Nayler, James (DNB00)
|←Nayler, George||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
NAYLER, JAMES (1617?–1660), quaker, was born at Ardsley, near Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire, about 1617. His father, a substantial yeoman, gave him a good English education. About the age of twenty-two he married and settled in Wakefield, where his children were born. In 1642, on the outbreak of the civil war, he left his wife in Wakefield (he never lived with her again) and joined the parliamentary army, serving first in a foot company under Fairfax, then for two years as quartermaster in Lambert's horse. Lambert afterwards spoke of him as ‘very useful;’ he ‘parted from him with great regret.’ While in the army he became an independent and a preacher. He was at the battle of Dunbar (3 Sept. 1650). An officer who heard him preach shortly afterwards declares, ‘I was struck with more terror by the preaching of James Nayler than I was at the battle of Dunbar’ (Jaffray, Diary, 1833, p. 543). In the same year he returned home on the sick list, and took to agriculture. He was a member of the congregational church under Christopher Marshal (d. February 1674, aged 59), meeting in the parish church of Woodchurch (otherwise West Ardsley), also at Horbury (where Marshal had property), both near Wakefield. He became a quaker during the visit of George Fox (1624–1691) [q. v.] to Wakefield in 1651. Some time after he had left the independents he was excommunicated by Marshal's church. Early in 1652 Fox attempted to preach to the independents in the ‘steeple-house’ at Woodchurch, but was forcibly ejected. Hence Nayler's letter (1654?) ‘To the Independent Society’ (Collection, pp. 697 seq.), in which he denies their church standing. This church afterwards met at Topcliffe, near Wakefield. Miall represents Nayler as expelled from the Topcliffe church on a charge of adultery, and says that, removing to London, he became a member of the baptist church under Hanserd Knollys [q. v.], from which also he was expelled. The Topcliffe records, to which Miall refers, do not begin till 15 Feb. 1653–4. His real source is Scatcherd; and Scatcherd relies upon Deacon, who, on Marshal's authority and that of his church, tells a gossiping story of Nayler's familiarity with one Mrs. Roper, whose husband was at sea, whence arose suspicions of incontinence.
Nayler was ploughing when he became convinced of a call to the travelling ministry. Not immediately obeying it he fell ill; recovering, he left home suddenly (1652) without leave-taking, and took his journey towards Westmoreland. At Swarthmoor Hall, Lancashire, he found Fox, who introduced him to Margaret Fell [q. v.] He accompanied Fox on a mission to Walney, Lancashire, and was present at Fox's trial at Lancaster, of which he wrote an account on 30 Oct. 1652. At Orton, Westmoreland, he was arrested for preaching unsound doctrine. He had maintained against Francis Higginson (1587–1630) [q. v.], vicar of Kirkby Stephen, Westmoreland, that the body of the risen Christ is not fleshly, but spiritual. He was carried to Kirkby Ste- phen, where Francis Howgill was arrested, and the two were sent next day to Appleby. He was tried at the Appleby sessions in January 1653 by Anthony Pearson [q. v.], who became a quaker, and other justices, for the blasphemy of alleging that ‘Christ was in him,’ and remitted to prison for about twenty weeks. Margaret Fell ‘sent him 2l., he took but 5s.’ She also despatched (18 Feb. 1653) his tract, ‘Spiritual Wickednesse,’ with some others, to her husband in London, to be printed. This appears to be the first batch of quaker tracts that was sent to press. Regaining his liberty, Nayler resumed preaching in the north. He went to London early in 1655, and soon became famous for a fervid oratory, rich in pathos, and with more cohesion of matter than was common in quaker appeals at that period. In July 1655 he held a public disputation in one of the separatist meeting-houses (possibly that of Hanserd Knollys); in November he addressed ‘a meeting at the house of Lady Darcy,’ when several of the nobility and presbyterian clergy, and Sir Harry Vane, were present. Meanwhile he had been holding successful meetings with Fox in Derbyshire, and had engaged in a discussion at Chesterfield with John Coope the vicar.
He was idolised by the quaker women, and their enthusiasm turned his head. Quakerism had not yet emerged from its ranter stage; Fox's discipline was as yet only in course of gradual formation. Nayler was a man of striking appearance. The arrangement of his hair and beard aided the fancy of those who saw in his countenance a resemblance to the common portraits of Christ. Foremost among his devoted followers was Martha, sister of Giles Calvert, the well-known publisher, and wife of Thomas Simmons, or Simmonds, a printer. Early in 1656 she proposed (in his absence) that Nayler be set at the head of the London mission. The women's meetings were not yet established; but Martha Simmons and her friends rebelled against Edward Burrough [q. v.] and Howgill, and were rebuked for disturbing meetings. They went to Nayler with their grievance; he declined to support them against Burrough and Howgill, but was overcome by their passionate tears, and put himself into their hands.
