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The Life Of The Rev John Fox








John Fox, was born at Boston, in Lincolnshire, in 1517, where his
parents are stated to have lived in respectable circumstances. He was
deprived of his father at an early age; and notwithstanding his mother
soon married again, he still remained under the parental roof. From an
early display of talents and inclination to learning, his friends were
induced to send him to Oxford, in order to cultivate and bring them to
maturity. During his residence at this place, he was distinguished for
the excellence and acuteness of his intellect, which was improved by the
emulation of his fellow-collegians, united to an indefatigable zeal and
industry on his part. These qualities soon gained him the admiration of
all; and as a reward for his exertions and amiable conduct, he was
chosen fellow of Magdalen college; which was accounted a great honour in
the university, and seldom bestowed unless in cases of great
distinction. It appears that the first display of his genius was in
poetry; and that he composed some Latin comedies, which are still
extant. But he soon directed his thoughts to a more serious subject, the
study of the sacred scriptures: to divinity, indeed, he applied himself
with more fervency than circumspection, and discovered his partiality to
the reformation, which had then commenced, before he was known to its
supporters, or to those who protected them; a circumstance which proved
to him the source of his first troubles.

He is said to have often affirmed, that the first matter which
occasioned his search into the popish doctrine, was, that he saw divers
things, most repugnant in their nature to one another, forced upon men
at the same time; upon this foundation his resolution and intended
obedience to that church were somewhat shaken, and by degrees a dislike
to the rest took place.

His first care was to look into both the ancient and modern history of
the church; to ascertain its beginning and progress; to consider the
causes of all those controversies which in the meantime had sprung up,
and diligently to weigh their effects, solidity, infirmities, &c.

Before he had attained his thirtieth year, he had studied the Greek and
Latin fathers, and other learned authors, the transactions of the
councils, and decrees of the consistories, and had acquired a very
competent skill in the Hebrew language. In these occupations, he
frequently spent a considerable part, or even the whole of the night,
and in order to unbend his mind after such incessant study, he would
resort to a grove near the college, a place much frequented by the
students in the evening, on account of its sequestered gloominess. In
these solitary walks, he has been heard to ejaculate heavy sobs and
sighs, and with tears to pour forth his prayers to God. These nightly
retirements, in the sequel, gave rise to the first suspicion of his
alienation from the church of Rome. Being pressed for an explanation of
this alteration in his conduct, he scorned to call in fiction to his
excuse; he stated his opinions; and was, by the sentence of the college
convicted, condemned as a heretic, and expelled.

His friends, upon the report of this circumstance, were highly offended,
and especially his father-in-law, who was now grown altogether
implacable, either through a real hatred conceived against him for this
cause, or pretending himself aggrieved, that he might now, with more
show of justice, or at least with more security, withhold from Mr. Fox
his paternal estate; for he knew it could not be safe for one publicly
hated, and in danger of the law, to seek a remedy for his injustice.

When he was thus forsaken by his own friends, a refuge offered itself in
the house of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Warwickshire, by whom he was sent for
to instruct his children. In this house he afterwards married. But the
fear of the popish inquisitors hastened his departure thence; as they
were not contented to pursue public offences, but began also to dive
into the secrets of private families. He now began to consider what was
best to be done to free himself from further inconvenience, and resolved
either to go to his wife's father or to his father in-law.

His wife's father was a citizen of Coventry, whose heart was not
alienated from him, and he was more likely to be well entreated, for his
daughter's sake. He resolved first to go to him; and, in the meanwhile,
by letters, to try whether his father-in-law would receive him or not.
This he accordingly did, and he received for answer, "that it seemed to
him a hard condition to take one into his house whom he knew to be
guilty and condemned for a capital offence; neither was he ignorant what
hazard he should undergo in so doing; he would, however, show himself a
kinsman, and neglect his own danger." If he would alter his mind, he
might come, on condition to stay as long as he himself desired; but if
he could not be persuaded to that, he must content himself with a
shorter stay, and not bring him and his mother into danger.

No condition was to be refused; besides, he was secretly advised by his
mother to come, and not to fear his father-in-law's severity; "for that,
perchance, it was needful to write as he did, but when occasion should
be offered, he would make recompense for his words with his actions." In
fact he was better received by both of them than he had hoped for.

