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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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John Foxe’s The historye and tyrannye of the Turkes is the first English history of the Ottoman Empire. Written immediately following the publication of the first edition of The Acts and Monuments (1563), it was inserted into the second, greatly augmented two-volume edition of his magnum opus, wherein a Protestant version of ecclesiastical history is sketched out and the persecution of the godly since the foundation of the Church, above all during the Reformation era in England, is described. It was an attempt on Foxe’s part to prove the existence of the true and hidden Church throughout the Middle Ages and thus establish a connection between the apostolic church and Protestantism. What was the relation of a lengthy digression on the Ottoman Turks to a struggle predominantly between Protestants and Roman Catholics? The author’s intentions for doing so are multifaceted and often ambiguous, yet this study identifies motivations that can help us see the elizabethan martyrologist and church historian in a new light. One of the most obvious reasons Foxe told the story of the latest Christian-Muslim conflict was to throw the blame for everything that went wrong on the Romish Church under the leadership of the Pope. To effectively do this, it was necessary to modify history. By means of a thorough examination of his historiographic methodology, this study provides compelling evidence for his modification of the facts as he found them in his sources in order to create a Protestant version of history and a Protestant...

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