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Eighteenth-Century Quakerism and the Rehabilitation of James Nayler, Seventeenth-Century Radical


Although the first Quakers aligned history with superfluous tradition, detrimental to true appreciation of the inward voice of God, by the early eighteenth century they had produced their first histories as a defence against Anglican allegations of continued disorder and enthusiasm. At the same time, pressure to publish the collected works of James Nayler, a convicted blasphemer, proved particularly contentious. Leo Damrosch has sought to understand what Nayler thought he was doing in the 1650s; this study considers what motivated later Quakers to censor his works and accounts of his life, and demonstrates how English Friends in particular sought to revise the popular image of Quakerism by rewriting history.

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1 Willem Sewel, The history of the rise, increase, and progress of the Christian people called Quakers, London 1722, 139.

2 R. G. Bailey, ‘Was seventeenth-century Quaker Christology homogeneous?’, in B. P. Dandelion (ed.), The creation of Quaker theory: insider perspectives, Aldershot 2004, 61–82 at p. 66.

3 Ibid 63, 65. This was recently described as ‘a theological dead end’: S. W. Angell, ‘The creation of Quaker theory (review)’, QS x (2005), 115. Nigel Smith asserts that although Bailey's conclusions may be ‘the result of a too willing ear given to Fox's opponents among the Puritan ministers … such concerns are important’: ‘Hidden things brought to light: enthusiasm and Quaker discourse’, PS xvii (1994), 65.

4 L. Damrosch, The sorrows of the Quaker Jesus, Cambridge, Ma 1996, 2.

5 The definition of ‘radical’ used here is taken from his discussion of Quaker prose 1650–80, which showed ‘workings of the inner light … [and] embodied them’. Quaker prose, including Nayler's, was not as extravagant in a literary sense as that of the Ranters, but for Smith represents ‘the “writing degree zero” on the radical spectrum’, revealing early Quaker identity and vision: ‘Hidden things’, 57.

6 R. T. Vann, The social development of English Quakerism, 1655–1755, Cambridge, Ma 1969, 1.

7 L. Damrosch, ‘Harvard's libraries and the Quaker Jesus’, (1996).

8 R. Moore, The light in their consciences: the early Quakers in Britain, 1646–1666, University Park, Pa 2000, 131.

9 J. Champion, The pillars of priestcraft shaken: the Church of England and its enemies, 1660–1730, Cambridge–New York 1992, 226.

10 Ibid 11.

11 S. Cohen, Folk devils and moral panics, London 1972, 116. Scholars seeking to understand the process by which sets of behaviour are persecuted as a threat to authority have since used the term.

12 P. Burke, The fabrication of Louis XIV, New Haven 1992, 1.

13 E. Fogelklou, James Nayler: the rebel saint, 1618–1660, London 1931, 5. See Vann, Social development, 1, and W. C. Braithwaite, The beginnings of Quakerism to 1660, 2nd edn, York 1981, 241–78, for different accounts of the trial.

14 Gill C., ‘Identities in Quaker women's writing, 1652–60’, Women's Writing ix (2002), 267.

15 Damrosch, Sorrows; T. A. Davies, The Quakers in English society, 1655–1725, Oxford 2000.

16 R. Bailey, New light on George Fox and early Quakerism, San Francisco 1992, 21–2.

17 M. L. Tarter, ‘“Go north!” The journey towards first-generation Friends and their prophecy of celestial flesh’, citing L. M. Wright, The literary life of early Friends, New York 1932, in Dandelion, Quaker theory, 83–98 at p. 97.

18 Knott J. R., ‘Joseph Besse and the Quaker culture of suffering’, PS xvii (1994), 127.

19 T. O'Malley, ‘“Defying the powers and tempering the spirit”: a review of Quaker control over their publications, 1672–1689’, this Journal xxxiii (1982), 72–90.

20 S. Wright, Friends in York: the dynamics of Quaker revival, 1780–1860, Keele 1995.

21 Tarter, ‘“Go north!”’, 92. See also P. McDowell, The women of Grub Street, Oxford 1998, 156–7, on the censorship of the works of the later apostate Joan Whitrowe during the 1670s and 1680s.

