Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes, touching matters of the Church
Soon after Queen Elizabeth’s religious settlement, the first edition of Acts and Monuments was rushed to print in order to document the history of the “true church” and its martyrs. Monumental in size and scope and with graphic depiction of the torture of Protestants, the book was an incomparable achievement in English printing and martyrology. The dedication begins with an elaborate woodblock capital “C” framing Queen Elizabeth with three of her subjects: John Foxe, John Day, and William Cecil. Elizabeth is ardently compared in the dedication to Constantine the Great, who ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
John Day was England’s finest printer and singularly capable of producing the 1800-page large folio. It was likely Day’s decision to include the many illustrations and he commissioned the woodcuts. A devout Protestant, Day had survived Mary’s reign working subordinately for other London printers. His patron, Secretary of State William Cecil, shared the religious convictions of Day and author John Foxe, recognized the importance of the project, and urged its rapid completion. Day bore the enormous financial risk of enterprise, which was unprecedented at the time.
John Foxe (1517–1587) began collecting information about early Christian martyrs in 1545 after he resigned his fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford, over his too early and too strong Protestant beliefs. While in Europe during the reign of Queen Mary, he published early Latin versions of his work on martyrology that included the persecution of 15th-century English Lollards and early Protestants throughout Europe. Foxe also kept apprised of ongoing events under Mary. When back in England, he joined forces with Day to publish the first edition of Acts and Monuments, continuing to collect and add letters written by persecuted martyrs and eyewitness accounts of their execution while the book was being printed.
Acts and Monuments was enormously influential and went through many changes in subsequent editions. A meticulous and zealous worker, Foxe added considerable material, in part to address the criticisms of fervent Catholics. Foxe also “toned down” his praise of Elizabeth in the dedication as he grew increasingly disappointed with the extent of religious reform under the Queen.
The present copy of the first edition of Acts and Monuments is incomplete—complete copies are exceedingly rare. It is missing the title page, three of the four calendar pages, the two smaller of the five tipped-in illustrations, one page of text (likely not bound in), concluding leaves of index, and the colophon.