When Giles Creech went to Lambeth Palace, he parted with a good deal of information: new information to the Church authorities and, indeed, new information to us. He confirmed the broad structures of London ‘post-Familism’ (the Mount, the Valley etc.) which had already been outlined by Stephen Dennison. But he provided us with more information as well.
The Mount seems to have had a lay prophet called James Thomas. The fact that Creech belonged to the Mount meant that he held Thomas in considerable esteem, referring to him as, “the greatest of them all” (presumably considering him greater than even John Everard himself – about whom Creech also seemed to know plenty). However, the fact that he does not appear in the 1638 list of London inhabitants implies that he was dead by that year.
Sadly, we know almost nothing about him. Lamb would surely have questioned Creech about him otherwise? And it is difficult to pin down when he might have had his maximum influence. We know that Creech was relatively young so Thomas might still have been preaching in the early 1630s (unless Creech’s comments are only to be interpreted as some kind of ‘group memory’)? If ‘James Thomas’ was really such an important character on the London Familist fringe, it is perhaps surprising that there appear to be no extant records indicating that the authorities were keeping a close eye upon him.
Richard Palmer’s exciting discovery of Daniel James’ text including some sort of discourse upon the commentary on ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ in the collection at Lambeth Palace Library got me trying to identify who he might be. According to Palmer, the collection of ‘treatises relating to the Family of Love’ was either owned or authored by James. Daniel James was born in 1584 in St. Magnus the Martyr parish (then known as St. Magnus Fish Street), the son of a certain Thomas James. Are the names the wrong way around in Creech’s testimony or the scribes’ write-up of it? Or was this a relatively common ruse undertaken by the Familist underground? There is at least one other possible example of it from the same period.
The Cloud was a fourteenth century treatise focusing upon the Via Negativa and the rejection of formal learning as a route to spiritual enlightenment. The commentary also includes poetry by Sir Philip Sidney first published in 1598 in the third edition of ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’ and a separate poem dating from much the same time. This text did not become known to English Catholics until the mid-seventeenth century but seems to have been in circulation amongst those of more Familistical leanings rather earlier although a precise date cannot yet be determined.
There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the name ‘James’ in this case may even have been an Anglicisation and might possibly have been linked to the famous Van Haestrecht family from the Netherlands. That would give the lead preacher in London from the Mount some direct family link to the Low Countries.