Latey, Gilbert (DNB00)

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LATEY, GILBERT (1626–1705), quaker, youngest son of John Latey, born at St. Issey, Cornwall, was baptised 20 Jan. 1626. His mother, whose name was Hocking, was 'a gentlewoman,' and her brother was married to a sister of Sir William Noy [q.v.], attorney-general. Latey's father was a well-to-do yeoman, maltster, and innkeeper. Latey served his apprenticeship to a tailor, and took service at Plymouth with a master 'who was afterwards mayor of the town,' but he left this employment because he had doubts of his master's religious sincerity.

In November 1648 he arrived in London, and soon commenced business as a tailor in the Strand. In 1654, although he was hearing four sermons a day, he was disturbed by religious difficulties, and attended the preaching of Edward Burrough [q.v.], Francis Howgil, and others, at the house of Sarah Matthews, a widow, in Whitecross Street. He at once joined the Society of Friends, and shortly became one of their most influential members in London. He thereupon conscientiously refused to make coats superfluously adorned with lace and ribbons. Most of his customers, who 'were persons of rank and quality,' left him, and his trade, which had been prosperous, for a time declined.

In 1659 he went to St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street, and after the sermon openly charged Dr. Thomas Manton [q.v.], the preacher, to prove his doctrine. The congregation growing to 'a fermentation,' a constable was sent for and he was taken before a magistrate. The latter told him that Manton was a very learned man, and could doubtless prove by scripture what he said. 'That,' said Latey, 'is all I asked.' The magistrate accordingly dismissed him, with the remark that he had understood the quakers to be a mad sort of folk, but this one seemed rational enough. Soon afterwards Latey and sixteen others were thrown into a small dungeon at the Gatehouse, Westminster, for meeting together. They could only lie down by turns, and had neither straw to lie on, nor any light. Latey afterwards succeeded in proving charges of cruelty and extortion against Wickes, the master of the prison.

After his release Latey signed the petition of six hundred Friends, presented through Sir John Glanville, that they might 'lie body for body' in place of those already in prison. The request was refused. Latey constantly visited the numerous meetings in and around London, at Kingston, Hammersmith, Barking, and Greenwich. While riding to Greenwich he was on one occasion stoned by a mob. In 1661 he was taken by a party of the king's foot-guards from a meeting in Palace Yard, and confined under the banqueting-room at Whitehall. In 1663 he and George Whitehead procured, after a personal appeal to Charles II, the release of sixty-three quakers imprisoned at Norwich, and a remission of their fines. He was again arrested at a meeting at Elizabeth Trot's house in Pall Mall, near the Duke of York's palace (St. James's). The quakers continued, however, to meet there until 1666, when they removed to the more populous neighbourhood of Westminster.

During the plague of 1665 Latey was in constant attendance on the sick, distributing money collected among the Friends. In September 1670 he held meetings in Somerset, Devonshire, and Cornwall. But on learning that Sir John Robinson, governor of the Tower, had given orders for the pulling down of several meeting-houses in London, Latey, who held the title of the one in Wheeler Street, hurried back and managed to prevent its demolition. In 1671 Latey, in spite of the warning of his patron, Sir William Sawkell (? Salkeld), that he had orders to arrest all who should be present at the Hammersmith meeting on the following Sunday, preached there for an hour, and was accordingly arrested and fined.

In 1679 Latey again went by Bath and Bristol to Cornwall. He visited Thomas Lamplugh [q.v.], bishop of Exeter, afterwards archbishop of York, by whose influence he hoped to moderate the persecution of Friends in the west (letter from the bishop, dated 24 March 1693–4, in Brief Narrative).

Soon after the accession of James II, Latey and Whitehead, who in the preceding reign had always been well received at court, induced the new king, after long attendance at Whitehall, to order the release of fifteen hundred Friends who were at the time in prison, and to remit the prisoners' fines of 20l. a month for non-attendance at church. Subsequent interviews of Latey with James led to the pardoning of other Friends in Bristol and elsewhere, and, in 1686, to the restoration of meeting-houses at the Savoy and at Southwark which had been seized as guard-houses for the king. Latey's house at the Savoy communicated with the meeting-house by a stone passage and flight of steps (Beck and Hall, London Friends' Meetings). In December 1687 a third visit paid by Latey and Whitehead to the king was followed by another proclamation of pardon. With William and Mary, Latey's personal influence was exerted no less successfully. On their accession he presented an address, with the result that a hundred quakers, most of whom were imprisoned for refusing the oath of allegiance, were set at liberty. It was owing to Latey and Whitehead's personal and persistent applications at court that parliament passed the act in 1697 by which the quaker affirmation became equivalent to an oath. The act was made perpetual in 1715.

Latey continued to preach at Hammersmith and elsewhere until his death on 15 Nov. 1705. He was buried at Kingston-on-Thames. He married Mary, only daughter of John and Ann Fielder of Kingston, by whom he had eleven children, ten of whom died young.

Latey wrote an address: 'To all you Taylors and Brokers who lyes in Wickedness,' London, 1660. In this he deprecates the deceits practised in his trade, the invention of 'vain fashions and fancies unlike to sober men and women,' and the 'decking of themselves and servants' liveries so that they may be known to serve such and such a master.' Besides this he wrote four small tracts in conjunction with other quakers.

Latey's character was of sterling integrity. His influence with the nobles, bishops, and great men was never used for his own ends. A courtier said of him that no man 'bore a sweeter character at court.' Whitehead calls him 'a sensible man, of good judgment.' An epistle of his, dated from Hammersmith 22 Aug. 1705, shows he was one of the earliest to advocate the employment of women in offices of the society.

[A Brief Narrative of the Life and Death, &c., by Latey's nephew, Richard Hawkins, London, 1707; Beck and Ball's London Friends' Meetings, 1869, pp. 92, 131, 163–8, 220, 240, 250, 262, 312; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 306, Suppl. p. 1265; Friends' Library, Philad., 1837, vol. i.; Sewel's History, i. 340; Webb's Fells of Swarthmoor, pp. 207–8, 217, 226, 234; Registers at Devonshire House.]

C. F. S.