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Familyof Love


A Continental religious sect known as the Haus der Liebe or the Family of Love which started ca. 1540. Its members embraced the teachings and the writings of Hendrik Niclaes ("H. N.")(1502?-80 ), also known as Henry Nicholas (Nicolas/Nicklaes), a Dutch spiritualist. They were more commonly referred to as Familists in England.

Niclaes was a prosperous merchant by profession who travelled widely. Niclaes' works were strongly influences by the Radical Reformation, including the earlier medieval sect, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, and Rhenish mysticism. There are some common shared threads of Anabaptist influences in his writings. Some have considered the Familists as a possible branch of Anabaptism.

A prominent student, and follower of Niclaes was Hendrik Jansen Barrefelt, a.k.a. Hiel. Barrefelt developed a somewhat similar philosophy to Niclaes, and would developed his own following. Another well known earlier prophet of the period was David Joris who held similar views. Niclaes found many converts in what is modern France, Germany, the Low Countries, as well as in England.

The primary spiritual goal for the Familists was the reaching of that state of the ultimate form of perfect love with God revealed through the Family of Love, and the works of "N. H.". That state of perfection as attained in Christ would guarantee its membership the salvation that neither the Church, nor what the Scriptures could not offer. The Spirit was superior to the Scriptures in authority according to the Familists.

Unfortunately, "N. H" was often rather flowery in his use of language which often led to different or variant interpretations of his works especially in translation. This led to various Familist subgroups following slightly different interpretations, and practices.

Some commonly held themes include: "All things come by nature". The gifts of the earth came from God's bounty or nature, so everything should be shared as communal property, or everything belongs to everyone in common.

Some critics of the period alleged that Familists practiced adultery, and wife swapping. There is little independent authority for these assertions which were probably used to discredit the sect.

Familists were also charged with practicing the perfectionist theology known as Antinomianism, being in a natural state of Grace without Sin for the true believer. The Laws of Moses and Man no longer held any validity for those who attained this state of perfection according to the believers. Antinomians were deemed to be immoral and without any religious virtue by its critics as being a non-biblical, or having a Scriptural framework.

For the Familist, true enlightenment was only possible by possessing the true inner dwelling spirit of God revealing himself. The Spirit of God dwelling in a true Believer made all things possible. A state of perfection with God was possible here on earth by living your life as Christ. The life of Christ was the model for perfection not His death and resurrection. Only those who followed the Familists' being of love would receive true salvation according to "N. H."

The Bible was sometimes referred to as an ABC to Christianity. Familists attached little spiritual importance to external forms of worship. Prayer was not emphasized. Community meetings of the faithful believers were usually held in secret from the general public.

As a group, the Familists practiced a form of Nicodemism, or concealing their true beliefs while outwardly conforming to the existing societal norms of the area. If questions about their "suspected" Familist beliefs, they would embrace the outward religious teachings of the community norm, and deny their true beliefs. Rejection or denials of their own beliefs to escape the punishment of the local authorities was considered necessary for the greater good to maintain their own community.

Familists hoped to convert new enlightened members to their faith, but they lacked the zeal to openly spread their message beyond a small portion of society. Familists also suffered from a general tenet of Niclaes to be rather circumspect in dealing with those in their community outside of the Faith. This dual edged sword which tended to limit their effective conversions outside of their own immediate family or relatives.

Familists as a community were considered rather literate for the period. There was a rather high literacy rate for the period. Reading the works of Niclaes was a basic requirement for the faithful. This tended to limit the potential audience of new believers to those who could read, and also read to others. This is what often set the Familists apart in their local communities as being more literate, and better educated for the period. It was not uncommon for local Familists that might occupy positions of trust, or authority within their local communities based on their education.

Literary itself could become a weapon against the status quo, and "right thinking" itself. Familists held strict relationships within their own community. Their was a form of hierarchy with the Elders who represented their spiritual and community elders, or leaders.

English Familists

Unlike their Continental cousins, English Familists seems to have developed along slightly different lines. Familist activities in England may date from the early 1550's. There are references to a certain individual Christopher Vittels, a former English joiner, and a sometime itinerant preacher, and a early disciple of Henry Nicholas of Delph (Holland). Vittels is reported to have been active active in England ca. 1555. Vittels has often been referred to by some as the first English Familists. Vittels was also an early translator of Nicaels works into English. There was a local tradition that Niclaes may have visited England on two different occasions during his own lifetime. Good hard evidence is still lacking here.

