by G. G. of 'In effigiem Boneri carmen' ('On the effigy of Bonner), affords a good example:
Muse not so much at nature's work,
is thus deformed, now,
With belly blown, and head so swollen,
for I shall tell you how:
This cannibal, in three years' space
three hundred martyrs slew:
They were his food, he loved so blood,
he spared none he knew.
It should appear that blood feeds fat,
if men lie well and soft:
For Bonner's belly waxed with blood,
though he seemed to fast oft.
O bloody beast, bewail the death
of those that thou hast slain:
In time repent, since thou canst not
their lives restore again'. (p. 2843)
The satirical use of animals goes beyond figurative language to their use in anticlerical tableaux. Bishop Gardiner thus interrogated the husband of Catherine Willoughby, the zealously Protestant Duchess of Suffolk: 'Is she now as ready to set up the Mass, as she was lately to pull it down, when she caused in her progress, a dog in a rochet [i.e., attired in an episcopal vestment] to be carried, and called by my name?' He gave her cause to flee into exile in continental Europe when he threatened to retaliate because of her taunting when he was imprisoned during the reign of Edward VI: 'Doth she think her lambs now safe enough, who said to me when I vailed my bonnet [tipped my hat] to her out of my chamber window in the Tower, that it was merry with the lambs now the wolf was shut up?' (pp. 2078-79). Foxe also records a carnivalesque incident early in the reign of Mary I, when cruelty to an animal enabled dissidents to protest against the Roman Catholic clergy and ritual of the Mass: 'There was a cat hanged upon a gallows at the Cross in Cheap, appareled like a priest ready to say Mass, with a shaven crown. Her two forefeet were tied over her head, with a round paper like a wafer cake [i.e., Eucharistic bread] put in between them' (p. 1469).
Belittling attacks on Gardiner include Foxe's gloss on a skeptical remark by John Rogers, the first martyr to die under Mary I, concerning an offer of 'charity' extended by the bishop: 'Great mercy of Winchester no less than the fox hath to the chickens, or the wolf to suck the blood of lambs' (p. 1487). Another gloss differentiates between 'false' and 'true' clerics: 'How the wolf is known from the true shepherd' (p. 1495). Abundant references to wolves preying upon the sheepfold confer a parabolic cast upon the disruption of Rowland Taylor's ministry to the town of Hadleigh in Essex, which undergoes idealization as 'one of the first that received the Word of God in England at the preaching of Thomas Bilney'. Styling himself as a 'shepherd that God and my Lord Christ hath appointed to feed this his flock', the preacher once ordered a 'popish wolf' (i.e., a Roman Catholic priest) not 'to poison Christ's flock' (pp. 1518-19). Foxe observes that worshippers are like 'lambs waiting when the butchers would call them to the slaughter' (p. 1521). As Taylor goes merrily to his death, according to Foxe's informant, members of his congregation declared 'there goeth our good shepherd from us' and 'what shall we poor scattered lambs do?' (p. 1526).
Ubiquitous figurative language of this kind confers a seriocomic cast upon the suffering of individuals condemned to death or suspected of heresy. Protestants frequently mock persecuting prelates as 'bite-sheep,' a pun on bishop coined by John Bale in his sardonic preface to Gardiner's De vera obedientia (1553). John Bradford thus declares concerning the Bishop of Rome: 'But they obtrude unto us a butcher rather, or a bitesheep, than a bishop' (p. 1648a) Wordplay also informs the following satirical gloss that Foxe attaches to an episcopal accusation that John Philpot is too willful: 'Willful because he will not put himself willfully into the wolf's mouth' (p. 1799). In the narrative concerning her imprisonment, Princess Elizabeth applies the messianic figure of tanquam ovis ('like a sheep' [led to slaughter], Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32) to her own endangerment as a Christlike lamb. (p. 2094b) Writing from prison, John Bradford declares: 'I am now as a sheep appointed to the slaughter' (p. 1654). In a letter sent from one prisoner to another, John Careless consoles an inmate that he is fortunate not only to testify to his faith in Christ, 'but also to suffer for his sake, as one of his silly [i.e., innocent] sheep appointed to the slaughter' (p. 1928). The narrator of a story about yet another martyr, Julian Palmer, writes that he 'was led away as a lamb to the slaughter' by a prison keeper who was like 'a ravening wolf greedy of his prey' (p. 1937).