22 Bailey, New light, 127–8, and ‘Quaker Christology’, 63, 65.

23 K. Peters, Print culture and the early Quakers, Cambridge 2005, 10.

24 See Gill, ‘Identities’, 268, 278, on the emergence of Quaker identity via autobiographies.

25 William Grigge, The Quaker's Jesus: or, the unswadling of that child James Nailor, London 1658 (Wing G.2023); Richard Blome, The fanatick history; or, an exact relation and account of the Old Anabaptists and New Quakers, London 1660 (Wing B.3212).

26 Grigge, Quaker's Jesus, p. iii.

27 Richard Hubberthorne and James Nayler, A short answer to a book called The fanatick history, London 1660 (Wing H.3232).

28 Benedikt Figken (trans.), Historia fanaticorum, oder eine vollkommene relation und wissenschaft von denen Schwarmern, als alten Anabaptisten und neuen Quackern, Frankfurt 1701.

29 LSF, Morning Meeting book i, 25 4mo. [June] 1677.

30 H. L. Ingle, First among Friends: George Fox and the creation of Quakerism, New York–Oxford 1994, 271, 323.

31 T. Harris, ‘Revising the Restoration’, in T. Harris, P. Seaward and M. Goldie (eds), The politics of religion in Restoration England, Oxford 1990, 1–28 at p. 6; C. W. Horle, The Quakers and the English legal system, 1660–1688, Philadelphia 1988, 92–3.

32 These included George Fox's The Protestant Christian-Quaker a sufferer by reliques of popery, London 1680 (Wing F.1889); Thomas Ellwood's A seasonable disswasive from persecution, London 1683 (Wing E.626); and John Whiting's An abstract of the lives, precepts, and sayings, of the ancient Fathers, London 1684 (Wing W.2018) which was aimed at his fellow sufferers. W. C. Braithwaite, The second period of Quakerism, 2nd edn, York 1979, 101, lists seven works printed in 1682 dealing with the persecution of Bristol Friends alone.

33 LSF, Morning Meeting book ii, 2 21 9mo. [Nov.] 1698. Bowles was a ‘weighty’ Friend, spiritually sound enough to represent the Meeting. His works include A faithful warning, to all those who profess the light of Christ, London 1710.

34 LSF, Morning Meeting book ii, 11 1mo. [Mar.] 1699/1700.

35 Ibid iii, 24 5mo. [July] 1710.

36 ULASC, Carlton Hill, H2, Settle Monthly Meeting minute book, 2 12mo. [Feb.] 1708.

37 LSF, Morning Meeting book iii, 31 5mo. [July] 1710.

38 Ibid 14 6mo. [Aug.] 1710.

39 Tarter, ‘“Go north!”’, 93.

40 LSF, Morning Meeting book iv, 13 8mo. [Oct.] 1712; 12 2mo. [Apr.] 1714.

41 Settle Monthly Meeting minute book, 6 8mo. [Oct.] 1714; 3 9mo. [Nov.] 1714.

42 Smith, ‘Hidden things’, 62–3.

43 N. Morgan, Lancashire Quakers and the establishment, 1660–1730, Halifax 1993, 244, 280.

44 George Whitehead, ‘Epistle to the serious reader’, in George Whitehead (ed.), A collection of sundry books, epistles and papers, written by James Nayler, London 1716, p. v.

45 Moore, Light, 222.

46 Braithwaite, Beginnings, 303–4.

47 W. G. Bittle, James Nayler, 1618–1660: the Quaker indicted by parliament, York 1986, 28, 117. Bittle asserts that Nayler wrote or co-authored forty-seven tracts between 1652 and 1656.

48 Whitehead, Collection, 776.

49 Idem, The Christian progress of that ancient servant and minister of Jesus Christ, George Whitehead, historically relating his experience, ministry, sufferings, trials and service, in defence of the truth, and God's persecuted people, commonly called Quakers, London 1725.

50 Ibid ‘A brief preface by the author’.

51 Ibid 95. In her discussion of Joan Whitrowe, McDowell cites Whitrowe's works and the minutes of the Morning Meeting: The women, 156–9.

52 ‘The testimony of Devonshire-House Monthly-Meeting’, in Whitehead, Christian progress, 692–3.

