Women martyrs in a female church: Gender in John Foxe's "Acts and Monuments"

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Joseph Levine


Women martyrs, Female church, Gender, John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, Martyrdom

Subject Categories

European History | History | History of Religions of Western Origin | Women's History


This dissertation examines ideas about women and gender in the Protestant martyrology of sixteenth-century England, particularly the Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (first English ed., 1563). It argues that Foxe, and his predecessor Protestant martyrologist, John Bale, presented women martyrs as they were in life, often disorderly figures, disobedient to institutional and marital authority, acerbic and immodest, and thus easily targeted by Catholic polemicists as unchaste. While neither Foxe nor Bale offered their martyrs as models of behavior for the living, they participated, through a mingling of the discourses of gender and Catholicism, in the perpetuation of a rigid dichotomy of female types, based on their descriptions of the true and false churches.

The first two chapters examine Bale's editing of the Examinations of the Henrician martyr, Anne Askew. Bale's Examinations (1546-7) are considered in the context both of his other martyrology, of the Lollard Sir John Oldcastle (1544), and his exegesis of the Book of Revelation (1541-7), in which the true and false churches are written as female figures, the virtuous bride of Christ, and the Whore of Babylon. The third and fourth chapters analyze Foxe's own apocalyptic vision, largely influenced by Bale, as well as his views on marriage and his loathing of the institution of clerical celibacy, which he, again like Bale, saw as a veil for the whoredom of the false church. The remaining four chapters consider Foxe's female martyrs, beginning with Askew, to Foxe a proto-martyr of the Marian persecution. Chapters Six and Seven demonstrate Foxe's decision to avoid imposing traditional feminine virtue on his women martyrs, and Chapter Eight explains this choice, one entrenched in his apocalyptic belief, and his construction of martyrs as self-abnegating brides of Christ, like and comprising the true church herself. The conclusion briefly considers the "Life" of the Elizabethan Catholic martyr, Margaret Clitheroe. It contrasts the careful construction of Clitheroe's feminine virtue to Foxe's model of female martyrdom, and concludes that the Catholic matron, as portrayed, is more similar than Foxe's Protestant women martyrs to the ideal woman of post-Reformation England.


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