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Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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his own eight thick octavo and closely printed volumes. All that can be
done here is to indicate some of the most flagrant instances of the
unfair and uncritical spirit in which he has written, of the
carelessness, wilful misrepresentation, and neglect to rectify errors
pointed out to him, by which the martyrologist has exposed his book to
everlasting reproach. On the death of Foxe's last descendant the
greater part of his MSS. were either given to the annalist, Strype, or
were allowed to remain in his hands till his death in 1737, when many
of them were purchased by Lord Oxford for the Harleian collection now
in the British Museum. A few of them found a refuge in the Lansdowne
Library, and these also are now in the possession of the nation. They
include a mass of heterogeneous documents of the most unequal value and
interest - such as the stories, often palpably coloured, of persons who
profess to have been eye-witnesses of the scenes depicted, minutes of
the examinations of prisoners, apparently taken down on the spot, wild
statements written with the obvious purpose of pandering to Puritan
intolerance and prejudice, and fantastic tales of the martyrologist's
supposed judgments of God upon those who persecuted the followers of
the reformed doctrines. They include also several counter-statements
sent to Foxe for the express purpose of giving him an opportunity to
correct portions of his work, but of which, although he preserved them,
he never made any use. Some of these latter have been utilised by Gough
in his Narratives of the Days of the Reformation.

In his preface to this book, Gough admits,* as indeed he was obliged to
admit that, "as a general history of the Church in its earlier ages,
Foxes work has been shown to be partial and prejudiced in spirit,
imperfect and inaccurate in execution," and Leach** asserts that, while
its compiler had recourse to some early documents, even here he
depended largely on printed works, such as Crespin's Actiones et
Monuments Martyrum, which was published at Geneva in 1560. He notes,
moreover, that Foxes chapter on the Waldenses is nothing but a
translation of the untrustworthy Catalogus Testium Veritatis, published
at Basle by Illyricus in 1556, although Foxe himself does not
acknowledge Illyricus as his authority, but claims to have consulted
"parchment documents," which he only knew from the transcriptions in
that book. "It has been conclusively shown," says Mr. Sidney Lee in the
Dictionary of National Biography, "that his chapter on the Waldenses is
directly translated from the Catalogus of Illyricus, although Illyricus
is not mentioned by Foxe among the authorities whom he acknowledges to
have consulted . . . . This indicates a loose notion of literary
morality which justifies some of the harshest judgments passed on Foxe."

* P. 23, edited by the Camden Society.

** Sir George Croke's Reports, edited by Thomas Leach, ii. 91. London,
1790-92.


Matthias Flach-Franconitz, better known as Flacius Illyricus, from the
place of his birth (in Istria, a part of Illyria) was a voluminous
writer on most of the controverted doctrines in the sixteenth century.
Having become a disciple of Luther he was for ever raising fresh
disputes on religious subjects, and was noted for the violence and
exaggeration he brought into their discussion, so that, according to a
German historian, "he seemed to have been created for an ecclesiastical
Procurator General." On his death in 1575, Jacques Andreas, one of his
friends, admitted that, taken altogether, his Illyricus was the devil's
Illyricus, and that, in the opinion of Andreas, he was then "supping
with devils."*

* Hoefer, Nouvelle Biogaphie Generale, Art, Flach-Franconitz Matthias.


Such then being Foxe's authority, although unacknowledged, for his
Waldensian chapter, we can scarcely expect him to be more conscientious
in his evidence concerning matters closely connected with the passions,
prejudices, and burning questions of his own day.

