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Nayler, Jameslocked

  • Leo Damrosch

Nayler, James (1618–1660), Quaker preacher and writer, was born at West Ardsley, near Wakefield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father seems to have been an independent farmer of some means, but nothing is known of the extent of his holdings or of the family's religious opinions. Nayler must have received some education in the local schools, since one of his opponents later mentioned meeting a former schoolfellow who had become a lawyer at Gray's Inn (Deacon, Exact History, 3); by whatever means, he became an able writer and lucid reasoner. He married his wife, Anne, in 1639 and settled in Wakefield, where three daughters were born during the next four years, but when the civil war broke out he left the farm in his wife's care and in 1643 enlisted in the parliamentary army.

Military service and religious conversion

Little is known of Nayler's nine years of military service, first as a foot soldier under Fairfax and later, for two years, as a quartermaster in John Lambert's cavalry. Lambert afterwards described him as 'a very useful person' and 'a man of a very unblameable life and conversation, a member of a very sweet society of an independent church' (Diary of Thomas Burton, 1.33). Nayler is known to have been present at the Cromwellian victory at Dunbar in 1650 and to have begun by then to preach. A former officer long afterwards recalled that as he rode away from the battle,

I found it was James Nayler preaching to the people, but with such power and reaching energy as I had not till then been witness of … I was struck with more terror before the preaching of James Nayler than I was before the battle of Dunbar, when we had nothing else to expect but to fall a prey to the swords of our enemies.

J. Gough, A History of the People called Quakers, 4 vols., 1789–90, 1.56

In the following year ill health (probably consumption) forced Nayler to leave the army and return home, where he resumed farming and joined the Independent congregation of Christopher Marshall at Woodchurch. Soon afterward he encountered George Fox, who was visiting one of the groups known as Seekers who were disillusioned with the organized sects, but there is no evidence to support Fox's later suggestion that this meeting was the cause of Nayler's conversion, or ‘convincement’, as the Quakers preferred to call it. Certainly radical religious ideas had been widely discussed in the New Model Army, and it may be more than coincidental that Anthony Nutter, whom Fox's family had known in Leicestershire, was the minister at West Ardsley when Nayler was growing up. Nayler's own account, during an interrogation in 1652, was that while ploughing he heard a voice commanding 'Get thee out from thy kindred, and from thy father's house', and after a brief hesitation, during which he fell seriously ill, he left home on impulse for a life of itinerant preaching:

Going gateward with a friend from my own house, having on an old suit, without any money, having neither taken leave of wife or children, not thinking then of any journey, I was commanded to go into the west not knowing whither I should go nor what I was to do there.

J. Nayler, Saul's Errand to Damascus, 1654, 30

At the same interrogation he was asked whether he had been among the Leveller-inspired mutineers who were put down in 1649 at Burford in Oxfordshire, and he replied, 'I was then in the north, and was never taxed for any mutiny, or any other thing while I served the parliament'. He was expelled from communion by Marshall's congregation, which regarded him as having removed himself, and he soon became a leading figure in the nascent movement that first called itself the Children of the Light and later became the Society of Friends, known to their detractors, as Nayler observed, as 'the Quakers as thou scornfully calls us' (J. Nayler, The Railer Rebuked, 1655, 7).

Proselytizing and conflict with the authorities

From 1652 to 1656 Nayler was increasingly prominent as an eloquent preacher and charismatic leader in a movement that explicitly repudiated hierarchy. It also repudiated formal theology, holding that orthodox Calvinism made a fetish of the scriptures and subjected believers to the moral and intellectual authority of a professional ministry. The Quaker view was that modern individuals of either sex could receive the same prophetic inspiration that the biblical writers had and, guided by the inner light, could express the Word with full authority. 'The true ministry', Nayler wrote, 'is the gift of Jesus Christ, and needs no addition of human help and learning … and therefore he chused herdsmen, fishermen, and plowmen, and such like; and he gave them an immediate call, without the leave of man' (Saul's Errand, 18). He himself had been a ploughman, and commented pointedly that when the apostles proclaimed the gospel 'they were counted fools and madmen by the learned generation' (Whitehead, 43).

