Foxe's treatment of the John Frith martyrdom provided him with the material (Frith's own writings, and those of his critics) to provide an exposition of protestant doctrines on purgatory and transubstantiation, supported by relevant patristic material, within the overall context of a narrative that emphasised his valiant steadfastness, intellectually and physically. The story was somewhat elaborated in the 1570 editions and subsequently, with Frith's beliefs examined in greater detail and the letter 'to his friends' printed in extenso. The story of the martyrdom of Andrew Huet ('Hewet'), who accompanied Frith to the scaffold, provided much less possibility for doctrinal elaboration, but he served to make the point that Frith's doctrines and steadfastness had been persuasive.[Back to Top]
Andrew ChibiUniversity of Leicester
Marginalia1533.AMongest all other chaunces lamētable, there hath bene none a great time semed vnto me more greuous, thē þe lamētable death and punishment of Iohn Fryth so learned and excellent a yong man, who hauing so profited in al kind of learning & knowledge, that skarsly there was his equal amōgst all his companions, and besides that, ioyned suche a godlines of life with his doctrine, that it was harde to iudge, in which behalf he was moste commēdable, being greatly prayse worthy on either parte. But as touchinge his doctrine, by the grace of Christe we will speake hereafter. Howe great godlines there was in hym, may hereby sufficiently appeare. That notwithstāding his great manifold and singular giftes and ornamentes of the minde, which all men in a maner do embrace, wherewithall he might haue opened an easie waye vnto honour and dignitie, notwithstanding he chose rather wholie to consecrate him selfe vnto the church of Christe, excellently shewyng fourth this thing, which hath bene commaunded by many: that the lyfe of many is so geuen vnto them, that howe muche better the man is: so muche the lesse he should liue vnto him selfe, but vnto other, seruing for a common vtilitie, and that we should thinke, a great part of our birth to be dew vnto our parentes, a greater part vnto our countrie, and the greatest parte of all to be bestowed vpon the churche, if we will be counted good men. MarginaliaIohn frith studieth in Mary hal.First of all, he began his study at Oxforde, being brought vp in the schole which is commonly called Mary hall.
Foxe is too ready to place Frith at Oxford. In fact, Frith's education is somewhat of a difficult prospect to uncover with any certainty at all. According to Richard Rex, the traditional orthodoxy (Sevenoaks Grammar - where his tutor was Stephen Gardiner - to Eton to King's College around 1524/5) is problematic. At the very least Frith appears to have been first at Queen's College (c.1523) at least according to J A Venn, before moving on to King's and, subsequently, to Cardinal College (c.1525). All sources placing Frith at King's, however, trace back to the work of the contemporary Tudor chronicler John Bale. Unfortunately, Bale's information (written twenty years after the fact) is not backed up by any contemporary record from King's. Rex's conclusion is that Frith moved directly from Queen's to Cardinal's without ever having studied at King's. It is said that Frith had an aptitude for mathematics but, once in Oxford, his interests in the so-called 'new learning' was inspired by Thomas Bilney, who had founded the so-called 'Little Germany' group at the White Horse Inn (where Frith also encountered Tyndale). It was only following his graduation in 1525 that Frith transferred to Oxford, having been recruited (as a junior or 'petty' canon) as part of Wolsey's efforts to attract new scholars for his own collegiate foundation - Cardinal College. See Herbert Samworth, John Frith: Forging the English Reformation, found on-line at http://www.solagroup.org/articles/historyofthebible/hotb_0011.html.][Back to Top]
This refers to the Abbey of St Frideswide which, along with Wallingford Priory, was suppressed in 1525 to provide the necessary building funds. It is interesting to note that the college was subsequently suppressed in 1531 following the fall from grace of Wolsey and re-founded in 1532 as King Henry VIII's College and re-founded again in 1546 as Christ Church (the seat of the new diocese of Oxford).[Back to Top]
The other men mentioned here are John Taverner and John Clarke. Taverner was recruited (as early as 1524 but declined the offer until 1526) and became the 'Informator Choristarum' (or director of music and instructor of the choristers) - a prestigious position. He is now recognized as one of the most influential musicians of the period and, although later arrested for holding heretical views, his talent saved him from death. For more details on his music, see the biography at http://www.classical.net/ music/comp.lst/taverner.html or the listing in David M Greene, Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers (London, 1985), pp.30-1. John Clarke is a rather more obscure figure, later captured by Bishop Longland and died in prison prior to his scheduled execution for heresy. According to the research of Brian Raynor, several other scholars were recruited at this time, including such men as Richard Cox, John Fryer, Godfrey Harman, William Betts, Henry Sumner, William Baily, Michael Drumm and Thomas Lawney - for which, see Brian Raynor, John Frith: Scholar and Martyr (Peterborough, 2000), p.60].[Back to Top]
Clarke died in the custody of Bishop Longland of Lincoln.
Frith was released from imprisonment in 1528 and spent the next four years travelling Europe, sometimes in the company of William Tyndale. He was, for instance, with Tyndale at Marburg and Antwerp, but Frith also travelled around the centres of Reformed Protestantism (e.g., Basel and Zurich). The influence of Oecolampadius is obvious in his later doctrine.[Back to Top]