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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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3. Descriptions of the Turks and Their Religion


Foxe’s notion of history was strongly influenced by his own interpretation of Revelation. As agents of Satan in this drama of the divine plan, the Ottomans or Turks were given an identity that would match their demonic role. In his concluding “Prayer agaynst the Turkes,” Foxe begged for God’s intervention to protect His people against “these Turkes, Saracens, Tartarians, against Gog and Magog, and all the malignaunt rable of Antichrist,”833 lumping the Turks together with Saracens and other Muslim entities as a single enemy of Christ. Significantly, he purported to keep these Islamic powers distinct from each other and actually added a table near the end of The Turkes storye (see Appendix 2) with the express intention of preventing the confusion so often found in other histories, whereby

it is hard to knowe distinctlye, what difference is betwene the Saracens, Turkes, Tartarians, the Sultans or Soldans, Mamaluches, or Ianizarites: what is their Calipha, their Seriphes, their Sultan, or Bassa, in what tymes they began, and howe long, and in what order of yeares they reigned.834

In this passage, Foxe expressed his concern for delineating the historical, regional, religious, and political differences between the Turks and other Muslim entities. Nevertheless, his identification of the Turks as an ethnically distinct part of the human race ends here. Attributes of humanity, civility, sincerity, piety, and morality are completely denied them throughout The Turkes storye. Moreover, the Turks are equated with degrading vices and transformed into non-human,...

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