Fox, John

, an eminent English divine and churchhistorian, was born at Boston in Lincolnshire, of honest and reputable parents in 1517, the very year that Luther began to oppose the errors of the church of Rome. His | father dying when he was young, and his mother marrying again, he fell under the tutelage of a father-in-law, with whom he remained till the age of sixteen. He was then entered of Brazen Nose college in Oxford, where he had for his chamber-fellow, the celebrated dean Nowell, and perhaps the same tutor, Mr. John Hawarden or Harding, who was afterwards principaj of the college, and to whom Fox dedicated his work on the Eucharist. In May 1538, he took, the degree of bachelor of arts. He was soon distinguished for his uncommon abilities and learning; was chosen fellow of Magdalen college, and became master of arts in 1543. He discovered in his younger years a genius for poetry, and wrote in an elegant style several Latin comedies, the subjects of which were taken from the scriptures. We have a comedy of his, entitled, “De Christo Triumphante,” printed in 1551, and at Basil in 1556, 8vo; which was translated into English by Richard Day, son of John Day, the famous printer in the reign of queen Elizabeth, and published with this title, “Christ Jesus Triumphant, wherein is described the glorious triumph and conquest of Christ over sin, death, and the law,” &c. 1579; and in 1607, in 8vo. It was again published in the original in 1672, and dedicated to all schoolmasters, in order that it might be admitted into their respective schools, for the peculiar elegance of its style, by T. C. M. A. of Sidney-college, in Cambridge. The date of the first edition (1551), shows that Anthony Wood was mistaken in asserting that Fox wrote it at Basil, to which place he did not go until after the accession of queen Mary in 1553.

Mr. Fox, for some time after his going to the university, was attached to the popish religion, in which he had been brought up, but afterwards applied himself to divinity, with somewhat more fervency than circumspection; and discovered himself in favour of the reformation then going on, before he was known to those who maintained the cause, or those who were of ability to protect the maintainers of it. In order to judge of the controversies which then divided the church, his first care was to search diligently into the ancient and modern history of it; to learn its beginning, by what arts it flourished, and by what errors it began to decline; to consider the causes of those controversies and dissensions which had arisen in the churd), and to weigh attentively of what moment and | consequence they were to religion. To this end he applied himself with such zeal and industry, that before he was thirty years of age, he had read over all the Greek and Latin fathers, the schoolmen, the councils, &c. and had also acquired a competent skill in the Hebrew language. But from this strict application by day and by night while at Oxford, from forsaking his friends for the most solitary retirement, which he enjoyed in Magdalen grove, from the great and visible distractions of his mind, and above all, from absenting himself from the public worship, arose suspicions of his alienation from the church; in which his enemies being soon confirmed, he was accused and condemned of heresy, expelled his college, and thought to have been favourably dealt with, that he escaped with his life. This was in 1545. Wood represents this affair somewhat differently he says in one place, that Fox resigned his fellowbliip to avoid expulsion, and in another that he was " in a manner obliged to resign his fellowship/ 1 The stigma, however, appears to have been the same, for his relations were greatly displeased at him, and afraid to countenance or protect one condemned for a capital offence; and his father-in-law basely took advantage of it to withhold his paternal estate from him, thinking probably that he, who stood in danger of the law himself, would with difficulty find relief from it. Being thus forsaken by his friends, he was reduced to great distress; when he was taken into the house of sir Thomas Lucy of Warwickshire, to be tutor to his children. Here he married a citizen’s daughter of Coventry, and continued in sir Thomas’s family, till his children were grown up; after which he spent some time with his wife’s father at Coventry. He removed to London a few years before king Henry’s death; where having neither employment nor preferment, he was again driven to great necessities and distress, but was reIjeved, according to his son’s account, in a very remarkable manner. He was sitting one day, he says, in St. Paul’s church, almost spent with long fasting, his countenance wan and pale, and his eyes hollow, when there came to him a person, whom he never remembered to have seen before, who, sitting down by him, accosted him very familiarly, and put into his hands an untold sum of money; bidding him to be of good cheer, to be careful of himself, and to use all means to prolong his life, for that in a few days new hopes were at band, and new means of | subsistence. Fox tried all methods to find out the person by whom he was so seasonably relieved, but in vain; the prediction, however, was fulfilled, for within three days he was taken into the service of the duchess of Richmond, to be tutor to the children of her nephew, the celebrated earl of Surrey. Upon the commitment of this amiable nobleman and his father the duke of Norfolk to the Tower, these children were sent to be educated under the care and inspection of their unnatural aunt the duchess of Richmond.

