Foxe’s Book of Martyrs Refuted


This book is scholarship at its worst.

Notice below the obvious bias in the text of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs below. In chapter 6 we read how the Catholics were, “being naturally of a savage and cruel disposition,” and compare **how the Irish **must react to the quote in chapter 17 when they were introduced to the, “sweets of English society,” whereas in fact, they were so badly treated by the English invaders. It is hard to imagine the Englishmen’s cruelty which was inflicted upon the Irish.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
Edited by William Byron Forbush

Chapter 6“… … … One of the monks who attended the cardinal, being naturally of a savage and cruel disposition, requested of him that he might shed some of the blood of these poor people with his own hands”
Chapter 17“… … … The Irish, who formerly led an unsettled and roving life, in the woods, bogs, and mountains, and lived on the depredation of their neighbors, they who, in the morning seized the prey, and at night divided the spoil, have, for many years past, become quiet and civilized. They taste the sweets of English society, and the advantages of civil government.”

Here is how a modern history book characterizes this time period and Foxe’s book.[INDENT]Then she Queen Mary Tudor] arrested Cranmer and the other Protestant leaders who had tried to keep her off the throne. She had them tried for treason and executed. These executions are the source of the “Bloody Mary” legend which has made Mary one of history’s most maligned persons.

The source of the propaganda is a book by a rabid anti-Catholic, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, written five years after Mary’s death. In his book, Foxe purported to tell the tales of 273 people “martyred” by Mary for their religious beliefs. A careful study of the book, however, shows that 169 of the persons in it are listed only by name and were most probably criminals who would have been executed no matter who was ruling. That leaves 104 names of persons who were executed by Mary for a religion-related reason.

However, it is important to realize that Protestant leaders tried to keep Mary off the throne and were plotting against her once she came to the throne. They were guilty of treason, a capital offense in any country. Furthermore, the 104 executions were fewer than the martyrdoms under her father or her sister, Elizabeth. Henry executed 150 people after the Pilgrimage of Grace alone, after having promised them amnesty; his total number of victims was 649. Elizabeth martyred 189 in England and was responsible for the deaths of many more in Ireland, as we shall see. Thus Mary Tudor has been unfairly named “Bloody Mary.” “Bloody Henry” or “Bloody Elizabeth” would be much more accurate names.
[CHRIST THE KING, LORD OF HISTORY, by Anne W. Carroll, Tan Books, page 235.]
[/INDENT]Historical Unreliability

In his book, John Fox related that a Catholic by the name of Grimwood of Hitcham had been a great enemy of the protestant revolutionaries, and was punished “by a judgment of God,” and “his bowels fell out of his body.” Whereas, the protestant Anthony Wood relates that, during the reign of Elizabeth I, a certain Protestant minister related in a sermon the account of Grimwood’s death, using Fox as his authority. But, unfortunately for the parson, not only was Grimwood alive at the time when the sermon was preached, but happened to be present in the church to hear the sermon, and brought an action of defamation against the preacher. (3)



Does anyone detect a little bias here ?

Here are the facts:

Christ The King-Lord Of History, by Anne Carroll
[INDENT]Page 259
… on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. Before the battle, O’Donnell told his troops, “By the help of the Most Blessed

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we will this day utterly destroy the heretical enemy whom we have always hereto worsted. We fasted yesterday in honor of the Virgin, and today we celebrate her feast. Therefore in her name let us fight stoutly and bravely the enemies of the Virgin and we shall gain the victory.” The Irish won this battle at Ballaghboy, with the English suffering ten times as many casualties.

Essex tried to negotiate a treaty with O’Neill, which made Elizabeth even more furious, as she wrote, “To trust this traitor upon oath is to trust the devil upon his religion.” Essex panicked and sailed for London without permission

He entered Elizabeth’s rooms unannounced and covered with mud, finding the queen without her makeup and without the orange wig which usually covered her bald head Elizabeth was livid. Essex was imprisoned and in disgrace. He tried to lead a rebellion and died in February 1601.

Elizabeth and Cecil continued to pour resources into Ireland …

Page 300

Cromwell personally led an invasion of Ireland, bringing death and destruction. He and his army sacked the city of Drogheda for three days. At the end of this terror, only 30 men were left alive out of 3,000, and no one could count the number of women and children killed. In Wexford, 2,000 were killed, including 300 women gathered around the Celtic high cross in the market place. After eight months, Ireland was subdued.