By these means he kept himself concealed for some time, and afterwards
made a journey to London, in the latter part of the reign of Henry,
VIII. Here, being unknown, he was in much distress, and was even reduced
to the danger of being starved to death, had not Providence interfered
in his favour in the following manner:

One day as Mr. Fox was sitting in St. Paul's church, exhausted with long
fasting, a stranger took a seat by his side, and courteously saluted
him, thrust a sum of money into his hand, and bade him cheer up his
spirits; at the same time informing him, that in a few days new
prospects would present themselves for his future subsistence. Who this
stranger was, he could never learn, but at the end of three days he
received an invitation from the dutchess of Richmond to undertake the
tuition of the children of the earl of Surry who, together with his
father, the duke of Norfolk, was imprisoned in the Tower, by the
jealousy and ingratitude of the king. The children thus confided to his
care were, Thomas, who succeeded to the dukedom; Henry, afterwards earl
of Northampton; and Jane who became countess to Westmoreland. In the
performance of his duties, he fully satisfied the expectations of the
dutchess, their aunt.

These halcyon days continued during the latter part of the reign of
Henry VIII. and the five years of the reign of Edward VI. till Mary came
to the crown, who, soon after her accession, gave all power into the
hands of the papists.

At this time Mr. Fox, who was still under the protection of his noble
pupil, the duke, began to excite the envy and hatred of many,
particularly Dr. Gardiner, then bishop of Winchester, who in the sequel
became his most violent enemy.

Mr. Fox, aware of this, and seeing the dreadful persecutions then
commencing, began to think of quitting the kingdom. As soon as the duke
knew his intention, he endeavoured to persuade him to remain; and his
arguments were so powerful, and given with so much sincerity, that he
gave up the thought of abandoning his asylum for the present.

At that time the bishop of Winchester was very intimate with the duke
(by the patronage of whose family he had risen to the dignity he then
enjoyed,) and frequently waited on him to present his service when he
several times requested that he might see his old tutor. At first the
duke denied his request, at one time alleging his absence, at another,
indisposition. At length it happened that Mr. Fox, not knowing the
bishop was in the house, entered the room where the duke and he were in
discourse; and seeing the bishop, withdrew. Gardiner asked who that was;
the duke answered, "his physician, who was somewhat uncourtly, as being
new come from the university." "I like his countenance and aspect very
well," replied the bishop "and when occasion offers, I will send for
him." The duke understood that speech as the messenger of some
approaching danger; and now himself thought it high time for Mr. Fox to
quit the city, and even the country. He accordingly caused every thing
necessary for his flight to be provided in silence, by sending one of
his servants to Ipswich to hire a bark, and prepare all the requisites
for his departure. He also fixed on the house of one of his servants,
who was a farmer, where he might lodge till the wind became favourable;
and every thing being in readiness, Mr. Fox took leave of his noble
patron, and with his wife, who was pregnant at the time, secretly
departed for the ship.

The vessel was scarcely under sail, when a most violent storm came on,
which lasted all day and night, and the next day drove them back to the
port from which they had departed. During the time that the vessel had
been at sea, an officer, despatched by the bishop of Winchester, had
broken open the house of the farmer with a warrant to apprehend Mr. Fox
wherever he might be found, and bring him back to the city. On hearing
this news he hired a horse, under the pretence of leaving the town
immediately; but secretly returned the same night, and agreed with the
captain of the vessel to sail for any place as soon as the wind should
shift, only desiring him to proceed, and not to doubt that God would
prosper his undertaking. The mariner suffered himself to be persuaded,
and within two days landed his passengers in safety at Nieuport.

After spending a few days in that place, Mr. Fox set out for Basle,
where he found a number of English refugees, who had quitted their
country to avoid the cruelty of the persecutors, with these he
associated, and began to write his "History of the Acts and Monuments of
the Church," which was first published in Latin at Basle, and shortly
after in English.

In the meantime the reformed religion began again to flourish in
England, and the popish faction much to decline, by the death of Queen
Mary; which induced the greater number of the protestant exiles to
return to their native country.

Among others, on the accession of Elizabeth to the throne, Mr. Fox
returned to England; where, on his arrival, he found a faithful and
active friend in his late pupil, the duke of Norfolk, till death
deprived him of his benefactor: after which event, Mr. Fox inherited a
pension bequeathed to him by the duke, and ratified by his son, the earl
of Suffolk.

