J.M. Stone.

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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nature. At length, as it was clear that heresy and sacrilege were the
crimes in which he exulted, they burned him as a heretic, he
maintaining, according to Foxe, his "godly mind" to the end, declaring
even in the flames that "he had done nothing whereof he did repent

*Acts and Monuments, vi. 277; Cattley's ed.

Foxe incidently bears witness to the edifying manner in which the
Portuguese assisted at Mass, the people standing "with great devotion
and silence, praying, looking, kneeling, and knocking [beating their
breasts in token of compunction], their minds being fully bent and set,
as it is the manner, upon the external sacrament."*

* Ibid.

The story of Bertrand Le Blas, the silk-weaver of Dornick who
signalised himself in the same riotous manner in 1555, is said to have
ended in the same way, Le Blas declaring "that if it were a thousand
times to be done he would do it; and if he had a thousand lives he
would give them all in that quarrel."*

* Acts and Monuments, vi. 393.

But these are all ex pane statements of Foxe. He is thinking of nothing
but of pointing his own particular moral and of adorning his own tale.
Historically, his evidence is valueless unless supported by more
careful witnesses. He professes to chronicle the martyrdom at Newent,
on the 25th September 1556, of "John Horne and a woman"; but Deighton,
a friendly critic, pointed out that this story was nothing more or less
than an amplification of the burning of Edward Horne, which Foxe had
already recorded as having taken place on the 25th September 1558, and
that no woman suffered at either of these times. Such instances might
be pointed out ad infinitum.

The detestation in which most Englishmen hold the names of Stephen
Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and of Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London,
is entirely owing to Foxe's calumnies.

Although Gardiner had been deprived of his see for his belief in
Transubstantiation in Edward's reign, and had been sent to the Tower by
a court presided over by Cranmer, it is certain that he bore the
archbishop no ill-will, but even did his best to save Cranmer's life
and that of the other reformers who refused to conform to the old
religion which Mary had brought back. It was his duty as chancellor to
enforce the law of the land, in the matter of exterminating heresy, as
in all else, but he only once sat on a commission, gave Cranmer ample
opportunity to escape if he had so minded, furnished Peter Martyr with
funds to take him abroad, shielded Thomas Smith, King Edward's
secretary, from persecution on account of his heretical opinions, and
even allowed him a yearly pension of 100 pounds for his support.* Of
Gardiner's kindness to Roger Ascham, the latter said, "Stephen, Bishop
of Winchester, High Chancellor of England, treated me with the utmost
humanity and favour, so that I cannot easily decide whether Paget was
more ready to commend me or Winchester to protect and benefit me; there
were not wanting some, who, on the ground of religion, attempted to
stop the flow of his benevolence towards me, but to no purpose. I owe
very much to the humanity of Winchester, and not only I, but many
others also have experienced his kindness."**

* Dictionary of National Biography, article, "Stephen Gardiner."

** Epis. p. 51; Oxford ed., 1703.

One of the "many others" was John Frith, whom Gardiner did his best to
save from a painful death;* and even Northumberland would have escaped
had Gardiner's voice prevailed in the council. Again, Gardiner's
patriotism prompted him to oppose boldly the project of the queen's
marriage with Philip of Spain, seeing that it was distasteful to the
bulk of the nation; yet, when he recognised that it was inevitable, he
did his best to make it more popular.

* Grenville, MS. 11,990; Letters and papers, 6,600.

For some reason known doubtless to himself, but quite unknown to
history, the martyrologist represents Gardiner as keenly desirous to
hear that the sentence passed on Latimer and Ridley had been carried
out. He says: -

"The same day, when Bishop Ridley and Master Latimer suffered at Oxford
[being about the 19 day of October], there came into the house of
Stephen Gardiner the old Duke of Norfolk, with the foresaid Master
Munday, his secretary, above named reporter hereof. The old aged duke,
there waiting and tarrying for his dinner, the bishop being not yet
disposed to dine, deferred the time to three or four o'clock at
afternoon. At length about four of the clock cometh his servant,
posting in all possible speed from Oxford, bringing intelligence to the
bishop what he had heard and seen; of whom the said bishop, inquiring
the truth of the matter, and learning by his man that fire most
certainly was set unto them, cometh out rejoicing to the duke. "Now,"
saith he, "let us go to dinner." Whereupon they being set down, meat
immediately was brought, and the bishop began merrily to eat. But what
followed? The bloody tyrant had not eaten a few bits, but the sudden
stroke of God's terrible hand fell upon him in such sort, as
immediately he was taken from the table, and so brought to his bed in
such intolerable anguish and torments, that . . . whereby his body
being miserably inflamed within (who had inflamed so many good martyrs
before) was brought to a miserable end."

