Fox’s Acts and Monuments

By Richard Clarke

Commonly called Fox’s Book of Martyrs, this book was originally published in the year 1559, and was authored by a protestant minister by the name of John Fox. The book was intended to be a compendium of "martyrdoms" inflicted on protestants by the Catholic Church. The first edition contained so many errors that a corrected edition had to be published in the year 1570, and several other editions have been published since.

The Columbia Encyclopedia informs us that Foxe’s book was "widely read, and its influence was extensive, although as history it is highly prejudiced and not altogether trustworthy." (1) Some research on the topic is more than enough to justify this statement.

Historical Unreliability

In the words of the historian Schenk "To obtain a clear view of the Marian persecutions is not at all easy: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs like a great mountain range lies between us and the facts." (2)

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)

The front page of a 1701 edition of Fox's Book of Martyrs, published in London


Another instance of the historical unreliability of Fox concerns the executions of Latimer and Ridley. According to Fox, Bishop Gardiner, on the day of the execution, kept dinner waiting until the news of their death should arrive, and that his guest the Duke of Norfolk (who was to dine with him) expressed great chagrin at the delay; Fox then states that when the news arrived of the death of Latimer and Ridley, the Bishop was "transported with joy", sat down to eat, where his excellency was suddenly seized with the disury, and died in horrible torments a fortnight afterwards.

Now, this sounds all well and good. But what Fox did not tell us is that Latimer and Ridley were put to death on the 16th of October, while Gardiner opened the Parliament on the 21st of October, and that he attended in Parliament twice afterwards, and that he died on the 12th of November of the gout, and not disury, and that the Duke of Norfolk had been dead a year when this event allegedly took place! (4)

Hence we see two examples of the lack of credibility of John Fox, and his book "Acts and Monuments." But let us take a few moments and examine a couple of the "Martyrs," whose deaths were related by Fox.

Latimer and Ridley

Hugh Latimer began his infamous career in England as a Catholic priest, and also as "a most furious assailant of the Reformation religion." (5) Because of this Henry VIII granted him the bishopric of Worcester.

Latimer, after having obtained this bishopric, then proceeded to change his opinions, but without giving up his Catholic bishopric. Being suspected of heresy, Latimer then abjured his protestant errors, thus keeping his bishopric for an additional twenty years while, inwardly, he despised the principles of the Church, and the bishopric he held in virtue of an oath to oppose to the utmost of his power all dissenters from the Catholic Religion.

During the reigns of Henry and Edward he sent to the stake Catholics and Protestants for holding opinions which he himself had before held openly, or that he held secretly at the time of his so sending them.

Latimer’s character is well-exhibited in his congratulatory letter to Thomas Cromwell on the killing of the family of Cardinal Reginald Pole: "Blessed be the God of England whose minister ye be! I heard you once say you would make him [Pole] eat his own heart, which you have now brought to pass, for he must needs eat his own heart and be as heartless as he is graceless." (6)

Ridley was also a Catholic bishop during the reign of Henry VIII, during which reign he sent to the stake Catholics who denied the king’s supremacy and Protestants who denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. While during the reign of King Edward he was a Protestant bishop, and denied the dogma of transubstantiation himself.

During the reign of Edward VI he was given the bishopric of London, after agreeing to transfer a large portion of its possessions to the ministers and courtiers of that day. And lastly, he is guilty of treason against the then ruling monarch (Queen Mary Tudor) by attempting to stir the people up in rebellion against the Queen, and replace Mary with Lady Jane, in order that he might (by high treason) keep the bishopric which was obtained through perjury and simony.

In fact, Ridley (thinking that Lady Jane’s cause had triumphed) even went so far as to boldly proclaim Mary Tudor a bastard at St. Paul’s Cross; (7)

These are the types of individuals who are described by John Fox as being "Pillars of the Church and accomplished ornaments of human nature, ... the admiration of the realm, amiably conspicuous in their lives, and glorious in their deaths."

If such individuals were the pillars of the protestant revolt, and considered accomplished ornaments of human nature, the admiration of the realm, and so on, then it is really not very surprising that an adherent of the protestant revolution would follow in their footsteps and write blatant lies in order to slander the Catholic Church.



Hooper was a monk, who broke his vow of celibacy and married, forsaking the religious life; he was more than willing to extend a willing hand and aid the infamous Protector Somerset in the plunder of the churches, and for his troubles received in return two bishoprics, "though he himself had written against pluralities (i.e. holding more than one bishopric at a time)." (8

He was a willing cooperator in the cruelties inflicted on the people during the reign of Edward VI, and was very active in recommending the use of foreign mercenaries to enforce the protestant yoke upon the English people, many of whom were still Catholic at the time.

