John Foxe’s ‘book of martyrs’ the appleby copy

In 1632 Richard Moore, stationer of London, presented a copy of the 1631-2 edition of John Foxe’s Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes..., better known as the ‘Book of Martyrs’, to St Lawrence’s Church, of Appleby in the county town of Westmorland. Gifts of books to churches are far from uncommon, but this particular benefaction is of considerable interest both in terms of the history of the book and of the town where the church stands.

Moore was probably born in 1583 or 4, the son of a tailor in Appleby who had died before Richard was bound as an apprentice into the book trade in London in 1598. Although he was not the first Westmerian to take up an apprenticeship either as a bookseller, printer or bookbinder, Moore was one of the first (of whom we have record) to trade as master in his own right after obtaining his freedom of the Stationers’ Company, and so a brief resume of his career would be appropriate.

Why Moore became an apprentice to a London bookseller, and the motives that prompted the choice – if indeed there was any element of choice on Moore’s part – remains a mystery. It would seem safe to assume that Moore was possessed of a reasonable level of literacy, probably obtained as a pupil at Appleby Grammar School, where he would also have been inculcated with at least a familiarity with Latin, some Greek and perhaps a little Hebrew. If Moore was educated at Appleby Grammar School, and it is hard to believe that he was not a pupil there, then he would have enjoyed the privilege of studying under Reginald Bainbrigg (1545-1614?), one of the great pedagogues of Elizabethan England. Moore, a native of a region where the old religion still held considerable sway, seems by education and possibly also by upbringing and prudence to have been committed to the Protestant and therefore by parity of reasoning ‘loyalist’ cause.

It is extremely unlikely that Moore was moved to seek a career in the book trade as a result of his immediate experience, but the possibility cannot be dismissed. A degree of familiarity with books may be taken for granted as Appleby Grammar School was possessed of a number of books. The school library, in its infancy in Moore’s day, was later elevated to the status of one of the North of England’s great school libraries, largely as a result of the wealth of additions made by Bainbrigg and others. However, it is a long way from a familiarity with an object to seeking to pursue a career in the production and distribution of that object. Another motive suggests itself which, though slightly more fanciful, is not beyond the realms of possibility. Moore was apprenticed to a bookseller whose shop was in London at the churchyard of St Dunstan’s in the West; an area bounded by Clifford’s Inn. The Clifford family, as owners of Appleby Castle and much property in North Westmorland, was the major landholder in the town of Appleby. Although the Cliffords had leased the Clifford’s Inn premises to lawyers in 1344, the freehold was not conveyed until 1618. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that one or other of the Clifford family, perhaps through the intervention of their steward in Appleby, were familiar with Moore’s future master. Did one of what may be loosely regarded as Moore’s ‘London connections’ enquire if the bookseller had an opening for a promising lad from Appleby? Or, did the bookseller mention in conversation that he sought a new apprentice and one of those London connections suggest Moore as a possible candidate? No conclusion can be safely drawn, but it remains beyond doubt that on 2 October 1598 ‘Richard moore…putt him selfe an apprentice to mathue Lownes, citizen and staconer of London…’

Moore’s master, Matthew Lownes, was a bookseller and stationer whose shop stood in St Dunstan’s Churchyard, towards the western end of Fleet Street and close to Temple Bar. Lownes himself was one of a large family of booksellers in London who were in turn descended from Hugh Lownes, a husbandman and fletcher of Astbury, Cheshire. His brother, Humphrey Lownes, traded as a printer in St Paul’s Churchyard, close to the great west door of the Cathedral. In 1605, Matthew Lownes himself also moved to St Paul’s Churchyard which was, to all intents and purposes, the nerve centre of the English book trade of the period.

At St Paul’s Lownes traded from a property at the Bishop’s Head, two doors west of Canon Alley opposite the great north door of St Paul’s Cathedral. The ground plan and area of Lownes’ shop can be accurately gauged from the survey of building sites undertaken after the Great Fire of 1666. This shows an area 55.25 feet deep with the shop frontage at the southern or cathedral end of 18.5 feet wide. We can therefore assume with some confidence that Richard Moore would have been familiar with the surroundings of St Dunstans in his early apprentice years and the busy bookselling area around St Pauls in the later. This proximity to other members of the book trade will no doubt have assisted him in making contacts that could be of use to him when he set up in business on his own account.

