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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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4. The “feare of the Turke”


Part four of this study is in many ways a continuation of the foregoing theme, developing further Foxe’s own image of the Turks as the most extreme enemies of Christ. While the last section of this book focused on his total demonization of them, this section analyzes the manner in which the latter portrayal, together with his eschatological expectations and the concept of the Ottomans as the scourge of God, affected Foxe’s notion of them as a threat to both the faith of individual Christians as well as to the political powers within Christendom. Schmuck has pointed out that the “availability of the ‘Turk’ as a trope … enabled him to speak to Protestant anxieties, enforce claims to the truth and legitimacy of the Protestant church, and further to consider his country’s present and future spiritual health.”1302 Foxe’s notion of the Ottoman threat was, however, not purely functional, void of any notion of a genuine fear of the Sultan’s warriors as a threat in themselves. Historians have shown that it was to a large extent the real or apparent physical threat they posed to individual Christians and Christendom that accounted for the ongoing demonization of the Turks despite the availability of more accurate information.1303 Thus, whether he merely used the threat as a trope to achieve further religious reform and demonize the Catholic Church, or whether he believed that they were an actual menace to Christians or Christendom as a whole is crucial for understanding the extent of...

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