Other scriptural tropes pervade Foxe's endorsement of writings by eminent Continental writers as proto-Protestant satire. At the forefront, Dante receives praise because of his equation of the pope with the Whore of Babylon in the thirty-second canto of Purgatorio and his assertion of the primacy of imperial over papal authority in De monarchia (p. 380). Petrarch similarly identified the papacy with Antichrist in his sonnets on the Babylonian Captivity of the church. Lodging related claims on behalf of Pico della Mirandola, Lorenzo Valla, and Erasmus, Foxe praises them as forerunners who 'had somewhat broken the way before and had shaken the monks' houses. But Luther gave the stroke, and plucked down the foundation, and all by opening one vein long hid before, wherein lieth the touchstone of all truth and doctrine, as the only principal origin of our salvation, which is our free justifying by faith only in Christ the Son of God.' (p. 841)
The Book of Martyrs incorporates one beast fable as part of its strategy of subsuming well-known examples of medieval literature on the ground that they anticipate the Protestant Reformation. By including Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower in the company of John Wyclif, William Thorpe, and other Wycliffites, Foxe contributes to the longstanding view that these poets were tinged with Lollardry (p. 839). Thus he marvels that the bishops failed to prohibit the reading of verse by Chaucer, 'who, no doubt, saw into religion as much almost as even now we do, and uttereth in his works no less, and seemeth to be a right Wicklevian, or else there was never any'. Omitting compositions that are 'more fabulous than others,' he claims that 'by reading of Chaucer's works … [many] were brought to the true knowledge of religion'. This misunderstanding of Chaucer is based upon the Plowman's Tale, a rewriting of a Lollard satire that had undergone assimilation into the Chaucer canon in contemporary printed editions of his collected works. Foxe endorses its use of an allegorical beast fable assault on prelatical aggrandizement: 'What finger can point out more directly the pope with his prelates to be Antichrist, than doth the poor Pelican reasoning against the greedy Griffon? … Who is so blind that seeth not by the Pelican, the doctrine of Christ, and of the Lollards to be defended against the Church of Rome ... [or that the ] ravening Griffon resembleth the true image, that is, the nature and qualities of that which we call the Church of Rome?' (p. 839)
Foxe collaborates in John Bale's project of preserving medieval English texts and applying them to Protestant purposes. Although he fails to reprint The Plowman's Tale in the Book of Martyrs, in all likelihood because it was readily accessible in folio editions of Chaucer's works, he incorporates the anonymous Jack Upland in the mistaken belief that it is an 'ancient treatise compiled by Geoffrey Chaucer by the way of a dialogue or questions moved in the person of a certain uplandish and simple plowman of the country' (pp. 261-62). Foxe and his co-religionists believed that plain-spoken evangelical rustics such as Jack Upland could outwit Roman Catholic clerics on the model of Robert Crowley's interpretation of Piers Plowman as a proto-Protestant satire and William Tyndale's ideal of the humble plowboy more learned in the Bible than a 'popish' priest. On this ground, Foxe also absorbs the whole of The Prayer and Complaint of the Plowman, 'an old book … written as seemeth about Wyclif's time', in the erroneous belief that 'it was faithfully set forth [i.e., published] by William Tyndale.' (p. 398) Just as plowman satire is derived from the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3-23), Foxe calls attention to its affinity with scriptural pastoral in glosses that attack 'false'shepherds: 'Christ's sheep stopped from clean water, and compelled to drink puddle', (p. 398) 'He complaineth of false pastors that live by their flock, but feedeth not them' (p. 401), and 'Wolves in lambskins described'. (p. 405)
The binary division between 'truth' and 'falsity' extends to Foxe's commitment to recovering outstanding examples of medieval literature that contradict 'lying' legends and fables. Although Roger Ascham's The Schoolmaster associates the Morte d'Arthur with monasticism and attacks it for purveying little more than 'lewd manslaughter and bold bawdry', Foxe joins like-minded contemporaries in accepting the legendary history of Britain associated with Geoffrey of Monmouth and others because it alleges that the Church of England derives its authority through direct apostolic succession from Jesus Christ in a tradition independent of the Church of Rome. Along with John Bale and others, Foxe thus affirms that Joseph of Arimathea embarked upon a missionary endeavor that 'laid the first foundation of Christian faith among the Britain people.' (p. 106). Foxe accordingly celebrates Gildas, whom 'God stirred up … to preach to the old Britons.' (p. 32) Even though he acknowledges the 'more fabulous' character of some of the 'notorious and famous conquests' attributed to King Arthur, he celebrates his heroic character as a reputed ancestor of the Tudor dynasty. (p. 113)
Along the lines of his distinction between 'true' and 'false' fiction, Foxe differentiates between the proper use and the abuse of drama and theatrical spectacle. In a famous formulation, he thus declares that 'preachers, players, and printers … be set up of God, as a triple bulwark against the triple crown of the pope, to bring him down' (A and M , p. 1524). Although he fails to provide complete texts of plays, the first edition of the Book of Martyrs does incorporate The Dialogue between Custom and Verity, whose speeches were worthy of recitation or enactment in a church or churchyard.
