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