The whole of Ireland was landlordised. This meant that no Irishman could own land—it was in the hands of English landlords. Under penalty of death, no Irishman was allowed east of the Shannon River after May 1, 1654. The Irish were forced into Connaught, the least fertile, least productive province. Irishmen of an age to be soldiers were given a choice: death or exile. 34,000 of them fled to Europe (the “Flight of the Wild Geese”). Thousands of orphaned Irish children were sold into slavery in the West Indies. It is estimated that half the native population of Ireland perished.

Page 305

Finally, in October 1691, the Irish were exhausted. To continue to fight would only waste lives. William offered Sarsfield honorable terms. A solemn treaty was signed giving Irish Catholics the right to exercise their religion, to have the rights of citizens, and to be preserved from all disturbances.

This treaty was the Treaty of Limerick. It was signed on a stone known as the Treaty Stone, which sits today in the city square of Limerick where all can see it. It symbolizes the deceit and tyranny of the English.

For when the ink on the treaty was scarcely dry, Parliament passed the Penal Laws, whose goal was to obliterate Irish Catholics from the face of the earth Irish Catholic were forbidden to practice their religion, to receive an education, to hold public office, to engage in business, to purchase land, to inherit land, to rent any land worth more than 30 shillings a year, to earn profit from land.

The Irish fiercely held to their religion and their culture. They attended secret Masses celebrated in hiding places called Mass rocks. Teachers in disguise taught in hidden schools called hedge schools The Irish refused to let the poverty into which they were forced destroy them. They accepted every hardship and suffering, never surrendering, holding fast to
their Irish heritage and praying of the day when they could be free of English tyranny.

End Quote


And it must be remembered, the Ireland was almost exclusively Catholic. They did not want to become Protestant.

Irish Persecution Laws entailed. The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in a trade or commerce. (11)
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land. (12)
He was forbidden to accept a mortgage on land in security for a loan.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold life annuity.
He was forbidden to buy land from a Protestant.
He was forbidden to receive a gift of land from a Protestant.
He was forbidden to inherit land from a Protestant.
He was forbidden to inherit anything from a Protestant.
He was forbidden to rent any land that was worth more than thirty shillings a year.
He was forbidden to reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not, when dying, leave his infant children under Catholic guardianship.
He could not attend Catholic worship.
He was compelled by the law to attend Protestant worship.
He could not himself educate his child.
He could not send his child to a Catholic teacher.
He could not employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.
He could not send his child abroad to receive education.
The priest was banned and hunted with bloodhounds.
The school master was banned and hunted with bloodhounds.

If the Irish Catholic had an unfaithful wife, she, by going through the form of adopting the Protestant religion compelled from a papist the heaviest annuity that might be squeezed out of him – and would inherit all the property at his death.

   If he had an unnatural child, that child by conforming to the       Established religion, could compel from him the highest possible annuity,       and inherit all his property at his death – to the total exclusion of       all the children who had remained faithful to their father, and their       religion.

   He if he was discovered in the act of having his son educated at home,       a ruinous fine and a dungeon awaited him.

   If he sent his son to be educated abroad, all his property was       confiscated – and the child so educated was thereby debarred form all       rights and properties in the country, and debarred from inheriting       anything.

   He was compelled to pay double for the support of the militia. And he       was compelled to make good all damages done to the state by the privateers       of any Catholic power in which the state was at war. 


Truly the Irish were abominably treated for centuries.

But I think we’re out of the frying pan and into the fire when it comes to your accusation of bias. In fact, I think you’ve been quite audacious, attacking Foxe (rightly) for writing a polemical history, while quoting Dr. Carroll’s Christ The King Lord Of History: A Catholic World History from Ancient to Modern Times. Goose, gander, etc.

Also, re: Elizabeth, the wig myth is just that. It’s a hangover of anti-Protestant propaganda designed to ridicule the Queen many Roman Catholics saw as a heretic and the daughter of a whore.

I can’t help but think that if the Irish could avoid their self-indulgent clinging of the past, and move towards the 21st century, not only would they be a lot more content, but thousands of people would not have perished in the 30 years of terrorism that is all too recent in the memory.


