Thomas Gataker’s biography from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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Gataker [formerly Gatacre], Thomas (1574–1654), Church of England clergyman and scholar, was born on 4 September 1574 in his parents' house in Lombard Street, London, the son of Thomas Gatacre (1531/2–1593), rector of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, and his wife, Margaret Piggott. In later life he changed the spelling of his name to Gataker ‘to prevent miscalling’ (Ashe, 41).

Education and life in London to 1611

Subject from childhood to migraine, Gataker was nevertheless so addicted to study that according to Simeon Ashe, who preached his funeral sermon, ‘he needed a bridle rather than a spur’ and exhibited ‘a lovely gravity in his young conversation’. He matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1590. His father's death in 1593 left him ‘not wholly destitute’ but he was able to continue his studies only with the financial aid of friends (Ashe, 42–3); he graduated BA in 1594, and proceeded MA in 1597.

Cambridge set the pattern of Gataker's life. He attended the Greek lectures of John Bois (delivered from his bed at 4 a.m.) and was profoundly influenced by his tutors, Henry Alvey and Abdias Ashton, and by his older contemporary Richard Stock, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. In 1596 he accepted a fellowship at newly endowed Sidney Sussex College but while college buildings were being constructed acted as tutor in the household of William Ayloffe of Great Braxted, Essex, teaching Hebrew to Ayloffe and preparing his son for entry to Cambridge. According to his own account he was ordained by John Sterne, suffragan bishop of Colchester, a relative of Mrs Ayloffe, who while visiting Great Braxted was impressed by Gataker's learning and urged him to enter the ministry. After some initial hesitation he accepted Sterne's overtures. There is, however, no record of the event in the London diocesan ordination book.

Gataker took up residence at Sidney Sussex in 1599. Since the college buildings were still incomplete he offered accommodation in his rooms to William Bradshaw, also a foundationer fellow. This act of courtesy resulted in another enduring friendship. For reasons which remain obscure Gataker spent little time in Cambridge thereafter, subscribing to the scheme of Ashton and William Bedell for the provision of preachers in neglected parishes in the vicinity of Cambridge. He undertook Sunday duties at Everton, on the borders of Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire, resigning his fellowship six months later on Ashton's advice. This step seems to have happened after Bradshaw's retirement following his troubles for espousing the cause of John Darrell the exorcist.

Gataker returned to the environs of his native city about the end of 1600, becoming tutor to the family of Sir William Cooke of Charing Cross, whose wife, Joyce, was a relative. He preached occasionally at St Martin-in-the-Fields and was described, as he wryly recalled, as ‘a prettie pert Boy’ who nevertheless ‘made a reasonable good Sermon’ (Gataker, 34–5). James Montagu, first master of Sidney Sussex, attempted to lure him back to Cambridge with the offer of a lectureship in Hebrew which Lord Harington of Exton was prepared to finance. Finding him unwilling, Montagu used his influence instead to obtain for Gataker the lectureship at Lincoln's Inn, a post he took up in 1601. His initial salary was a modest £40 and until his marriage he continued to live with the Cookes, spending his vacations at their estate in Northamptonshire and for some years enjoying an annuity of £20 from the family. After his marriage—some five years after his appointment ‘or thereabouts’—the benchers raised his stipend to £60 ‘without anie motion of mine’ (ibid., 35).

Gataker proceeded BD in 1604 but in 1609, and subsequently, he refused to proceed to the degree of DD on the grounds that his income was insufficient to maintain the dignity ‘and also because, like Cato the censor, he would rather have people ask why he had no statue than why he had one’. He declined the lectureship at the Rolls Chapel, Chancery Lane, worth twice his existing stipend, as well as livings offered by Sir Roger Owen, Sir William Sedley, and Robert Rich, third Lord Rich. He later stated that following the Hampton Court conference of 1604 he had preferred to rest content ‘with a small portion in a priviledged place’ than by moving to a better-endowed living ‘to attract more distraction, and expose my self to the hazard of greater disturbance’ (Gataker, 38). He resisted attempts to have him appointed a prebendary of St Paul's or an episcopal chaplain but accepted the honorary office of chaplain to Sir Henry Hobart, then attorney-general and a loyal patron throughout his life.

Rotherhithe, marriage, and early writings

Gataker married the widow of William Cooper (her first name is unknown), becoming stepfather to two girls to whom he became so devoted that many assumed they were his own daughters. It was perhaps his new family responsibilities which in 1611 finally prompted him to accept a benefice, the rectory of Rotherhithe, Surrey. He resigned from Lincoln's Inn, although continuing as guest preacher both there and at Serjeant's Inn, where he had powerful friends. His first marriage ended in his wife's death following the birth in 1611 or 1612 of their only child, Thomas (d. 1639), but there is no record of her burial at Rotherhithe. His second wife, Margery, daughter of a clergyman, Charles Pinner, likewise died following the birth of an only child, Charles [see below]. Charles was baptized, and Margery buried, at Rotherhithe on 26 August 1613.