Fox was at this time imprisoned in Launceston gaol, Cornwall. Nayler's connection with him had been very close. He was Fox's senior by about seven years. During the first three years (1653–5) of Fox's authorship Nayler had joined him in the production of tracts, and Fox had greatly encouraged Nayler's preaching and disputations. At this crisis Nayler set out for Launceston to see Fox. His ‘company’ went with him, making a sort of triumphal progress through the west of England. At Bristol they created a disturbance, and thence moved on to Exeter, where in June Nayler and others were thrown into gaol by the authorities.
Released from Launceston gaol (13 Sept. 1656), Fox made his way to Exeter, and on the Saturday night (20 Sept.) of his arrival visited Nayler. He at once perceived that Nayler ‘was out and wrong, and so was his company.’ Next day Fox held a meeting in the prison; Nayler did not attend it. On the Monday he saw Nayler again, and found him obstinate, but anxious to be friendly. Fox, however, refused his parting salutation. ‘After I had been warring with the world,’ he writes, ‘there was now a wicked spirit risen up among Friends to war against.’ He wrote two strong letters to Nayler, warning him ‘it will be harder for thee to set down thy rude company than it was to set them up.’ But a series of extravagant letters reached Nayler from London. John Stranger, a combmaker, wrote (17 Oct.), ‘Thy name is no more to be called James, but Jesus.’ Thomas Simmons styled him ‘the lamb of God.’ His followers came to Exeter in increasing numbers just before his discharge from gaol. Three women, Hannah Stranger (wife of John), Martha Simmons, and Dorcas Erbury of Bristol, widow of William Erbury [q. v.], kneeled before him in the prison and kissed his feet. Dorcas Erbury claimed that he had raised her from the dead; she had been two days dead, when he laid his hands on her head in Exeter gaol, saying, ‘Dorcas, arise.’ In ranter language this merely meant that he had revived her spirits. Vague charges of immorality with these women are made in the gossip of the period, but they rest on no evidence.
Set free from Exeter gaol, Nayler returned with his following to Bristol. At Glastonbury and Wells garments were strewed on the way. On 24 Oct. 1656, amid pouring rain, he rode into Bristol at the Redcliffe gate, Timothy Wedlock (Sewel calls him Thomas Woodcock), a Devonshire man, preceding him bareheaded, the women Simmons and Stranger leading his horse, and a concourse of adherents singing hosannas, and crying ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Israel.’ Julian Widgerley was the only quaker who remonstrated. They made for the White Hart in Broad Street. Nicholas Fox was the landlord, and it was the property of Dennis Hollister (d. 13 July 1676) and Henry Row, both leading quakers. The magistrates at once arrested Nayler and seven of his following. Among them was ‘Rob. Crab,’ not improbably Roger Crab [q. v.] the hermit; he was discharged with another on 31 Oct. The rest were forwarded to London on 10 Nov., to be examined by the House of Commons on the report of Robert Aldworth, town clerk of Bristol, and one of the members for that city. They were not sent to prison, but kept under guard at an inn, where they received numerous visitors, and the homage of kneeling was repeated by Sarah Blackbury and others.
On 15 Nov. they were brought before a committee (appointed 31 Oct.) of fifty-five members of the commons in the painted chamber, Thomas Bampfield [q. v.], recorder of Exeter, being the chairman. After four sittings the committee reported to the house on 5 Dec. The report mentioned the Roper business in a review of Nayler's life. He challenged a full inquiry into his past character; no witnesses were examined on oath. Nayler was brought up at the bar of the house on 6 Dec., and adjudged, on 8 Dec., guilty of ‘horrid blasphemy.’ The blasphemy was constructive; Chalmers observes that it does not appear that he uttered any words at all in the incriminated transaction. Under examination he maintained that the honours had been paid not to himself, but to ‘Christ within’ him. Petitions urging severity against quakers were presented from several English counties. For seven days the house debated whether the sentence should be made capital; it was carried in the negative by ninety-six votes to eighty-two on 16 Dec., when the following ingenious substitute was devised by the legislature. On 18 Dec. Nayler was to be pilloried for two hours in New Palace Yard, and then whipped by the hangman to the Exchange. On 20 Dec. he was to be pilloried for two hours at the Exchange, his tongue pierced with a hot iron, and the letter B (for blasphemer) branded on his forehead. Afterwards he was to be taken to Bristol by the sheriffs of London, ridden through the city with his face to the horsetail, and then whipped through the city. Lastly, he was to be conveyed back to London, and kept in Bridewell during the pleasure of parliament, at hard and solitary labour, without use of pen and ink, his food to be dependent on the chances of his earnings by labour. Nayler was brought up to receive this sentence on 17 Dec. He said he did not know his offence. The speaker, Thomas Widdrington, told him he should know his offence by his punishment.
