Reformed Churchmen

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

4 December 1637 A.D. Deacon Nicholas Ferrar Dies—Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, UK; Anglican Pietist (About 88 Miles Due North of London as the Crow Flies); Ordained by Willy “I Hate God’s Sovereignty” Laudobate

4 December 1637 A.D.  Deacon Nicholas Ferrar Dies—Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, UK;  Anglican Pietist (About 88 Miles Due North of London as the Crow Flies);  Ordained by Willy “I Hate God’s Sovereignty” Laudobate


Nicholas Ferrar (22 February 1592 – 4 December 1637) was an English scholar, courtier, businessman and man of religion. Ordained as a deacon in the Church of England, he retreated with his extended family to the manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, where he lived the rest of his life.[1] One of the "metaphysical poets", the Revd George Herbert (1593–1633), on his deathbed sent Ferrar the manuscript of The Temple, telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul" and, "If not, let him burn it; for I and it are less than the least of God's mercies."[2] Ferrar decided to publish them and Herbert's poems have remained in print ever since and are masterworks of the English language.


Early life


Nicholas Ferrar was born in London,[3] the third son and fifth child (of six) of Nicholas Ferrar and his wife Mary (née Woodnoth). At the age of four he was sent to a nearby school, and is said to have been reading perfectly by the age of five. He was confirmed by the Bishop of London in 1598, contriving to have the bishop lay hands on him twice.[2] In 1600 he was sent away to boarding school in Berkshire, and in 1605, aged 13, he entered Clare Hall, Cambridge. He was elected a fellow-commoner at the end of his first year, took his B.A. in 1610 and elected a fellow the following year.[4] It was as a Cambridge undergraduate that he first met George Herbert. His health, weak since his childhood, now gave cause for serious concern and he was advised to travel to continental Europe, and away from the damp air of Cambridge.

Travels abroad

Ferrar obtained a position in the retinue of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I who married the Elector Frederick V. In April 1613 he left England with the princess, not returning until 1618. However, by May, he had left the Court to travel alone. Over the next few years he visited the Dutch Republic, Austria, Bohemia, Italy and Spain, learning to speak Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. He studied at Leipzig and especially at Padua where he continued his medical studies. He met Anabaptists and Roman Catholics, including Jesuits and Oratorians, as well as Jews, broadening his religious education. During this time he recorded many adventures in his letters home to his family and friends. Finally in 1618 he is said to have had a vision that he was needed at home, and so he returned to England.[5][page needed]

The Virginia Company John’s Church, Little Gidding, as rebuilt in 1714

The Ferrar family was deeply involved in the London Virginia Company. His niece is said to be the first woman to have received the name "Virginia".[citation needed] His family home was often visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Upon returning to London he found that the family fortunes, primarily invested in Virginia, were under threat.

Ferrar entered the Parliament of England and worked with Sir Edwin Sandys. They were part of the parliamentary faction (the "country party" or "patriot party") which was able to seize control of the finances from a rival group, the "court faction", grouped around Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, on the one hand, and Sir Thomas Smith (or Smythe), also a prominent member of the East India Company, on the other hand.

Ferrar's pamphlet Sir Thomas Smith's Misgovernment of the Virginia Company was only published by the Roxburghe Club in 1990.[6] Here he lays charges that Smith and his son-in-law,[citation needed] Alderman Robert Johnson, were running a company within a company to skim off the profits from the shareholders. He also alleged that Dr John Woodall had bought some Polish settlers as slaves, selling them on to Lord de La Warr. He claimed that Smith was trying to reduce other colonists to slavery by extending their period of indenture indefinitely beyond the seventh year.

The argument ended with the London Virginia Company losing its charter following a court decision in May, 1624.

Ferrar served briefly as Member of Parliament for Lymington.

At Little Gidding


In 1626 Nicholas Ferrar and his extended family left London and moved to the deserted village of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. The household was centred on the Ferrar family: Nicholas's mother, his brother John Ferrar (with his wife Bathsheba and their children), and his sister Susanna (and her husband John Collett and their children). They bought the manor of Little Gidding and restored the abandoned little church for their use. The household always had someone at prayer and had a strict routine. They tended to the health and education of local children, and Nicholas and his family produced harmonies of the gospels that survive today as some of the finest in Britain. Many of the family also learned the art of bookbinding, apparently from the daughter of a Cambridge bookbinder, which style they worked in.[7] Nicholas Ferrar died on 4 December 1637, but the family continued their way of life without him, and the religious life only ended in 1657 on the deaths, within a month, of John Ferrar and Susanna Collett.

The life of the Ferrar household was much criticised by Puritans, and they were denounced as Arminians, and their life attacked as a 'Protestant Nunnery'. However, the Ferrars never lived a formal religious life: there was no Rule, vows were not taken, and there was no enclosure. In this sense there was no 'community' at Little Gidding, but rather a family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer according to High Church principles.