Remaining for some years afterwards, ‘in a disconsolate solitude’ (Ashe, 50), Gataker found time for study and for correspondence with such contemporaries as James Ussher and Samuel Ward, in 1617 publishing an edition of Ward's Balme from Gilead. During July and August 1620 he travelled through the Netherlands with a nephew and some friends in order to ascertain the present condition of Dutch protestantism, whose interests he believed imperilled by recent developments in English foreign policy.

Dedicated to Sir Henry Hobart and other leading lawyers, Gataker's first extant work, Of the Nature and Use of Lots (1619), defended the lawfulness of lots when not used for divination. This exposed him to attack as an advocate of games of hazard, and in 1623 James Balmford reprinted his 1594 diatribe against card-playing, adding criticisms of Gataker's work. The latter immediately issued a spirited restatement of his views, against the ‘Imbecillitie’ of Balmford's arguments in A Just Defence of Certain Passages in a Former Treatise (1623).

Altogether Gataker published no fewer than twenty-four tracts and sermons between 1619 and 1627, including his funeral sermon for Richard Stock, preached in April 1626 and published the following year as Abrahams Decease. This sustained spate of eloquence may have owed something to the fact that after his return from the Netherlands he married again; with his third wife, Dorothy, sister (according to Ashe) of Sir George and Sir John Farwell, he had three children: John (September 1622 to March 1627), Elizabeth (bap. 15 January 1624), and Esther (January 1625 to January 1627).

In early 1625 Gataker became an unwitting victim of court manoeuvres evidently designed to discredit the archbishop of Canterbury's chaplain Daniel Featley, a close friend of his. On the orders of King James himself, two books by Edward Elton, licensed for publication by Featley with an uncontentious commendatory preface by Gataker, were in February consigned to the flames at Paul's Cross as seditious and subversive. As a result Gataker endured a short term of imprisonment in the Fleet, from where, in the king's absence, he was released by Henry Montagu, first earl of Manchester, then president of the council. But ‘afterward by his Majesties special command [I was] for a longer time confined to my house, and so restrained from my pastoral employment …’ (Gataker, 53).

The silent years, 1628–1637, and re-emergence

Having survived the plague year of 1625, when the Rotherhithe register records more than 200 burials, Dorothy Gataker is said by Ashe to have died of consumption in 1627. She was buried at Rotherhithe on 15 August. It could be argued that imprisonment and house arrest at the personal behest of the king, and then the deaths of a bosom friend, two infant children, and a third wife within the space of only sixteen months, would have been enough to reduce any man to a state of temporary reclusiveness. There follows, however, a gap of no less than ten years in the sequence of Gataker's published writings. In his funeral sermon Ashe glides over it in silence but that it initially coincides with William Laud's rule as bishop of London (1628–33) suggests that Gataker was forced, or else chose, to maintain a low profile and to observe as an impotent, muzzled bystander Charles I sliding to disaster.

Within months of Dorothy's death Gataker married his fourth wife, Elizabeth (d. 1652), a citizen's widow ‘whose comfortable conversation he enjoyed twenty-four years’ (Ashe, 50). Perhaps they were the Thomas Gataker and Elizabeth Carlton married at St Peter-le-Poer on 12 August 1628. They had no children but for her sake he bought a private house so that if she survived him she would not be ‘subject to anothers curtesie for removal’ from the rectory house at Rotherhithe (Ashe, 50).

Gataker returned to print with a vengeance in 1637. Folio volumes of his collected sermons—all printed by John Haviland, but with numerous variants on behalf of several different publishers—reached the London bookstalls during the succeeding months. Between then and his death a further two dozen or so tracts, sermons, and learned editions left the London presses, several of them in Latin. With Charles I and parliament moving ever closer to outright conflict the claims of godly preaching were evidently high on the agenda. When in 1641, for example, George Walker raked up in print an old theological dispute with Anthony Wotton, Gataker vigorously defended Wotton in two separate tracts, as well as supplying a preface and postscript to one by Wotton's son, Samuel. He did this in the face of another personal tragedy: on 8 October 1639 his eldest son, Thomas, was buried at Rotherhithe. He had ‘seen the most parts of the world wherewith we keep commerce’ and ‘returned home to his Father to die in peace’ (Ashe, 50). Perhaps Gataker derived some consolation from celebrating, on 2 June 1640, the marriage of his only surviving daughter, Elizabeth, to William Draper.

