William Gregg

Perp: William Gregg

The Crime: High Treason - "adhering to the Queen's enemies, and giving them aid, without the realm,"

The Victim : Queen Anne and Country

Motive : Want of money

Date: 1708

Punishment: Hanged

Location: Tyburn

The Story

THE treason of which this offender was convicted was that of " adhering to the Queen's enemies, and giving them aid, without the realm," which was made a capital offence by the statute of Edward III.

It appears that Gregg was a native of Montrose, in Scotland. and having received such instruction as the grammar-schools of the place afforded, he completed his education at Aberdeen university, where he pursued these studies which were calculated to fit him for the profession of the church, for which lie was intended. London, however, held forth so many attractions to his youthful eye, that the wishes of his relatives were soon overruled ; and having visited that city, with good introductions, he was, after some time, appointed secretary to the ambassador at the court of Sweden. But while performing the duties of his office, he was guilty of so many and so great excesses (debauched a Swedish lady for one) , that he was at length compelled to retire, and London once more became his residence.

His good fortune placed him in a situation alike honourable and profitable, but his dishonest and traitorous conduct in his employment, was such as to cost him his life, and to involve his employers in political difficulties of no ordinary kind.

Having been engaged by Mr Secretary Harley, minister of the reigning sovereign, Queen Anne, to write despatches, he took advantage of the knowledge which he thus gained, and voluntarily opened a communication with the enemies of his country. England, it will be remembered, was at this time in a situation of no ordinary difficulty ; and the position of her Majesty's ministers, harassed as they were by the opposition of their political antagonists, was rendered even more difficult by the disclosures of their traitorous servant.

We shall take the advantage afforded us by Bishop Burnet's History, of laying before our readers a more authentic account of this transaction than is given by the usual channels of information to which we have access. He says, " At this time two discoveries were made very unlucky for Mr. Harley : Tallard wrote often to Chamillard, but he sent the letters open to the secretary's office, to be perused and sealed up, and so be conveyed by the way of Holland. These were opened upon some suspicion in Holland, and it appeared that one in the secretary's office, put letters in them, in which, as he offered his services to the courts of France and St. Germains, so he gave an account of all transactions here. In one of these he sent a copy of the letter that the Queen was to write in her own hand to the Emperor; and he marked what parts were drawn by the secretary, and what additions were made to it by the lord treasurer. This was the letter by which the Queen pressed the sending Prince Eugene into Spain ; and this, if not intercepted, would have been at Versailles many days before it could reach Vienna.

" He who sent this wrote, that by this they might see what service he could do them, 'if well encouraged. All this was sent over to the Duke of Marlborough ; and, upon search, it was found to be written by one Gregg, a clerk, whom Harley had not only entertained, but had taken into a particular confidence, without inquiring into the former parts of his life; for he was a vicious and necessitous person, who had been secretary to the Queen's envoy in Denmark, but was dismissed by him for his ill qualities. Harley had made use of him to get him intelligence, and he came to trust him with the perusal and sealing up of the letters, which the French prisoners, here in England, sent over to France ; and by that means he got into the method of sending intelligence thither. He, when seized on, either upon remorse or hopes of pardon, confessed all, and signed his confession : upon that he was tried, and, pleading guilty, was condemned as a traitor, for corresponding with the Queen's enemies.

" At the same time Valiere and Bara, whom Harley had employed as his spies to go often over to Calais, under the pretence of bringing him intelligence, were informed against, as spies employed by France to get
intelligence from England, who carried over many letters to Calais and Boulogne, and, as was believed, gave such information of our trade and convoys, that by their means we had made our great losses at sea. They were often complained of upon suspicion, but they- were always protected by Harley ; yet the presumptions against them were so violent, that they were at last seized on, and brought up prisoners."

The Whigs took such advantage of this circumstance, that Mr. Harley was obliged to resign ; and his enemies were inclined to carry matters still further, and were resolved, if possible, to find out evidence enough to affect his life. With this view, the House of Lords ordered a committee to examine Gregg and the other prisoners, who were very assiduous in the discharge of their commission, as will appear by the following account, written by the same author :—

" The Lords who were appointed to examine Gregg could not find out much by him : he had but newly begun his designs of betraying secrets, and he had no associates with him in it. He told them that all the papers of state lay so carelessly about the office that every one belonging to it, even the door-keepers, might have read them all. Harley's custom was to come to the office late on post-nights, and, after he had given his orders, and wrote his letters, he usually went away, and left all to be copied out when he was gone. By that means he came to see every thing, in particular the Queen's letter to the Emperor. He said he knew the design on Toulon in May last, but he did not discover it ; for he had not entered on his ill practices till October. This was all he could say.

" By the examination of Valiere and Bara, and of many others who lived about Dover, and were employed by them, a discovery was 'made of a constant intercourse they were in with Calais, under Harley's protection.
They often went over with boats full of wool, and brought back brandy, though both the import and export were severely prohibited. They, and those who belonged to the boats carried over by them, were well treated on the French side at the governor's house, or at the commissary's : they were kept there till their letters were sent to Paris, and till returns could be brought back, and were all the while upon free cost. The order that was constantly given them was, that if an English or Dutch ship came up with them, they should cast their letters into the sea, but that they should not do it when French ships came up with them : so they were looked on by all on that coast as the spies of France. They used to get what information they could, both of merchant-ships and of the ships of war that lay in the Downs, and upon that they usually went over ; and it happened that soon after some of those ships were taken. These men, as they were Papists, so they behaved themselves insolently, and boasted much of their power and credit.

" Complaints had been often made of them, but they were always protected ; nor did it appear that they ever brought any information of importance to Harley but once, when, according to what they swore, they
told him that Fourbin was gone from Dunkirk, to lie in wait for the Russian fleet, which proved to be true ; ne both went to watch for them, and he took the greater part of the fleet. Yet, though this was a single piece of intelligence that they ever brought, Harley took so little notice of it, that he gave no advertisement to the Admiralty concerning it, This particular excepted, they only brought over common news, and the Paris Gazeteer. These examinations lasted for some weeks : When they were ended, a full report was made of them to the House of Lords, and they ordered the whole report, with all the examinations, to be laid before the Queen."

Upon the conviction of Gregg, both houses of parliament petitioned the Queen that he might be executed; and, on the 28th April, 1708, he was accordingly hanged at Tyburn.

While on the scaffold, he delivered a paper to the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, in which he acknowledged the justice of his sentence, declared his sincere repentance of all his sins, particularly that lately committed against the Queen, whose forgiveness he devoutly implored. He also expressed his wish to make all possible reparation for the injuries he had done ; and testified the perfect innocence of Mr Secretary Harley, whom he declared to have been no party to his proceedings. He professed that he died a member of the Protestant church ; and declared that the want of money to supply his extravagances had tempted him to commit the fatal crime, which cost him his life.

It is a remarkable circumstance in the life of this offender, that while he was corresponding with the enemy, and taking measures to subvert the government, he had no predilection in favour of the Pretender. On the contrary, he declared, while he was under sentence of death, that " he never thought he had any right to the throne of these realms."