53 Damrosch, ‘Harvard's libraries’.

54 Braithwaite, Second period, 388. R. M. Jones saw it as the embodiment of Quaker passive mysticism: The second period of Quakerism, Cambridge 1919, introduction at p. xli.

55 D. J. Hall, ‘“The fiery tryal of their infallible self-examination”: self control in the regulation of Quaker publishing in England from the 1670s to the mid nineteenth century’, in R. Myers and M. Harris (eds), Censorship and the control of print in England and France, 1600–1910, Winchester 1992, 59–86 at p. 64.

56 See Gill, ‘Identities’, 268.

57 H. Hinds, ‘An absent presence: Quaker narratives of journeys to America and Barbados, 1671–81’, QS x (2005), 6. See also Smith, ‘Hidden things’, 58.

58 Whitehead, ‘Epistle’, p. xxiv.

59 ‘For though the Letter tell of a child’: James Nayler, Milk for babes and meat for strong men, London 1661 (Wing N.299), 8; ‘For though the Scriptures speak of a child’: Collection, 674.

60 On the editing of Nayler's deathbed testimony see Greenwood O., ‘James Nayler's “Last words”’, Journal of Friends Historical Society xlviii (1958), 203.

61 Nayler, Milk (1661 edn), 24; Damrosch, Sorrows, 261, 264.

62 Damrosch, Sorrows, 106, citing What the possession of the living faith is, London 1659 (Wing N.328), and 1716 edn.

63 Whitehead, Collection, 287.

64 James Nayler, Love to the lost, title page, in Collection, 253.

65 Ibid 359, and Love to the lost, London 1656 (Wing N.295), 62.

66 Idem, A dispute between James Nayler and the parish teachers of Chesterfield, London 1655 (Wing N.275), 4.

67 R. Ayoub, ‘The persecution of “an innocent people” in seventeenth-century England’, QS x (2005), 57–8; John Crook, Epistle to young people, London 1686 (Wing C.7210), 3.

68 William Penn's Some fruits of solitude, London 1693 (Wing P.1367), suggests that one should commune where there is ‘at least as much charity as zeal’.

69 James Nayler, Something further in answer to John Jackson's book, London 1655 (Wing N.318), 4–6.

70 Idem, An answer to a book called, the Quakers catechism, London 1656 (Wing N.259), 4.

71 The journal of George Fox, ed. N. Penney, London 1924, 8. Fox asserts that after God first worked in him ‘I was a man of sorrows’. This can be interpreted as spiritual suffering with Jesus as exemplar, or an allusion to divinity within the man: celestial inhabitation. See R. Bailey, ‘The making and unmaking of a God: new light on George Fox and early Quakerism’, in M. Mullett (ed.), New light on George Fox: 1624 to 1691, York 1991, 110–28 at pp. 110–11.

72 James Nayler, An answer to the booke called the perfect Pharisee under monkish holinesse, London 1654 (Wing N.261), 7.

73 The journal of George Fox, ed. N. Penney, Cambridge 1911, pp. i, xvi and introduction; T. L. Underwood, Primitivism, radicalism, and the Lamb's war: the Baptist-Quaker conflict in seventeenth-century England, New York 1997.

74 Ayoub, ‘Persecution’, 62.

75 My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this insight into post-Restoration Quaker survival strategies.

76 William Penn, No cross, no crown, London 1669 (Wing P.1327), in William Penn on religion and ethics: the emergence of Liberal Quakerism, ed. H. S. Barbour, Lampeter 1991, 45.