The Westminster assembly

Like James Ussher, Gataker had come to favour a judicious mixture of episcopacy and presbyterianism and in 1643 he was nominated to the Westminster assembly. In 1644 and 1645 he was placed on the committees appointed to examine ministers; to select scholars for the translation of the directory into Welsh; and to draft a confession of faith. During the deliberations of the latter he differed from the majority over justification, securing a less rigid definition which he accepted for the sake of unity. Meanwhile he had refused an offer of the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, from Edward Montagu, second earl of Manchester.

In the summer of 1645, however, Gataker's public career came to an abrupt end. He had suffered a near-fatal fit of ‘Wind-Colic’ in 1642 and a violent, second attack at this juncture meant that he was never able to return to the assembly (Gataker, 57). It was perhaps to offer its profound regrets that the assembly dispatched Jeremiah Whitaker and Cornelius Burgess to visit him on 5 August 1645. Gataker was nevertheless able to carry out a limited schedule of pastoral work and continued to write vigorously, on both classical and biblical subjects. In 1645 he published not only a Latin treatise on the tetragram but also Gods Eye on his Israel, a sermon inveighing against antinomianism. He returned to the latter theme in 1646 with A mistake, or misconstruction, removed … In way of answer to … a Treatise of Mr John Saltmarsh. The assembly offered him formal thanks for his ‘pains’ in composing it (Mitchell and Struthers, 444). Saltmarsh, however, promptly hit back and Gataker equally promptly countered with Shadowes without Substance, having first submitted it to the assembly for approval. He duly received thanks on 14 September 1646 for his ‘great respect’ towards them (ibid., 281). The dispute rumbled on and he later reissued A Mistake as Antinomianism Discovered and Confuted (1652).

Final years, 1649–1654, and influence

Gataker signed the first address against the trial and execution of Charles I on 18 January 1649. His wife, Elizabeth, was buried at Rotherhithe on 21 August 1652, and in 1654 he published his last exercise in popular polemics, A Discours Apologetical. This was a comprehensive onslaught upon William Lilly for his ‘shameless slanders’ against himself in his quasi-astrological maunderings (Gataker, title-page). It is of particular value to the historian because of the many autobiographical references Gataker uses to bolster his arguments.

Gataker entered his last illness at the beginning of July 1654—Ashe provides a blow-by-blow account—and died of fever, probably at Rotherhithe, on 27 July, only a few weeks short of his eightieth birthday. He was buried in Rotherhithe parish church on 1 August when, at Gataker's own final insistence, Simeon Ashe preached his funeral sermon, published as Gray Hayres Crowned with Grace (1655). He had drawn up his will, with a typically godly preamble, on 17 July. Two codicils were added (19 and 21 July). It argues a man in full possession of his faculties and indeed Ashe declared that his mind was strong until the end. Running to six pages in a registrar's closely written transcript, it mentions a bewildering number of relatives and their families, including those of his stepdaughters, Mrs (Francis) Taylor and Martha Barnard (now deceased), and that of his daughter, Elizabeth Draper. He carefully renounced any remaining legal claim he may have had to the annuity which he had once received from the Cooke family and drew up a schedule of legacies to be handed over to his last wife's relations out of the remains of her marriage portion. Considering ‘the iniquity and distraction of the tymes’ he left £5 each to ten poor ministers and to eight poor ministers' widows, specifically naming Katherine Bradshaw. He also remembered two of Bradshaw's sons, as well as his daughter Sarah and her husband, a tenant of his. His property in Rotherhithe and four messuages in the City parish of St Thomas were left to his son Charles and a tenement in Plumstead, Kent, to Elizabeth and William Draper. The residue went to Charles, his sole executor. In the second codicil Gataker distributed ten copies of ‘Mr Baxter's rest handsomely bound’ to a sister, Mistress Carleton, to Lady Whitlocke, and to eight named cousins. Altogether monetary bequests amounted to at least £250, and his servants all received six months' wages. Charles was granted probate on 31 July.

Gataker combined some of the best qualities of the contemporary godly preacher, of the dedicated humanist scholar and, when occasion required it, of the rollicking, satirical pamphleteer. As his spirited onslaughts on Saltmarsh and Lilly show, he was not averse to a good scrap in public and many a turn of phrase suggests that he was fully acquainted with the effusions of Martin Marprelate which, as an undergraduate, he had presumably read with horrified fascination. Although there is an occasional suggestion of self-regard (if not actually self-righteousness) and, in his last works, a tendency to harp on his status as valetudinarian, he never pontificates, preserving ‘a pleasing middle course’ between a plain, homely style and that of the more witty, courtly preachers of his day (Emerson, 202). Although he was addicted to sprinkling his texts with classical references some of his asides could have come straight out of Shakespeare's best prose passages. Upbraiding Saltmarsh, for example, he observes: ‘For my yeers, Sir, scof not at old age: you may live, if God pleas, to come to it your self’ (Shadowes without Substance, 15).