Familists influence may have initially spread into England through its coastal seaport communities by foreign workers, or merchants from Antwerp, Holland during the reign of Queen Mary I. During the reign of King Henry VIII Continental "nonconformists" were actively hunted down, and removed from English soil, or were buried in it. England had a pro-active business policy for skilled Dutch craftsmen working in England. Special dispensations were made for Dutch churches by the Church of England, and the Crown. of Continental religious dissidents,especially in its port communities. England had a pre-active policy. These had been the same access points for the Anabaptist and others continental sects.

Familists activities in Guildford may date from the 1560's. Cambridge and the area around Belsham were also early centers of Familists activity. Surrey and Ely were Familist strongholds. Wisbech on the the Isle of Ely was a known Familists haven. There is a Confession from Surrey dated 1561 which is one of the earliest written document of the Family of Love in England.

English Familists suffered from its share of zealot puritan critics. From 1570-80, men such as: John Knewstub, John Rogers and William Wilkinson undertook a sacred mission against the Familists. Knewstub became well known as a Familists hunter of the first waters often with governmental assistance.

English translations of the works of Nicaels became readily available in London in the 1570's. By 1580, a Proclamation was issued by Queen Elizabeth condemning the Familists, and their writings. A concerted effort by the Crown had been undertaken to eliminate the Familists from East Anglia, and the areas around Greater London. How skillful the governments' efforts were is a matter of conjecture considering the nature of the Familists society, and there ability to fade into the local English society.

The term Familists may confer a broader scope than initially thought. An small early sect known as the Family of the Mount shared many similar values with the Familists. About 1610, an obscure religious sect was started at Grindleton, Yorkshire. The group exhibited Familist leanings, and has been described as the Grindleton Familists. The sect continued into the 1660's.

English Familists communities may have been tolerated better in English than their Continental counterparts. The ability of Familists to remain anonymous within their own local communities has been called into question by some scholars. Dissident religious practices may not have attracted the level of curiosity at the local community levels as had been formerly thought. Toleration or simply a lack of public interest of what your neighbor did or did not do may have been the norm in many rural areas. There is some evidence to suggest that known Familists held positions of public trust and authority in their local communities for their education.

Maybe only numbering in the hundreds at their height in England, there appears to have been Familists' at the Court of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I. These must have been people of position, and learning, who were valued for their opinions and loyalty to the Crown against what must have been outcries from those of other religious persuasions at Court, especially among the puritans.

The Reverend James Pordage, a curate in Reading ca. 1645, was known for his Familists and Behmenists interests. Pordage established a Familists community near his Bradfield parish about 1647. In 1654, he was ousted from his parish. He was reinstated in 1660, only to be removed again in 1662.

Familists were never a major political force due to their small numbers in England, but their contributions may be more than previously realized. George Fox, the Quaker leader, indicated Familists conversions to Quakerism after 1660. Their influence on Quakerism after 1660 may be noted.

Our current perceptions of this group may be too coloured by their critics rhetoric and negative writings of the period. English Familists may have continued into the eighteenth century England, or longer. More scholarship should cast more light on this elusive group.

Many of the Familists held views were common threads in other dissident groups such as the: Grindletonians, Ranters, Adamites, and even the early Quakers. English Familists provided a source of continental themes which influenced other dissident groups in England.


Primary Sources

[Anon.] An Apologie for the Service of Love, and the that own it, commonly called, the Family of Love (1656)

[Anon.] A Brief Rehersall of the Beleef of the goodwilling in England which are named the Family of Love (1575); [STC 10681.5]

[Anon.] The Confession and Declaration of Robert Sharp Clerke, and other of that secte, Termed the Familie of Love, at Pawles Crosse in London the xii of June: An. 1575 (1575)

[Anon.] A Description of the Sect called the Family of Love, with their Common Place of Residence (1641)

[Anon.] A Discovery of the Adhominable Delusions of the Family of Love (1622); [STC 10682]

Anon.] A Discovery of the Adhominable Delusions of those, who call themselves the Family of Love (1622)

[Anon.] A Discovery of 29 Sects Here in London (1641)

[Anon.] Displaying of a Horrible Sect of Grosse and Wicked Heretiques (1578)

[Anon.] A Supplication of the Family of Love ... (1606); [STC 10683]

[Anon.] Temporis filia veritas (1589)

Ainsworth, Henry, [1571-1622?] An epistle sent vnto tuuo Daughters of VVarwick from N. H., the Oldest Father of the Family of Love with a Refutation of the Errors that are therein, by H.A. (1608); [EEb, 1641-1700; 1732:20] [STC (2nd ed.) 18553]

Baillie, Robert, [1599-1662 [, Anabaptism, the tvre fovntaine of independency, Brownisme, Antimony, Familisome, and the most of the other errours, which for the time due trouble the Church of England, ... (1647); [EEb, 1641-1700 ; 1626:44] [Wing B452A]