As the puritan establishment consolidated its position, radical sects were increasingly regarded as transgressive. Marginal groups such as the Levellers, the Diggers, and the shadowy Ranters were efficiently suppressed. Harder to control were the Quakers, who began to spread their message widely throughout the north, acquiring a valuable protector in Margaret Fell of Swarthmoor Hall in Lancashire, who soon took on the role of unofficial co-ordinator of the movement. Nayler and Fox stayed together at Swarthmoor in 1652 and succeeded in persuading Margaret Fell's husband, Judge Thomas Fell, though he did not become a convert, to extend his protection. The established ministers were less welcoming. Francis Higginson of Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland, whose Brief Relation of the Irreligion of the Northern Quakers (1653) is a valuable source of information on their early activities, singled out Nayler as one of 'Satan's seeds-men' (p. 1) who were engaged in sowing the tares of wickedness in northern fields. The travelling evangelists were particularly repugnant to the ministers because they made a habit of interrupting religious services to proclaim their message, and demanded abolition of the benefices and tithes that supported the 'hireling priests', as they called them. It was a fixed Quaker principle to accept no payment for preaching and to address any who might listen, often speaking in the open air, rather than to form settled congregations. When the Westmorland ministers complained that unauthorized preachers were invading their territory, Nayler replied, 'It is true, our habitation is with the Lord, and our country is not of this world' (J. Nayler, Several Petitions Answered, 1653, 5). Some three dozen Lancashire ministers appeared at Lancaster quarter sessions to lodge a complaint against Fox and Nayler, but Judge Fell interceded on their behalf and they were released.

Hostilities continued as local people were encouraged to harass the unwelcome visitors, sometimes stoning and beating them in unruly mobs, and soon Nayler and Fox were arrested at Kirkby Stephen and imprisoned at Appleby, Westmorland, until April of 1653. For the rest of that year and throughout 1654 Nayler travelled and preached extensively in the north, winning admiration for the power and cogency of his speaking; Fox remembered an occasion when he conducted a disputation with some ministers and the crowd cried 'A Nayler, a Nayler hath confuted them all' (Journal of George Fox, 223). For the most part the Quakers managed during this time to stay out of trouble with the law. In a typical incident at Chesterfield the local minister tried to provoke a debate inside the church, Nayler refused to enter in order to avoid charges of disrupting the service, and the mayor agreed that he had done nothing wrong.

Nayler's writings

The early Quakers insisted on the primacy of the spoken word, which was expected to be spontaneous rather than to follow a set text, and as a result were reluctant to present their beliefs in discursive form. Their critics, however, were given to frequent and angry publication, and it was soon apparent that their charges needed to be answered. Accordingly, scores of controversial works began to flow from Quaker pens, and Nayler became the most prolific and persuasive writer in the movement. Most of his nearly fifty publications were short pamphlets, but at various times he produced longer works, notably A True Discovery of Faith (1655) and Love to the Lost (1656). In 1716 George Whitehead, who had known Nayler during his last years, published an extensive selection of his writings as A collection of sundry books, epistles and papers, written by James Nayler … with an impartial relation of the most remarkable transactions relating to his life. Modern scholars commonly refer to this volume as Nayler's Works, but misleadingly so, since Whitehead omitted many pieces that seemed dated or excessively controversial from the perspective of half a century later, and silently emended Nayler's texts at many points.

Identifying himself as 'one of England's prophets' (Whitehead, 99), Nayler sought not only to defend the socially disruptive behaviour of his colleagues but also to expound an antinomian theological position that stood in explicit opposition to the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and sin. He and his colleagues found unacceptable the orthodox view that Christ had vicariously paid the penalty for original sin and was now far away in heaven while the human race continued to grovel in enslavement to sin, from which only a few of the elect would be set free through unmerited grace. The Quaker position was that Christ was fully and immediately present in all true believers, who were admittedly a small minority of the population, and that in consequence they were literally without sin, or at least were well established on the road to perfection. 'It is true', Nayler conceded, 'the light is but manifest in the creatures by degrees, but the least degree is perfect in its measure' (Whitehead, 117). To the puritan ministers this suggestion of sinlessness was blasphemous, and they alleged further that some Quakers claimed to be personally identified with Christ. The issue was of more than theoretical significance, since the cause célèbre that would make Nayler notorious was to hinge on it. Nayler himself always asserted that 'flesh and blood is an enemy' (ibid., 730), and that in so far as he and others did embody the spirit of Christ, they were dead to individual selfhood and participated in an impersonal condition of divine enlightenment. But he was reluctant to define his views in formal terms, which made them hard to pin down and easy to misrepresent or travesty. When an admirer once expected to hear him refute some theological objections, he told her, 'Feed not on knowledge, it is as truly forbidden to thee as ever it was to Eve … for who feeds on knowledge dies to the innocent life' (J. Whiting, Persecution Expos'd, 1715, 177).

