John Foxe’s survey of Christian martyrs throughout history laid strong emphasis on those who had died for their faith during the reign of Queen Mary (1553–58), and was widely read during the 16th and 17th centuries. It had a great influence on popular opinion with regard to Catholicism over the following centuries, providing support for the legal oppression of Catholics until the 19th century.
Foxe began his work before Catholic Mary’s reign and the persecution of the Protestants. His first studies were of the early Christian martyrs, the victims of the Inquisition, and the followers of Wycliffe and Tyndale, who supported the reading of the Bible in English. As a Protestant in exile in Germany he continued writing, as news of the persecutions in England reached him. The first edition of his book, in Latin, was published in 1559, and contained little information about the recent Protestant martyrs, whose stories were included in the much fuller edition published in English in 1563.
While Foxe was by no means an impartial writer, and his presentation of history is selective and peppered with comment, his access to the evidence from very recent trials and eye-witness accounts renders his work generally reliable.