For almost all of its existence, John Foxe’s (1517-87) ecclesiastical history, Actes and Monuments, has been known simply as the Book of Martyrs.
Published early in the reign of Elizabeth I, an era when the official religion had changed four times in less than 30 years, Foxe’s powerful Protestant polemic with its narrative of the martyred English, Bloody Mary and the enemy overthrown helped to frame the popular consciousness for over 400 years. English xenophobia and the fear of harbouring citizens bearing allegiance to foreign powers is anchored here.
Following its first printing by John Day in 1563, edition followed edition. However, it is those copies published within the author’s lifetime which today command a premium.
The copy of Actes and Monuments sold in our Books & Maps sale on September 26 is from the third of four lifetime editions. This 1576 version amounted to a budget reprint of the much-expanded second edition published six years earlier in response to Foxe’s many Catholic critics. Running to 2300 pages, two volumes and 150 illustrations, copies were commonly chained beside the Great Bible in cathedrals, churches and guild halls to be read and cited by ecclesiastical and common folk alike.
The copy has since been bound as a single volume. While lacking the title pages, it retained the 138 folios carrying one or more of the famous woodcuts. The hammer price was £1000 plus buyers premium.