GRESLEY, Sir Roger, 8th bt. (1799-1837), of Drakelow, near Burton-on-Trent, Staffs.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 27 Dec. 1799, 1st and o. surv. s. of Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley, 7th bt., of Drakelow and 2nd w. Maria Elizabeth, da. and h. of Caleb Garway of Worcester. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1817. m. 2 June 1821, Lady Sophia Catherine Coventry, da. of George William, 7th earl of Coventry, 1 da. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 8th bt. 26 Mar. 1808. d. 12 Oct. 1837.
Groom of bedchamber to duke of Gloucester 1823-34.
Sheriff, Derbys. 1826-7.
Capt. Staffs. yeoman cav. Sept. 1819, Worcs. militia Dec. 1819.
A handsome, well-connected and ambitious linguist and author, consumed by an overriding ambition to enter and succeed in Parliament, Gresley claimed direct descent from the Norman Roger de Toeni, whom the Conqueror had rewarded with the manor of Castle Gresley, part of the Drakelow estate, equally divided between Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. Sacrificing his unentailed estates to his passion for politics and high society, from 1825 he ‘parcelled out’ land, mineral rights and tithes ‘in such a manner that by annual sales it should last him for life; but he died a comparatively young man’.1 He had succeeded his father in the baronetcy at the age of eight and his eccentric mother, the heiress of Worcester glove and porcelain manufacturers, her kinsman John Ross, bishop of Exeter,2 and his uncle by marriage the Rev. William Gresley (1760-1829), the head of the Netherseal branch of the family and the representative of his trustees, disagreed over his upbringing. He consequently became a ward of chancery under the guardianship of Lord Beauchamp, Tory Member for Worcester, 1806-16, an experience which dictated his politics and inspired his 1829 novel Sir Philip Gasteneys: a Minor.3 He drafted his first publication, A Monody on the Death of Princess Charlotte (1818), while at Oxford, where Arthur Hill Trevor*, Lord Deerhurst* and his brother John Coventry were his gaming companions and friends. Permitted to ‘wander where he pleased’, he refused to return to Oxford after a riding accident in November 1818 placed his health at risk, and joined the cavalry and militia in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, where, at Severn Stoke, he courted Deerhurst’s sister Sophia, two years his junior. A restraining order from chancery, 27 Mar. 1820, merely delayed their marriage (which her father condoned and his mother opposed) until June 1821, when Gresley, now of age, had returned from a continental tour.4 Their only child, Sophia Editha, born on 4 Oct. 1823, after Gresley had joined the duke of Gloucester’s household, died the following month, and he spent most of the next year in Italy, where he became a regular visitor.5
He had made known his desire for a seat on joining the Tory Derby True Blue Club in 1820, but by-elections in Derbyshire in 1822 and Staffordshire in 1823 provided no opening for him.6 Uneasy at being suggested for Wells in February 1825 by Deerhurst, whom he had hoped to succeed as Member for Worcester on his mother’s and Lord Coventry’s interests, he canvassed and spent money at East Retford and Evesham before the general election of 1826. He also employed agents to monitor his prospects at Derby, which as sheriff in 1826 he had to decline, and at Stafford and at Lichfield, where his father had been defeated in 1798. Nothing had come in July 1825 of his own Lichfield canvass, but after trying Evesham, he stood there as an independent in 1826, proposed by his half-sister’s brother-in-law, the recorder Theophilus Levett of Winchnor, to whom he had refused to give way.7 Defeated by the combined Anson-Vernon interest in a tumultuous contest, he retired after seven days, dined his supporters and briefly considered petitioning.8 Heeding the advice of Hill Trevor and his agents, he declined to contest Stafford in December 1826 and returned to Italy, having first suspended chancery proceedings to have his mother declared a lunatic. She, in addition to making unhelpful interventions on his behalf in Worcester, had run up £800 in debts during twelve months’ residence with her servants at the Hen and Chickens inn in Berwick-upon-Tweed, ‘establishing an electoral interest’.9 On 10 Dec. 1826 Gresley was cleared of defrauding a gaming-house keeper, to whom he had given a bad cheque when under age.10 His life, according to numerous references in The Times, was subsequently one of constant litigation over tithes and his laxity