William Gregg (clerk and spy)

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William Gregg (died 1708) was a Scottish spy and clerk to Chancellor of the Exchequer Robert Harley.

Life

James Vernon appears to have taken the young Gregg into his service as secretary, but had to dismiss him 'for his ill qualities', according to Burnet. Nevertheless, when Robert Harley became secretary of state in 1706, he appointed Gregg to an underclerkship in his office, and even extended to him an exceptional amount of confidence. That, at any rate, was one explanation; another was that Harley's office was always in a state of the most complete disorder, and that papers of the gravest import were open to the inspection of every clerk, doorkeeper, or laundress in the establishment.[1]

Antagonism was at its height between Godolphin and Harley at the close of 1707, and the whigs were plotting to exclude Harley from the council. Intelligence came from the postmaster at Brussels that a packet of letters had been opened from the secretary's office and addressed to French minister Michel Chamillart, and they contained copies of important state papers; a covering note indicated that the copies were sent by Gregg. Gregg was arrested on 1 Jan. 1708, was examined by Sunderland on 3 January, and forthwith committed to Newgate. He was tried at the Old Bailey on 9 January for correspondence with France, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to death.

The culprit pleaded in extenuation poverty and debt, but swore positively that he had no participator in his crime. The whig leaders, however, were eager to obtain evidence against Harley, and were in great hopes that the unfortunate man would say something to convict his chief of complicity.

The House of Lords formed a committee of seven to examine Gregg, and placed upon it Somerset and two other dukes, besides Wharton, Townsend, Halifax, and Somers. The committee went to Newgate on 7 February and informed Gregg that, if he would make a full confession, he might rely upon the intercession of the house.[1]

In spite of the temptation thus dangled before him, the poor fellow adhered manfully to the truth of his first statement. The committee had the cruelty to keep the condemned man in suspense for three months. At length, they sent the queen a recommendation that the execution should take place, bitterly disappointed at making no other discovery than that the business of the secretary's office was conducted in a strangely lax manner. Gregg was hanged and quartered at Tyburn on 28 April 1708, and his head was placed on Westminster Hall. Before he met his fate, he delivered a paper to the ordinary in which he solemnly exculpated Harley from all participation in his offence. He also left a letter, the contrite tenor of which was warmly commended by Hearne. Harley found it necessary during the second week in February 1708 to resign his secretaryship, but he had the generosity to allow the widow a pension of fifty pounds annually out of his private purse.[1]

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