Foxe wholeheartedly endorses dramatizations that mock Roman Catholic belief and clerical practices, such as the interlude at Gray's Inn in which Simon Fish, author of The Supplication of Beggars, performed an attack on Cardinal Wolsey (p. 1014). He correspondingly disapproves of the prohibition on plays and interludes that ran counter to the promulgation of the Act of Six Articles, which he terms the 'whip with six strings' (p. 1135). It implemented persecution of Protestants in order to ensure the conservative nature of Henry VIII's settlement of religion by making it punishable by death to deny transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, or other traditional doctrines. The ensuing prosecutions included the arraignment of one Shermons, a custodian of Carpenter's Hall in the City of London, 'for procuring an interlude to be openly played, wherein priests were railed on, and called knaves.' (p. 1204).
Equally well, Foxe disapproves of an inhibition of Mary I on the 'playing of interludes' that satirized Roman Catholic orthodoxy (p. 1408). It corresponded to the enactment of traditional pageants and spectacles, some of which had undergone suppression during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. In the case of John Careless, Foxe records how the keeper of Coventry Jail released this weaver in order 'to play in the pageant about the city with other his companions'. His willingness to do this suggests that Protestant hostility to late medieval mystery plays as 'abused' things worthy of suppression had not yet coalesced. (Midway through the reign of Elizabeth I, bishops and local authorities began to prohibit performance of the cycle plays.) Upon the conclusion of this dramatization of a story from the Bible, the artisan kept his promise to return 'again into prison at his hour appointed' (p. 1920). In the case of spectacles devised in celebration of the marriage of Mary I and Prince Philip of Spain, Foxe omits description of what he terms 'vain pageants'. Nevertheless, he does describe a tableau into which the deviser, Richard Grafton, incorporated Protestant iconography through the painting of a Bible in the hands of Henry VIII as one of the Nine Worthies (p. 1472).
An account of the restoration of mummings in which children enacted the lives of saints in streets and churches affords an occasion for insertion of an iconoclastic anecdote in which Foxe approves of the action of Gertrude Crockhey, who barred 'the pope's childish St Nicholas' from entering her home when he went about St Catherine's parish near the Tower of London. During her ensuing interrogation for heresy, she uttered a skeptical declaration: 'Indeed sir … here was one that was my neighbor's child, but not St Nicholas: for St Nicholas is in heaven. I was afraid of them that came with him to have my purse cut by them: for I have heard of men robbed by St Nicholas' clerks'. She escaped execution when the Queen's death brought a halt to the prosecution of Protestants for heresy (p. 2082).
Anxiety concerning the abuse of theatricality motivates Foxe's belief that the Roman-rite Mass constitutes little more than disguising or masquing, which he ridicules as 'fond foolish fantasy and mockery'. He thus approves of the iconoclastic attack lodged by Thomas Benet, a Henrician martyr, who ridiculed the ceremonial for exorcism by bell, book, and candle as a set of 'merry conceits and interludes played of the priests' (p.1038). He commends William Clink, who underwent prosecution when, following promulgation of the Act of Six Articles, he mocked the Mass with this declaration: 'Ye shall see a priest now go to masquing' (p. 1203). Mockery extends to an attack on a priest who delivered a sermon in the form of dancing (p. 1723)
The degradation of prominent Protestant bishops and clerics afforded an occasion for both sides to employ theatrical metaphors or spectacle. In describing the priest who replaced Rowland Taylor, when he was deprived of his ministry at Hadleigh, Foxe declares that he 'brought with him all his implements and garments, to play his popish pageant' (p. 1519). During theological disputations at Oxford University prior to his execution, Nicholas Ridley attacked Catholic theologians for being 'more like to stage players in interludes, to set forth a pageant, than to be grave divines in schools to dispute' (p. 1463). In a farewell address that Ridley wrote in manuscript for circulation among his friends prior to his execution, he attacked the Mass as a 'disguising ... a very masking and mockery of the true Supper of the Lord, or rather I may call it a crafty juggling, whereby these false thieves and jugglers have bewitched the minds of simple people' (p. 1772)
Ridley's hostility to episcopal vestments was in keeping with Foxe's personal views and those articulated during the 1560s by friends and associates such as Robert Crowley and Anthony Gilby. When Catholic interrogators dressed Ridley in vestments in order to devest him during the course of his degradation from the office of Bishop of London, he seized upon the occasion to inveigh 'against the Romish bishop and all that foolish apparel, calling him Antichrist, and the apparel foolish and abominable, yea, too fond for a Vice in a play'. This anti-vestiarian complaint declares that episcopal vestments are even more ludicrous than the costuming of personifications of vice in morality plays (p. 1767).