In this family he lived, at Ryegate in Surrey, during the latter part of Henry’s reign, the five years reign of Edward, and part of Mary’s; being at this time protected by the duke of Norfolk, and Wood says he was restored to his fellowship of Magdalen college, under Edward VI.*


Fox’s biographers have all coneurred in saying that he was protected by “one of his pupils then duke of Norfolk,” meaning Thomas third duke of Norfolk; but as this nobleman did not die until 1554, when Fox was abroad, it appears more probable that it was he who demonstrated his friendship to Fox in the manner described in the text. The wonder is to find this liberality in so bigotted a catholic as the duke of Norfolk

Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was, however, now determined to have him seized, and laid many snares and stratagems for that purpose. The bishop was very intimate with the duke of Norfolk, often visited him, and frequently desired to see this tutor. The duke evaded the request, one while alleging his absence, another that he was indisposed, still pretending reasons to put him off. At length it happened, that Fox, not knowing the bishop to be within the house, entered the room, where the duke and he were in discourse; and seeing the bishop, with a shew of bashfulness, withdrew himself. The bishop asking who he was, the duke answered, his physician, who was somewhat uncourtly, being newly come from the university. “I like his countenance and aspect very well,” replied the bishop, “and upon occasion will make use of himf.” The duke, perceiving from hence that danger was at hand, thought it time for Fox to retire, and accordingly furnished him with the means to go abroad. He found, before he could put to sea, that Gardiner had issued out a warrant for apprehending him, and was causing the most diligent search to be made for him; nevertheless, he at

It does not seem very clear from this story whether the bishop knew Fox’s person, or whether, knowing it, he affected to be deceived by the duke’s excuse, that he might lay his plans against Fox’s life with less hazard of having them counterploUed.

| length escaped, with his wife then big with child; got over to Newport Haven, travelled to Antwerp and Francfort, where he was involved in the troubles excited by Dr. Cox and his party; and the first settlers being driven from that place, he removed from thence to Basil, where numbers of English subjects resorted in those times of persecution. In this city he maintained himself and family, by correcting the press for Oporinus, a celebrated printer; and it was here, that he laid the plan of his famous work, “The History of the Acts and Monuments of the Church.” He had published at Strasburgh, in 1554, in 8vo, “Commentarii Rerum in Ecclesia gestarum, maximarumque per totam Europam persecution um a Wiclavi temporibus ad hanc usque aetatem descriptarum,” in one book: to which he added five more books, all printed together at Basil, 1559, in folio.

After queen Mary’s death, which bishop Aylrner says Fox foretold at Basil the day before it happened, and Elizabeth was settled on the throne, and the protestant religion established, Fox returned to his native country, where he found a very faithful friend in his former pupil, now fourth duke of Norfolk; who maintained him at his house, and settled a pension on him, which was afterwards confirmed by his son. In 1572, when this unhappy duke of Norfolk was beheaded for his treasonable connection with Mary queen of Scotland, Mr. Fox and dean Nowell attended him upon the scaffold. Cecil also obtained for Fox, in 1563, of the queen a prebend in the church of Salisbury, though Fox himself would have declined accepting it; and though he had many powerful friends, as Walsingham, sir Francis Drake, sir Thomas Gresham, the bishops Grindal, Pilkington, Aylmer, &c. who would have raised him to considerable preferments, he declined them: being always unwilling to subscribe the canons, and disliking some ceremonies of the church. When archbishop Parker summoned the London clergy to Lambeth, and inquired of them whether they would yield conformity to the ecclesiastical habits, and testify the same by their subscriptions, the old man produced the New Testament in Greek, “To this’ (says he) will I subscribe.” And when a subscription to the canons was required of him, he refused it, saying, “I have nothing in the church save a prebend at Salisbury and much good may it do you, if you will take it away | from me.*