Bateman, Stephen, The Good Book of the Leaden Goddes (1577); [STC 1583]

Becon, Thomas, A Brief Rehersall of the Beleef of the Goodwilling in England, which are named, the Famelie of Love (1575)

______. [Another ed.] (1656)

Elidad, pseud, A Good and Fruitfull Exhortation vnto the Famelie of Love [1574?;] [STC 7573 ]

Hallywell, H.,An Account of Familism (1673)

Jessop, Edmund, [ ] A Discovery of the Errors of the English Anabaptist (1623); [STC 14520]

______, A Brief Discovery of the Blasphemous Doctrine of Familisme, first Conceived and Brought forth into the World by one HENRY NICOLAS About an Hundred Years ago (1645)

Knewstub, John, A Confutation of Monstrous and Horrible Heresies Taught by H. N[iclas], and Embraced of a number of, who call Themselves the Family of Love (1579); [STC 15040]

Middleton, Thomas, [ ] The Famelie of Loue. Acted by the Children of his Maiesties Reuels (1608); [STC 17879]

______, [Another ed.] (1840) In The Works of Thomas Middleton. II, Dyce, A. (ed.)

Niclaes, Hendrik, [1502?-80?], A New Balade or Songe, of the Lambes feast [n.p.1574] [STC 18559]

______, Cantica; Certen of the Songs of NH [1574?; ] [STC 18549]

______, Comoedia. A Work in Ryme, Contayning an Enterlude of Myndes, Wistessing the Mans Fall from God. Set forth by HN a. by him newly amended. Tr. out of base-almayse [1574?] [STC 18550]

______, Dicta NH. Documentall Sentences; Eauen as Those-same were spoken fourth by NH. Tr. out of base-almayse [by C. Vitell][1574?] [STC 18551]

______, Epistolae HN. The Principall Espitles of HN. (Tr. out of Base-almayse) [1574?;] [STC 18552]

______, Epistle of sent unto two Daughters of Warwick from H.N. [1609?;]

______, Epistola XI. NH. Correctio a. Exhortation out of Heartie Loue, to a Pluckinge vnder the Obedience of the Loue, and to Repentaunce for Their Sinnes, ... Tr. out of Base-almayse by C. Vitell. [1574?;] [STC (2nd ed.) 18554]

______, Euangelium regni [English ed.] A Joyful Message of the Kingdom. Set-forth by NH. Tr. out of base-almayse [by C. Vittel] [1575?;] [STC 18556]

______, Exhortation I. The First Exhortation of NH. to his Children, and to the Famelye of Loue. By him newly perused [1574?;] [STC 18557]

______, The first Epistle of NH. A Crying-Voyce. [1574?;;] [STC 18555]

______,The Prophetie of the Spitit of Loue. Tr. out of the base-almyse [by C. Vitell] (1574); [STC 118560]

______, Proverbia H.N. The Prouerbes of NH. Tr. out of base-almayse [by C. Vitell] Set forth by NH[1574;] [STC 18561]

______, A Publishing of the Peace Upon earth. Tr. out of base-almayse [by C. Vitell] [1574;] [STC 18562]

______, Revelatio Dei, the Reuelation of God a. his great Propheatie. Set forth by NH [1575?;] [STC 18563]

______, Terra pacis. A True Testification of the Spiritual Lande of Peace. Set foorth by NH [1575?;] [STC 18564]

______, Three Groundlie Refreines [1574?;]

______, All the Letters of the A.B.C. in ryme (1575)

______, A Benedictie or Blessinge to be Saide over the Table (1575)

______, Howle and Weepe for the Day of the Lorde is in Hande (1575)

______, Introductio. An introduction to the Holy Vnderstanding of the Glasse of Righteousnesse. Settforth by NH. [1575?;] [STC 18558]

Rogers, John, A Displaying of a Horrible Secte of Grosse and Heretiques Naming Themselves the Family of Love (1578); [STC 21181]

______, [Another ed.] (1579); [STC 21182]

______, The Hisplaying of an horrible secte of Grosse and wicked heretiques, naming themselves the Family of Love ( 2nd ed.;1579)

______, An Answere vnto a Wicked Libel Made to Christ[pher] Vitel one of the chiefe Eng. elders of the pretended Family of Love (1579); [STC 21180]

Rutherford, Samuel, A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist (1648)

[Seale, Robert]. An Apology for the service of Love [1656; ]

[Tudor, Mary]. By the Queen. A Proclamation Against the Sectaries of the Family of Love (1580); [STC 8125]

Wilkins, David. Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae (1737)

Wilkinson, William, A Confutation of Certaine Articles Delivered unto the Familye of Love (1579); [STC 25665]