But it was above all for his profound scholarship that Gataker impressed posterity. His edition of Marcus Aurelius, on which he worked for over forty years, was admired by Henry Hallam as the first classical text published in England with original, scholarly annotations. His Opera critica, handsomely edited by the Dutch theologian Herman Witsius, was published in Utrecht in 1698. The German classical scholar Morhoff doubted whether any critic of his age was to be preferred to Gataker ‘for diligence and accuracy’ (Emerson, 201).

Like many a godly preacher Gataker was touchy when his probity was called into question. Criticized for not resigning Rotherhithe to a more active incumbent in his last years he retorted that there was difficulty in finding a successor to suit both patron and parishioners, defending himself by going minutely into his receipts and expenditures in order to prove that he was not ‘gripple’ (grasping), spending most of his income on reparations and upon a stipend for a worthy curate. He further defended his ‘wilful silencing’ of himself at the Westminster assembly by expatiating upon his poor health (Gataker, 55–7).

The dedications which preface his many published sermons reveal that Gataker was a trusted member of a wide-flung godly network in the City, embracing senior lawyers, the Haberdashers' Company (of which he had been made free) and the East India Company, in the shape of Sir Thomas Smith. As well as the Cookes, his influential kinsmen included Richard Taylor, recorder of Bedford, and Sir Robert and Lady Brilliana Harley, at whose marriage he had preached.

Charles Gataker (bap. 1613, d. 1680), Church of England clergyman, only son of Gataker and his second wife, Margery, was admitted on 11 March 1629 to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from where he graduated BA early in 1633. He transferred to Pembroke College, Oxford, from where he proceeded MA on 30 June 1636. For a time he served as chaplain to Viscount Falkland, before becoming in 1647 rector of Hoggeston, Buckinghamshire. By that year he had married; his wife's name was Anne, and the couple were probably the Charles Gataker and Anne Jones who married on 21 September 1647 at St Peter Paul's Wharf, London. Six sons of Charles and Anne were baptized at Hoggeston between August 1648 and April 1657.

Gataker conformed in 1662. In 1670 he published his father's An Antidote Against Errour, Concerning Justification, with his own attempt to reconcile the apparently conflicting standpoints on the issue of St Paul and St James. He also entered the fray against Catholics, with Five Captious Questions (1673) (revealing that he had debated the papacy with Falkland), and Quakers, with An Examination of the Case (1675). He died at Hoggeston on 20 November 1680, and was succeeded as rector there by his son Thomas (d. 1701).

Brett Usher


T. Gataker, A discours apologetical (1654) · S. Clarke, The lives of thirty two English divines, in A general martyrologie, 3rd edn (1677) [incl. Gataker's ‘Life and death of Mr William Bradshaw’] · S. Ashe, Gray hayres crowned with grace: a sermon preached … at the funerall of … Mr Thomas Gataker (1655) · E. H. Emerson, English puritanism from John Hooper to John Milton (1968) · A. F. Mitchell and J. Struthers, eds., Minutes of the sessions of the Westminster assembly of divines (1874) · Venn, Alum. Cant. · J. T. Cliffe, The puritan gentry: the great puritan families of early Stuart England (1984) · P. S. Seaver, The puritan lectureships: the politics of religious dissent, 1560–1662 (1970) · C. Hill, Economic problems of the church (1956) · parish register, Rotherhithe, LMA, P71/MRY/006 [baptism: Charles Gataker; burials: Margery Pinner, second wife; Dorothy Gataker, third wife] · parish register, Rotherhithe, LMA, P71/MRY/007/01 [burial: Elizabeth Gataker, fourth wife] · will, PRO, PROB 11/241, fols. 344v–347r · P. Lake, The boxmaker's revenge (2001) · private information (2004) [P. Lake] · IGI

Wealth at death  

over £250 in monetary bequests; plus property in Rotherhithe, City of London, and Plumstead, Kent: will, PRO, PROB 11/241, fols. 344v–347r

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Oxford University Press


Brett Usher, ‘Gataker , Thomas (1574–1654)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 19 Nov 2005]

Thomas Gataker (1574–1654): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10445
Charles Gataker (bap. 1613, d. 1680): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10444


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