None of Fox’s biographers seem to have been aware that in 1572 he was collated to a prebend in the church of Durham, but quitted it the same year, probably on account of his nonconformity.

Such respect, however, did the bishops, most of them formerly his fellow exiles, bear to his age, parts, and labours, that he continued in it to his death. But though Fox was a non-conformist, he was a very moderate one, and highly disapproved of the intemperance of the rigid puritans. He expresses himself to the following effect in a Latin letter, written on the expulsion of his son by the puritans from ‘Magdalen-college, on the groundless imputation of his having turned papist; in which are the following passages. “I confess it has always been my great care, if I could not be serviceable to many persons, yet not knowingly to injure any one, and least of all those of Magdalen college. I cannot therefore but the more wonder at the turbulent genius, which inspires those factious puritans, so that violating the laws of gratitude, despising my letters and prayers, disregarding the intercession of the president himself (Dr. Humphreys), without any previous admonition, or assigning any cause, they have exercised so great tyranny against me and my son; were I one, who like them would be violently outrageous against bishops and. archbishops, or join myself with them, that is, would become mad, as they are, I had not met with this severe treatment. Now because, quite different from them, I have chosen the side of modesty and public tranquillity; hence the hatred, they have a long time conceived against me, is at last grown to this degree of bitterness. As this is the case, 1 do not so much ask you what you will do on my account, as what is to be thought of for your sakes: you who are prelates of the church again and again consider. As to myself, though the taking away the fellowship from my son is a great affliction to me, yet because this is only a private concern, I bear it with more moderation: I am much more concerned upon account of the church, which is public. I perceive a certain race of men rising up, who, if they should increase and gather strength in this kingdom, I am sorry to say what disturbance I foresee must follow from it. Your prudence is not ignorant how much the Christian religion formerly suffered by the dissimulation and hypocrisy of the monks. At present in these men I know not what sort of new monks seems to revive; so much more pernicious than the former, as with | more subtle artifices of deceiving, under pretence of perfection, like stage-players who only act a part, they conceal a more dangerous poison; who while they require every thing to be formed according to their own `strict discipline’ and conscience, will not desist until they have brought all things into Jewish bondage.” Conformably to these sentiments, he expresses himself on many other occasions, in which he had no private interest, and the two succeeding reigns proved that he had not judged rashly of the violent tempers and designs of some of the puritans. Those, however, who detest their proceedings against the son of a man who had done so much for the reformation, will be pleased to hear that he was restored to his fellowship a second time, by the queen’s mandate.

In 1564 he sent a Latin panegyric to the queen, upon her indulgence to some divines, who had scruples respecting a strict conformity, and yet were suffered to hold dignities in the church. In July 1575 he wrote a Latin letter to the queen, to dissuade her majesty from putting to death two anabaptists, who bad been condemned to be burnt. Fuller, who transcribed this letter from the original, has published it in his “Church History/‘ and Collier, who has too frequently joined the popish cry against Fox, yet allows that it is written in a very handsome Christian strain. Ib this letter, Fox declares,” that with regard to those fanatical sects, he does not think they ought to be countenanced in a state, but chastised in a proper manner; but that to punish with flames the bodies of those, who err rather from blindness than obstinacy of will, is cruel, and more suitable to the example of the Romish church, than the mildness of the gospel; and in short such a dreadful custom, as could never have been introduced into the meek and gentle church of Christ, except by the popes, and particularly by Innocent III. who first took that method of restraining heresy. He observes that he does not write thus out of an indulgence to error, but, as he is a man, out of regard to the lives of men, that they may have an opportunity of repenting of their errors. He declares a tenderness for the lives, not only of men, but even of brute animals themselves; and affirms, that he could never pass by a slaughter-house, without the strongest sense of pain and regret. He entreats her majesty, therefore, to spare the lives of these wretches,“&c. But Fuller tells us, that though the queen constantly called Mr. Fox” her Father," | yet she gave him a flat denial as to the saving of their lives, unless they recanted their errors, which they refused, and were executed.

