Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John Foxe
Editor: Rosemary Gaby
Peer Reviewed

Acts and Monuments, 1563 (Selection)


[John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (1563), also known as the Book of Martyrs, set out to provide an alternative, protestant church history, detailing the lives and deaths of diverse figures who could be seen as martyrs to the protestant cause. It was first published at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign and in subsequent years was frequently revised and expanded. Foxe's portrayal of the Lollard knight, Sir John Oldcastle, is highly sympathetic and can help explain why Shakespeare's use of the Oldcastle name for Falstaff would cause offense. Although Shakespeare's Falstaff is a very different character from Foxe's Oldcastle, it is possible that the Oldcastle story provided an additional twist of irony to the many lines in Henry IV, Part One that refer to Falstaff's sins, his influence on the prince, or even his death ("that roasted Manningtree ox"?). The modern spelling excerpts presented here are based on a facsimile of the 1563 edition provided by the Early English Books Online database.]

[Pages 261-263.]

1The History of the Most Valiant and Worthy Martyr of Christ, Sir John Oldcastle knight, Lord Cobham, with the whole process of his examination, death and martyrdom, for the true protection of Christ's Gospel. . . .

2As these high prelates, with their Pharisees and Scribes, were thus gathered in this pestilent council against the Lord and his word, first there resorted unto them the twelve inquisitors of heresies (whom they had appointed at Oxford the year afore, to search out heretics with all Wycliff's books) . . .

3After a certain communication they concluded among themselves, that it was not possible for them to make whole Christ's coat without seam (meaning thereby their patched Popish synagogue), unless certain great men were brought out of the way, which seemed to be the chief maintainers of the said disciples of Wycliff. Among whom the most noble knight, Sir John Oldcastle, the Lord Cobham, was complained of by the general proctors, yea, rather betrayers of Christ in his faithful members, to be the chief principal. Him they accused, first, for a mighty maintainer of suspected preacher[s] in the dioceses of London, Rochester, and Hereford, contrary to the minds of their ordinaries. Not only they affirmed him to have sent thither the said preachers, but also to have assisted them there by force of arms, notwithstanding their synodal constitution made afore to the contrary. Last of all, they accused him, that he was far otherwise in belief of the sacrament of the altar, of penance, of pilgrimage, of image worshipping, and of the ecclesiastical power, than the holy church of Rome had taught many years before.

4In the end, it was concluded among them, that, without any further delay, process should out against him, as against a most pernicious heretic.

5Some of that fellowship which were of more crafty experience than the other, would in no case have that matter so rashly handled but thought this way much better. Considering the said Lord Cobham was a man of great birth, and in favor at that time with the king, their counsel was to know first the king's mind, to save all things upright. This counsel was well accepted, and thereupon the Archbishop Thomas Arundel, with his other bishops and a great part of the Clergy, went straightways unto the king, as then remaining at Kensington, and there laid forth most grievous complaints against the said Lord Cobham, to his great infamy and blemish, being a man most Godly. The king gently heard those blood thirsty raveners, & far otherwise than became his princely dignity, he instantly desired them that in respect of his noble stock and knighthood, they should yet favorably deal with him. And that they would, if it were possible, without all rigor or extreme handling, reduce him again to the church's unity. He promised them also that in case they were not contented to take some deliberation, his self would seriously common the matter with him.

6Anon after, the king sent for the said Lord Cobham. And as he was come, he called him secretly, admonishing him betwixt him and him, to submit himself to his mother the holy church, and as an obedient child, to acknowledge himself culpable. Unto whom the Christian knight made this answer: "You, most worthy prince," saith he, "I am always prompt and willing to obey, forasmuch as I know you a Christian king, and the appointed minister of God, bearing the sword to the punishment of ill doers and for safeguard of them that be virtuous. Unto you, next my eternal God, owe I my whole obedience and submit me thereunto, as I have done ever, all that I have, either of fortune or nature, ready at all times to fulfill whatsoever ye shall in the Lord command me. But as touching the Pope & his spiritualty, truly I owe them neither suit nor service, forsomuch as I know him by the scriptures to be the great Antichrist, the son of perdition, the open adversary of God, and the abomination standing in the holy place." When the King had heard this, with such like sentences more, he would talk no longer with him, but left him so utterly.

7And as the Archbishop resorted again unto him for an answer, he gave him his full authority to cite him, examine him, and punish him, according to the devilish decrees which they call the laws of holy church. Then the said Archbishop, by the counsel of his other bishops and clergy, appointed to call before him Sir John Oldcastle, the Lord Cobham, and to cause him personally to appear to answer to such suspect articles as they should lay against him. . . .

