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

urity. 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


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