The Irish and protestant rule

In a later edition of Fox’s Acts and Monuments (apparently edited in the 1800's) the following statement is to be found:

A page taken from a 1701 edition of Fox's Book of Martyrs.  Notice the inaccuracy and open biasness of the picture, and the mocking tone of the title of the page.  With pictures such as these, is there any wonder that the book is prejudiced and biased against the Catholic Faith? 

"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. They trade in our cities, and are employed in our manufactories. They are received also into English families; and treated with great humanity by the Protestants." (9)

It is only with great difficulty that one can believe that the reviser of Fox’s work would insert such a blatantly false statement, but so it is.

One wonders where to begin in the exposition of this particular citation? A good place to start would probably be at the beginning. What was it that reduced the Irish to the state of utter poverty mentioned by the reviser? The answer is to be found in the infamous Irish Persecution Laws.

These infamous laws were imposed by England (a protestant nation) upon a nation that was, at the time, 97% Catholic. To quote a protestant historian on the conditions in Ireland after the laws were imposed:

"They ( i.e. Catholics ) are not only excluded from all offices in church and state, but are interdicted from the army and the law, in all its branches. . . . Every barrister, clerk, attorney, or solicitor is obliged to take a solemn oath not to employ persons of that persuasion; no not as hackney clerks, at the miserable salary of seven shillings a week. No tradesman of that persuasion is capable of exercising his trade freely in any town corporate: so that they trade and work in their own trade native towns as aliens, paying, as such, quarter age, and other charges and impositions. . . ." (10)

Allow me to take a few moments and point out precisely what the 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. (13)

Professor Lecky (a Protestant) stated concerning the above laws "It was intended to make them poor and to keep them poor, to crush in them every germ of enterprise and degrade them into a servile race who could never hope to rise to the level of their oppressor." (14)

With such laws, and such intentions, it is no wonder that the Irish were poverty-stricken, and many were homeless. Such treatment of any individual (much less an entire nation) is hardly humane. One might dwell on the unjust persecutions which the Irish people suffered at the hand of the English protestants at great length, and one might also recount numerous cases where Irishmen were persecuted and gave their lives for the Catholic Religion (15), but I think the point is well-enough made.

As can be seen from the above, there is truly very little reason for the reviser of Fox’s Acts and Monuments to glory in as far as the protestant treatment of the Irish people is concerned.


Hopefully the above has more than demonstrated to any honest individual that the book Acts and Monuments, or Fox’s Book of Martyrs, is historically unreliable, and prejudiced against Catholicism. In fact, as has been shown above, the author of Acts and Monuments has even taken his prejudice to the point where he felt constrained to lie, and invent tales, in order to further enthrall his audience.

The above picture, taken from a 1701 version of Fox's Book of Martyrs, depicts the Popes as ruling by the sword, and forcing people to kneel in homage to the successor of Saint Peter.  This form of prejudiced anti-Catholicism is disproven by the simple fact that many nations still remain loyal to the Papacy, without coercion.  Furthermore, the case was precisely the opposite (as can be seen in the case of the Irish)... it was the Protestants who ruled by the sword in many cases.  The hypocrisy is incredible.   

John Fox was more than willing to believe just about anything that came down the pike concerning atrocities committed by the Catholic Faith. To quote from Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia:

"The work (Fox’s Book of Martyrs) is uncritical, and indicates that, at best, Fox believed every atrocity story he heard." (16)

As a matter of fact, not only was John Fox a very gullible individual, but he himself was "safely abroad, writing his propaganda in Strasbourg, Frankfurt and Basle, during the [Mary Tudor's] persecution." (17)

This article is humbly dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Refuge of Sinners.


1. Columbia Encyclopedia

2. W. Schenk, Reginald Pole, Cardinal of England (New York, Longmans, 1950), p. 149.

3. Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, ii., 789.

4. Collier’s Ecclesiastical History, p. 386,

5. William Cobbett, A History of The Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland, p. 208.

6. Letters and Papers, vol. Xiii, pt. 2, no. 1036.

7. Hugh Ross Williamson, The Beginning of the English Reformation, p. 88.

8. Ibid., p. 208.

9. John Fox, Acts and Monuments, Emphasis mine.

10. Edmund Burke, Laws Against Popery in Ireland.

11. "Every franchise, every honor, every trust, every place down to the very lowest (besides whole professions) is reserved for the master caste (i.e. Protestants)." Burke’s letter to Langrishe.

12. So, a man dead and buried is said, in Ireland, to have "a Protestant lease of the soil."

13. Seumus MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race, pp. 458-460.

14. Ibid., p. 461.

15. A Partial List of the Irish Martyrs

16. Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Reference Encyclopedia, Vol. X, 1954, p. 3675. Under John Fox English Martyrologist.

17.  Hugh Ross Williamson, The Beginning of the English Reformation, p. 89.