8Then, forsomuch as he did not appear at the day appointed at Leeds (whereas he sat in consistory, as cruel as ever was Caiaphas, with his court of hypocrites about him), he judged him, denounced him, and condemned him, of most deep contumacy. After that, when he had been falsely informed by his hired spies, and other glozing glaverers, that the said Lord Cobham had laughed him to scorn, disdained all his doings, maintained his old opinions, condemned the church's power, the dignity of a bishop, and the order of priesthood (for of all these was he then accused), in his moody madness, without just proof, did he openly excommunicate him. Yet was he not with all this fierce tyranny qualified but commanded him to be cited afresh, to appear afore him the Saturday before the feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle, with these cruel threatenings added thereunto. That if he did not obey at the day, he would more extremely handle him. And to make himself more strong towards the performance thereof, he compelled the lay power, by most terrible menacing of curses and interdictions, to assist him against that seditious apostate, schismatic, that heretic, the troubler of the public peace, that enemy of the realm, and great adversary of all holy church; for all these hateful names did he give him.

9This most constant servant of the Lord and worthy knight, Sir John Oldcastle, the Lord Cobham, beholding the unpeaceable fury of Antichrist thus kindled against him, perceiving himself also compassed on every side with deadly dangers, he took paper and pen in hand, and so wrote a Christian confession or reckoning of his faith (which followeth hereafter) and both signed and sealed it with his own hand, wherein he also answereth to the four chiefest articles that the Archbishop laid against him. That done, he took the copy with him, and went therewith to the king, trusting to find mercy and favor at his hand. . . .

10 [After arrest, imprisonment and escape, Oldcastle is captured again four years later and condemned to death. Pages 276-277.]

11And, upon the day appointed, he was brought out of the Tower with his arms bound behind him, having a very cheerful countenance. Then was he laid upon a hurdle, as though he had been a most heinous traitor to the crown, and so drawn forth into St. Giles's Field, where as they had set up a new pair of gallows. As he was coming to the place of execution, and was taken from the hurdle, he fell down devoutly upon his knees, desiring almighty God to forgive his enemies. Then stood he up and beheld the multitude, exhorting them in most godly manner to follow the laws of God written in the scriptures, and in any wise to beware of such teachers as they see contrary to Christ in their conversation and living, with many other special counsels. Then was he hanged up there by the middle in chains of iron, and so consumed alive in the fire, praising the name of God so long as his life lasted. In the end, he commended his soul into the hands of God, and so departed hence most Christianly, his body resolved into ashes.

12And this was done in the year of our Lord 1418, which was the fifth year of the reign of King Henry the fifth, the people there present showing great dolor. How the priests that time fared, blasphemed, and accused, requiring the people not to pray for him, but to judge him damned in hell for that he departed not in obedience of their Pope, it were too long to write.

13This terrible kind of death, with gallows, chains, and fire, appeareth not very precious in the eyes of men that be carnal, no more than did the death of Christ, when he was hanged up among thieves. The righteous seemeth to die (saith the wise man) in the sight of them which are unwise, and their end is taken for very destruction. Ungodly souls thinketh their lives very madness, and their passage hence without all honor. But though they suffer pain before men (saith he) yet is their expectation full of immortality. They are accounted for the children of God, and have their just portion among the saints. As gold in the furnace doth God try his elect, and as a most pleasant burnt offering receiveth he them to rest.

14The more hard the passage be, the more glorious shall they appear in the latter resurrection. Not that the afflictions of this life are worthy of such a glory, but that it is God's heavenly pleasure so to reward them. Never are the judgments and ways of men like unto the judgments and ways of God, but contrary evermore, unless they be taught of him. In the latter time (saith the Lord unto Daniel) shall many be chosen, proved, and purified by fire, yet shall the ungodly live wicked still, and have no understanding that is of faith. By an angel from heaven was John earnestly commanded to write: that blessed are the dead which hence departed in the Lord. Right dear (saith David) in the sight of God is the death of his true servants. Thus resteth this valiant Christian knight, Sir John Oldcastle, under the altar of GOD, which is Jesus Christ, among that godly company which in the kingdom of patience, suffered great tribulation with the death of their bodies for his faithful word and testimony, abiding there with them, he fulfilling of their whole number, and the full restoration of his elect. The which he grant in effect at this time appointed, which is one God eternal. Amen.