It should be emphasized that Nayler's chief influence was in speaking, not in writing, and that unlike puritans, who collected and published their sermons, Quakers considered it important never to write them down. Occasionally, however, in Nayler's usually sober prose, one can catch a hint of what his prophetic manner must have been like:

The thing that was seen concerning Newcastle: all his pillars to be dry, and his trees to be bare, and much nakedness … for it's a stony ground, and there is much briars and thorns about her, and many trees have grown wild long, and have scarce earth to cover their roots, but their roots are seen, and how they stand in the stones, and these trees bears no fruit, but bears moss, and much wind pierces through, and clatters them together, and makes the trees shake, but still the roots are held among the stones, and are bald and naked.

J. Nayler, A Discovery of the Man of Sin, 1655, 51

An impressive tribute to Nayler's oral powers survives from an unexpected source: his furious opponent John Deacon conceded that he was 'a man of exceeding quick wit and sharp apprehension, enriched with that commendable gift of good oratory with a very delightful melody in his utterance' (Deacon, Exact History, 4).

London and Bristol

As the Quaker movement spread to the west and south, Bristol proved to be a fertile ground for proselytizing, but London remained an intimidating stronghold. Nayler arrived there in June of 1655 and reported to Margaret Fell that he found it 'a great and wicked place' (Swarthmore MSS, 3.81), but he quickly proved to be the most effective Quaker proselytizer in London. Soon his colleagues were reporting that 'his fame begins to spread in the city, seeing that he hath had public disputes with many', and that 'a great love is begotten in many towards him' (Barclay, 335–6). A devout Baptist named Rebecca Travers was converted when three Baptist ministers debated with Nayler and 'were so far from getting the victory that she could feel his words smote them' (J. Whiting, Persecution Expos'd, 1715, 176). During this period Fox came infrequently to London, preferring to continue his travels in the countryside, and by 1656 many outsiders regarded Nayler as the movement's leader. He gave up travelling for the most part, though at least one visit to Yorkshire is recorded, during which he presumably saw his wife and family, from whom he had been separated for four years.

By the summer of 1656 tensions among the London Quakers unexpectedly surfaced, a development that caused confusion and alarm since there was no established system of organization or discipline. A group of women gathered around Nayler, led by Martha Simmonds, wife of Thomas Simmonds and sister of Giles Calvert, the two leading Quaker publishers. Women enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom in the Quaker movement, and Martha Simmonds was an intelligent and independent person, author of several moving pamphlets about spiritual seeking and apocalyptic hopes. This group now began to disrupt Quaker meetings, just as Quakers had been accustomed to disrupting the meetings of others, and to promote Nayler as de facto leader in preference to Edward Burrough and Francis Howgill, who had originally developed the work in London. The nature of the dispute that followed is difficult to reconstruct today, but it appears that the 'turbulent' women, as Whitehead later described them (Whitehead, vi), demanded that Nayler deliver a 'judgment' against Burrough and Howgill, and that when he refused to comply he suffered a psychological collapse, lying trembling on a table for several nights. Trembling, of course, was an accepted indication of spiritual experience, and Nayler himself had discussed at some length the scriptural passages in which 'the holy men of God do witness quaking and trembling, and roaring, and weeping, and fasting, and tears; but the world knows not the saints' conditions' (ibid., 57). Some of his colleagues concluded that Martha Simmonds and her friends were exerting a dangerous hold over him, and at the end of July they attempted to extricate him by taking him to a meeting in Bristol. When Simmonds followed she was prevented from seeing him, and he was encouraged to go on to Launceston in Cornwall to visit Fox, who had been in prison there for six months, his trial on various charges being indefinitely postponed because, like all Quakers, he refused to swear an oath or to remove his hat in deference to the magistrate. Nayler's companions on the journey observed that he seemed seriously depressed and uncommunicative, and they never reached Launceston, since they were arrested on the road and confined in Exeter gaol under the terms of an act for the suppression of rogues and vagabonds.

