1.1: The Author(s)
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Whose Story is This?: A Collection of Voices
John Foxe: Editor & Compiler
Born in 1516 in Lincolnshire, England, John Foxe was a Protestant clergyman and author who wrote and compiled the Actes and Monuments (Freeman 695). He was educated at Oxford, and became a lecturer at the University, although he resigned from the position following his conversion to Protestantism, as the position would have required him to be ordained as a Catholic priest (695). Upon Edward VI's rise to the throne, Foxe began translating and publishing Protestant sermons, and began writing the Actes and Monuments, later known as The Book of Martyrs (696). Foxe married Agnes Randall in 1547, with whom he had six children (695). When Mary Tudor, a Catholic, assumed the throne after Edward's death, Foxe reluctantly fled England out of fear of religious persecution (696). However, when Elizabeth I finally came to power, Foxe returned to England where he became acquainted with John Day, who printed and illustrated the first English edition of the Actes and Monuments in 1563 (699). Subsequent second, third, and fourth editions of the book were printed and became increasingly popular in the first half of the 17th century (708). Foxe died in April 1587, leaving his estate to his son, Samuel Foxe (707).
Image: Engraving of John Foxe (c. 1623-30) by Martin Droeshout (Wikimedia Commons)
John Bale: Editor
John Bale was the editor of the first publications of Anne Askew's Examinations in 1546 and 1547. Born in Suffolk in 1495, he was brought up and educated as a Catholic, but later converted to Protestantism (King 482). Bale was a writer known for his scriptural plays that criticised Roman Catholicism and spread reformist ideas (483). As an outspoken Protestant who openly criticized the Church in Rome, Bale was forced to flee England for Germany in 1540, where he started publishing martyrologies, including the Examinations of Anne Askew. He returned to England in 1547, where he continued to publish reformist works (483). When Mary Tudor, a Catholic, took the throne in 1553, John Bale once again fled England, this time to the Netherlands, and returned in 1559 only after Elizabeth I came to power (485). Bale died in Canterbury in 1563 (485).
Image: Engraving of John Bale c. 1650 (Wikimedia Commons)
A Focus on One Story: Examinations of Anne Askew
Anne Askew: Martyr
Although Anne Askew is not the author of The Book of Martyrs, a chapter of the book features Anne's own account and dictation of her examinations and torture, compiled and reprinted by John Foxe from the original edition edited by John Bale (Freeman and Wall). Anne Askew was born in 1521 in Lincolnshire, England to Elizabeth Wrottesley and William Askew (Watt 709). Anne was educated and later betrothed by her father to Thomas Kyme, who had intended to marry Anne's deceased sister, Martha (709). When Anne began to align herself with Protestant beliefs, Kyme drove Askew out of the household, and she fled to London and sought a divorce (709). In 1545, Askew was arrested under the authority of the Six Articles Act, and examined by the Lord Mayor and Edmund Bonner (710). After signing a confession of belief, Askew was ultimately released (710). However, in the summer of 1546, she was arrested and imprisoned for a second time on charges of heresy (710). Askew was brought to the Tower of London where, when she refused to name other protestants in the Queen's circle, she was tortured on the rack, despite laws prohibiting the torture of women (710). She refused several opportunities to recant her Protestant beliefs and was burnt at the stake in Smithfield, London on July 16, 1546 (711).
Image: Portrait of a Lady, Called 'Anne Ayscough or Askew (1521–1546), Mrs Thomas Kyme' Hans Eworth (c.1520–after 1578) (Art UK via National Trust)
Reading the Title Page
John Bale’s editorialization of The Examinations of Anne Askew, which was later edited and added to The Book of Martyrs by John Foxe, articulates the defense of Askew’s convictions. Bale traces her genealogy back to John the Baptist and Elijah, positioning Anne Askew a primitive martyr to the proto-Protestant Reformation. The relationship of female authorship and male-authored prefaces, especially in this text, places Bale in the role of a prophet rather than merely a medium between text and reader. Throughout Bale’s preface, he presents one of his many roles as the textual preserver of Anne Askew: "Thus hath not the fire taken Anne Akew all whole from the world, but left her here unto it more pure, perfect and precious than afore" (Bale 143). In Bale’s writings, it is difficult to find the line where he appropriates the death of Anne for his own political purposes and where he truly praises the fiery Askew for her haughty mockery of the Church. This unbalanced binary can be explained by the male-authorship for a female written work; Bale’s contribution suggests the need for mediation of female authorship. Although Bale’s preface presents the struggle between editor and author, he does register the tensions Askew resisted in her martyrdom. This rejection of societal expectations can be seen with the chosen imagery of the title page. Directly beneath the image of Askew is a verse from Proverbs:
"Favoure is disceytfull | and bewtye is a vayne thynge. But a woman that feareth the lorde | is worthye to be praysed. She open neth her mouthe to wysdome | and in her language is the lawe of grace."
This verse raises the question regarding the right for Anne Askew to ‘open neth her mouthe’ which resists the law of St. Paul that prohibited women from preaching or teaching the Word of God. The verse, found in Proverbs 31 of the Hebrew Bible, details the advice given by a mother to her son and provides the attributes of the idealized woman. While Bale's framing of Askew's account resists female authorial autonomy, he does position her as the woman of God. The inclusion of this verse is used as a tool, alongside Bale’s commentary, to prepare the reader of Anne Askew’s trials, execution, and martyrdom.
In the woodcut illustration found on the title page of John Bale's 1546 edition of Anne Askew's Examinations, Anne seems to be depicted as a saintly figure. The rays of light surrounding her head suggest the formation of a halo, which are often used in depictions of holy figures in Catholic imagery, such as saints, angels, and the holy family. This suggestion of sainthood is important because it demonstrates how Anne's image and story was being used as a monument to Protestant martyrdom even before the publication of John Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
This particular image of Anne seems to emphasize her resilience and strength. In the illustration, her brows are furrowed, she has a slight smile, and her eyes are fixed outward, not down toward the beast. Her face appears calm, but determined, which alludes to her composed and assertive tone in the text. Additionally, the illustration highlights Anne's intellect as well as her faith; in one hand she holds a Bible, and in the other, a writing quill. The importance of the quill--and Anne's role as an educated female writer--is particuarly prominent, as the proportions of the quill seem to be enlarged for emphasis. In posing Anne in this way, the artist asserts Anne's importance not only as a Protestant martyr, but as a thinker and writer, which directly conflicted with the accepted gender roles of the period.
At the bottom of the image is a depiction of a smiling, serpent-like beast. This beast represents the Catholic Church, as evidenced by its ornate papal headdress. In the composition of the image, Anne is positioned in front of the beast, which suggests triumph and glory in her willingness to sacrifice herself for the Protestant faith. However, one might also argue that the beasts' ominous smile and coiling, towering tail represents the lurking threat of persecution and execution protestants faced during the Reformation.