The Familists or Family of Love (English term) was a mystic religious sect known as the Familia Caritatis (Hus der Lieften; Huis der Liefde; Haus der Liebe), founded in the sixteenth century by Henry Nicholis, also known as Niclaes.
The outward trappings of Nicholis's system were Anabaptist. His followers were said to assert that all things were ruled by nature and not directly by God, of denying the dogma of the Trinity, and repudiating infant baptism. They held that no man should be put to death for his opinions, and apparently, like the later Quakers, they objected to the carrying of arms and to anything like an oath; and they were quite impartial in their repudiation of all other churches and sects, including Brownists and Barrowists.
Nicholis's message is said to have appealed to the well educated and creative elite, artists, musicians and scholars. They felt no need to spread the message and risk heresy; members were usually a part of an otherwise established church, quietly remaining in the background, confident in their elite status as part of the Godhead. As the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition says:
Nicholis's followers escaped the gallows and the stake, for they combined with some success the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. They would only discuss their doctrines with sympathizers; they showed every respect for authority, and considered outward conformity a duty. This quietist attitude, while it saved them from molestation, hampered propaganda.
Members of the Familists included cartographer Abraham Ortel (aka Ortelius) and publisher Christopher Plantin. Plantin worked by day as Philip II of Spain's printer of Catholic documents for the Counter Reformation, and otherwise surreptitiously printed Familist literature.
Nicholis's chief apostle in England was Christopher Vitell. The biggest colony of Familists was in Balsham, Cambridgeshire. In the 1580s, it was discovered that some of the Yeomen of the Guard for Elizabeth I were Familists; the Queen did nothing about it, which raised questions about her own beliefs. The keeper of the lions in the Tower of London for James I was a Familist. And so was Reginald Scot, author of the famously skeptical book The Discoverie of Witchcraft.
The society lingered into the early years of the 18th century; the leading idea of its service of love was a reliance on sympathy and tenderness for the moral and spiritual edification of its members. Thus, in an age of strife and polemics, it seemed to afford a refuge for quiet, gentle spirits, and meditative temperaments. The Quakers, Baptists and Unitarians may have derived some of their ideas from the "Family."
- Alastair Hamilton: The Family of Love. Cambridge 1981
- Christopher Hill: Milton and the English Revolution. London: Faber (1977)
- W. N. Kerr: Henry Nicholis and the Familists. Edinburgh 1955
- Christopher Marsh: "An Introduction to the Family of Love in England" In: E.S. Leedham-Green: Religious Dissent in East Anglia. Cambridge 1991, S. 29-36 ISBN 0-9513596-1-4
- N. A. Penrhys-Evans: The Family of Love in England, 1550-1650. Canterbury 1971
- M. Konnert, "The Family of Love and the Church of England", Renaiss. Reform. ISSN 0034-429X, 1991, vol. 15, no2, pp. 139–172
- F. Nippold, "H. Niclaes und das Haus der Liebe", in Zeitschrift fr die histor. Theol. (1862)
- A. J. van der Aa, Biog. Woordenboek der Nederlanden (1868), Article "H. Niclaes"
- Fell Smith, Charlotte (1885–1900). "Nicholas, Henry". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Article "Familisten", by Loafs, in Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1898)
- Charles Wehrenberg, Before New York, Solo Zone, San Francisco 1995/2001, ISBN 1-886163-16-2
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nicholas, Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica. 10, 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 158c, 656c.