Fasting as an expression of spiritual purity was a common practice among Quakers, and Nayler now undertook an extended fast of several weeks which greatly weakened him. At this time Martha Simmonds travelled to Launceston to intercede with Fox, or rather to accuse him; Fox wrote Nayler an indignant letter reporting that 'she came singing in my face, inventing words' and informing him that his heart was rotten (Swarthmore MS 3.193). In September Fox was at last released from prison and proceeded to Exeter, where he demanded that Nayler acknowledge subservience, and when Nayler refused to kiss his hand told him insultingly to kiss his foot instead. They parted bitterly, and Fox wrote Nayler a strong letter of reproof: 'James, thou separates thyself from Friends and draws a company after thee, and separated from the power of the Lord God' (RS Friends, Lond., Portfolio 24, no. 36). Long afterward Fox remembered this episode as a critical threat to the movement: 'So that after I had been warring with the world, now there was a wicked spirit risen up amongst Friends to war against' (Journal of George Fox, 268).

Martha Simmonds meanwhile took employment as nurse to the wife of Major-General Desborough, who interceded with her brother Oliver Cromwell to secure the release of the Quakers from Exeter gaol, which took place on 20 October. Four days later Nayler and a small party of companions, four men and three women, entered Bristol in a pelting deluge of rain and enacted the symbolic ‘sign’ that made him immediately notorious. Nayler was mounted on a horse, and his companions cast garments before him while singing 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth' (Deacon, Grand Impostor, 1–2). This was unmistakably an imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the group, from which the Bristol Quakers quickly dissociated themselves, were arrested and charged with blasphemy. It was noticed that in spite of the downpour Nayler's followers went bareheaded, although Quakers normally refused to doff their hats to anyone except when praying to God. And two letters from one of Nayler's companions, Hannah Stranger, were discovered that addressed him in extravagant language drawn from the Song of Solomon and seemed to suggest that his followers regarded him as divine. In an especially damaging postscript Hannah's husband John had written, 'Thy name is no more to be called James but Jesus' (ibid., 11). Fox's letter to Nayler was also found and served to exonerate him from any suspicion of complicity with the Nayler group.

A group of Bristol ministers interrogated Nayler and left a full record of the proceedings. In their opinion he consistently evaded the questioners when pressed to declare whether or not he considered himself the actual Son of God. But in fact what he consistently maintained, just as he had in print, was that all of the saints were sons of God, and that although he himself might enjoy an unusual measure of divine inspiration, he was not personally divine. His followers, however, were less cautious. Martha Simmonds testified that she had been quite right to kneel to Nayler as 'the Son of Righteousness', and Dorcas Erbury not only identified him as 'the only begotten Son of God' but startlingly asserted that she had died in Exeter gaol and been raised from the dead by Nayler (Deacon, Grand Impostor, 26, 34). The Quakers were accustomed to celebrate miracles of healing, in defiance of the puritans, who held that miracles had ceased after the early years of the church, and Nayler did not exactly deny this claim. It was also alleged that he had deliberately grown his hair and beard to resemble traditional portraits of Christ, which may possibly have been true, although no reliable portraits survive and the few contemporary descriptions of his appearance are not only bland and unremarkable, but usually fail to mention the beard:

He is a man of a ruddy complexion, brown hair, and slank [lank], hanging a little below his jaw-bones; of an indifferent height; not very long visaged, nor very round; close shaven; a sad downlook, and melancholy countenance; a little band, close to his collar, with no bandstrings; his hat hanging over his brows; his nose neither high nor low, but rising a little in the middle.

ibid., 44

It was also alleged that at various times he had had improper relations with women, a charge which he indignantly denied, and for which no persuasive evidence was ever brought forward.

A careful reading of Nayler's responses makes clear that he meant to enact a symbolic representation, a 'prophetical act', as the presbyterian Richard Baxter disapprovingly called the public exhibitions that many Quakers performed from time to time. Baxter accurately grasped that on this occasion 'their chief leader James Nayler acted the part of Christ at Bristol, according to much of the history of the Gospel' (Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. M. Sylvester, 1696, 77). Undoubtedly Nayler did believe that he had been charged with a special prophetic mission; in a pamphlet co-authored with Martha Simmonds he had recently written, 'A sign and wonder thou hast made me' (O England, thy Time is Come, 1656, 12). His intention seems to have been to testify to the ongoing presence of Christ in all believers, by contrast with puritans, who were content to wait for a second coming at some possibly remote date, and it seems clear that he did not think that he was personally the Messiah. There were many in positions of authority, however, who had been looking for an opportunity to repress the increasingly subversive Quakers, and Nayler furnished them with the test case they were waiting for. Instead of being tried locally at Bristol, therefore, he and several of his companions were summoned to London to face an investigation by parliament.


