Transcript of Henrick Niclaes's Terra Pacis

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

A transcript of the English translation of Hendrik Niclaes's book Terra Pacis - A True Testification of the Spirituall Lande of Peace; which is the Spirituall Lande of Promyse, and the holy Citee of Peace or the heauenly Ierusalem, probably made from the second edition (London, 1649) of the original work first printed in 1575 in Amsterdam.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henrick Niclaes (1502-?1580) was the founder of the religious sect known as the Family of Love. Born in Münster to strict Catholic parents, he was from an early age prone to visions. He was imprisoned on suspicion of heresy in 1529 and in 1530 he moved with his family to Amsterdam to escape persecution. While there he was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the Münster Anabaptist insurrection of 1534/1535, but was quickly released. His visions returned in 1539 or 1540 and he was convinced that he had received a divine summons to become a prophet or elect minister. He then moved to Emden, on the north-western borders of Germany, and for the next twenty years wrote down the revelations that he believed he alone received, signing his works with the initials of H.N. His teachings combined elements of German mysticism with Anabaptist doctrines and the ethic of religious perfection.

At Emden Niclaes established his first community of the Family of Love, a group of believers who held that the divine spirit of love within their community placed it above Bible, creeds, liturgy, and law. No specific form of worship was prescribed and believers were encouraged outwardly to conform to the resident religion. They were, however, bound together into a hierarchical communistic organization. In the course of his travels as a merchant, Niclaes made converts in Brabant, Holland, England and France, and set up versions of the model community first created at Emden. He appears eventually to have ended up in Cologne, where he was living by 1579, and probably died there in 1580 or 1581.

His writings were secretly printed at the presses of his friends and adherents, Christopher Plantin at Antwerp, Van Borne at Deventer, the Bohmbergers at Cologne, and Augustyn van Hasselt at Kampen, and then distributed to the various communities of the Family of Love throughout Europe. They were prohibited by the Council of Trent in 1570, again in 1582, and by papal bull in 1590, as well as being condemned in 1580 by the Privy Council of Elizabeth I. The sect survived these condemnations and gained, at least in England, Germany and Holland, a small degree of toleration. However, the combination of an insular approach to proselytising and a literary focus on Niclaes's works severely restricted growth and by the end of the seventeenth century the sect had died out, though not before influencing several other similar religious groups like the Quakers.

Niclaes's main disciple in England was Christopher Vitells, a Dutch joiner who lived and worked in Colchester in Essex, to whom many of the English translations of Niclaes's books have been ascribed.

Source: Alastair Hamilton, 'Niclaes, Hendrik (1502-c.1580)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/20098.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the John Rylands Library by Dr James Rendell Harris (1852-1941), Cambridge Professor of Biblical Languages, in July 1918.

Note

Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Hendrik Niclaes.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 171).

Custodial History

Former owner: William Seale. Once part of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), who purchased this manuscript from the London booksellers Baynes of 54 Paternoster Row, probably in or around 1831; Phillipps no. 2559. The manuscript was sold in the Phillipps sale at Sothebys on 6 June 1910.