James Nayler: A Pearl of Faith


Autumn 2006 No 19 – 01/10/2006


Author: Stephen Sayers

Document Code: WJ19

Description: In October 1656, James Nayler re-enacted Christ's entry into Jerusalem in Glastonbury, Wells, and Bristol, by riding into these towns surrounded by other Friends waving branches. Nayler was a leading Quaker, indeed thought by many to be the leader of the movement, and certainly one of its great preachers. His actions in Bristol gave those opposed to the grand claims of the early Quaker movement the perfect pretext for trying to silence these radicals. Ultimately tried by Parliament for blasphemy, Nayler narrowly escaped with his life but instead endured such horrific punishment that it had to be interrupted by a week for him to recover. He was then imprisoned to be released in an amnesty after Oliver Cromwell's death. He died soon after following a mugging.

This short account of Nayler's life is timely. Its publication marks the 350th anniversary of the Bristol affair and it is also part of newfound popularity for Nayler's life and witness. His trial was a fragile moment for the early Quaker movement, and an earlier disagreement with George Fox meant that Nayler lost his prominent position. However, his prison writing is amongst the most beautiful of that of the early Friends and recently there has been a renaissance of interest in Nayler's testimony and legacy. We need to see these lives in their wider political and historical context and within the wider apocalyptic Quaker theology of the time, but this issue of the Woodbrooke Journal provides a useful introduction to those unfamiliar with this particular Quaker minister. Stephen Sayers also offers an analysis of the kind of transformation Nayler experienced and preached about, making this a very valuable edition to the Journal series.

Ben Pink Dandelion

Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre


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