James Nayler

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Nayler, James (ca. 1617-1660)

An English religious leader of the seventeenth century. He was born around 1617 in the diocese of York and served for a time in the army before joining the Quakers where his discourses gained for him a reputation for sanctity. Eventually, his followers hailed him as a Messiah and accompanied him in a dramatic entrance in Bristol in 1656. Nayler, mounted on a horse led by a man and a woman, was followed by others who chanted "Holy, holy, holy, is the god of Sabaoth."

Authorities did not appreciate Nayler's messianic pretensions and had him arrested, charging him with blasphemy and punishing him by having his tongue pierced with a hot iron and his forehead marked with the letter "B" (blasphemer). This done, prior to his imprisonment, he was forced to ride into Bristol in disgrace, his face turned towards the horse's tail. After two years in prison Nayler was released sobered and penitent. His return to Quaker preaching was sanctioned by Quaker founder George Fox and Nayler preached with George White-head. After a period of ill health, Nayler died in October 1660.


Bittle, William G. James Nayler, 1618-1660: The Quaker Indicted by Parliament. Richmond, Ind.: Friends United Press, 1986.

Brailsford, Mabel Richmond. A Quaker from Cromwell's Army: James Nayler. London: Swathmore Press, 1927.

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James Nayler, 1617?–1660, English Quaker leader. He served in the parliamentary army during the English civil war. In 1651 he became a Quaker and a disciple of George Fox, but gradually gathered a band of followers about himself. In 1656 he rode into Bristol, his followers crying "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Israel." Nayler's explanation that his disciples were worshiping the "Christ within him" rather than himself did not prevent a parliamentary trial (1656). He was sentenced to be pilloried, whipped, branded, and imprisoned. Nayler was author of a number of well-written religious pamphlets; his collected works were published in 1716.