My intention today is not so-much to promote my own work, but to state where I am coming from in terms of my own academic background. The most important element of this is my doctoral thesis which focused on the research and writing by John Foxe and his colleagues to re-appropriate English history in a protestant mould. John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments is the largest evangelical text produced during the sixteenth century reformation in England. Its main purpose was to promote the reformist agenda at court and to the English population at large.
Although (from its inception) the Acts and Monuments has been best regarded as a martyrology and memorial for those protestants who were burnt at the stake during the reign of Mary I, it is in actuality an ecclesiastical history which traces the Christian church from its foundations to Foxe’s present day. It is this element that I studied at the University of Sheffield between 2005 and 2009.
My thesis focused on Foxe’s attempts to rectifying the ‘ignoraunce of history’ (his words) held by the English people. In particular, it looked at Foxe’s writing of medieval history from the arrival of the Anglo Saxons through to the thirteenth century. I attempted (where possible) to track down Foxes’ sources which were sometimes manuscript or printed copies of medieval chronicles, recent publications such as histories, polemics, catalogues, or treatises, or occasionally based upon official documents searched out in archives. I also tried to trace Foxes’ contacts: names such as John Bale, Matthew Parker, John Day, Edmund Grindal and many more came up time and again and to varying degrees.
The context in which Foxe wrote brought my attention to the wider international reformation with connections found between Foxe and the Magdeburg Centuriators of Germany (another gigantic ecclesiastical history project from this period) and various continental scholars. However, the main basis for my work was the identification of source material that Foxe used and the way that he used it – not to tell lies or falsify as some have claimed in the past, but to tell a specific version of the past based upon what is said in his sources (and what Foxe believed was not said in his sources).
So that is where I am coming from. A study of how Foxe and others compiled the medieval portion of the Acts and Monuments. My studies are now shifting towards a wider investigation of sixteenth century scholars and historians but also towards that moment of transformation which occurred during the reign of Mary I. Exile not only radicalised many scholars from England in the 1550s but it also set English scholarship on a slightly different path – one that showed itself quite clearly during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Image: Front Page from the first edition of the Acts and Monuments (1563) taken from The Acts and Monuments Online