The Book of Martyrs contains a great variety of poetry, not only in the foregoing twin sense of fiction, but also in the form of verse composition. True to form, moral and religious principles led Foxe to reject the abuse of verse at the same time that he condoned what he regarded as its proper use. Surely he agreed with Protector Somerset, who acknowledged the frivolity of pasquinades and 'lewd ballads' without calling for their prohibition. One of the few points on which he agreed with Stephen Gardiner concerned the Bishop's rejection of frivolous verse: 'Writers write their fantasy [i.e., imagination] ... The people buyeth those foolish ballads of Jack-a-Lent. So bought they in times past pardons, and carols, and Robin Hood's tales.' (p. 1345).
Ubiquitous scriptural language plays an important role in establishing the poetic texture of the Book of Martyrs. Functioning in the manner of a massive thesaurus, the Bible supplies an abundant reservoir of tropes and figures for religious faith, ministerial conduct, and the art of holy dying that pervade the speeches, examinations, letters, and other writings of the martyrs. The overarching conceit is that of the Woman Clothed with the Sun and Whore of Babylon, modeled on Revelation 11 and 17, which personify the 'persecuted church' and the 'persecuting church' in the well-known title-page border and numerous instances throughout the text. The imagery of sheep and shepherds, on the one hand, and wolves, on the other, readily represented corresponding styles of ministerial life. Jesus' trope of the strait and narrow gate underwent ready application to the belief that few individuals had the capacity to deny worldliness in order to attest to faith en route toward death. Exile to a foreign land and the Exodus afforded other figures for holy life as an arduous journey. Many prisoners applied Jesus' application to himself of tropes such as 'I am the rock' or 'I am the vine' as common sense arguments that he speaks figurally in offering bread and wine during the Last Supper: 'Take ye, eat, this is my body, which shall be given for you' and 'Take ye, drink, this is my blood, which shall be given for you'. As they approached the moment of death, martyrs such as Ridley, Bradford, and Saunders yearned for marriage with Christ on the model of Christian allegorization of the Song of Songs.
The presence in the Book of Martyrs of a variety of ballads and balladlike poems is appropriate to the era when The Whole Book of Psalms by Sternhold, Hopkins, and others established itself as the most frequently reprinted collection of early modern English verse. In an outstanding example, The Fantasy of Idolatry consists of an extended iconoclastic attack on monastic shrines and pilgrimages. William Gray of Reading composed this vigorously popular ballad in support of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which proceeded under the auspices of his patron, Thomas Cromwell (pp. 588-89 [1563 ed.]) Foxe also includes a moving ballad that laments the martyrdom of John Bradford (p. 1216 [1563 ed.]). Following the first edition, Foxe omitted both poems as part of an unsuccessful effort to keep his massive text from growing out of control. He also cites the apprehension of John David, a child under twelve years of age, for infractions that included his composition of a ballad, 'Come down for all your shaven crown', that mocked tonsured clerics (p. 2073a).
A lengthy ballad attributed to W. M. played a role a satirical attack addressed to the Queen herself, which an unknown Protestant partisan 'laid in Queen Mary's closet [i.e., private chamber] upon her desk against her coming unto her prayers'. Addressing her as the Tudor Rose, it attacks Gardiner for 'suck[ing] the righteous blood' and admonishes her concerning the ongoing burnings of 'prophets' (i.e., Protestant ministers):
And yet you would seem merciful,
In the midst of Tyranny
And holy, whereas you maintain
Most vile idolatry.
For fear that you should bear the truth,
True preachers may not speak:
But on good prophets you make ruth,
And unkindly them entreat. (pp. 2138-39)
Although Foxe systematically deleted most Latin text following publication of the first edition, his retention of untranslated verse in the reprints constitutes a reminder of the humanistic tradition out of which the Book of Martyrs emerges. Indeed, his failure to translate this poetry renders it inaccessible to vernacular readers unlearned in Latin for whom Foxe designs his book as a whole. This material includes celebratory poems in the preliminary pages that identify a learned coterie made up of Latin-educated scholars and poets within which the martyrologist moved. They include 'In Martylogium Ioannis Foxi', a poem in celebration of the martyrological history by Laurence Humphrey, a younger contemporary from Magdalen College, Oxford, with whom he shared exile in Basel during the reign of Mary I. Scholars who contributed other Latin commendatory verse include Abraham Hartwell of Cambridge University and Thomas Drant, a preacher with a reputation as a satirical poet. Foxe himself initiated an attack against the 'incendiary papists ('Contra Papistas incendiarios'), which inspired verses in Latin on the same topic by a scholars educated at Cambridge: Aegidius Fletcher, Thomas Ridley, Thomas Barwick (a retainer of Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury), and Richard Day (son of Foxe's printer and publisher, John Day). It is possible that Foxe or Richard Day composed verses in commendation of the publisher, 'Ad Ioannes Daium Typographum'.