Foxe relates this story at third hand, as was his wont, but it fitted
in so admirably with his favourite theory in regard to the temporal
judgments of God on miscreants - and Gardiner to his way of thinking was
certainly a miscreant of the first rank - that he could not afford to be
fastidious as to its veracity. For he must surely have known that "the
old Duke of Norfolk could not have dined with Gardiner on or about the
19th October 1555, having been in his grave since August 1553; and as
for "the sudden stroke of God's terrible hand," by which the Bishop of
Winchester was "brought to a miserable end," the following extract from
a letter of the Venetian ambassador, resident in England, to the Doge
and Senate, written on the 16th September 1555, gives a totally
different account of the illness from which Gardiner died on the 12th
November: -

"After the chancellor's return from the conference at Calais," writes
the Venetian chronicler of current events, "he fell into such a state
of appilation [sic] that besides having become [as the physicians say]
jaundiced, he by degrees got confirmed dropsy, and had it not been for
his robust constitution, a variety of remedies prescribed for him by
the English physicians having been of no use, he would by this time be
in a bad way, his physiognomy being so changed as to astound all who
see him. The Emperor had sent him the remedy he used when first
troubled with dropsical symptoms, on his return from the war of Metz,
which remedy cured him, and should God grant that it take the same
effect on the Bishop of Winchester, it will be very advantageous for
England, he being considered one of the most consummate chancellors who
have filled the post for many years, and should he die, he would leave
few or none so well suited to the charge as himself."*

* Giovanni Michiel to the Doge and Senate, Calendar of State Papers,
Venetian, vol. vi., part. i., 215; edited by Rawdon Brown.

On the 21st October, the queen opened Parliament in person, and
Gardiner mortally ill, rose from the bed to which he had been for weeks
confined, in order to introduce a Bill for the granting of much needed
supplies to the Crown. Michiel, the Venetian envoy, continuing his
letter says: -

"After the Mass of the Holy Ghost, sung by the Bishop of Ely, and the
sermon preached by the Bishop of Lincoln, her Majesty proceeded into
the great hall, where, in the presence of all those officially
summoned, the Lord Chancellor, having rallied a little, choosing at
anyrate to be there, in order not to fail performing his office on this
occasion, made the usual proposal, stating the cause for assembling
Parliament, which was in short solely for the purpose of obtaining
pecuniary supply."

Mary had succeeded to a treasury rich only in debt, and her need of
money to carry on the government was urgent. Gardiner made a long and
effective speech, the result of which was, that Parliament at once
voted a million of gold to be levied in two years from the laity, in
four from the clergy. But exhausted by his effort, and so weak that he
was unable to return to his own house, the dying chancellor was
accommodated at Whitehall where he met his end peacefully three weeks
later. He desired during his last days that the Passion of our Lord
Jesus Christ might be read to him, and when the reader came to the
contrition of St. Peter, Gardiner exclaimed, "Negavi cum Petro, exivi
cum Petro, sed nondum flevi amare cum Petro!" alluding to his weakness
and fall in Henry VIII's reign.*

* Wardword, 43; Lingard, History of Fn,-land, vol. v., p. 243, note,
6th ed.

The view which Foxe presents of Bonner, Bishop of London, in the
administration of his office, is as distorted and malicious as his
libellous picture of Gardiner. The pages of the Acts and Monuments,
which describe Bonner's examination of those brought before him on
charges of heresy, teem with such picturesque epithets as "this bloody
wolf," the "Bishop was in a marvellous rage" or "in a great fury," but
when we read what Bonner really said, we find nothing to justify these
exaggerated expressions.

