M.A. Thesis, University of British Columbia, August (1983)
The Family of Love was a sixteenth-century mystical sect. It was founded by Hendrik Niclaes, a Low German mercer, better known by his pseudonym “H.N.”. The standard historical view has maintained that while Niclaes did attract a following in the Low Countries, the Family of Love had its greatest impact in England. This view is based primarily on the large amount of hostile attention which the sect attracted, both in the form of polemical literature and official repression, culminating in a Royal Proclamation against it in October, 1580. It is the contention of this thesis that the standard historical view of the Family of Love is based on a misapprehension, that the amount of hostile attention which the sect attracted in England is not a reliable indicator of the sect’s fortunes. The first chapter gives the necessary background on H.N.’s life and ideas. It then goes on to examine the historical literature on the Family of Love, showing how contemporary perceptions of the sect as a real and imminent threat have persisted to the present day. This has occurred because the Family of Love has been used as a pawn in ideological battles, either to demonstrate the excesses of religious fanaticism, or to claim the Family of Love as a predecessor of a modern denomination, especially the Quakers. The second chapter examines the sources for the history of the Family of Love in England. It is shown that the standard historical view is an optical illusion based on a small core of truth: the fact that there actually were small groups of the Family of Love in Cambridgeshire and in London. This small core of truth has been distorted by a number of factors, producing the standard historical view. The third chapter examines the three works which lie at the core of contemporary and historiographical perceptions of the Family of Love: John Knewstubb’s A Confutation of Monstrous Heresies taught by H.N. (1579); John Rogers’ The Displaying of an horrible Secte of grosse and wicked Heretiques . . . (1578); and William Wilkinson’s A Confutation of Certaine Articles delivered unto the Family of Love (1579). Virtually every charge and accusation against the Family of Love arises from one or more of these works. By looking at these men and their works, alternative explanations are advanced both for the disproportionate scale of the attack on the Family of Love, and for the timing of that attack.