Nicholas Ferrar, like his great friend, George Herbert, was a courtier turned clergyman. Born in London, he was educated at a boarding school in Berkshire and at Clare College, Cambridge. He was appointed to the service of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, who married the Elector Frederick V, and travelled to the continent. In the coming years, Ferrar travelled widely and, a brilliant scholar, learnt to speak Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish, as well as engaging in the study of medicine in Leipzig and Padua.
On his return to England in 1618, Ferrar was involved with the London Virginia Company, which was the family business, and he was also, for a time, a Member of Parliament. In 1626, following ordination as a deacon by the controversial Bishop (later Archbishop) William Laud, there was a major life-change when he and his extended family moved to the manor in Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire and restored St John’s church for their own use. There they lived a life of extreme simplicity, devotion and practical service.