Publication details [#9609]

Sanders, Gabrielle S. 2007. The gendering of martyrdom: Sixteenth-century English martyrology and the defense of the Protestant Church. Rochester, N.Y.. 313 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


This thesis looks at the defense of the Protestant Church in sixteenth-century England through the gendered rhetoric and imagery of martyrology. During this period of religious instability, martyrdom was a real danger and martyrology was an important and immediate form of literature. Martyrology took many forms, not just works such as John Foxe's 'Acts and Monuments' and John Bale's editions of Anne Askew's 'Examinations', but also ballads, chronicles, wills, and both published and unpublished letters of the martyrs and their supporters. The introduction places this thesis into the historiographical debates over the English Reformation as well as situating it within the field of gender history. The first part then outlines the roles women and men played within martyrological sources. The rhetoric of martyrology was always anchored by real people. The second part examines the nature of the language and metaphor of martyrology. Not only were women described exhibiting traditionally male attributes, but they were also portrayed using male idioms, specifically becoming soldiers of Christ or being in 'imitatio Christi'. At the same time they were able to possess traditional, feminine (and Christian) characteristics of passivity, obedience, modesty, and dependence. For men the situation was as complex. They too were soldiers, boldly debating Catholic authorities, and Christ-like, enduring horrible deaths at the stake. Men, however, were also expected to be perfect Christians: passive, obedient, modest, and dependent. Because early modern ideas about gender resembled a sliding scale with men being closer to perfection, adopting feminine traits was more difficult for men than adopting male traits was for women. Being described as acting with 'maidenly modesty' could not have been comfortable. Martyrologists were not inventing the imagery they used. Part three shows how they drew on the early church, medieval heresy, and the Bible for the language they used in building a history for Protestants. In conclusion, women made better martyrs than men because they could move more easily between male and female characteristics. They provided martyrologists with perfect examples of God's grace working in the world, and, therefore, with the strongest propaganda for the reformed cause. (Dissertation Abstracts)