in honouring family settlements and his mother’s debts.11 Briefed on ministerial negotiations by Gloucester, he published an anti-Catholic pamphlet dedicated to Peel in 1827 and another in 1828.12 His anti-papal essay, Life of Pope Gregory VII, based on Italian material, was not published until 1832. Ever in pursuit of a seat, he moved in the highest circles, entertained lavishly like a man on £20,000 not £8,000 a year, toured the North East with Hill Trevor and Lord Londonderry’s party during the duke of Wellington’s 1827 visit, and joined them in Paris in 1828.13 His cousin William Dyott, who fretted over his extravagance, observed: ‘There is a lively vivacity about Sir Roger, with great fluency of language, and, like many men [he] prizes his talents rather higher than the generality of the world will admit’.14 Sir Henry Hardinge*, the Wellington ministry’s secretary at war, praised his ‘talents and bias and disbursement’ and offered his assistance; but enquiries made in Canterbury, Maldon, Orford and Newcastle-under-Lyme, where his brothers-in-law Richard Heathcote* and the Rev. Thomas Levett had influence, proved unfruitful.15 Tregony, Weymouth and Lymington were suggested and investigated by his London lawyers after he appealed to and pledged support for Peel as incoming home secretary in January 1828.16 Obliged to raise £40,000 to meet the cost of bills and a spate of high profile prosecutions involving his mother, whom Sir Robert Inglis* had proved insane, he remained in Italy when Catholic emancipation was conceded in 1829.17 He entertained his old Christ Church friends at Drakelow in January 1830. One of them, Sir John Benn Walsh*, observed:
Drakelow is a curious old house. We dined in an immense parlour, quite out of proportion to the rest … Additions he is making … are in excellent taste, and will greatly improve it. They are built in the style … [of] the old manor house of Queen Elizabeth. We walked … over his stables, which are excellent. Sir Roger appears to live at a great expense, and must be deeply injuring his fortune. However, he has less cause for regret, as it seems unlikely, if Lady Sophia lives, that he will ever have children … Poor Sir Roger. It is a strange wild scrambling life he is leading.18
Aligning himself politically with Sir Edward Knatchbull* and the Ultras, he procured a hostile memorial on distress from Derbyshire that month, which Gloucester criticized and refused to present.19 He was rebuffed at Leominster in February 1830, but at the general election in July he contested Durham (where Hardinge vacated) on the Londonderry interest, having first tested the ground at Derby, Lichfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford and Worcester.20 Lampooned as a stranger and writer of cheap fiction, he owed his victory after a four-day poll to Hill Trevor’s assistance, a heavy purse and a late rally prompted by the Whig Lord Durham.21 On the hustings in Durham, 2 Aug., and afterwards in Derby, 6 Aug., where he seconded the Tory Francis Mundy’s* nomination for the county, he pledged allegiance to ‘church and state’ and called for ‘retrenchment in every department’.22 He donated a buck for the True Blue Club dinner in Lichfield, 24 Aug. 1830, to mark his success.23 He used his frank to publicize his return and inform his friends that he had ‘changed the spelling of his name from Gresley to Greisley’, and was styled thus when he became a fellow of the Antiquarian Society, 9 Dec. 1830.24
The Wellington administration listed Gresley among the ‘violent Ultras’, but he divided with them when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, a vote he claimed the Ultras never forgave.25 Edward Strutt*, who had heard his Derby speeches, attributed it to ‘the promise of a regiment’ to Lord Londonderry.26 A petition against his return was certain when he made his maiden speech on the address, 3 Nov. 1830. He welcomed its support for the ‘constitution and existing laws and institutions … without manifesting any bigoted indisposition to salutary and necessary reforms’. He refuted ‘captious’ suggestions that the government were indifferent to the ‘extensive and prevailing’ distress and expressed confidence in their economic policies as the best means of alleviating it. However, he added a plea for greater retrenchment to his endorsement of a Sunderland petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 16 Nov. A grand ball graced by the duke of Devonshire and the Londonderrys marked his 31st birthday and the completion in December 1830 of his improvements at Drakelow, which Greville, visiting three years later, faulted