Nicholas Ferrar's fame in the twentieth century rests largely upon religious foundations – as a saint of the Church of England and as one of the moving spirits at Little Gidding – but in fact his historical importance is more than merely religious, and indeed religion did not dominate his life before 1625. Born in London in February 1593, the youngest but one of a family of six, Nicholas was named for his father, a highly successful Merchant Adventurer who was also a Master of the Skinners Company. Small, fair-haired, precocious and frail, Nicholas was always his mother's favourite, and it was she who largely influenced his development. At the age of seventeen he was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, but soon after his twentieth birthday he left Cambridge for the sake of his health, spending the years 1613–17 on the continent, chiefly at Padua, where he studied medicine. On his return to England he did not resume his fellowship at Clare, but remained in London with his parents, attending to his now elderly father's business affairs which included membership of the East India and Virginia Companies – and acting as his executor upon his death in 1620.