John Day & Foxe’s Book
By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins
John Day was the foremost printer/publisher of the English Reformation. He is best known for collaborating with John Foxe in compiling and printing Actes and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, publish in Latin in 1554). The first English version was published in 1563 and it went through four editions in Foxe’s lifetime, and many more later editions. It was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth who, after reading it, immediately ordered that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs be in every church, common hall, and college.
Because of Day (and Foxe!), we know the tragic details of the deaths of the Lollards (followers of John Wycliffe), Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, and many of the other 300 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary). In the 1570 edition, the scope of the book was expanded to include Christian martyrs from the early church through the Reformation.
John Day began his career at the age of twenty-five at the time the new King Edward VI reversed the English prohibition on expressing unauthorised religious opinions that had been in force since the Act of Six Articles (1539). The vast majority of the books published during Day’s career were in support of the religion of Reformation Anglicanism and Thomas Cranmer’s push towards a new English liturgy. For example, ten of twenty books he published with his partner in 1558 had to do with the debate over eucharistic doctrine.
Day wanted the Bible available for everyone and so printed small versions for the less affluent, and bigger more expensive Bibles for the well-to-do. The death of King Edward triggered the sequence of royal measures forbidding the printing and sale of Reformation literature, that was then followed by public burnings of Protestant books. When the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne many printers ran for their lives to the continent, but Day stayed behind continuing to publish evangelical works under the pseudonym “N. Dorcaster of Wittenberg” and “Michael Wood of Rouen.”
He was finally caught and imprisoned for his indiscretions. With the accession of Elizabeth I on November 17, 1558, Day was restored to favour and he quickly rose to prominence in the London book trade. John Day died July 23, 1583 after a long and constant career of promoting the Bible as God’s uniquely inspired Word, “for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man” (Thirty-nine Articles, VII).
The Revd Canon Chuck Collins is the Director for the Center for Reformation Anglicanism.