Indeed, the danger with accusations of bias is that one risks believing that only the other side is prejudiced.

However, in this case it is common knowledge that this book is enflamed with prejudice, bigotry and tortured history.

IOW, no one would really consider this book a valid historical text, other than as a testament to Protestant outrage and polemics.

We must always keep in mind that Fox was writing in defense of the state sponsored religion. It would be about as unbiased as Rush Limbaugh writing a history of the atrocities of liberals and Democrats.

Is his list of the names of martyrs incorrect?

I’m generally not a fan of Wikipedia, but in this case they bring up something that I have seen elsewhere in n-Cs sources.

Foxe as historian

The author’s credibility was challenged as soon as the book first appeared. Detractors accused Foxe of dealing falsely with the evidence, of misusing documents, and of telling partial truths. In every case that he could clarify, Foxe corrected errors in the second edition and third and fourth, final version (for him). In the early nineteenth century the charges were taken up again by a number of authors, most importantly Samuel Roffey Maitland.[43] Subsequently Foxe was considered a poor historian, in mainstream reference works. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica accused Foxe of “wilful falsification of evidence”; two years later in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Francis Fortescue Urquhart wrote of the value of the documentary content and eyewitness reports, but claimed that Foxe “sometimes dishonestly mutilates his documents and is quite untrustworthy in his treatment of evidence”.[44]

Further reading:

]John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs - British Library
]Is there scholarly concensus on the historicity of Foxe’s Book **
Fox’s Acts and Monuments - Free Republic

*]Foxe’s Book of Martyrs- History? [Archive] -
*]**Martyrdom: A Very Short Introduction - Page 77 - Google Books **

As the British Library page supplied by Church Militant states, “While Foxe was by no means an impartial writer, and his presentation of history is selective and peppered with comment, his access to the evidence from very recent trials and eye-witness accounts renders his work generally reliable.”

What they mean by “generally reliable” there is that his list of English Protestants who were executed for their beliefs during his own lifetime is widely regarded by professional historians as a fairly accurate one, despite his hagiographical embellishments of the circumstances of their deaths and his enthusiastic willingness to accept all accounts rather than checking them as carefully as we might like. Thus, it serves the purpose of the reference in the original thread, as a source of those names.

But as the OP stated, almost 3/4 of those names are of criminals who would have been executed under any regime. Of the remainder, many were actually guilty of treason in the sense that they plotted to have Queen Mary removed from the throne. Again, that was a capital offense in any regime.

So an accurate list of random names does little for the cause of history.

However, if you admire that book, you would certainly also find Bishop Challoner’s “MEMOIRS OF MISSIONARY PRIESTS AS WELL SECULAR AS REGULAR; AND OF OTHER CATHOLICS OF BOTH SEXES THAT HAVE SUFFERED DEATH IN ENGLAND, ON RELIGIOUS ACCOUNTS FROM THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1577, TO 1684” to be equally interesting.

Instead of a highly politicized portrayal of “martyrdom” under Queen Mary’s short reign that we find in Foxe, you will find the grisly account of English atrocities against Catholics for nothing more than religious reasons for more than a CENTURY! It’s a good antidote to Foxe’s book.

“admire”!?! Why on earth would I “admire” it? Sorry, but I think that you have misunderstood something very fundamental about where I am coming from here.

The whole point of my posting about Foxe’s book in a thread (which I can’t find now) about names of martyrs was as a source of such names and as a balance to another list of Catholic names which I gave, not as recommended bedtime reading (although I was startled to see the other day, in an early C20th edition, a description of its having been precisely that for some children in late C19th England). There is no admiration involved.

Foxe’s book is a series of embellished, polemical narratives, designed to make the Protestant martyrs, and especially those killed in Foxe’s own lifetime, into heroes, and designed to demonize the Catholic Church. His country witnessed (yet another) horrible thing, and he wanted to memorialise it, and his reaction to Catholicism is not terribly surprising given the circumstances (and rather reminds me of what Iranians outside of Iran say about the religious regime there now). As a record of precisely what the individuals said at their deaths, it is not enormously dependable; as a record of who was killed and why, it is very dependable (see Freeman, below).