Nearly, if not quite all the material for that part of the Acts and
Monuments which deals with the reign of Mary was collected by others
for Foxe and Grindal during their absence from England. Grindal handed
over to Foxe the accounts of the various prosecutions for heresy sent
to him by his correspondents at home, taking care, however, at the same
time to warn the martyrologist against placing too much confidence in
them, he himself suspending his judgment "till more satisfactory
evidence came from good hands." He advised him for the present, only to
print separately the acts of particular persons of whom they had
authentic accounts and to wait for a larger and more complete history
until they had trustworthy information concerning the "martyrs."* The
letters, which Grindal wrote to Foxe on this subject in 1557, were
published by the Parker Society, in Grindal's Remains, and show that
the future archbishop believed not too implicitly in the truth of all
the stories which he passed on to his friend. He constantly urged him
to delay writing in order to gain "more certain intelligence." But the
careful investigation which he recommended did not fall in with the
particular genius and uncritical methods of Foxe, who, perhaps on
account of his necessitous condition, worked away with a will on the
unsifted tales and reports as they came to hand, so that the book in
its Latin form was completed, almost to the end of the reign of Mary,
and was published at Basle, before his return to England in 1559. He
afterwards made an English translation of the work, but without seeing
fit to revise his material. It bore the title Acts and Monuments, but
it was at once popularly styled the Book of Martyrs. When he was
attacked by Alan Cope (Nicholas Harpsfield) for his inaccuracy, Foxe
replied: "I hear what you will say: I should have taken more leisure
and done it better. I grant and confess my fault, such is my vice, I
cannot sit all the day (Moister Cope) fining and mincing my letters,
and combing my head, and smoothing myself all the day at the glass of
Cicero. Yet, notwithstanding, doing what I can, and doing my good will,
methinks I should not be reprehended, at least not so much be railed of
at M. Copes hand."**

* Strype, Life of Archbishop Grindal, p. 25.

** Acts and Monuments, i. 69 1. Edited 1570.


But it is not for his want of scholarly writing that Foxe has been
blamed. Father Robert Persons, in his Three Conversions of England,*
begins one of his chapters with "a note of more than a hundred and
twenty lies uttered by John Foxe, in less than three leaves of his Acts
and Monuments," and he proceeds to point them out, beginning with the
misstatement concerning John Merbeck and some others, whom Foxe counts
among the martyrs, although they were never burned at all. As, in
consequence of Father Persons' remarks concerning John Merbeck, Foxe
acknowledged the error in his second edition, we may hold him excused
thus far, but his delinquencies in this respect were by no means
unfrequent, and gave rise to the saying that "many who were burnt in
the reign of Queen Mary, drank sack in the reign of Queen Elizabeth."**

* Quoted in Fuller's Worthies, under "Berkshire," p. 92.

*Part iii., p. 412."


Two similar misstatements, which he was in a position to correct and
did not, relate to the supposed death by the vengeance of God, of Henry
Morgan, Bishop of St. David's, and of one Grimwood, another "notorious
Papist."

Anthony a Wood, the famous antiquary and historian, who wrote his
History of the Antiquities of Oxford about a hundred years after Foxe
had become celebrated as a martyrologist, and who in his youth spoke
with people who remembered the days of persecution under Mary, tells us
that: -

"Henry Morgan was esteemed a most admirable civilian and canonist; he
was for several years the constant Moderator of all those that
performed exercise for their degrees in the civil law in the scholar
schools, hall and church pertaining to that faculty, situated also in
the same parish . . . . He was elected Bishop of St. David's, upon the
deprivation of Robert Ferrar . . . . In that see he sate till after
Queen Elizabeth came to the Crown, and then being deprived . . .
retired among his friends, and died a devoted son to the Church of
Rome, on the 23rd of December following (1559) of whose death, hear I
pray what John Foxe saith in this manner: Morgan, bishop of St.
David's, who sate upon the condemnation of the blessed Martyr and
Bishop Ferrar, and unjustly usurped his room, was not long after
stricken by God's hand, but after such a strange sort, that his meat
would not go down, but rise and pick up again, sometimes at his mouth,
sometimes blown out of his nose, most horrible to behold, and so he
continued till his death. Thus Foxe, followed by Thomas Beard in his
Theatre of God's Judgments. But where or when his death happened, they
tell us not, nor any author hitherto, only when, which Bishop Godwin
mentions. Now, therefore, be pleased to know that the said Bishop
Morgan, retiring after his deprivation to and near Oxen, where he had
several relations and acquaintance living, particularly the Owens of
Godstow, in the parish of Wolvercote, near to the said city, did spend
the little remainder of his life in great devotion at Godstow, but that
he died in the condition which Foxe mentions there is no tradition
among the inhabitants of Wolvercote. True it is that I have heard some
discourse, many years ago, from some of the ancients of that place,
that a certain bishop did live for some time, and exercised his charity
and religious counsel among them, and there died; but I could never
learn anything of them of the manner of his death, which being very
miserable, as John Foxe saith, methinks that they should have a
tradition of it, as well as of the man himself; but I say there is now
none, nor was there any thirty years ago, among the most aged persons
then living at that place, and therefore, whether there be anything of
truth in it may justly be doubted."

