The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Research Article

Eighteenth-Century Quakerism and the Rehabilitation of James Nayler, Seventeenth-Century Radical


a1 Faculty of Media and Humanities, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS; email:


Although the first Quakers aligned history with superfluous tradition, detrimental to true appreciation of the inward voice of God, by the early eighteenth century they had produced their first histories as a defence against Anglican allegations of continued disorder and enthusiasm. At the same time, pressure to publish the collected works of James Nayler, a convicted blasphemer, proved particularly contentious. Leo Damrosch has sought to understand what Nayler thought he was doing in the 1650s; this study considers what motivated later Quakers to censor his works and accounts of his life, and demonstrates how English Friends in particular sought to revise the popular image of Quakerism by rewriting history.


I would like to thank all those who commented on the original version of this paper, presented at the ‘George Fox's Legacy: 350 Years of Quakerism’ conference at Swarthmore College, Pa in October 2002, and at the BSECS conference at St Hugh's College, Oxford, in January 2004. Thanks especially to Mark Jenner, for reading the draft version and highlighting areas of debate, to Florian Gleisner, for his invaluable assistance in the translation of Dutch and German works, and to an anonymous reviewer, for several helpful suggestions.