Nor did the good man's successes stop here. On being recommended to the
queen by her secretary of state, the great Cecil, her majesty granted
him the prebendary of Shipton, in the cathedral of Salisbury, which was
in a manner forced upon him; for it was with difficulty that he could be
persuaded to accept it.

On his resettlement in England, he employed himself in revising and
enlarging his admirable Martyrology. With prodigious pains and constant
study he completed that celebrated work in eleven years. For the sake of
greater correctness, he wrote every line of this vast book with his own
hand, and transcribed all the records and papers himself. But, in
consequence of such excessive toil, leaving no part of his time free
from study, nor affording himself either the repose or recreation which
nature required, his health was so reduced, and his person became so
emaciated and altered, that such of his friends and relations as only
conversed with him occasionally, could scarcely recognise his person.
Yet, though he grew daily more exhausted, he proceeded in his studies as
briskly as ever, nor would he be persuaded to diminish his accustomed
labours. The papists, forseeing how detrimental his history of their
errors and cruelties would prove to their cause, had recourse to every
artifice to lessen the reputation of his work; but their malice was of
signal service, both to Mr. Fox himself, and to the church of God at
large, as it eventually made his book more intrinsically valuable, by
inducing him to weigh, with the most scrupulous attention, the certainty
of the facts which he recorded, and the validity of the authorities from
which he drew his information.

But while he was thus indefatigably employed in promoting the cause of
truth, he did not neglect the other duties of his station; he was
charitable, humane, and attentive to the wants, both spiritual and
temporal, of his neighbours. With the view of being more extensively
useful, although he had no desire to cultivate the acquaintance of the
rich and great on his own account, he did not decline the friendship of
those in a higher rank who proffered it, and never failed to employ his
influence with them in behalf of the poor and needy. In consequence of
his well known probity and charity, he was frequently presented with
sums of money by persons possessed of wealth, which he accepted and
distributed among those who were distressed. He would also occasionally
attend the table of his friends, not so much for the sake of pleasure,
as from civility, and to convince them that his absence was not
occasioned by a fear of being exposed to the temptations of the
appetite. In short, his character as a man and as a christian, was
without reproach.

Of the esteem in which he was held, the names of the following
respectable friends and noble patrons, will afford ample proof. It has
been already mentioned that the attachment of the duke of Norfolk was so
great to his tutor, that he granted him a pension for life; he also
enjoyed the patronage of the earls of Bedford and Warwick, and the
intimate friendship of Sir Francis Walsingham, (secretary of state,) Sir
Thomas, and Mr. Michael Hennage, of whom he was frequently heard to
observe, that Sir Thomas had every requisite for a complete courtier,
but that Mr. Michael possessed all the merits of his brother, besides
his own, still untainted by the court. He was on very intimate and
affectionate terms with Sir Drue Drury, Sir Francis Drake, Dr. Grindal,
archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Elmar, bishop of London, Dr. Pilkington,
bishop of Durham, and Dr. Nowell, dean of St. Paul's. Others of his most
intimate acquaintances and friends were, Doctors Umphrey, Whitaker, and
Fulk, Mr. John Crowly, and Mr. Baldwin Collins. Among the eminent
citizens, we find he was much venerated by Sir Thomas Gresham, Sir
Thomas Roe, Alderman Bacchus, Mr. Smith, Mr. Dale, Mr. Sherrington, &c.
&c. &c.

At length, having long served both the church and the world by his
ministry, by his pen, and by the unsullied lustre of a benevolent
useful, and holy life, he meekly resigned his soul to Christ, on the
18th of April, 1587, being then in the seventieth year of his age. He
was interred in the chancel of St Giles', Cripplegate; of which parish
he had been, in the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, for some time
vicar.

The Lord had given him a foresight of his departure; and so fully was he
assured that the time was just at hand when his soul should quit the
body, that (probably to enjoy unmolested communion with God, and to have
no worldly interruptions in his last hours) he purposely sent his two
sons from home, though he loved them with great tenderness; and before
they returned, his spirit, as he had foreseen would be the case, had
flown to heaven.

His death occasioned great lamentations throughout the city, and his
funeral was honoured with a great concourse of people, each of whom
appeared to bewail the loss of a father or a brother.

In his able martyrology he has elaborately treated of the vices and
absurdities of papal hierarchy, of which the following is a brief
enumeration.





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