The evidence of this negative tradition is certainly more convincing,
than Foxes unsupported allegation of a circumstance, as unlikely to
have occurred, as it was likely to be concocted by a man of his
propensity and unscrupulousness. If, however, there should be any doubt
of Foxes ability to concoct such a story, it will perhaps be removed by
the history of the drastic refutation, which befell the similar story
of the end of Grimwood. This, Anthony a Wood proceeds to record in a
passage immediately after the one above quoted.

"In the very same chapter and leaf concerning the severe punishment
upon persecutors of God's People, he hath committed a most egregious
falsity in reporting that one Grimwood, of Higham, in Suffolk, died in
a miserable manner, for swearing and bearing false witness against one
John Cooper, a carpenter of Watsam in the same county, for which he
lost his life. The miserable death of the said Grimwood was, as John
Foxe saith thus: That WHEN HE WAS IN HIS LABOUR, STAKING UP A GOSSE OF
CORN, HAVING HIS HEALTH, AND FEARING NO PERIL, SUDDENLY HIS BOWELS FELL
OUT OF HIS BODY, AND IMMEDIATELY MOST MISERABLY HE DIED. Now it so fell
out that in the reign of Elizabeth, one Prit* became parson of the
parish where the said Grimwood dwelt, and preaching against perjury,
being not acquainted with his parishioners, cited the said story of
Foxe, and it happened that Grimwood being alive, and in the said
church, he brought an action upon the case, against the parson, but
Judge Anderson, who sate at the Assizes in the county of Suffolk, did
adjudge it not maintainable, because it was not spoken maliciously."**

* Or Prick.

** Anthony d Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis, vol. i., p. 691.


That the action was not maintainable on the ground of malice, as
against the parson, may have been true, but Foxe cannot reasonably be
acquitted, for although he went into Suffolk professedly to investigate
the matter, he never made any alteration in his story in subsequent
editions, and the very latest impression of the Acts and Monuments
perpetuates the lie and slander.

Thirty years after the death of Sir Thomas More, Foxe undertook to
collect all the traditional gossip afloat concerning the Chancellor's
alleged treatment of John Tewkesbury and James Bainham, for heresy.
Tewkesbury was a leather-seller of London, and Foxe says that he was
sent to Sir Thomas Mores house at Chelsea to be examined, and that
"there he lay in the porter's lodge, hand, foot, and head in the
stocks, six days without release. Then was he carried to Jesus' Tree in
his privy garden, where he was whipped, and also twisted in his brows
with a small rope, that the blood started out of his eyes, and yet
would not accuse no man. Then was he let loose for a day, and his
friends thought to have him at liberty the next day. After this he was
sent to be racked in the Tower, till he was almost lame, and there
promised to recant.*

* Acts and Monuments, vol. iv., p. 689; Pratt's ed.


The truth of the matter was, however, that as Tewkesbury was examined
for the first time on the 8th May 1529, and immediately afterwards
recanted, the event occurred several months before Sir Thomas More
became Lord Chancellor; and therewith falls to the ground the story of
Tewkesbury's being tortured in Mores garden, the punishment of heretics
being part of the Lord Chancellor's office.

James Bainham was a lawyer, and Foxe declares that he was whipped at
the Tree of Truth in Mores garden, and was then sent to the Tower to be
racked, "and so he was, Sir Thomas More being present himself, till in
a manner he had lamed him." Bainham, like Tewkesbury, recanted, and
both of them bewailed and retracted their recantations, first before
their friends in a Protestant gathering in Bow Lane, and afterwards in
a Catholic Church, in consequence of which, according to Foxe, both
were burned. But a part of what Foxe wrote about Tewkesbury in one
edition of the Acts and Monuments he omitted in another, patching it on
to Bainham's story, thus stultifying himself as regards both stories,*
and affording us another signal illustration of the irresponsible and
unscrupulous way in which he could deal with evidence.

* Vol. iv., p. 702; and Appendix, p. 769; Pratt's ed.


He further attributed to More the death of John Frith, who suffered
death in 1533, a year after Sir Thomas had laid down his office,
although in his Apology, the exchancellor referred to Frith as being
then in the Tower, not committed by him but by "the King's Grace and
his Council."*

* Apology, p. 887.