The Book of Martyrs contains some, but not all, of the Latin poems printed in its Latin precursor, Rerum in Ecclesia gestarum (Basel, 1559), which Johannes Oporinus and Nicholaus Brylinger published during Foxe's exile in continental Europe. Thus he carries over verses by Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen executed during the aftermath of Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554. He also retains the Latin wording of 'Certain Epitaphs written in commendation of the worthy Lady Jane Grey' by himself, Laurence Humphrey, and John Parkhurst, whom Elizabeth I appointed as Bishop of Norwich.
Parkhurst provides a broader sense of the evangelical coterie of like-minded friends and associates within which verses of this kind circulated in manuscript by including his poem:
'Miraris Ianam Graio sermone valere?
Quo primum nata est tempore, Graia fuit'
in Ludicra siue Epigrammata Juvenalia (1573). Not only did the Bishop write a poem in commendation of Foxe and a second poem on Jane Grey, he composed epigrams concerning Protestant notables and martyrs including John Bale, Thomas Becon, the Duchess of Suffolk, Richard Cox, Thomas Cranmer, Miles Coverdale, John Hooper, and John Philpot. Laurence Humphrey's contribution of a commendatory poem included among the preliminary pages reinforces the identity of Parkhurst's verse as coterie compositions.
In addition to these coterie verses, for which translations are absent, Foxe includes a considerable amount of Latin verse both in the original and in translation. A song on Cassianus from Prudentius' De coronis ('Concerning the Crown'), a cycle of hymns on the martyrological symbol of the crown, affords a good example. The Romans executed the subject of this poem during the 'Ten Persecutions of the Primitive Church'. Foxe's text makes reference elsewhere to the singing of psalms and hymns by early Christian martyrs (pp. 92-93), a practice that afforded a model for latter-day saints of his own era. In the case of a song sung in connection with cult observances, he inserts a derogatory gloss - 'The blasphemous anthem of Thomas Becket' - that casts his translation in an ironic light:
For the blood of Thomas, which he for thee did spend,
Grant us (Christ) to climb, where Tho[mas], did ascend. (p. 226)
In yet another example, he incorporates a treatise by Nicholas Ridley that contains a translation of a satire on the simony of Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope whose court was notoriously depraved. The English bishop offers an apology that 'these verses be light gear, and the verse is but rude':
Alexander, our holy father the pope of Rome,
selleth for money both right and dome [i.e., doom or judgment]:
And all kind of holiness the holy father doth not stick,
to set to sale, ready money for to get.
And eke Christ himself he dare be bold,
to chop and change for silver and gold:
And why should any think this to be sore,
for what doth he sell, but what he brought before. (p. 1779)
In conversation with Hugh Latimer, Ridley also recited a Latin epigram:
Hoc est nescire, sine Christo plurima scire.
Si Christum bene scis, satis est, si caeteraa nescis.
Foxe translates it thus: 'This is to be ignorant, to know many things without Christ. If thou knowest Christ well, though knowest enough, though thou know no more'. (p. 1719).
Epigrams of this kind are an important component of Foxe's martyrology. Defined by brevity and wit, they typically take the form of couplets suitable to sharply incised sentiments. Contemporary readers commonly associated them with satire, as in an antipapal couplet:
'Ejus avaritiae totus non sufficit orbis,
Ejus luuriae meretrix non sufficit omnis
that the compiler translates thus:
'All the world cannot suffice, their greedy avarice mind,
Nor all the drabs and naughty packs, their filthy lusting kind.' (p. 326)
Among abundant vernacular epigrams, memorable examples include Lady Jane Grey's
Be constant, be constant, fear not for no pain,
Christ hath redeemed thee, and heaven is thy gain. (p. 1421)
Married to Guildford Dudley, who was beheaded with her, she also wrote verses in Latin with the head of a pin. Lady Elizabeth also avoided pen and ink when she used a diamond to inscribe an epigram on a window during her house arrest at Woodstock:
Much suspected by me,
Nothing proved can be.