Fox was a man of great humanity and uncommon liberality. He was a most laborious student, and remarkably abstemious; a most learned, pious, and judicious divine, and ever opposed to all methods of severity in matters of religion. That he was not promoted was entirely owing to his retaining some opinions adverse to the habits and ceremonies of the church, which he had imbibed abroad. “Although,” says Fuller, “the richest mitre in England would have counted itself preferred by being placed upon his head, he contented himself with a prebend of Salisbury. How learnedly he wrote, how constantly he preached, how piously he lived, and how cheerfully he died, may be seen at large in the life prefixed to his book.” Wood and Strype are united in their praises of his talents and personal character; the former only, like his successor Collier, cannot forgive him for being “a severe Calvinist, and a bitter enemy to popery.” Of his liberality many anecdotes may be found in our authorities.

This excellent man died in 1587, in the 70th year of his age, and was buried in the chancel of St. Giles, Cripplegate, of which, it is said, he was sometime vicar; but, as Wood thinks, if he had it at all, he kept it but a little while, in the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. He left two sons, Samuel and Thomas. Samuel became demy, and afterwards fellow of Magdalen-college, in Oxford. In 1610, he wrote his father’s life, prefixed to his “Acts and Monuments of the Church.Thomas was fellow of King’s college, in Cambridge, and" became afterwards an eminent physician at London.

Besides what has been mentioned, Fox wrote, 1. “De Censura, seu Excommunicatione Ecclesiastica, Interpellatio ad Archiepiscopum Cantuariensem, 1551,” 8vo. 2. “Tables of Grammar, 1552.” Wood tells ns, that these “Tables were subscribed in print by eight lords of the privy council but were quickly laid aside, as being far more too short, than king Henry the VHIth’s Grammar was too long.” 3. “Articuli sive Aphorismi aliquot Joannis Wiclevi sparsim aiit ex variis illius opusculis excerpti per adversaries Papicolas, ac Concilio Constantiensi exhibiti.” 4. “Collectanea qusedam ex Reginaldi Pecocki Episcopi Cicestriensis opusculis exustis conservata, et ex | antique psegmate transcripta.” 5. “Opistographia ad Oxonienses.” The three last are printed with his “Commentarii rerum in Ecclesia gestarum,” at Strasburg, 1554, in 8vo, mentioned above. 6. “Concerning Man’s Election to Salvation, 1581,” 8vo. 7. “Certain Notes of Election, added to Beza’s Treatise of Predestination, 1581,” 8vo. 8. “The Four Evangelists in the old Saxon Tongue, with the English thereunto adjoined, 1571,” 4to, and many other pieces, which were levelled against the Papists.