Foxe might easily, had he been so inclined, have verified these things
by reference to the thirty-sixth chapter of the above-mentioned
Apology, in which More answered the lies "neither few nor small that
many of the blessed brethren have made and daily yet make by me." He
goes on to say: -

"Divers of them have said that of such as were in my house while I was
chancellor, I used to examine them with torments, causing them to be
bound to a tree in my garden, and there piteously beaten. And this tale
had some of those brethren so caused to be blown about, that a right
worshipful friend of mine did of late, within less than this fortnight,
tell unto another near friend of mine that he had of late heard much
speaking thereof. What cannot these brethren say that can be so
shameless to say thus? For of very truth, albeit that for a great
robbery, or a heinous murder, or sacrilege in a church, with carrying
away the pix with the Blessed Sacrament, or villainously casting it
out, I caused sometimes such things to be done by some officers of the
Marshalsea, or of some other prisons, with which ordering of them, and
without any great hurt that afterwards should stick by them, I found
out and repressed many such desperate wretches, as else had not failed
to have gone farther; yet saving the sure keeping of heretics, I never
did cause any such thing to be done to any of them in all my life
except only twain."

Of these two instances he first records one relating to a child who was
a servant in his house. The boy's father had taught him "his ungracious
heresy against the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar," which heresy the
boy began to teach another child in Mores house. Thereupon, More caused
a servant of his "to stripe him like a child" before the whole
household, "for amendment of himself and example of such others." The
other case was that of a man who, "after that he had fallen into that
frantic heresy, fell soon after into plain open frenzy besides." The
man was confined in Bedlam, and when discharged went about disturbing
public service in churches, and committing acts of great indecency.
Devout, religious folk besought the Chancellor to restrain him, and
accordingly, one day when he came wandering by Mores door, he caused
him to be taken by the constables, bound to a tree in the street before
the whole town, "and there they striped him with rods till he waxed
weary, and somewhat longer." More ends by saying, "And verily, God be
thanked, I hear none harm of him now. And of all that ever came in my
hands for heresy, as help me God, saving [as I said] the sure keeping
of them, had never any of them stripe or stroke given them, so much as
a fillip on the forehead."

He then goes on to disprove the truth of a story spread about by
Tindal, concerning the beating in his garden of a man named Segar. This
story Foxe evidently confused with the fable of Tewkesbury, which thus
completely crumbles to pieces; for as Sir James Mackintosh in his Life
of More says:

"This statement [More's Apology] so minute, so easily contradicted if
in any part false, was made public after his fall from power, when he
was surrounded by enemies, and could have no friends but the generous.
He relates circumstances of public notoriety, or at least so known to
all his household, which it would have been rather a proof of insanity
than of imprudence to have alleged in his defence if they had not been
indisputably and confessedly true . . . Defenceless and obnoxious as
More then was, no man was hardy enough to dispute his truth. Foxe was
the first, who, thirty years afterwards, ventured to oppose it in a
vague statement, which we know to be in some respects inaccurate." *

* Pp. 101, 105.


The story of the death of Robert Packington, mercer, of London, has
also provided Foxe with fertile soil for raising his usual crop of
calumny. The man was shot dead one very misty morning, in Cheapside,
according to most chroniclers in 1556, Foxe says in 1558, as he was
crossing the road from his house to a church on the opposite side,
where he intended to hear Mass. Many persons were suspected of the
murder, but none were found guilty. Hall, Grafton, and Bale all tell
the story, but the martyrologist added thereto an accusation against an
innocent person, which, although satisfactorily refuted by Holinshed,
remains in the pages of the Acts and Monuments to this day. Foxe says: -

"The murtherer so covertly was concealed, till at length by the
confession of Doctor Incent, Dean of St. Paul's, in his deathbed it was
known, and by him confessed that he was the author thereof, by hiring
an Italian for sixty crowns or thereabouts to do the feat. For the
testimony whereof, and also of the repentant words of the said Incent,
the names, both of them which heard him confess it, and of them which
heard the witnesses report it, remains yet in memory to be produced if
need required."*

* P. 525, edited 1563.