Secondary Sources

Acheson, R.J., "Familism" In Radical Puritans in England, 1550-1650 (1990)

Bainton, R.H., David Joris (1937)

Baker, D., "Schism, Heresy and Religious Protest", Studies in Church History 9,1972

Barclay, R., The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth (1876)

Burns, N.T., Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton (1972)

Dickens, A.C., The English Reformation (1964)

Dietz Moss, J., Godded with God: Hendrick Nicaels and his Family of Love (1981)

Dorsten, J.A. van, "Garter Knights and Familists", Journal of European Studies, 4,1974

Ebel, J.G., "The Family of Love: Sources of its History in England", Huntington Library Quarterly, 30,1966-67

Halley, J.E., "Heresy, Orthodoxy, and the Politics of Religious Discourse: the case of the English Family of Love", Representations, 15,1986

Hamilton, A., The Family of Love (1981)

Hayes, W.T., "John Everard and the Familist tradition", In The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism, Jacobs, Margaret and James (eds.) (1984)

______, "The Peaceful Apocalypse: Familism and Literacy in Sixteenth Century England", Sixteenth Century Journal 17,1986

Heal, F., "The Family of Love and the Diocese of Ely", Studies in Church History 9,1972

Hessels, J.H., Henrick Niclaes (1869)


Hitchcock, H., "A Confession of the Family of Love 1580", Bulletin of the Institute for Historical Research 43,1970

Hyland, S.G.K., A Century of Persecution (1920)

Johnson, W.C., The Family of Love in Stuart literature: a chronology of name-crossed lovers", Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 7,1977

Jones, R.M., Studies in Mystical Religion (1923)

Kerr, W.N., Henry Nicholas and the Familists. A study of the influence of continental mysticism on England to 1660, (Unpublished) Ph.D.(thesis), University of Edinburgh (1955)

Kirsop, W.,"The Family of Love in France", Journal of Religious Studies 2,1964-5

Lynnewood, F.M., "The Family of Love in England: Conforming Millenarians", Sixteenth Century Journal 3,1972

Marsh, C.W., The Family of Love in English Society: 1550-1630, Ph.D.(thesis), Cambridge University (1992)

______, The Family of Love in English Society: 1550-1630 (1994)

______, "A Gracelesse and Audacious Companie? The Family of Love in the Parish of Balsham, 1550-1630", In Voluntary religion Sheils, W.J., and Wood, D., (eds.), Studies in Church History 23,1986

______, "Appendix: the membership of the Family of Love", In The Family of Love in English Society: 1550-1630 (1994)

______, "Piety and persuasion in Elizabethan England: the Church of England meets the Family of Love", In England's Long Reformation, 1500-1800, Tyacke, N. (ed.) (1998)

Martin, J.W., "Elizabethan Familists and other Separatists in the Guildford Area", Bulletin of the British Institute for Historical Research 51,1978

______, "Elizabethan Familists and English Separatist", In Religious Radicals in Tudor England (1989)

______, "The Elizabethan Familists as Perceived by their Contemporaries", In Religious Radicals in Tudor England (1989)

Martin, L.F., "The Family of Love in England Conforming Millenarians", Sixteenth Century Journal 3,1973

Moss, J.D., "Godded with God": Hendrik Niclaes and his Family of Love (1981)

______, "Additional Light on the Family of Love", Bulletin of the British Institute for Historical Research 47,1974

______, "The Family of Love and English Critics", Sixteenth Century Journal 6,1975

______, "Variations on a Theme: the Family of Love in Renaissance England", Renaissance Quarterly 31,1978

Nippold, F., "Heinrich Niclaes und das Haus der Liebe",Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie 36,1862

______, "David Joris von Delft", Zeitschrift für die Historische Theologie 33,1863

Payne, E.A., "The Familists", The Chronicle 26,1953

Penrhys-Evans, N.A., The Family of Love in England, 1550-1650, (Unpublished) MA(thesis), University of Kent (1971)

Smith, N., Perfection proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion, 1640-60 (1989)

Thomas, A.C., "The Family of Love, or the Familists, a Study in Church History", Haverford College Studies 12,1893

Verwey, H. de la Fontaine., "De Gescriften van Hendrik Niclaes", Het Boek 26,1940-42

______, "The Family of Love", Querendo 6,1976

Williams, G.H., "Spiritualism and Rigorism among the Netherlanders and Lower Germans, 1540/1543-1568, Chap. 19; 1. Netherlandish Spiritualism: Henry Niclaes and the Familists", In The Radical Reformation (1962)

Wright, T., Elizabeth and her Times (1838)

Yates, F., The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972)

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