Nayler was pilloried and whipped on 18 Dec. He was left in such a mangled state that on the morning of 20 Dec. a petition for reprieve was presented to parliament by outsiders, and a respite granted till 27 Dec. On 23 Dec. a petition, headed by Colonel Scrope, sometime governor of Bristol, for remission of the remaining sentence, was presented to parliament by Joshua Sprigg, formerly an independent minister. Parliament sent five divines (Caryl, Manton, Nye, Griffith, and Reynolds) to confer with Nayler, who defended the action of his followers by scripture. The petition was followed up by an address to Cromwell, who on 25 Dec. wrote to the speaker, asking for the reasons of the house's procedure. A debate (26, 27, 30 Dec.) on this letter was adjourned to 2 Jan. and then dropped. It was a moot point whether the existing parliament had power to act as a judicatory. Meanwhile Nayler was subjected to the second part of his punishment on 27 Dec., when Robert Rich (d. 17 Nov. 1679), a quaker merchant (who had appealed to parliament on 15 Dec.) stood beside him on the pillory, and placed a placard over his head, with the words, ‘This is the king of the Jews.’ An officer tore it down. Nayler ‘put out his tongue very willingly,’ says Burton, ‘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.’ ‘Rich … cried, stroked his hair and face, kissed Nayler's hand, and strove to suck the fire out of his forehead.’ The Bristol part of the sentence was carried out on 17 Jan. 1657, amid a crowd of Nayler's sympathisers, Rich riding in front bareheaded, singing ‘Holy, holy,’ &c. Nayler was again immured (23 Jan.) in Bridewell, to which his associates had been sent. On 29 Jan. the governors of Bridewell were allowed to give his wife access to him; and on 26 May, owing to the state of his health, a ‘keeper’ was assigned to him. After a time pen and ink were allowed him, and he wrote a contrite letter to the London Friends. He fell ill in 1658. Cromwell in August sent William Malyn to report upon him, but Cromwell's death occurred shortly after (3 Sept.) Not till 8 Sept. 1659 was Nayler released from prison on the speaker's warrant.
He came out sobered and penitent. His first act was to publish a short tract, ‘Glory to God Almighty’ , 4to, and then he repaired to George Fox, who was at Reading and ill. He was not allowed to see him, but subsequently Fox sanctioned his return to mission work. He went on to Bristol, and there made public confession of his offence. Early in 1660 (so Whitehead's date, 1657, a misprint for 1659, may be read, in modern reckoning) he was preaching with George Whitehead [q. v.] in Westmoreland. Somewhat later he lodged with Whitehead in Watling Street, London.
In the autumn of 1660 he left London in ill-health, intending to return on foot to his family in Yorkshire. A friend who saw him sitting by the wayside near Hertford offered him hospitality, but he pressed on. A few miles north of Huntingdon he sank exhausted, and was robbed by footpads. A rustic, finding him in a field, took him to the house of a quaker at Holme, near King's Ripton, Huntingdonshire. Here he was visited by Thomas Parnel, a quaker physician. He died in October 1660, aged about 43, and was buried on 21 Oct. in Parnel's grave in the Friends' burying-ground (now an orchard) at King's Ripton. He left a widow and children. The Wakefield parish register records the baptisms of Mary (28 March 1640), Jane (8 May 1641), and Sarah (25 March 1643), children of James Naylor. A Joseph Naylor of Ardsley was a prominent local quaker in 1689–94. A small contemporary print of him, with the B on his forehead, is reproduced in Ephraim Pagitt's ‘Heresiography,’ ed. 1661. From this his portrait was painted and engraved by Francis Place (d. 1728). Later engravings are by T. Preston and Grave. A small engraving was published (1823) by W. Dalton.