If St Pauls was the major centre of the trade, St Dunstans was not without significance and had long played host to members of the book trade. Nor was it unused to being a centre of controversy. William Tyndale, the translator of the New Testament into English – a ‘crime’ for which he was eventually to be barbarously executed – had been a preacher there for a brief period. Richard Pynson, the Norman-born printer and assistant to William Caxton, England’s first printer, had moved his printing shop there from St Clement’s in 1501 or 1502 following one of the periodic, and frequent, outbursts of violence by the native population on foreign workers. Several other booksellers worked in and around St Dunstan’s Churchyard while Moore was apprenticed there, perhaps the most significant being William Jaggard, whose shop was ‘at [the] East end of Church’ and who was later to publish the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

As soon as he had obtained his freedom of the Stationers’ Company, Richard Moore appears to have wasted no time in establishing himself as an independent bookseller and set up shop in his old haunt of St Dunstan’s Churchyard shortly after becoming a member of the yeomandry (or commonalty) of the Stationers’ Company in November 1607. On 28 March 1608, less than six months after completing his apprenticeship, he entered in the register book at Stationers’ Hall his right to the copy of ‘a booke calle A most wytty and merry conceited comedie called “who would a thought it or lawtrykes” ’ a play by John Day published as Law-trickes or, who would have thought it.

Between entering his first copy in 1608 and that of his edition of John Gee’s The Christian store house on 29 April 1631, Moore published, or joined congers in the publication of over fifty books. His imprint appears on forty-four titles as ‘printed... for R. Moore’, and a further eight which were imprinted as ‘... [and] sold by R. Moore.’ These included editions of works by John Donne, Frances Quarles and Tobias Venner. It would seem, therefore, that he enjoyed a reasonably successful career. This presumption is supported by the contents of his will in which he left his copyrights to his widow Anne and one thousand pounds (approx. £86,000 at today’s purchasing power) to be divided equally between his four sons. He also bequeathed the sum of twenty shillings to the poor of the parish of St Dunstan’s where he had spent almost all his working life. Perhaps surprisingly he made another bequest of forty shillings that was to ‘be distributed to the ancient poore people of Appleby in Westmorland.’ But, he made a still greater gift to the people of Appleby, a copy of an edition of one of the most important books in the history of early modern England; a book in whose publication he had played a role.

‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ as it has been called ever since its first English publication, was for more than two centuries one of the most widely read books in England. It first appeared when the memory of Mary Tudor’s executions of Protestants was fresh in the minds of its readers, it offered a picture of Catholics as the principal persecutors of adherents to the Protestant faith. This not only resulted in the fierce English hatred of the Inquisition, and hence Spain, in the later Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, but has strongly influenced English thinking on Roman Catholicism to this day. Such indeed was the suspicion if not downright dread of the Inquisition that it was still deemed a suitable subject for chapbooks, including one example printed in Whitehaven, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

The first English edition appeared in March 1563 and became an immediate best-seller despite the bulk of being a folio of 1,741 pages and its consequent high cost; a fact which distressed the thrifty soul of John Knox. It was, perhaps inevitably, furiously attacked by Catholics and for the second edition of 1570, now in two large folio volumes, Foxe corrected many errors of fact, as well as carrying the story back to Apostolic times and including accounts of a number of significant European martyrs. The two later editions that appeared in the Foxe’s lifetime (1576 and 1583) contained only a few additions.

'The ‘copyright’ of the book was owned by the great Elizabethan printer, John Day who assigned his rights over to the Stationers’ Company. They then published a new edition in 1610, with a section added by a new editor, Edward Bulkeley. Bulkeley brought the book up to date, mainly with material from the French wars of religion, but kept his own additions as a separate section clearly distinct from Foxes ‘authoritative’ text.

However, the next edition, printed in 1631 and published in 1632, had a possibly greater significance than its predecessors. The new anonymous editors added almost 200 pages of new material which expanded the work from two to three volumes, and, significantly, made no textual distinction between Foxe’s original text and their new additions. Their intention clearly was to appropriate Foxe’s authoritative status for their work. Bulkeley, for instance, had included the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot (according to the late Brian Redhead: ‘the last time an Englishman entered the Houses of Parliament with honourable intentions.’) with its subtext of constant vigilance as the price of freedom. However, the Treatise of Afflictions, which was added to the 1632 edition, suggested an entirely different slant: the faithful were warned to prepare for martyrdom not only at the hands of European Catholic states but also at that of their own King.

In 1571, a decree of Convocation had ordained that copies of the Booke of Martyrs were to be placed in all cathedral churches; while the houses of archbishops, bishops, archdeacons and resident canons should all have copies for the use of servants and visitors. There was no instruction that it should also be provided in parish churches, but it very often was, and chained examples (often seventeenth-century editions) survive not infrequently. In 1573 the churchwardens of St Michael’s, Cornhill, purchased a copy of ‘the Book of Martyrs of Mr. Foxe’ along with a chain and lock to secure it to the lectern, for the considerable sum of £2.2s. 6d.

It was never a popular book in the sense of enjoying a widespread ownership, because it was both too bulky and too expensive for the average purchaser. However, it did become generally available and a widespread readership meant that its vivid and gruesome stories entered into the national consciousness by combining the undying appeal of the horrific with a suitably high moral tone.

The Court Book C of the Stationers’ Company records that on 1 August 1631 

‘Whereas the Booke of Martirs being out of print and certayne persons of quality desiring that it might be re imprinted for the generall good of the Kingdome came unto the M[aste]r Wardens and assistants and certified that if the Company would not print it for themselves that they would take a courte for the speedy doing of it elcewhere.’

