Nayler, James

, a remarkable person of the society called Quakers, was born at Ardsley, near Wakefield, in Yorkshire, about 1616. His father was a husbandman, who had some estate of his own, and gave to his son such an education as enabled him to express himself with facility in his native tongue. James married and settled in Wakefield parish about 1638; and, in 1641, became a private soldier in the parliament army, in which he was afterwards made a quarter-master under major-general Lambert, but quitted it, on account of sickness, in 1649. Being convinced of the doctrines of the people called Quakers, by the means of George Fox, in 1651, the next year he believed himself divinely required to. quit his relations and go into the West, not knowing what he was to do there; but when he came there he had it given him what to declare; and thus he continued, not knowing one day what he was to do the next; but relying on that divine aid which he believed himself to receive.

He was a man of excellent natural parts, and acquitted himself so well, both in word and writing, that many joined the society through his ministry. He came to London towards the beginning of 1655, in which city a meeting of Quakers had been established by the ministry of Edward Burrough and Francis Howgill, two eminent Quakers from Westmorland. Here Nayler preached with so much applause, that the distinction which he acquired occasioned his fall; for, some inconsiderate women setting him up in their esteem above Howgill and Burrough, went so far as to disturb them in their public preaching. These men giving to the women a deserved reproof, two of them complained of it to Nayler, who, although at the first he was backward to pass censure on his brethren, yet, at length, suffering himself to be wrought upon by the reiterated and passionate complaints of one Martha Simmons (the chief engine of the mischief), he became estranged from them, and gave ear to the flatteries of his unadvised adherents. | In 1656, he suffered imprisonment at Exeter and about this time several deluded persons addressed him by letter in terms of great extravagance. He was called “the everlasting Son of Righteousness, Prince of Peace, the only begotten Son of God, the Fairest of Ten Thousand;” and during his confinement in Exeter gaol some women knelt before him and kissed his feet. About this time George Fox returning out of the West, where he had himself suffered a rigorous imprisonment, called on James Nayler in the prison at Exeter, and gave him some reproof for his defection and extravagance. This Nayler slighted, but nevertheless would have saluted Fox with a kiss; but George rejected his salutation, alleging that “he had turned against the power of God.

Soon after his release from Exeter, we find him entering Bristol, accompanied by his wild adherents. One of them, a man, went before him bare-headed; a woman led his horse, and three others spread their scarves and handkerchiefs before him; while the company sang “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Hosts, hosanna in the highest, holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Israel.” For this Nayler and his attendants were examined by the magistrates, and he was sent to London soon after to be examined by the parliament. After referring the matter to a committee, the House resolved “that James Nayler is guilty of horrid blasphemy, and that he is a grand impostor and seducer cf the people.” Nine days after this, the business having been daily brought forward, the parliament gave the following sentence: “That James Nayler be set on the pillory, with his head in the pillory, in the Palace-yard, Westminster, during the space of two hours, on Thursday next, and be whipped by the hangman through the streets from Westminster to the Old Exchange, London; and then likewise be set on the pillory, with his head in the pillory, for the space of two hours, between the hours of eleven and one on Saturday next, in each place wearing a paper containing an inscription of his crimes; and that at the Old Exchange his tongue be bored through with a hot iron; and that he be there also stigmatized in the forehead with the letter B; and that he be afterwards sent to Bristol, and be conveyed into and through the said city on horseback, with his face backward; and there also publicly whipped the next market-day after he comes thither; and that thence he be committed to prison in Bridewell, | London, and there restrained from the society of all people and there to labour hard till he shall be released by parliament; and during that time be debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and shall have no relief but what he earns by his daily labour.

There are a few things observable in the treatment of this case. One is, that Nayler was declared to be guilty of horrid blasphemy, when it does not appear that he himself uttered any words in that transaction for which he was apprehended. Another is, the great severity of the sentence, viz. excessive whipping, two pilloryings of two hours each, boring the tongue with an hot iron, and branding the forehead; at Bristol a second whipping; and, finally, a solitary confinement with hard labour, sine die. But a third thing to be observed is, that the active persons in the business, the ranting women, received no share of the punishment, except some confinement. From these circumstances it would seem that the object of the parliament was to bring the Quakers into discredit, by letting the weight of their censure fall on Nayler, who had been so eminent among them; although letters found on him at Bristol from some of them, shewed that they disclaimed fellowship with his disorderly proceedings.

The 20th of December Nayler suffered a part of his sentence, standing two hours in the pillory and receiving at a cart’s tail 3 10 stripes. He was so much reduced, by this severity that the execution of the remainder was respited till the 27th, when he was again pilloried, bored, and stigmatized: after which he was sent to Bristol, and whipped from the middle of Thomas-street to the middle of Broadstreet, and then sent to his prison in Bridewell.

Notwithstanding the prohibition of implements of writing, Nayler found means to procure them in his confinement, and wrote many things condemning his past conduct. The following^ addressed to his friends, the Quakers, is an extract of one of them: “Dear brethren, my heart is broken this day for the offence that I have occasioned to God’s truth and people, and especially to you, who in dear love followed me, seeking me in faithfulness to God, which I rejected, being bound wherein I could not come forth, till God’s hand brought me, to whose love I now confess. And, I beseech you, forgive wherein I evil requited your love in that day. 'God knows my sorrow for it, since I see it, that ever I should offend that of God in | any, or reject his counsel and I greatly fear farther to offend, or do amiss, whereby the innocent truth, or people of God, should suffer, or that I should disobey therein.

He was confined about two years; and after he was set at liberty he went to Bristol, where, in a public meeting, he made confession of his offence and fall, so as to draw tears from most of those who were present: and, restoration to humility of mind and soundness of judgment being apparent in him, he was restored to the esteem and fellowship of his friends. He quitted London finally in 1660, intending to return to his wife and children at Wakefield; but was found by a countryman one evening in a field near Holm and King’s Rippon, in Huntingdonshire, having been (as was said) robbed, and left bound. He was taken to Holm, and his cloaths shifted, on which he said, “You have refreshed my body; the Lord refresh your souls:” not long after which he died in peace, and his remains were interred inn King’s Rippon, in a burying-ground belonging to Thomas Parnel, a physician there. About two hours before his close, he spoke these words: “There is a spirit which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it; for, its ground and spring are the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love, unfeigned; and takes its kingdom with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice, f though none else regard it, or can own its life. It’s conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it: nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoiceth but through sufferings; for, with the world’s joy, it is murdered. 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.” Nayler’s writings were collected into an octavo volume, printed in 1716, which may still occasionally be found. 1


Biog. Brit.—Sewell’s Hist. of the Quakers.