None of these, however, are likely to add much to his fame, which is now exclusively founded on his “Acts and Monuments,” ’more familiarly known as “Fox’s Book of Martyrs.” Of this vast undertaking, some brief account cannot be uninteresting. We have before noticed that he conceived the plan, and executed some part of it when he was at Basil, but reserved the greatest part of it until his return home, when he might avail himself of living authorities. It appears by his notes that the completion of it occupied him for eleven years, during which his labour must have been incessant. His assistants, however, were numerous. Among those who pointed out sources of information, or contributed materials, was Grindal, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, who, when an exile for his religion, established a correspondence in England for this purpose, and received accounts of most of the acts and sufferings of the martyrs in queen Mary’s reign. It is said also to have been owing to GrindaPs strict regard to truth, that the publication of the work was so long delayed, as he rejected all common reports that were brought over, unless confirmed by the most satisfactory evidence. It was this scrupulous fidelity which induced him to advise Fox at first only to print separately, such memoirs of certain individuals as could be authenticated, which accordingly was done, although these separate publications are now seldom to be met with. At length after a residence of some years in England, employed in collecting written and oral information, the first edition was published at London in 1563, in one thick vol. folio, with the title “Acts and Monuments of these latter and periilous days touching matters of the Churcbe, wherein are comprehended and described the great persecutions and horrible troubles, that have been wrought and practised by the Romish prelates, speciallye in this realms of England and | Scotland, from the year of our Lorde a thousand unto the time now present, &c. Gathered and collected according to the true copies and wrytinges certificatorie, as well of the parties themselves that suffered, as out of the bishops registers, which were the doers thereof.” Mr. Fox presented a copy of this edition to Magdalen-college, Oxford, and at the same time wrote a Latin letter to Dr. Lawrence Humphreys, printed by Hearne in his Appendix, No. V. to his preface to “Adami de Domersham Hist, de rebus gestis Glastonensibus,” Oxon. 1727. This volume, which relates principally to the history of martyrdom in England, was afterwards enlarged, first to two, and at length to three volumes, folio, embracing a history of the Christian church, from the earliest times, and in every part of the world. The ninth edition appeared in 1684, with copper-plates, those in the former editions being in wood, which last, however, are preferred by collectors, some of them containing real portraits. The publishers of the last editioa had almost obtained a promise from Charles II. to revive the order made in queen Elizabeth’s time for placing the work in the common halls of archbishops, bishops, deans, colleges, churches. But, if we look at the date, 1684, and recollect the hopes then entertained, of re-establishing popery, we shall 'not be much surprized that this order was not renewed, nor perhaps, from the improved state of the press, and of education, was it necessary. Since that time, however, there has been no republication of the complete work, although the English part continues to this day a standard book among the publishers of works in the periodical way, who have also furnished their readers with innumerable abridgments in every form. Yet as the original has long been rising in price, we may hope that the liberal spirit of enterprise which has lately produced new editions of the English Chronicles, will soon add to that useful collection a reprint of Fox, with notes, corrections, and a collation of the state papers and records.

The effect of Fox’s work, in promoting, or rather confirming the principles of the reformation, to which we owe all that distinguishes us as a nation, is acknowledged with universal conviction. It is proved even by the antipathy of his enemies, who would not have taken such pains to expose his errors, and inveigh against the work 2t large, if they had not felt that it created in the public mind an abhorrence of the persecuting spirit of popery, which has | suffered little diminution, even to the present day. All the endeavours of the popish writers, however, from Harpsfield to Milner, “have not proved, and it never will be proved, that John Fox is not one of the most faithful and authentic of all historians.” And in the words of the writer from whom we borrow this assertion, we add, although with some reluctance from respect to the gentleman’s name, “We know too much of the strength of Fox’s book, and of the weakness of those of his adversaries, to be farther moved by Dr. John Milner’s censures, than to charge them with falsehood. All the many researches and discoveries of later times, in regard to historical documents, have only contributed to place the general fidelity and truth of Fox’s’ melancholy narrative on a rock which cannot be shaken.1


Life prefixed to his Acts and Monuments, written by his Son. —Strype’s Annals, and Lives of the Archbishops, passim. Fuller’s Worthies. —Ath. Ox. vol, I. Fox’s ms Collection*, among the Harleian Mss. in Brit. Mns. Biog. Brit. Fuller’s Abel Hedivivus. Churton’s Life of NowelU Wordsworth’s Keel. Biography, preface, &c.