Quoth Elizabeth prisoner. (p. 2096)
Many martyrological letters conclude with the quasi-epigrammatic sentiment: 'Pray, pray, pray!'
Condemned prisoners composed epitaphs, a species of epigraph related to epigram, as one means of preparing themselves, and their relatives and associates, for death. In a number of cases they employed inscriptions in books as vehicles. One victim thus concluded a farewell letter with these verses:
This world I do forsake: to Christ I me betake,
And, for his gospel's sake, patiently death I take.
My body to the dust, now to return it must:
My soul I know full well, with my God it shall dwell.
Thomas Whittle. (p. 1850)
Another inmate inscribed his own epitaphs in books owned by friends who visited him at Newgate. In a book owned by Master Hussey of the Temple, he wrote:
Behold thyself by me, such one was I, as thou:
And thou in time shalt be, even dust as I am now.
In a book owned by another lawyer, William Fleetwood, he declared:
My resting road is found, vain hope and hap adieu.
Love whom you list with change, death shall me rid from you
Bartlet Green. (p. 1855)
John Careless inscribed a 'brief admonition' in a book belonging to Mistress Agnes Glascock when she visited him in prison. He bids her farewell with verses that declare:
To die therefore, think it no shame,
But hope in God with faithful trust:
And he will give you praise with fame,
When you rise out of the dust. (p. 1932)
In the largest and arguably the best-known corpus of verse in the Book of Martyrs, Robert Smith composed a prayer for divine instruction (p. 1698) and a variety of epistolary poems that are made up almost wholly of extended leashes of fourteener or hexameter couplets. In honoring the request of a lady for an inscription in her book, this martyr-poet counselled her to live her life in the form of a spiritual pilgrimage:
If you will walk the way that Christ hath you assigned,
Then learn this little verse, which I have left behind.
[ … ]
And if ye keep this path, and do not run a-crook,
Then shall ye meet the man, that writ this in your book,
In that eternal joy, that always shall remain:
Thus farewell faithful friend, till we do meet again. (p. 1698)
Apparently addressed to fellow prisoners, 'O ye that love the Lord, see that ye hate the thing that is evil', concludes with a martyrological admonition not to swerve from religious faith:
If thou wilt have a recompense,
Abide still in obedience. (p. 1697)
In a long and poignant exhortation to his children that also appeared with an attribution to Matthew Rogers in The Complaint of Verity (1559), a collection of martyrological verse and prose by John Bradford, Ralph Allerton, and others, Smith counsels his offspring to remain faithful:
Farewell my love and loving wife, my children and my friends:
I hope to God to have you all, when all things have their ends.
And if you do abide in God, as ye have now begun:
Your course I warrant will be short, ye have not far to run.
God grant you so to end your years as he shall think it best:
That ye may enter into heaven, where I do hope to rest. (p. 1698)
He closes yet another letter by urging his brother to protect his niece:
'If thou wilt do my daughter good,
Be mindful of thy brother's blood'.
Designing it in the form of a spiritual bequest, Smith apparently composed this verse letter for inscription into a Bible or New Testament given to his sibling:
And for because the good that hath been got and gained
And that the Lord's elect hath evermore obtained,
Is closed in this book which I do give to thee
Wherein I have my part, as thou thyself mayest see. (p. 1698)
Other prisoners joined Smith in composing epistolary poems to relatives or friends. Thus Laurence Saunders addresses an epigrammatic poem in fourteener couplets to like-minded prisoners at Marshalsea Prison. Prior to his return to Coventry in order to be burnt alive, he thus bids them farewell:
All ye, therefore which in this place, in strait bondage now be,
Be servants unto righteousness, from sin be loose and free.
Be mindful of all duty due unto the Lord above,
Be thankful for his benefits, the pledges of his love.
Consider with yourselves (I say) to sanctify the Lord,
In every place, and that always, by thought, deed, and by word. (p. 1044 [1563 ed.])
The apparent paradox that the epigram should be the predominant poetic form in the gargantuan text of the Book of Martyrs corresponds to the frequent occurrence of aphorisms or proverbs. Indeed, Robert Smith addressed a letter to his wife, Anne, that consists of fifteen sententiae on scriptural topics ranging from 'Seek first to love God, dear wife, with your whole heart, and then shall it be easy to love your neighbor' to 'If you will love God, hate evil, and ye shall obtain the reward of well doing'. In bidding farewell to his wife with the fervent counsel that she 'bring up my children and yours in the fear of God', he closes this letter with a moving epigram:
If ye will meet with me again,
Forsake not Christ for any pain. (p. 1701)
This prudential counsel enjoyed currency sufficient for Nehemiah Wallington to copy it into a commonplace book designed as a guide to meditation and prayer (British Library, MS Sloane 922, fol. 15r-v).