The Court again discussed the matter (at inordinate length) on 5 March 1632 and proposed

‘...after a long deliberation Mr Adam Islip, Mr ffelix Kingston and one Robert Young Printers & Stationers took upon them by approbaton of this table to print one impression of 1600 of the same Booke at their owne charge.’

Although the printers had produced the edition at their own expense, in order to offset the great cost of production they still needed the partners called for during the preceding August. On 27 April 1632, sixteen freeman of the Stationers’ Company, including Richard Moore, agreed ‘that the whole impression of the Booke of Martyrs being in number sixteene hundred, shall remayne in one Roome of Warehouse in or Comon Hall, & there to be & remayne in joynt stock for & to the vse of all the aforesaid Partners vntill the end & Terme of Three years.’

When the book appeared, Richard Moore seems to have lost little time in donating a copy to the town of Appleby. The three volumes were, I suspect in so far as my ability and knowledge allows, bound in London, but I am forced to wonder if the gift inscription, tooled in gilt into the front cover of the first volume, was an example of local work for it has – shall we say – a certain rustic charm. Letterforms of various sizes stagger across the cover and struggle to align. A carefully made digital copy of the inscription illustrates what I mean.


Of the 1,600 copies of the 1632 edition that were printed, around thirty-five survive today, many of which are in varying degrees of imperfection and dilapidation. In so far as I can ascertain from the census of surviving copies, the Appleby copy is one of only two still in the hands of the original owners, and it is surely the only one carrying a dedication to those owners from one of the publishers.

However, the Appleby copy has suffered during the passage of time: the title pages of two volumes are missing, as are the folding plates. While such losses could be put down to carelessness or accidental misfortune, the same latitude cannot be extended to the wanton damage inflicted on several of the wood engravings which adorn the text. In many instances where the pope appears on an engraving, the face of the pontiff has been removed, either by carefully cutting out the image (quite literally ‘defacing’ the book) or, as in one instance, burning the image out.

From volume 1, page 1020 (detail)

From volume 1, page 1020 (detail)

By such means do books cease to be merely texts and acquire the status of historic artefacts; granting, as this instance displays, an insight into contemporary hatred and fear.

The books were chained in Appleby church as part of their small parish library. The position of the chain mounts at the tail of the rear covers, suggests that they were originally displayed on some form of lectern. At some point, perhaps in the closing decades of the eighteenth century when the practice of chaining books had rather gone out of fashion, the volumes were removed from display and until Easter of 1890 they languished in a store cupboard. During that festival, the London publisher Charles Rivington visited Appleby to inspect the church registers and came across the volumes of Foxe. He described them as ‘in want of some attention.’ Rivington’s account of the state of the books is a trifle vague, but it appears that two of the volumes still had their chains, while the first volume had only ‘the iron ring to which the chain was attached.’

The volumes then received the attention Rivington felt they deserved; it was less than sympathetic. The original chains were removed and replaced with chain links that appear to have come from the local agricultural ironmongers; the volumes were re-sewn with a herringbone stitch and new leather backstrips were added, presumably to replace lost originals, finally utterly unsuitable Spanish pattern marbled paper endleaves were inserted. One suspects the dread hand of a stationery binder in the employ of J. Whitehead & Sons, booksellers, printer, bookbinders etc. of Bridge Street, Appleby.

A wall case was manufactured and attached to the west wall of the baptistery and the books placed therein with their chains screwed into the base of the shelf, and a slender metal bar, secured by a small lock, placed horizontally across the case to keep the books secure. Inadequate though this security may appear to have been it worked as the books remained safe in their case for over a further century. The same cannot be said of the binder’s work, for over the intervening years the backstrips had degraded to such an extent that they were virtually non-existent. A few of years ago the Parochial Church Council gave permission for some basic repairs to the volumes to be carried out. Naturally, as is usually the case in such instances, there was no money for major conservation work. However, donations from the Town Council and the town’s Rotary Club, and profits from the sale of a town guide raised sufficient funds to allow the volumes to be rebacked, and the offending marbled endleaves to be replaced with something more seemly. The work has been undertaken by Stephen Conway, one of the country’s leading bookbinders, and the volumes will, in the foreseeable future, once more grace the church and continue to preserve the memory of their donor.

It is my hope that, when sufficient further funds have been accumulated, a purpose-made lectern will be constructed. This, I trust, will allow for the display of the inscription on the front of volume one and one of the ‘defaced’ images to be displayed. Meanwhile the volumes will stand in their wall cupboard as mute witnesses to a period when some people put hatred of their fellow man above the love of God. How little has changed since this book first appeared.

Barry McKay


For: Bookbinder: Journal of the Society of Bookbinders, Volume 18, 2004.

Slightly revised for Quadrat, 2009.

Later revised again 2017.