But Holinshed, a far more credible witness tells us that: -

"At length the murtherer indeed was condemned at Banbury, in
Oxfordshire, to die for a felony which he afterwards committed; and
when he came to the gallows in which he suffered, he confessed that he
did this murther [that of Robert Packington], and till that time he was
never had in any suspicion thereof."*

* Chronicle, fol. ed., 1586, p. 944. Answer to Foxes assertion. Also
Appendix to Gough's Narratives, pp. 296, 297.


There is another class of anecdote in the Acts and Monuments, the
errors of which do not lie so much in the facts of the story as in the
oblique vision of Foxe himself, in regarding the dramatis personae, as
heroes. Thus, a madman named Collins, who, entering a church during
Mass, seized his dog at the Elevation, and held it over his head,
showing it to the people in derision, is accounted "as one belonging to
the holy company of saints."*

* Acts and Monuments, vol. v., p. 25; Pratt's ed.


Cowbridge, who was burned at Oxford, was one who would in these days be
called a criminal lunatic, but Foxe regarded him as a holy martyr. The
horrible story of the " martyrdom " of three women of Guernsey rests
entirely on Foxes authority. It was immediately contradicted. Foxe
replied, and Father Persons refuted his reply. It transpired on
investigation that all three women were hanged as thieves, their bodies
being afterwards burned; one of them had led an openly immoral life.

Machyn and Wriothesley chronicle an outbreak of fanaticism on Easter
Sunday 1555. An ex-monk named Flower rushed into St. Margaret's Church,
Westminster, while the priest, Sir John Sleuther, was administering
Communion to his parishioners. Foxe tells the tale succinctly: -

"The said Flower, upon Easter Day last past, drew his wood knife, and
strake the priest upon the head, hand, and arm, who being wounded
therewith, and having a chalice with consecrated hosts therein in his
hand, they were sprinkled with the said priest's blood."*

* Ibid. vol. vii., p. 75.


The only mistake which Foxe here makes is in saying that the priest was
Sir John Cheltham. The would-be assassin harangued his victim before
dealing the blow, and then struck home so forcibly that the priest fell
as if dead. A tumult arose, the multitude thinking that the Spaniards
were attacking them. Flower was apprehended, tried, and burned for
heresy and sedition, on the spot now called the Broad Sanctuary. His
claim to swell Foxe's calendar of "martyrs" rests solely on the motive
of his murderous assault, namely, outrage of the Blessed Sacrament.

Another martyr of Flower's kidney was William Gardiner, who was living
at Lisbon in 1552 as agent of an English mercantile house.

Foxe describes his exploits and the consequences thereof as "The
history, no less lamentable than notable, of William Gardiner, an
Englishman suffering most constantly in Portugal for the testimony of
Gods truth." Gardiner's admiring biographer relates that his hero twice
entered a church (probably Lisbon Cathedral) with intent to do some
notable thing in the king's sight and presence. The first time was on
the occasion of a royal marriage, but the throng was so great that he
could not get near the altar. However, on the following Sunday, "the
said William was present early in the morning, very cleanly apparelled,
even of purpose, that he might stand near the altar without repulse.
Within a while cometh the king with all his nobles. Then Gardiner
setteth himself as near the altar as he might, having a Testament in
his hand, which he diligently read upon and prayed, until the time was
come that he had appointed to work his feat." This time was just before
the Communion of the priest, who was the Cardinal Archbishop of Lisbon.
Gardiner sprang forward, snatched the consecrated Host from his hand,
trod it underfoot, and overturned the chalice. The first effect of this
outrage was to strike the clergy and congregation dumb with amazement,
horror, and consternation. In Foxe's words, "this matter at first made
them all abashed." But on recovering their senses, the people gave vent
to their indignation in shouts and cries of vengeance. A dagger was
drawn, and Gardiner was wounded in the shoulder. The man who struck him
was about to deal another blow, when he was prevented by the king
himself. Gardiner thereupon, being in the hands of the guards,
impudently harangued the people, and told them that "if he had done
anything which were displeasant unto them, they ought to impute it unto
no man but unto themselves, who so irreverently used the Holy Supper of
the Lord unto so great idolatry, not without great ignominy unto the
church, violation of the sacrament, and the peril of their own souls,
except they repented."

The Portuguese, entirely inexperienced in this kind of fanaticism,
thought that Gardiner must be a political agent, with designs on the
safety of the realm. As he would confess nothing of this sort, they put
him on the rack, in order to extract from him secrets of a seditious


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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 20 of 28)