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A HISTORY OF THE LIVES, SUFFERINGS, AND TRIUMPHANT DEATHS OF THE PRIMITIVE PROTESTANT MARTYRS FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE LATEST PERIODS OF PAGAN, POPISH, AND INFIDEL PERSECUTIONS.
Published early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and only five years after the death of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I of England, Foxe's Book of Martyrs was an affirmation of the Protestant Reformation in England during a period of religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Because the English monarch was the temporal head of the Church of England, a change in ruler could change the legal status of religious practice. Adherents of the rejected faith risked persecution by the State, and during the reign of Mary I, non-Catholics were publicly burned at the stake. Foxe's account of these martyrdoms contributed significantly to a nationalistic repudiation of the Roman Catholic Church and asserted a historical justification intended to establish the Church of England as a continuation of the true Christian church rather than a modern innovation.
The First Part covered early Christian martyrs, a brief history of the medieval church, including the Inquisitions, and a history of the Wycliffite or Lollard movement. The Second Part of the work dealt with the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, during which the dispute with Rome led to separation of the English Church from papal authority, a new foundation for the Church of England, and the issuance of the Book of Common Prayer. The Third Part treated the reign of Queen Mary and the Marian Persecutions, in part instigated by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London.
Foxe's account of the Marian years is based on Robert Crowley's 1559 extension of a 1549 chronicle history by Thomas Cooper, itself an extension of a work begun by Thomas Lanquet. Cooper (who became a Church of England Bishop) strongly objected to Crowley's version of his history and soon issued two new "correct" editions.