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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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In an era when Protestantism was struggling to maintain its foothold in England immediately following the ascension of Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603) to the throne, it would seem that polemicists defending the cause of a reformed or Protestant Church would be chiefly, if not wholly, obsessed with the Roman Catholicism. It is not readily evident that an enemy from without, which was distant and did not represent a direct threat to the survival of the fledgeling church, would warrant anything more than fleeting consideration. But, oddly enough, the mighty Ottoman Empire, stretching from modern day Iraq to Algiers and from the Hejaz to Hungary, occupied a prominent position among publications of late Tudor England. This book will look closely at one such publication by the martyrologist and church historian John Foxe (1516/17–1587). His magnum opus, The Acts and Monuments (A&M), included a history of the Ottoman Empire, The historye and tyrannye of the Turkes1 (The Turkes storye). One of the earliest works in English on the Ottoman Empire, it is also among the most neglected. This study seeks to understand the purpose of a history of this Muslim empire within the context of A&M and how and to what purpose Foxe used the image of the Turk.2

Though commonly referred to as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, A&M is more than a martyrology, aiming at nothing less than a Protestant ecclesiastical history. Foxe’s work is modeled on Eusebius of...

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