On one occasion, when Bonner was supposed by the martyrologist to be in
such "a raging heat" that he appeared "as one clean void of humanity,"
we read on, expecting to find some brutal and heartless words whereby
he crushed the meek spirit of the martyr before him. The scene was
Cranmer's degradation at Oxford, with which solemn and painful act
Bonner was charged; but the strongest words used by the bishop in
answer to Cranmer's continued protests and recriminations were,
according to Foxe himself, merely that " for his inordinate contumacy,
he denied him to speak any more, saying that he had used himself very

* Acts and Monuments vol v., p 765; Cattley's ed.

By Foxe's own showing, when brought before the bishops, the "marytrs"
frequently twitted their judges, gave them homethrusts and "privy
nips," and behaved themselves generally in a very provocative and
irritating manner. It is surprising, nevertheless, to find how very
seldom the examiners lost their tempers, bearing with a considerable
amount of insolence in a singularly good-humoured spirit, doing their
best to give the accused a chance of escape. Of the six who came under
Bonner's examination on the 8th February 1555, Foxe affirms that the
Bishop of London sentenced them the day after they were charged, and
killed them out of hand without mercy, "such quick speed these men
could make in dispatching their business at once" - a terrible
indictment if there were a shadow of truth in it. But Bonner not only
knew all about the six heretics long before the 8th February, three of
them having been in prison for months, where he had again and again
reasoned with them; but after sentence had been passed, an interval of
five weeks was the shortest respite granted to them for reflection
before any one of them was executed. The others suffered consecutively
on the 26th, 28th, and 29th March, the last of the six on the 10th June.

With as little regard for truth did Foxe pen the remarkable distich,
which well served his purpose of villifying Bonner in the minds of his
confiding and credulous readers: -

This cannibal in three years' space three hundred martyrs slew,
They were his food, he loved so blood, he spared none he knew."

Lingard estimates that about two hundred persons suffered for their
religious opinions during the reign of Mary. The fact is no doubt an
appalling one, and horrifies us with a sense of the barbarism that
prevailed so recently as three and a half centuries ago in England. But
when we consider the outrages of which numbers of them were guilty, the
danger which they constituted to the realm, we cannot help agreeing
with Cobbett when he says that "the real truth about these martyrs is
that they were generally a set of most wicked wretches who sought to
destroy the queen and her government, and under the pretence of
conscience and superior piety, to obtain the means of again preying
upon the people."*

* History of the Reformation, edited by Abbot Gasquet, p. 207.

Moreover, portentous as the numbers appear to us, they are small
compared with those which represented Henry's ruthless severity after
the Northern Rising, when the whole country was covered with gibbets,
and with those of Elizabeth's victims who were hanged, cut down alive,
drawn and quartered, for practising the religion that had been taught
in England since it was a Christian country. Nor did the persecution of
Catholics cease at the death of Elizabeth, and the reigns of the Stuart
kings, the Commonwealth, and even the Hanoverian regime testify to the
cruel insistance with which Catholic priests were hunted to death, and
the Catholic laity imprisoned and impoverished for their loyalty to the
oldest faith of Christendom.

Bonner had had nothing whatever to do with the revival of the statute
De Heresia, but good or bad, it was the law of the land, and he could
no more help sitting on the bench in his own diocese to examine
offences against it, than could any other judge refuse to sit in any
court over which he had jurisdiction. Of the two hundred who were
condemned on this statute during Mary's reign, about one hundred and
twenty were sent to Bonner's court for judgment, the city of London
being the centre and hot-bed of the new, revolutionary doctrines. Thus,
Foxe's assertion that "this cannibal three hundred martyrs slew," must
be reduced to nearly onethird of that number. His supposed thirst for
blood was also as much a lie as that other figment of the
martyrologist's brain which represented both Gardiner and Bonner as
having a violent personal grudge against those who were brought before
them for examination. Bonner, as well as Gardiner, laboured, and not
unsuccessfully in many instances, in causing heretics to recant, upon
which they were restored to liberty.

A striking yet dispassionate portrait of Edmund Bonner, from the pen of
the late Dr. S. R. Maitland, one of the most scholarly and painstaking
historians of the last century, forms a vivid contrast to Foxe's
caricature of the Bishop of London.