His book and that whole situation on both sides ought to be mourned, not “admired”.

Sorry; I moved this out of sequence because I wanted to make that point ahead of everything else. Religious martyrdom is a tragedy, the record of a crime against humanity.

But as the OP stated, almost 3/4 of those names are of criminals who would have been executed under any regime.

Actually, JohnR77’s source for that claim appears to be this website. On the other hand, Thomas S. Freeman of the University of Essex and the British Academy John Foxe Project provides a complete list of the 312 Marian martyrs, commenting that “from the perspective of the authorities who tried and condemned these martyrs, all of the martyrs were religious radicals.”

Of the remainder, many were actually guilty of treason in the sense that they plotted to have Queen Mary removed from the throne. Again, that was a capital offense in any regime.

Freeman’s rather-more-expert analysis aside, how many members of any group being hunted down and killed by a government do not plot revolution if they have half a chance?

So an accurate list of random names does little for the cause of history.

Actually, no: the accurate list of names of the killed is very important for history. An awful lot of history is inference and conjecture. Having specific details to which we can point is actually rather rare, and hence valuable.


I am sure that I will, thank you. :slight_smile:

Instead of a highly politicized portrayal of “martyrdom” under Queen Mary’s short reign that we find in Foxe, you will find the grisly account of English atrocities against Catholics for nothing more than religious reasons for more than a CENTURY! It’s a good antidote to Foxe’s book.

Okay, three things. First, those who were killed for their beliefs do not deserve the disrespect of having their deaths dismissed as merely alleged martyrdoms: they were, like their estranged Catholic brethren, murdered for what they believed. Second, Foxe’s book does not need an “antidote”; it needs a balancing account of the martyrdoms of Catholics, like Challoner’s: we need both sides, because we should never forget any of those deaths. Third, I would add a lot more to the Catholic side of that balancing account, from the Catholics killed under Henry VIII to the anti-Catholic Penal Laws to four hundred years of religiously-excused murder in Ireland. Personally, the most shocking example which I have yet seen is that of the Soupers, when Irish people who were starving to death in the 1840s Potato Famine were refused food by certain Protestant food banks unless they converted.

emphasis** added**

Perhaps you are having difficulty distinguishing between the well documented history that is balanced and shows both the good and the bad side of Catholics that I quote from, as opposed to the history you must be reading.

A History of Christendom, by Warren H. Carroll, Volume 4, Page 474[INDENT]Α truce was agreed upon; one-time hero Essex was a complete failure. 11
Elizabeth was furious. She condemned Essex in the strongest terms for dealing with the enemy, andcommanded him to agree to nothing that had not been previously submitted to her in writing and received her approval**. Realizing that he had mortally offended her and given much cause for suspicion of his own motives, Essex rushed back to England (despite Elizabeth’s prohibition on his return without her permission) and on October 8 burst unnanounced into her bedchamber, covered with mud, while she was arranging the red wig that concealed her nearly bald head. Essex was put into house arrest while Robert Cecil, his enemy, began preparing a legal case against him**. The next day Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, untested in high command, was named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On December 9 the dreaded Court of Star Chamber indicted Essex. Meanwhile O’Neill and O’Donnell presented their demands to the English government, the first five of which are quoted at the head of this chapter. Cecil took one look at them and scrawled “Ewtopia” on the margin. Queen Elizabeth spurned them.12

Footnote 12 reads:

12 Wernham, Return of the Armadas, pp. 316-318, 347; Falls, Elizabeth’s Irish Wars, p. 247; P. M. Handover, The Second Cecil; the Rise to Power 1563-1603 of Sir Robert Cecil, Later First Earl of Salisbury (London, 1959), pp. 196-197, 201; Frederick M. Jones, Mountjoy 1563-1606, the Last Elizabethan Deputy (Dublin, 1958), p. 64; O’Donnell, ibid. After being pardoned but dismissed from public service, Essex was executed as a traitor after he rebelled against the old queen in February 1601 (Wernham, op. cit., pp. 354-358; Handover, op. cit., pp. 221-228).
[/INDENT] End Quote.

Please note this well documented footnote that applies specifically to just this paragraph. The bibliography for this volume (4) alone is over 18 pages long with about 10 to 15 or more authors listed on each page.


Departed from topic and closed.

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