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Islam, the Turks and the Making of the English Reformation

The History of the Ottoman Empire in John Foxe’s «Acts and Monuments»

Christopher Toenjes

John Foxe wrote the first English history of the Ottoman Empire in his magnum opus, The Acts and Monuments. He exceeds contemporary representations in his extremely negative image of Islam and the «Turks,» who are identified as Antichrist and the epitome of wickedness. By juxtaposing Foxe’s work with that of his sources, fascinating conclusions can be drawn. The author analyzes the factors prompting Foxe to insert a lengthy digression on a topic that does not directly concern the main theme of his ecclesiastical history, shedding new light on the established notions of his historiographic methodology and his perception of Catholicism as the greatest enemy of «true religion».
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2. Revealed History

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The Revelation of St. John provides the blueprint of Foxe’s ecclesiastical history. Although the adaptation of past, present, and future events to the images found in this prophetic book belongs to centuries of Christian tradition, A&M was the first Protestant attempt on this scale in English. The manner in which he harmonized The Turkes storye with the prophecies and patterns of Revelation will be examined below. From the outset, he clearly demonstrated his intention of closely linking the history of the Ottomans with Scripture. He immediately brought his readers attention to biblical prophecy: “Before we enter into this story of the Turkes and Saracenes, first let vs call to remembraunce the Prophecie & forewarning of S. Paul writyng to the Thessalonians in his .2. Epistle”.375 He explained without fail how various episodes of history fulfilled prophecies of the New Testament and closed his narration of the rise of Ottoman power with a lengthy interpretation of prophecies from both the Old and the New Testaments, demonstrating how they either applied to the Turks or the papacy. Biblical prophecies served both as a reference for the proper comprehension of the unfolding of history and of what was to come.

Within the context of sixteenth-century historiography, the central place of the Bible – especially within Protestant circles – enhanced the possibility of Foxe’s strong reliance on Revelation to work as a catalyst in strengthening the potency of his arguments. As Collinson shows, it was enough to quote the...

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