Ecclesiasticall History, conteyning the Actes and Monumentes of Martyrs...Printed by John Daye, dwelling ouer Aldgate, 1576. 4to (2 vols bound as one). Full reverse calf, boards with broad blind roll-tooled borders, spine decorated in blind, all edges red; pp. 14-1306 (lacking title and 1-13), 1315-1332, 1337-1774, 1777-1976, 1981-1984, 1987-8, 1991-2, 1997-2000, 2003-2010, 2012-2020 (5V.iv loose but present, lacking rest of Index); floriated initials, woodcut plate, later mounted, title-page for Vol. II, lacking title for Vol. I., numerous woodcuts to text throughout.
Although The Acts and Monuments of Foxe has been a critical text in shaping Protestant identity, the idea of it as a single text - the much later coined (and frequently abridged) "Book of Martyrs" - misses the complexity of its publication history. None of the four editions produced during Foxe's lifetime (of which this was the third) was the same as any other. Foxe continually adapted his work to answer the criticisms of his Catholic opponents.
It is important to remember that Foxe produced his first pre-Acts martyrologies amongst the Marian persecutions. What had been an academic exercise in martyrology suddenly and violently became a part of his lived experience. Astoundingly for the day - and given his intense opposition to Catholicism - Foxe did not simply oppose Catholic executions, but utterly opposed the death penalty for any religious dissent. His book was not merely an anti-Catholic tract, it fundamentally opposed the concept of religiously inspired killing. It was perhaps inevitable that his first two treatises (mostly focusing on the Lollards) would form the basis of a larger text, tearing into the recent persecutions and aiming to show that the Catholic church was a conspiracy to destroy English national identity along with its religion. The book - backed by worthies like Sir William Cecil and Foxe's former pupil, the Duke of Norfolk - thus became part of the new Elizabethan paradigm: that the Church of England was a continuation of the true Church of Christ not a modern innovation. It is telling to note Foxe's close, if uneasy, links to Matthew Parker (one of the architects of the Thirty-Nine Articles) and critically his library, which led to the Archbishop being presented with a copy of the work.
Foxe published the first version of his ecclesiastical history in 1563, drawing on documents, registers, letters, and other primary sources to support his thesis. He might more properly be described as a compiler, rather than an author, were it not that his voice comes through so powerfully in the contextualisation and presentation of others' information through the form of the text (especially its use of typography). The book was not merely successful, it fostered strong emotional reactions on both sides of the debate and the revision work began almost immediately. The second edition, the first major revision, was published in 1570. This was no mere reprint. Foxe significantly enlarged the scope of the first edition, taking the history back to the 11th century. He also responded personally to the Catholic criticisms, including newly discovered information and sources. This copy was part of the third edition (less heavily revised than the 1570 edition) which was printed on cheaper paper to attempt to meet rising demand for a cheap edition - hence the expected toning. Foxe would produce one final revision of the book in 1583, resisting calls for abridgement. He died in 1587, plans for another revision already underway. The book of deaths had become his life.
This edition was surveyed by the British Academy for their effort to reproduce the best and most complete text from the various editions produced during Foxe's lifetime (this number F76028). Professor David Loades wrote (in the Jan-July 2000 British Academy Review) that "none of the surviving original copies of the sixteenth century editions [are] full and perfect. All those traced and inspected have defects - pages missing or severely damaged, illustrations removed, and so on." (p.25). At the point when the Academy surveyed this copy, they had traced 30 copies, of which 15 were in the UK - this one the only private library copy. This copy is thus a scarce survival - strange given the immense popularity of the work - and a rare chance to own a typographically fascinating, early edition of an ideological battleground in the formation of English national identity.