Richard Baxter [q. v.], in his account of the quakers (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, 1696, i. 77), does not mention Fox, and specifies Nayler as ‘their chief leader’ prior to Penn. It seems probable that the authorities shared Baxter's mistake, and supposed that in crushing Nayler they were suppressing quakerism. The emotional mysticism of Nayler's devotees was one of the untrained forces, active in the religious field, and anterior to quakerism proper. To Fox, in his early career, was addressed language as exalted as any that was offered to Nayler (see Leslie, Snake in the Grass, 1698, pp. 369 seq.; Bugg, Pilgrim's Progress, 1700, pp. 45 seq.). With very little encouragement Margaret Fell (see her letter in Wilkinson, Quakerism Examined, 1836, and cf. Newcome, Autobiog. 1852, i. 126) would have gone as far as Hannah Stranger. But Fox brought this tendency under control and subdued it, while Nayler was its dupe. He exhibits nothing of it in his own writings, which for depth of thought and beauty of expression deserve a place in the first rank of quaker literature. His controversial pamphlets compare favourably, in their restraint of tone, with those of many of his coadjutors. Some of his other pieces bear the stamp of spiritual genius of a high order. For a defence of his special mysticism, see his ‘Satans Design Discovered,’ 1655, 4to.
A full bibliography of his publications is given in Smith's ‘Catalogue of Friends' Books,’ 1867, ii. 216 seq. His writings fell into neglect, but an admirable ‘Collection’ of them (omitting his controversial pieces of 1655–6) was edited, 1716, 4to, by Whitehead, with an ‘Impartial Account’ of his career. His ‘How Sin is Strengthened, and how it is Overcome,’ &c., 1657, 4to, one of the many tracts written during his long imprisonment, has been very frequently reprinted; the last edition, 1860, is edited by W. B. Sissison, who reprinted another of his tracts in the same year. His ‘Last Testimony,’ beginning ‘There is a Spirit which I feel,’ has often been cited for the purity of its pathos. Bernard Barton [q. v.] paraphrased it (1824) in stanzas which are not so poetic as the original prose.[A Brief Account of James Nayler, the Quaker, 1656 (published with the authority of parliament); Deacon's Grand Impostor Examined, 1656 (reprinted in Harleian Miscellany, 1810, vol. vi.); Deacon's Exact History, 1657; A True Narrative of the … Tryall, &c. 1657 (by Fox, Rich, and William Tomlinson); A True Relation of the Life, &c., 1657 (frontispiece); Grigge's The Quaker's Jesus, 1658 (answered in Rabshakeh's Outrage Reproved, 1658); Blome's Fanatick History, 1660 (answered by Richard Hubberthorn [q. v.] and Nayler in A Short Answer, 1660); Wharton's Gesta Britannorum, 1667; George Fox's Journal, 1694, pp. 54, 70, 167, 220*; Denham's Poems, 1684, pp. 110–13; Croese's Historia Quakeriana, 1696, pp. 159 seq.; Whitehead's Impartial Account, 1716; Memoirs of the Life, &c. 1719 (by an admirer, but apparently not a quaker); Sewel's History of the Quakers, 1725, pp. 134 seq.; Salmon's Chronological Historian, 1733, p. 130; Bevan's Life, &c., 1800; State Trials (Cobbett), 1810, v. 801 seq. (from the Commons' Journals; gives the argument of Bulstrode Whitelocke against the capital penalty); Hughson's (i.e. Edward Pugh's) Life, &c., 1814, also in M. Aikin's (i.e. Edward Pugh's) Memoirs of Religious Imposters (sic), 1821; Tuke's Life, &c., 1815; Chalmers's General Biog. Dict. 1815, xxiii. 37 seq.; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, iv. 139 seq.; Burton's Diary, 1828 i. 10 seq., ii. 131 seq.; Scatcherd's Hist. of Morley, 1830, pp. 205 seq.; Webb's Fells of Swarthmoor Hall, 1867, pp. 37 seq.; Miall's Congregationalism in Yorkshire, 1868, p. 382 (cf. Calamy's Account, 1713, p. 801); Bickley's George Fox, 1884, p. 144; Beck, Wells and Chalkley's Biog. Cat. 1888, pp. 459 seq.; Turner's Quakers, 1889, pp. 113 seq.; Fell Smith's Steven Crisp and his Correspondents, 1892, pp. 50 seq. (portrait); information from D. Travers Burges, esq., town clerk, Bristol, and the Rev. E. Greene, rector of King's Ripton; extracts from the parish register, Wakefield Cathedral.]