John studied at Magdalen College, Oxford University and Brasenose College, Oxford University.
Foxe's prospects, and those of the Protestant cause generally, improved after the accession of Edward VI in January 1547 and the formation of a Privy Council dominated by pro-reform Protestants. In the middle or latter part of 1547, Foxe moved to London and probably lived in Stepney. There he completed three translations of Protestant sermons published by the "stout Protestant" Hugh Singleton. During this period Foxe also found a patron in Mary Fitzroy, Duchess of Richmond, who hired him as tutor to the orphan children of her brother, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a Catholic who had been executed for treason in January 1547. (The children were Thomas, who would become the fourth Duke of Norfolk and a valuable friend of Foxe's; Jane, later Countess of Westmorland; Henry, later Earl of Northampton; and Charles, who would later command the English fleet against the Spanish Armada.) Foxe lived in the duchess's London household at Mountjoy House and later at Reigate Castle, and the duchess's patronage "facilitated Foxe's entry into the ranks of England's Protestant elite." During his stay at Reigate, Foxe helped suppress a cult that had arisen around the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Ouldsworth, which had been credited with miraculous healing powers.
Foxe was ordained deacon by Nicholas Ridley on 24 June 1550, and his circle of friends, associates, and supporters included John Hooper, William Turner, John Rogers, William Cecil, and most importantly John Bale, who was to become a close friend and "certainly encouraged, very probably guided, Foxe in the composition of his first martyrology. From 1548 to 1551, Foxe brought out one tract opposing the death penalty for adultery and another supporting ecclesiastical excommunication of those who he thought "veiled ambition under the cloak of Protestantism." He also worked unsuccessfully to prevent the two burnings for the religion that occurred during the reign of Edward VI.
On the accession of Mary I in July 1553, Foxe lost his tutorship when the children's grandfather, the Duke of Norfolk was released from prison. Foxe walked warily as befitted one who had published Protestant books in his own name. As the political climate worsened, Foxe believed himself personally threatened by Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Just ahead of officers sent to arrest him, he sailed with his pregnant wife from Ipswich to Nieuwpoort. He then traveled to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Frankfurt, and Strasbourg, which he reached by July 1554. In Strasbourg Foxe published a Latin
history of the Christian persecutions, the draft of which he had brought from England and "which became the first shadowy draft of his Acts and Monuments."
In the fall of 1554, Foxe moved to Frankfurt, where he served as a preacher for the English church ministering to refugees in the city. There he was unwillingly drawn into a bitter theological controversy. One faction favored the church polity and liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer while the other advocated Reformed models promoted by John Calvin's Genevan church. The latter group, led by John Knox, was supported by Foxe; the former was led by Richard Cox. (In other words, the exiles were divided into Knoxians and Coxians.) Eventually Knox—who seems to have acted with the greater magnanimity—was expelled, and in the fall of 1555, Foxe and about twenty others also left Frankfurt. Although Foxe clearly favored Knox, he was irenic by temperament and expressed his disgust at "the violence of the warring factions."
Moving to Basel, Foxe worked with his fellow countrymen John Bale and Lawrence Humphrey at the drudgery of proofreading. (Educated Englishmen were noted for their learning, industry, and honesty and "would also be the last
persons to quarrel with their bread and butter." No knowledge of German or French was required because the English tended to socialize with each other and could communicate with scholars in Latin.) Foxe also completed and had printed a religious drama, Christus Triumphans (1556), in Latin verse. Yet despite receiving occasional financial contributions from English merchants on the continent, Foxe seems to have lived very close to the margin and been "wretchedly poor."
When Foxe received reports from England about the ongoing religious persecution there, he wrote a pamphlet urging the English nobility to use their influence with the queen to halt it. Foxe feared that the appeal would be useless, and his fears proved correct. When his friend Knox attacked Mary Stuart in his now famous The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, Foxe apparently criticized Knox's "rude vehemency," although their friendship seems to have remained unimpaired.
Foxe had dedicated Acts and Monuments to the queen, and on 22 May 1563, he was appointed prebend of Shipton in Salisbury Cathedral, in recognition of his championship of the English church. Foxe never visited the cathedral or performed any duties associated with the position except to appoint a vicar, William Masters, a highly educated fellow Protestant and former Marian exile. Foxe's inaction as a canon of the cathedral led him to him being declared contumacious, and he was charged with failing to give a tithe for repairs to the cathedral. Perhaps his poverty made him unwilling to spare the time or money to make visits or contributions. In any case, he retained the position until his death.
By 1565 Foxe had been caught up in the vestments controversy led at that time by his associate Crowley. Foxe's name was on a list of "godly preachers which have utterly forsaken Antichrist and all his Romish rags" that was presented to Lord Robert Dudley sometime between 1561 and 1564. He was also one of the twenty clergymen who on 20 March 1565 petitioned to be allowed to choose not to wear vestments; but unlike many of the others, Foxe did not have a London benefice to lose when Archbishop Parker enforced conformity. Rather, when Crowley lost his position at St Giles-without-Cripplegate, Foxe may have preached in his stead.
At some point before 1569, Foxe left Norfolk's house and moved to his own on Grub Street. Perhaps his move was motivated by his concerns about Norfolk's exceptionally poor judgment in attempting to marry Mary Stuart, which led to his imprisonment in the Tower in 1569 and his condemnation in 1572 following the Ridolfi Plot. Although Foxe had written Norfolk "a remarkably frank letter" about the injudiciousness of his course, after Norfolk's condemnation, he and Alexander Nowell ministered to the prisoner until his execution, which Foxe attended, on 2 June 1572.
In 1570, at the request of Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, Foxe preached the Good Friday sermon at Paul's Cross. This lofty exposition of the Protestant doctrine of redemption and attack on the doctrinal errors of the Roman Catholic Church was enlarged and published that year as A Sermon of Christ Crucified. Another sermon Foxe preached seven years later at Paul's Cross resulted in his denunciation to the Queen by the French ambassador on grounds that Foxe had advocated the right of the Huguenots to take arms against their king. Foxe replied he had been misunderstood, that he had argued only that if the French king permitted no foreign power (i.e. the Pope) to rule over him, the French Protestants would immediately lay down their arms.
In 1571, Foxe edited an edition of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, in parallel with the Bishops' Bible translation, under the patronage of Archbishop Parker, who was interested in Anglo-Saxon and whose chaplain, John Jocelyn was an Anglo-Saxon scholar. Foxe's introduction argues that the vernacular scripture was an ancient custom in England.