1.3: Themes and Impact
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Why does this book matter?
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, Foxe influenced apocalyptic writing with his Actes and Monuments and his commentary on the Book of Revelations. Additionally, Foxe helped translate Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians, which Puritans used as a devotional. Actes and Monuments is a great source of information about the English Reformation because it provides real accounts of real stories which happened to people of the Protestant religion. Foxe's Actes and Monuments opened doors for literary authors to begin exploring the connection between history and the Bible; more specifically, literary authors began examining the similarities to the Book of Revelations and the persecutions which were happening around them. Actes and Monuments is based on oral and eyewitness accounts of these cases as well as archival history, which allowed outsiders to feel as if they were a part of the project. Actes and Monuments became a historical work of religious propaganda while providing guidance to Protestant people (Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature).
Individual vs. Society
"Besides this my Lord Mayor laid one thing to my charge, which was never spoken of me, but of them: and that was, whether a mouse eating the host, received God or no? This question did I never ask, but indeed they asked it of me, whereunto I made them no answer but smiled." (Foxe 23)
The idea of individual versus society is an overarching theme throughout all of Book of Martyrs, but can be seen clearly in Anne Askew's account of her trial. In the passage above, Anne's faith is being challenged by the Lord Mayor. By asking whether a mouse receiving host is receiving God, the Lord Mayor is drawing a clear divide between their views. The Lord Mayor is insinuating that the Catholic belief in transubstantiation, meaning that the bread at Mass transforms into the Body of Christ, is correct. Instead, Anne Askew (and the Protestant faith) believes in consubstantiation, meaning that God is present during the Eucharist, but the recipient does not receive the real body and blood of God. Additionally, the Lord Mayor speaks on behalf of the whole community since being Protestant was outlawed during this time. By speaking on behalf of the community, he is speaking with an "us versus you" mentality where Anne's point of view will not be respected.
"...the day of her execution being appointed, she was brought into Smithfield in a chain, because she could not go on her feet, by means of her great torments. When she was brought unto the stake, she was tied by the middle with a chain that held up her body." (Foxe 34)
In this excerpt, Anne is moments away from becoming a martyr. Anne could no longer walk on her feet due to the previous torture she experienced in the Tower of London. In being tried and tortured, Anne had every ability to deny her faith and convert to Christianity. Instead, Anne remained steadfast in her beliefs and remained a Protestant. It is almost impossible to put into words the love and trust Anne had for her God and her religion. Anne knew that she could live if she confessed and accepted the teachings of the Church, but felt that God had called her for this moment. Her suffering became a call to Protestants everywhere to remain faithful.
"The multitude and concourse of the people was exceeding, the place where they stood being railed about to keep out the press. Upon the bench under Saint Bartholomew's Church, sat Wriothesley Chancellor of England, the old duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Bedford, the Lord Mayor with diverse other more." (Foxe 34)
One particularly interesting point about this passage is the way the community has gathered to watch the execution of Anne Askew. During this time period, public persecution was a form of entertainment. Public persecution, in general, had been seen centuries prior to the era of Protestant persecution and has always been a form of entertainment. By publicly killing "heretics," the execution acts as a message to other Protestants living in religiously intolerant communities. These executions warn Protestants that they can either convert to Catholicism, or die at the stake alongside other members of their religious community. These public executions also remind the community of the power which the monarchy holds over the people. Whoever is the reigning ruler has the opportunity to be religiously tolerant or intolerant. Whichever they choose, the monarchy has the ultimate control over the lives of its people.