Just seven days after the incident in Bristol, the recently elected second protectorate parliament appointed a large investigating committee of fifty-five members, which began its examination of Nayler and the more intransigent of his followers on 15 November. His responses to questioning in London were essentially the same as they had been at Bristol, and certainly did not indicate that he thought he was Christ. 'Being asked, if any prayed to Christ in him, whether he did disown it? [he] answered, “As a creature I do disown it”' (Rich and Tomlinson, 19). He stated unequivocally that in Bristol 'I was commanded by the Lord to suffer such things to be done by me, as to the outward, as a sign, not as I am a creature' (ibid., 11). Nevertheless, the committee's report concluded that he was guilty on two counts, of impersonating Christ and of claiming divine status. 'First, James Nayler did assume the gesture, words, honour, worship, and miracles of our blessed Saviour. Secondly, the names and incommunicable attributes and titles of our blessed Saviour' (ibid., 3–4).

Under the 1653 'Instrument of government' it was far from clear that parliament had the authority to conduct a trial, and the proceeding that followed reflected a constitutional struggle among various factions, but in practice—if not in principle—it was indeed a trial. The debate occupied the attention of the entire body for ten days and was conducted in secrecy, so that outsiders found it hard to learn what was going on, but fortunately for later historians an obscure MP named Thomas Burton recorded an unusually full account of it in a diary that came to light in the nineteenth century. The seldom enforced Blasphemy Act of 1650 seemed to fit the case, prescribing punishment for anyone claiming 'to be very God', and Nayler accordingly was indicted for 'horrid blasphemy'. The act, however, provided an inconveniently mild punishment of a mere six months in prison, and most MPs wanted a harsher one, which meant that they would in effect be legislating new rules to which Nayler would be subjected post facto. 'I conceive the judgment of parliament is so sovereign', Robert Beake said, 'that it may declare that to be an offence which never was an offence before' (Diary of Thomas Burton, 1.58).

Given the nature of the charges, the debate frequently turned on fine points of theology, and a number of speakers invoked laws and penalties from the Old Testament rather than from England, but it was clear throughout that the fundamental issue was political. Philip Skippon, a staunch presbyterian and the major-general in charge of the London area, spoke for many when he complained that Cromwell's policy of toleration had fostered a Quaker threat:

Their great growth and increase is too notorious, both in England and Ireland; their principles strike at both ministry and magistracy. Many opinions are in this nation (all contrary to the government) which would join in one to destroy you, if it should please God to deliver the sword into their hands

Diary of Thomas Burton, 1.24–5

It would be wrong, however, to conclude as some historians have done that religious arguments were always political ones in disguise. For most MPs they were both at once, and even Nayler's old commander Lambert, while recalling his good behaviour in military service, took the charges very seriously:

How he comes (by pride or otherwise) to be puffed up with this opinion I cannot determine. But this may be a warning to us all, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I shall be as ready to give my testimony against him as any body, if it appear to be blasphemy.

ibid., 1.33

Nayler was called in to testify yet again, and again declared that he had enacted a ‘sign’ without mistaking himself for Christ. He also rejected the imputation of political subversion: 'I am one that daily prays that magistracy may be established in this nation. I do not, nor dare affront authority' (Diary of Thomas Burton, 1.48). A few members were prepared to accept his account, but the majority were determined on punishment and disagreed only as to its extent. The house voted in the affirmative on two resolutions, 'That James Nayler upon the whole matter in fact, is guilty of horrid blasphemy; that James Nayler is a grand impostor, and seducer of the people' (Rich and Tomlinson, 30). By the narrow margin of 96 to 82, a motion to put him to death was defeated, and after further debate it was resolved on 16 December that Nayler be whipped through the streets by the hangman, exposed in the pillory, have his tongue bored through with a red-hot iron, and have the letter B (for blasphemy) branded on his forehead. He was then to be returned to Bristol and compelled to repeat his ride in reverse while facing the rear of his horse, and finally he was to be committed to solitary confinement in Bridewell for an indefinite period. Nayler was brought back to hear the sentence but was not permitted to speak. While he was being led away, however, he made a short and moving statement that was reported in the Quaker True Narrative (and in similar words in Burton's Diary): 'He that hath prepared the body will enable me to suffer, and I pray that he may not lay it to your charge' (Rich and Tomlinson, 57).