77 Ibid 44–5.

78 Nayler, The railer rebuked, 3.

79 Idem, An answer, 3.

80 K. Peters, ‘Patterns of Quaker authorship, 1652–1656’, PS xvii (1994), 6.

81 P. Carter, Men and the emergence of polite society, Britain 1660–1800, Harlow 2001, 42.

82 Penn, No cross, 58.

83 Ibid 59.

84 James Nayler, Weaknes above wickednes, and truth above subtilty, London 1656 (Wing N.327), 8.

85 Idem, The boaster bared and his armour put off, London 1655 (Wing N.266), 8.

86 Trevett C., ‘The women around James Nayler, Quaker: a matter of emphasis’, Religion xx (1990), 249–73.

87 Whitehead, ‘Epistle’, pp. viii–ix.

88 Trevett, ‘Women’, passim.

89 Whitehead, ‘Epistle’, pp. viii–ix.

90 Bailey, New light, 21–2.

91 Ibid pp. xi–xviii.

92 See Penney's comments in Fox's journal (1911), pp. i, xl–xli.

93 Fox's journal (1924), pp. i, 125.

94 Bailey, New light, 186.

95 William Penn, ‘A character sketch by William Penn’, in Fox's journal (1924), p. xxi.

96 Smith, ‘Hidden things’, 59.

97 Robert Rich, The epistles of Mr Robert Rich to the seven churches, London 1680 (Wing R.1356), 94.

98 Smith, ‘Hidden things’, 66, discussing Mr Robert Rich his second letters from Barbados, London 1669. Smith (pp. 59, 69) misdates the work to 1679, the year of Rich's death.

99 Smith, ‘Hidden things’, 59.

100 Damrosch, Sorrows, 11.

101 C. Hill, ‘Quakers and the English Revolution’, in Mullett, New light, 22–35 at p. 34.

102 Damrosch, Sorrows, 6, 245.

103 R. D. Larson, ‘Public Friends: Quaker travelling ministers, 1700–1775’, unpubl. PhD diss. Cambridge, Ma 1993, 208.

104 Mullett M., ‘George Fox and the origins of Quakerism’, History Today xli (1991), 30.

105 Nicholas Billingsley, Kosmobrephia, or the infancy of the world, London 1658 (Wing B.2912), poem section, 6.

106 Thomas Duffett, Psyche debauch'd, London 1678 (Wing D.2452), act 2, scene 2; Robert Dixon, Canidia, or, the witches, London 1683 (Wing D.1745), canto v, 17; R. Heath, Anabaptism from its rise at Zwickau to its fall at Münster, London 1895, 161–73; W. Klaassen, Anabaptism: neither Catholic nor Protestant, 3rd edn, Kitchener 2001, 6–7.

107 Hudibras [Edward Ward], The dissenting hypocrite, or occasional conformist, London 1704.

108 Edward Ward, The history of the grand rebellion, London 1713, 552.

109 A complete collection of state trials, i, London 1730, 796; Peters, Print culture, 236–7.

110 E. Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish stereotypes in English fiction, Stanford 1960, 14.

111 W. I. Hull, Willem Sewel of Amsterdam, 1653–1720, Swarthmore, Pa 1933, 115; J. Z. Kannegieter, Geschiedenis van de vroegere Quakergemeenschap te Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1971, 104–6; Gerardus Croese, The general history of the Quakers: containing the lives, tenents, sufferings, tryals, speeches and letters of all the most eminent Quakers, London 1696 (Wing C.6965); Historia quakeriana, Amsterdam 1695; Quaker-Historie, Berlin 1696.

112 LSF, Morning Meeting book ii, 17 12mo. [Feb.] 1695. Their flexible response suggests that Friends hoped to redeem a work with which they had been involved.

113 Hull, Willem Sewel, 119; Sewel, History, 60.

114 Champion, Pillars, 44.

115 ‘Philalethes’ (Tobias Ludwig Kohlhans), Dilucidationes, Amsterdam 1696. Kohlhans was a non-Quaker sympathiser: Hull, Willem Sewel, 130–1.

116 LSF, Morning Meeting book ii, 16 1mo. [Mar.] 1695/6. Dunton published works satirising Friends, such as the Athenian Mercury of 1691–7, but conceded that ‘some Quakers are Christians’: The life and errors of John Dunton, London 1818 [1705], 532.

117 Braithwaite, Second period, 487; Francis Bugg, The picture of Quakerism drawn to the life: in two parts: the second containing, a brief history of the rise, growth, and progress of Quakerism, being a modest correction of the Quakers wrot in Holland by Gerrard Croese, London 1697 (Wing B.5381), 6.

118 Bugg, Quakerism, 1–2.

119 Ibid 5.

120 Ibid 12–13.

121 Champion, Pillars, 10.

122 My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this insight into post-Toleration Act churches.

123 Champion, Pillars, 225.

124 Sewel, History, 2.

125 Ibid 1–2.

126 Champion, Pillars, 21, 54.

127 M. S. Zook, ‘The Restoration remembered: the first Whigs and the making of their history’, Seventeenth Century xvii (2002), 214, 219.