The transmission of folk wisdom via oral tradition is in keeping with an age when poetics was not wholly separate from rhetoric. Indeed, only a fine line divides the witty succinctness of aphoristic sayings and maxims from epigram. Aphorisms abound in martyrological speeches and letters, as in the case of an exhortatory letter that George Marsh constructed in the form a pastiche of scriptural adages (pp. 1568-80). The text includes a German proverb appropriate to Martin Luther's revolt against the papacy:
'Was is nu in der werit fur ein wesen,
Wir moegen fur den pfaffen nicht genesen'
What is this, to see the world now round about
What for these shaveling priests no man that once may route'. (p. 841).
The 'Life of Thomas Cromwell' affords a good example of multilingual aphorisms run wild when it avers that royal courts encourage petty
'amplifying things that be but small … according as it is truly said by the poet Juvenal, 'Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas': or as our English proverb showeth, 'As a man is friended, so is his matter ended'; and 'Where the hedge is low, a man may lightly make large leaps'; or rather, to speak after the French phrase, 'Qui son chien veut tuer, la rage lui met sur'; that is, 'He that is disposed to have his dog killed, first maketh men believe that he is mad.'(p. 1190)
Foxe's marginal notes sometimes add a prudential twist to material such as William Thorpe's remonstration against clerical aggrandizement: 'Promotions commonly and great livings choke truth' (p. 541). The compiler glosses a description of a martyr with an extraordinarily benign and peaceful character with this note: 'Doves as philosophers naturally do write have no gall' (p. 1297).
Aphorisms and maxims abound in the last words uttered by martyrs prior to being burnt alive. They include some of the most memorable speeches in the collection. When Nicholas Ridley welcomed death with a sententious utterance - 'Well, then, I commit our cause to Almighty God, which shall indifferently judge all' - Hugh Latimer responded with his 'old poesy' (i.e., poem or 'posey' in the sense of motto): 'Well, there is nothing hid but it shall be opened'. It constitutes a variation of the classical maxim of Veritas filia Temporis ('Truth, the daughter of Time'), which affirms that truth will eventually overcome calumny. In the second edition, for example, he ascribed to Hugh Latimer what may be the best-remembered statement in the Book of Martyrs. Of the immolation that he was about to share with Nicholas Ridley in a ditch alongside Oxford Wall, the aged Latimer made the epitaphic utterance: 'Be of good comfort. Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out'. The studied character of this speech is apparent in Foxe's attribution to him of wording that alludes to the dying utterance of St Polycarp, an early Christian martyr whose elderliness mirrored that of Latimer.
In the manner of Hugh Latimer, many martyrs articulated spiritual testaments at the point of death. Thus George Tankerfield followed his last meal, a quasi-eucharistic repast of bread and wine, with the quip that 'although he had a sharp dinner, yet he hoped to have a joyful supper in heaven'. John Bradford bade farewell to the companion with whom he shared a pyre by paraphrasing an eschatological warning from the Sermon on the Mount: 'Strait is the way, and narrow is the gate that leadeth unto life eternal, and few there be that find it'. (Matt. 7:13-14). Remarks that gained considerable fame include John Philpot's apostrophe to the site of his burning northwest of London Wall: 'I will pay my vows to thee, O Smithfield'. When Laurence Saunders arrived at the stake to which he was about to be chained, he embraced and kissed it with the exclamation: 'Welcome the Cross of Christ; Welcome everlasting life'.
Conventions that governed dying words are related to the tradition of the ars moriendi ('art of dying') and the recognizable genre of dying speeches of martyrs. In sometimes attempting to silence martyrs, bailiffs acknowledged the power of final words. The sententiousness of dying speeches accords with the widespread belief that last words should command attention because individuals on the verge of death rarely fail to tell the truth. Indeed, a preface introduced in the 1631-32 edition of the Book of Martyrs declares that 'the most pathetical speeches of dying saints' afford a good means to win the affections of readers or hearers of its stories.' Clement Cotton's Mirror of Martyrs (1613), the most successful early abridgement of the Book of Martyrs, functions to a considerable degree as a collection of 'their prayers and preparations for their last farewell' (Bl) and 'Certain devout prayers, which some of the godly martyrs made at the hour of their death'. (G4). Cotton acknowledges that the frisson associated with these affective declarations combines religious instruction with entertainment.
