1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nicholas, Henry
NICHOLAS (or Niclaes), HENRY (or Hendrik) (c. 1501–c. 1580), founder of the sect called “the Family of Love,” was born in 1501 or 1502, at Münster, where he was married and carried on the business of a mercer. As a boy he was subject to visions, and at the age of twenty-seven charges of heresy led to his imprisonment. About 1530 he removed with his family to Amsterdam, where he was again imprisoned on a charge of complicity in the Munster revolution of 1534–1535. About 1539 he experienced a call to found his “Familia Caritatis.” Removing to Embden, he lived there and prospered in business for twenty years, though he travelled with commercial as well as missionary objects into the Netherlands, England and elsewhere. The date of his sojourn in England has been placed as early as 1552 and as late as 1569. In 1579 he was living at Cologne, where probably he died a year or two later. His doctrines seem to have been derived largely from the Dutch Anabaptist David Jöris or George, who died in 1556; but they have mainly to be inferred from the jaundiced accounts of hostile writers. The outward trappings of his system were merely Anabaptist; but he anticipated a good many later speculations, and his followers were accused of asserting that all things were ruled by nature and not directly by God, of denying the dogma of the Trinity, and repudiating infant baptism. They held that no man should be put to death for his opinions, and apparently, like the later Quakers, they objected to the carrying of arms and to anything like an oath; and they were quite impartial in their repudiation of all other churches and sects, including Brownists and Barrowists.
Nicholas’s principal disciple in England was one Christopher Vitel, and towards 1579 the progress of the sect especially in the eastern counties provoked literary attacks, proclamations and parliamentary bills. But Nicholas’s followers escaped the gallows and the stake, for they combined with some success the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. They would only discuss their doctrines with sympathizers; they showed every respect for authority, and considered outward conformity a duty. This quietist attitude, while it saved them from molestation, hampered propaganda; and though the “Family” existed until the middle of the 17th century, it was then swallowed up by the Quakers, Baptists and Unitarians, all of which denominations may have derived some of their ideas through the “Family” from the Anabaptists.
The list of Nicholas’s works occupies nearly six columns in the Dict. Nat. Biogr. See also Belfort Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, pp. 327-380 (1903); and Strype’s Works, General index. (A. F. P.)