128 Ibid 220; Champion, Pillars, 21, 26.

129 Sewel, History, 159.

130 Whitehead, Christian progress, 652–3.

131 Champion, Pillars, 34.

132 Ibid

133 Fogelklou, James Nayler, 12.

134 Willem Sewel, Histori van de opkomst, aanwas, en voortgang der Christenen, bekend by den naam van Quakers, Amsterdam 1717; Hull, Willem Sewel, 178.

135 Hull, Willem Sewel, 157, 160.

136 Willem Sewel to Thomas Ellwood, 24 Sept. 1712, ibid 173.

137 Cited ibid 172.

138 Sewel to Theodor Eccleston, 15 Nov. 1715, ibid 175–7. My thanks to the Revd John Wilford for his assistance with translation.

139 LSF, Morning Meeting book iv, 20 8mo. [Oct.] 1712.

140 Damrosch, Sorrows, 132, 245; Knott, ‘Joseph Besse’, 128–9. In Beginnings, Braithwaite describes the various editions but not how they differed.

141 LSF, Morning Meeting book iv, 30 11mo. [Jan.] 1721.

142 Hull, Willem Sewel, 178. He does not go into detail.

143 Sewel, History, title page.

144 Ibid 234. This may have been in response to pamphlets describing his father as a ‘sow-gelder’: Fogelklou, James Nayler, 37.

145 L. Brace, The idea of property in seventeenth-century England, Manchester 1998, 46.

146 Champion, Pillars, 30–1.

147 Ibid 10.

148 Sewel, Histori, 183–8.

149 Champion, Pillars, 42–3.

150 ‘The preface to the reader’, in Rich, Epistles, 1–3.

151 Anon., Memoirs of the life, ministry, tryal & sufferings of James Nailer, London 1719, preface at pp. iv, xiii.

152 ‘onzen Zaligmaaker in den brief van Publius Lentelus aan den Raad van Rome, beschreeven’: Sewel, Histori, 173.

153 Damrosch, Sorrows, 161.

154 Whitehead too, Damrosch notes, is silent about the events in Bristol: ibid 238–9.

155 Knott, ‘Joseph Besse’, 140.

156 William Sewel, Die Geschichte von dem Ursprung, Zunehmen und Fortgang des christlichen Volcks so Quäcker genennet werden, Leipzig 1742.

157 LSF, Morning Meeting book iv, 30 5mo. [July] 1722. Others noted that many Germans did not convert because they feared persecution: A journal of the life of Thomas Story, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1747, 505.

158 Figken, Historia; J. F. Corvinus (ed.), Anabaptisticum et enthusiasticum Pantheon und geistliches Rüst-Hauss wider der alten Quacker, und neuen Frey-Geister, Coethen–Frankfurt 1701–2. See also Fogelkou, James Nayler, 11–12.

159 For a reproduction see Damrosch, Sorrows, 151.

160 The title page reads ‘Ursprünglich in Holländischer Sprache beschrieben von William Sewel und von ihm selbst ins Englische übersetzt’.

161 Bailey, ‘Quaker Christology’, 80.

162 Peters, Print culture, 238.

163 Joseph Besse, A cloud of witnesses, London 1732, 5, 13.

164 George Richardson, Some account of the rise of the Society of Friends in Cornwood, in Northumberland, London 1848, 6; Sewel, History, 159.

165 H. Barbour and A. O. Roberts (eds), Early Quaker writings, Grand Rapids, Mi 1973, 103; M. A. Creasy, ‘Early Quaker Christology with special reference to the teaching of Isaac Penington’, unpubl. DPhil diss. Leeds 1956, 232.

I would like to thank all those who commented on the original version of this paper, presented at the ‘George Fox's Legacy: 350 Years of Quakerism’ conference at Swarthmore College, Pa in October 2002, and at the BSECS conference at St Hugh's College, Oxford, in January 2004. Thanks especially to Mark Jenner, for reading the draft version and highlighting areas of debate, to Florian Gleisner, for his invaluable assistance in the translation of Dutch and German works, and to an anonymous reviewer, for several helpful suggestions.

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