The fame of the Ferrar household was widespread, and they attracted many visitors. Among them was King Charles I, who visited Little Gidding three times, on the last of which he briefly took refuge after the Battle of Naseby (1645).

Reputation"Easter Wings", an example of the "pattern poems" in George Herbert's The Temple, a book which Ferrar edited and had published. The lines of the poem were arranged to be printed sideways, with each stanza forming an image meant to suggest a bird flying up with outstretched wings.[8]

Nicholas Ferrar is commemorated in the calendar of the Church of England on 4 December, the date of his death. In the calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America he is commemorated on 1 December.

George Herbert, on his deathbed, sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul", and otherwise, to burn them. Ferrar decided to publish them. In less than 50 years, The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations had gone through thirteen printings.

T. S. Eliot honoured Nicholas Ferrar in the Four Quartets, naming one of the quartets Little Gidding.

A new community was founded at Little Gidding in the 1970s, inspired by the example of Ferrar, but that group, calling itself the Community of Christ the Sower, ended in 1998. The Friends of Little Gidding was founded in 1946 by Alan Maycock with the patronage of T. S. Eliot, to maintain and adorn the church at Little Gidding, and to honour the life of Nicholas Ferrar and his family and their life at Little Gidding. The Friends organize an annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Nicholas Ferrar each July, and celebrate Nicholas Ferrar Day on 4 December.

Poet laureate Ted Hughes was directly related to Nicholas Ferrar on his mother's side. Hughes and his wife, the poet Sylvia Plath, named their son Nicholas Farrar Hughes. The family evidently used both spellings.[9]

See also



1.       Jump up ^ Wilson, Colin (1965), Beyond the Outsider: the philosophy of the future, Boston: Houghton Mifflin

4.       Jump up ^ "Ferrar, Nicholas (FRR609N)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 

5.       Jump up ^ Maycock 1938.

6.       Jump up ^ Ferrar, Nicholas (1990), Ransome, DR, ed., Sir Thomas Smith's Misgovernment of the Virginia Company. A Manuscript from the Devonshire Papers at Chatsworth House, Roxburghe Club . Unpublished. Presented to the Members by the Duke of Devonshire.

7.       Jump up ^ English Bindings:13, from The Binding of Books, An Essay in the History of Gold-Tooled Bindings by Herbert P. Horne, London 1894; Harthan, John P., Bookbinding, p. 13, 1961, HMSO for the Victoria and Albert Museum

8.       Jump up ^ Ferguson, Margaret, et al., editors, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, fourth edition, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (1996) ISBN 0-393-96820-0; p. 331.

9.       Jump up ^ Butscher, Edward (1976) Sylvia Plath: method and madness. New York: Seabury Press; p. 284

Works on Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding

  • Acland, John Edward. Little Gidding and Its Inmates in the Time of King Charles I. with an Account of the Harmonies. Project Gutenburg Transcription
  • MacDonogh, Rev. Terence Michael, ed. Brief Memoirs of Nicholas Ferrar: founder of a Protestant religious establishment at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire. Chiefly collected from a Narrative by the Right Rev. Dr, Turner, Formerly Lord Bishop of Ely; And now edited, with Additions. 2nd ed. London: Jacob Nisbet, 1837. (The original of this important source is now lost.) Internet Archive downloadable PDF Google Books downloadable PDF
  • Maycock, Alan Lawson. Chronicles of Little Gidding. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1954.
  • Maycock, Alan Lawson (1938), Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, London, New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Macmillan .
  • Mayor, John Eyton Bickersteth. Nicholas Ferrar. Two Lives by His Brother John and by Doctor Jebb. Now first Edited with Illustrations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1855. Internet Archive downloadable PDF
  • Moore, William W. The Little Church that Refused to Die. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1993.
  • Peckard, Peter. Memoirs of the life of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar. Cambridge, Eng: J. Archdeacon, 1790.
  • Ransome, Joyce. The Web of Friendship : Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding. Cambridge, Eng: James Clarke & Co., 2011.
  • Riley, Kate E. The Good Old Way Revisited: The Ferrar Family of Little Gidding, c. 1625–1637. A 2007 dissertation from Australia (265 PDFs)
  • Skipton, Horace Pitt Kennedy. The Life and Times of Nicholas Ferrar. London: A. R Mowbray & Co, 1907. Internet Archive downloadable PDF
  • Turner, Francis see MacDonogh, Rev. T. M. (Terence Michael), ed.
  • Willam, A. M. Conversations at Little Gidding. 'On the retirement of Charles V.' 'On the austere life': dialogues by members of the Ferrar family [transcribed by Nicholas Ferrar] with and introduction and notes. London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

External links
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