"Setting aside DECLAMATION, and looking at the DETAILS OF FACTS left by
those who may be called, if people please, Bonner's victims and their
friends, we find very consistently maintained the character of a man,
straightforward and hearty, familiar and humorous, sometimes rough,
perhaps coarse, naturally hot-tempered, but obviously [by the testimony
of his enemies] placable and easily entreated, capable of bearing most
patiently intemperate and violent language, much reviling and low abuse
directed against himself personally, against his order, and against
those peculiar doctrines and practices of his church, for maintaining
which he had himself suffered the loss of all things, and borne long
imprisonment. At the same time, not incapable of being provoked into
saying harsh and passionate things, but much more frequently meaning
nothing by the threatenings and slaughter which he breathed out, than
to intimidate those on whose ignorance and simplicity, argument seemed
to be thrown away; in short, we can scarcely read with attention any
one of the cases detailed by those who were no friends of Bonner,
without seeing in him a judge who [even if we grant that he was
dispensing bad laws badly] was obviously desirous to save the
prisoner's life."*

* Essays on Subjects connected with the Reformation, by S. R. Maitland,
D.D., F.R.S., F.S.A., sometime librarian and keeper of the MSS. at
Lambeth, p. 423.

We have disposed at some length elsewhere of Foxe's shameless calumny
of Sir Henry Bedingfeld, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, and
custodian of the Princess Elizabeth at Woodstock when she was suspected
of connivance in Wyatt's rebellion. In espousing Elizabeth's cause, and
in casting aspersions on one who was responsible for her safe custody,
Foxe was but following his general plan of campaign, the not very
subtle plan of representing all those of his own party to be saints and
martyrs, the enemy deserving every abusive term that came to his facile
pen. This simple method attained its object probably beyond the wildest
dreams of its author. All along the ages the Protestant world has
believed implicitly in the fables invented by Foxe, and even in these
days of critical analysis, although innumerable experts have given him
the lie, the effect of his calumnies remain in the deeply rooted
prejudice of the nation.* Moreover, like every other succes de
scandale, the book brought a rich harvest to its author. He was almost
penniless when he returned to England in 1559, but the English version
of his work, first published in 1563, made his fortune. The Catholics
called it derisively Foxe's Golden Legend. In 1570 a second edition was
printed in two volumes folio, and Convocation decreed that the book,
designated by the canon as Monumenta Martyrum, should be placed in
cathedral churches, and in the houses of the great ecclesiastical
dignitaries. This decree, although never confirmed by parliament, was
so much in accordance with the Puritan tone of the whole Church of
England at that time, that even parish churches far and wide were
furnished with copies of the work, chained side by side with the Bible.
In the vestry minutes of St. Michael's Church, Cornhill, of 11th
January 1571-72, it is ordered "that the booke of Martyrs of Mr. Foxe,
and the paraphrases [of the gospel] of Erasmus [pace Erasmus] shalbe
bowght for the church and tyed with a chain to the Egle bras." A few
years ago, mutilated copies of the Acts and Monuments might still be
seen chained in the parish churches of Apethorpe (Northamptonshire),
Arreton (Isle of Wight), Chelsea, Eustone (Oxfordshire), Kniver
(Staffordshire), Lussingham (Norfolk), Stratford-on-Avon,
(Warwickshire) Waltham, St. Cuthbert (Wells);** also in that of
Lutterworth and many other places. At Cheddar not very long ago was a
great black-letter copy of the Acts and Monuments chained to the
reading desk, and it is stated in the Life of Lord Macaulay that as a
child, the sight of it used to fascinate him as he sat on Sunday
afternoons in the family pew, longing to get at the bewitching pages.

* The late Dr. Littledale lecturing at Liverpool on Innovations in 1868
said: "Two mendacious partizans, the infamous Foxe and the not much
more respectable Burnet have so overlaid all the history of the
Reformation with falsehood, that it has been well-nigh impossible for
readers to get at the facts," p. 16. And later on he refers to the Book
of Martyrs as "that magazine of lying bigotry," p. 21.

** Dictionary of National Biography, article "John Foxe,"

No more potent means could have been devised for saturating the
national mind with the principles of the Reformation than the diffusion
of the Book of Martyrs on this gigantic scale. In a few years there was
scarcely a parish church in England that did not possess a chained copy
of the work. The illiterate might frequently be seen standing in a
group round the lectern, while one among them better instructed than
the rest read to them aloud its graphic and lying legends. Added to
this, in many churches a chapter was read to the assembled
congregations every Sunday evening along with the Bible, and the clergy
constantly made its dubious martyrdoms the subject of their sermons. No
wonder that it assumed an importance equal to that of the Scriptures
themselves. One of the indictments against Archbishop Laud at his trial
was the fact that he had ordered it to be removed from some churches in
his diocese.*

* Dictionary of National Biography, article "John Foxe."

