Oxford £9.99 (332pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Edited by John N King
Friday 06 March 2009
In 1682, a bizarre amendment was added to an inscription on the Monument of the Great Fire of London: "Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched." A major reason for the protracted anti-Catholicism in England is Foxe's Book of Martyrs, described by its editor as a work exerting "a greater influence upon the consciousness of early modern England... than any other [aside from the Bible and the Common Prayer".
Devoted to vivid accounts of persecution of Protestants during the reign of Mary I, this potent work grew massively in scale in the four editions issued by John Foxe between 1563 and 1584. Commencing with 1.9 million words, it grew to 3.8 million words, five times the length of the Bible. The power of this massive accumulation of heresy hunts, trials and executions was due to the graphic and persuasive vividness of Foxe's narratives. Details range from the celebrated account of Latimer at the stake ("We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England, as shall never be put out") to a description of the hacked-up body of a Chelmsford martyr "upon the fish-stalls before his door".
A profoundly horrible example of "Herodian cruelty" involving a pregnant Protestant and her unborn child is remembered to this day on Guernsey. With eye-popping illustrations as compelling as the text, this marriage of journalism and indoctrination remains a template for propaganda.
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