Nayler's punishment was carried out in every detail, including 300 lashes that tore all the skin off his back, and the concluding scene at the pillory was witnessed by a large crowd that included the diarist Burton, who approved of what was done but admired Nayler's stoicism:

He put out his tongue very willingly, but shrinked a little when the iron came upon his forehead. He was pale when he came out of the pillory, but high-coloured after tongue-boring … Nayler embraced his executioner, and behaved himself very handsomely and patiently.

Diary of Thomas Burton, 1.266

Nayler's old enemy Deacon added that when his forehead was branded it 'gave a little flash of smoke' (Deacon, Exact History, 37), and a Quaker eyewitness emphasized his saintly demeanour: 'James never so much as winced, but bore it with astonishing and heart-melting patience' (Memoirs of … James Nayler, 69). Curiously, his companions were permitted to join him at the pillory. Martha Simmonds, Hannah Stranger, and Dorcas Erbury took up positions that observers saw as alluding to the women at the cross, and the eccentric merchant Robert Rich licked his wounds and put up a notice that read 'This is the King of the Jews'. In the opinion of his supporters Nayler's prophetic sign had now produced its logical conclusion, a symbolic crucifixion.

Final years

Nearly all Quakers hastened to repudiate Nayler, whose story was to become a regrettable 'fall' in accounts by later historians, though a few of his allies continued to visit him in prison when the solitary confinement was occasionally relaxed, and his wife journeyed from Yorkshire in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his release. For most of his imprisonment he was kept at hard labour picking hemp, but he managed to continue to write on spiritual topics with his customary clarity and energy, and a number of his pamphlets were smuggled out of prison and published. In a few places he referred allusively to the events in which he had taken part and expressed regret for any damage the movement had suffered; later writers misleadingly but understandably interpreted his reaction as a wholesale 'repentance'. If anything he seems to have felt that his symbolic gesture had been cruelly misunderstood by those who ought to have appreciated it, 'when all relations, friends and acquaintance are become farther off than strangers, and whatever thing the creature seeks to for comfort turns against him and adds to his grief' (Whitehead, 541). In September of 1659, nearly three years after Nayler entered Bridewell, the Rump Parliament declared an amnesty for Quaker prisoners and he was set free. He was reconciled at last with Fox and resumed preaching. In October of 1660 he set out on a journey to his Yorkshire home, but he never arrived. In prison he had repeatedly required medical treatment; his health was now deteriorating badly, and near Huntingdon he was robbed and beaten. Rescuers took him to the nearby home of a Quaker, where he died, uttering some moving last words that were often quoted afterward (in a suspiciously polished form):

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things … I found it alone, being forsaken; I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places in the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.

Whitehead, 696

Nayler was buried at King's Ripton, Huntingdonshire, on 21 October.

In the decades immediately following, Nayler was largely erased from the official memory of the Quaker movement, which underwent sustained persecution during the Restoration and had good reason to minimize its radical origins. Memoirs written at that time usually referred to him obliquely as an unnamed 'other person', and his story was never publicly retold until Whitehead's biographical preface to his 1716 edition of Nayler's Sundry Books. Whitehead too, however, passed elliptically over the details of what happened during Nayler's time of troubles, and his marginalization was confirmed by Willem Sewel's massive History of the Rise, Increase, and Progress of the Christian People called Quakers (1722), which was heavily indebted to Fox's Journal and implied that Fox had been the sole fountainhead of the movement. Later Quaker writers, when they mentioned Nayler at all, tended to assume that he suffered from a lamentable delusion that provoked his 'fall', and preferred to emphasize his supposed repentance afterward. Only when secular historians, notably Christopher Hill, began to see Nayler in a larger social and political context was his significance fully recognized.



  • RS Friends, Lond., corresp. and papers
  • RS Friends, Lond., A. R. Barclay, Caton, Gibson, Markey, and Swarthmore MSS


  • etchings, NPG
  • line engraving, BM, NPG; repro. in E. Pagit, Heresiography

Wealth at Death

£40 after deduction of outstanding debts: executor's account, quoted in Brailsford, Quaker from Cromwell's army, 197–8

Religious Society of Friends, London