The secret of its charm for Puritan England did not altogether lie in
its Anti-Marian character, or in the partisanship of its garbled facts
and fictitious heroisms. The simplicity of its vigorous English, the
picturesque though minute circumstances which it detailed, the very
boldness with which it lied, in league with the primary passions to
which it appealed, made it one of the most powerful engines in the
revolution that gradually changed the face of the whole country. Its
deadly work of destruction has been effectually accomplished, and it is
almost useless to attempt to convince a people into whose frame and
tissue its stories have been woven, that the Protestant Reformation in
which they so implicitly believe is but a fairytale for the invention
of which John Foxe is mainly responsible. Gairdner, in his History of
the English Church in the Sixteenth Century, a book of the very first
importance for any serious study of the period, has again and again
expressed his opinion of the worthlessness of the Acts and Monuments as
history; and the Rev. John Gerard* has been at the pains of collecting
the learned historian's remarks on Foxes compilation. He says:

* In his pamphlet, John Fare and his Book of Martyrs, Catholic Truth

"But more damaging than any other is the criticism which Foxe receives
at the hands of Mr. James Gairdner, the fullness of whose knowledge is
matched only by the calm judicial manner in which he deals with the
martyrologist's stories as he encounters them in his own history.
Discussing each case on its merits, and giving full weight to the
evidence on either side, Mr. Gairdner finds charges of untruthfulness
and dishonesty established at every turn. Foxe, he declares, ignores or
misrepresents evidence that tells against him [p. 38]; he manipulates
it to suit his purpose [56]; he counts as martyrs offenders of all
kinds [129n]; he 'was above all things credulous' [131]; he tells
stories, the falsehood of which may be gathered from his own relation
[ibid]; he suppresses facts furnished by the authorities upon whom he
draws [133]; he insinuates what is utterly false [135]; he evidently
wishes his readers to understand what he does not venture openly to say
[220-21]; he prejudices readers by irrelevant gibes [271]; he has made
people believe what is untrue [333]; he was quite as prejudiced and
unfair as the notorious Bishop Bale [342]; his narrative has been
exposed as untrustworthy by reason of its bias, but has not even yet
been subjected to complete and thorough criticism [352]. In consequence
of all this, says Mr. Gairdner, Foxe has given a false colour to the
history of the times, and especially to the sentiments and motives of
the persecutors. ' It is quite untrue, as Foxe and his school have made
the world believe, that the authorities were savage or ferocious . . .
The burning of heretics was a barbarous old-fashioned remedy, but it
is not true that either the bishops or the government adopted it
without reluctance' [349, 355]. And again, a royal commission, issued
on 8th February 1557, is printed by Foxe with the title, `A bloody
commission given forth by K. Philip and Q. Mary to persecute the poor
members of Christ.' If we read the preamble, however, we find that it
was provoked by the assiduous propagation of a number of slanderous and
seditious rumours, along with which the sowing of heresies and
heretical opinions was merely a concurrent' [387]."

Nevertheless, that the influence of Foxe is not by any means extinct in
our own day, is proved by the successive republications of his book
during the nineteenth century. In 1836 the plea for a new edition was
put forward in a letter to the editor of the Record in these astounding
terms: -

"When we consider the high character of the work for accuracy of
detail; its full exhibition of the Gospel in all its holy and
triumphant efficacy; the bulwark it has proved to our Protestant faith;
its peculiar seasonableness to meet all the fresh dangers from Popery
in the present times; and its intrinsic value, as forming a sound
standard of Reformation divinity, we find it an exercise of Christian
charity to call the public attention to it. We might further adduce the
imprimatur of our own Church, by her act of Convocation appending it to
all the ecclesiastical establishments in the land, as giving to Foxe's
work, an additional claim of regard."

Between the years 1836-41, therefore, a new edition was published by
the Rev. S. R. Cattley, with a Life and Vindication of John Foxe, by
Prebendary Townsend of Durham.

The Rev. Josiah Pratt reprinted it in 1846-49; another edition,

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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 21 of 28)