Jokes, puns and other plays on words often confer a jovial or satirical modulation upon aphoristic language. Medieval antecedents may include a remark attributed to St Laurence, during his supposed roasting on a griddle by Roman persecutors: 'Turn me over; I am done on this side'. When an interrogator inquired whether Elizabeth Folks believed in transubstantiation by asking whether the body of Christ was 'substantially and really' present during the Mass, she delivered a saucy retort suitable to a jest book: 'Yes, I believe it is a real lie, and a substantial lie indeed'. An antipapal quibble on the see of Rome appears not only in the written account of a cobbler who 'renounced the untrue and false colored religion of the Romish sea, wherein many a good man hath been drowned', (p. 1954), but also as a visual figure in the top panel of the woodcut allegory of Edward VI's reign in which the 'Ship of the Romish Church' is about to set sail from England (p. 1294).
Foxe praises Rowland Taylor for witty fortitude in anticipation of death. A marginal note points out his 'jest of death', which provides a widespread moralistic variation of gallows humor. In calling attention to the following 'apothegm', Foxe employs the first recorded instance in the English language of this term for a tersely aphoristic prudential saying:
'I am as you see, a man that hath a great carcass, which I thought should have been buried in Hadleigh churchyard, if I had died in my bed, as I well hoped I should have done: but herein I see I was deceived: and there are a great number of worms in Hadleigh churchyard, which should have had jolly feeding on this carrion, which they have looked for many a day. But now I know we be deceived, both I and they: for this carcass must be burnt to ashes and so shall they lose their bait and feeding, that they looked to have had of it'. (p. 1525)
Calling attention to 'another apothegm of Doctor Taylor', Foxe stresses the martyr's witty anticipation of being burnt alive as a heavenly homecoming: 'Now I know I am almost home. I lack not past two stiles, and I am even at my Father's house'. (p. 1526).
Perhaps the best examples of punning run wild are in correspondence between John Philpot and John Careless. Philpot's wordplay on the name of his correspondent is in keeping with the sobriety of the counsel concerning repentance:
'Since God hath willed you at your baptism in Christ to be Careless, why do you make yourself careful? Cast all your care on him. ... I am careless, being fast closed in a pair of stocks, which pinch me for very straitness: and will you be careful? … Pray, I beseech you, that I may be still careless in my careful estate, as you have cause to be careless in your easier condition. Be thankful and put away all care, and then I shall be joyful in my strait present care'. (p. 1834; emphasis added)
Apologizing for his 'metaphorical speech', Careless informs Philpot that he is 'disposed to be merry' when he alludes to biblical texts in the crafting of soteriological puns in the face of death:
'O my good master Philpot, which art a principal pot indeed, filled with most precious liquor. ... O pot most happy, of thy high potter [i.e., God] ordained to honor, which doest contain such heavenly treasure in thy earthen vessel: O pot thrice happy, in whom Christ hath wrought a great miracle, altering thy nature, and turning water into wine. … When martyrdom shall break thee, O vessel of honor, I know the fragrant savor of thy precious nard will much rejoice the heavy hearts of Christ's true members'. (p. 1921; emphasis added).
One could go on at considerable length in enumerating rhetorical schemes and tropes represented in the Book of Martyrs. Figures such as alliteration played as great a role in vernacular texts that dominate this collection. The reader encounters repeated examples of prosopopoia or personification allegory, as in the case of John Bradford's address to Mother Cambridge in the farewell letter that he directed to fellow graduates. Foxe sounds like a Latin tutor, a position that he once held in the household of the Duchess of Richmond, when he adds glosses that point out a 'hyperbolical phrase of Chrysostom' (p. 1616) or defines the meaning of figures such as metonymy ('a figure, when the name that properly belongeth to one, is improperly transferred to another thing') or synecdoche ('a figure when by one thing or by part, the whole is understanded') when they come into play in heresy examinations or theological controversy (pp. 1106, 1820). The massive presence of rhetorical figures of this kind is in keeping with a vast heterocosm constructed by a learned humanist who had been steeped in classical rhetoric from his earliest years in grammar school.
This introductory essay lodges no claim to evaluate literary aspects of the Book of Martyrs in their totality. Nor does it minimize the extra-literary nature of the majority of treatises, examinations, correspondence, and other documents that it contains. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to ignore the multitude of genres or the rhetorical and poetic coloration of an extraordinary number of its speeches, narratives, and poems. English Protestants of the early modern era readily understood that stories about the pain and suffering of martyrs provided exciting reading that afforded both edification and enjoyment. That the Book of Martyrs has a profound tragicomic and satirical dimension may come as a surprise to many modern readers who think of it simply as a record of religious persecution.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that the experience of many early readers mirrored that of the martyrs themselves, so many of whom claimed that they faced death with cheerful merriment and good humor.