as ‘a miserable place, with the Trent running under the windows and Lord Anglesey’s land close to the door’.27 On 4 Feb. 1831 Gresley criticized the Grey ministry’s civil list proposals as overgenerous and unsustainable and promised to vote against them and against reform should he remain a Member. Furious to be unseated on petition, 8 Mar., he effected an exchange with Hill Trevor, who vacated New Romney, and he was returned there on Sir Edward Dering’s* interest the following week.28 He upheld the Ultra Inglis’s complaint of a breach of privilege by The Times in misreporting his speeches and complained that he was another ‘victim’ of the practice, 21 Mar. He divided against the Grey ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., having presented and briefly endorsed an anti-reform petition from Durham, 15 Apr. 1831. By the dissolution on the 23rd arrangements were in place for him to contest Newark on the interest of the Ultra duke of Newcastle, who had applied to the Tory opposition’s management committee in Charles Street committee for a second man.29 He came third, after fighting an excellent and costly campaign, and the duke privately praised his ‘very considerable talent … quickness and … spirited and steady determination not to be surpassed: very few men would have persevered as he has done with the same energy and alacrity’.30
Gresley declared his candidature for Derbyshire at the first post-reform election in June 1831 and announced that he had ‘abandoned all hope of a successful opposition to the bill’. The Times seized on his ‘conversion’.31 He toyed with attempting Newark in September 1831and Tewkesbury in February 1832, having wisely refrained from attempting Derbyshire prematurely in September 1831.32 He commenced his canvass of Derbyshire South directly the Tory Sir George Crewe desisted in March 1832 and, though soundly defeated in a violent contest in December, his pragmatism on reform and support for retrenchment, protection and tithe revision reunited the local Conservatives, who returned him in 1835.33 He vainly asked Peel, with typical hyperbole, if he could move the 1835 address, and made what Dyott and others termed ‘a sad ass of himself in Parliament’. With defeat certain, he retired on health grounds at the 1837 dissolution, nine months after suffering paralysis in a riding accident.34 He died suddenly and without issue that October having, by his will, dated 2 May 1837 and proved under £14,000, 24 Apr. 1838, entrusted his estates to Lords Chesterfield and Castlereagh* and provided for his widow (d. 1875), who retained Drakelow House for life and in 1839 married Henry William des Voeux.35 He was succeeded in the baronetcy and entailed estates by his first cousin, the Rev. William Nigel Gresley (1806-47) of Netherseal, a descendant of the 2nd baronet.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. F. Madan, Gresleys of Drakelow, 126.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1808), i. 554; Oxford DNB sub Ross.
- 3. Madan, 124, 127; PROB 11/1893/241; IR26/1481/139.
- 4. Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/36/1, corresp. 1819-21; D77/36/11, passim; D77/44/1, E. Morton to Lady Gresley, 6 Nov. 1818; Hatherton diary, 18 Dec. 1819; The Times, 28 Mar. 1820; Madan, 128; Gent. Mag. (1821), i. 562.
- 5. Gent. Mag. (1823), ii. 567; Gresley mss D77/41/1, Gloucester to Gresley, 7 Oct. 1823; D3999/2; Dyott’s Diary, i. 354.
- 6. Derby Mercury, 31 Jan. 1821, 27 Nov. 1822; Gresley mss D77/4/1, Fowler to Gresley, 7 July 1823.
- 7. Gresley mss D77/36/2, J. Coventry to Gresley, 17 Feb., Theophilus Levett to same, 1 June, R. Lloyd to same, 11 June, Gresley to Deerhurst, 19 Feb., to Manning, 19 Feb.; D77/36/4, G.W. Lloyd to Gresley, 8 Apr. 1826; D77/41/1, Gresley to Thomas Levett, 23 Nov. 1825; D3038/1/5; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 358-60; Dyott’s Diary, i. 368, 377; Staffs. Advertiser, 27 Aug. 1825, 10 June 1826; Worcester Herald, 13 May-10 June 1826.
- 8. Staffs. Avertiser, 17, 24 June; The Times, 18 June; Dyott’s Diary, i. 379-80; Gresley mss D77/36/4, M. Lister to Gresley, 7 Aug. 1826.
- 9. Gresley mss D77/36/3, passim.; D77/36/4, Hill Trevor to Gresley, 24 Sept., 8 Nov. [Dec.]; D77/36/5, J.T. Law to same, 8 Nov.; D77/37/6, S. Brampton to same ; The Times, 2 Sept., 10, 11 Nov.; Berwick Advertiser, 25 Nov. 1826.
- 10. The Times, 11 Dec. 1826.
- 11. For example, Gresley v. Collins (The Times, 20 July 1826, 18, 29 July, 20 Nov. 1833) and Woodyatt v. Gresley (ibid. 1, 8 Aug. 1826); Gresley mss D77/36/7, corresp. of W.Y. Alban, W. Heelis and W.E. Mousley with Gresley, 1830.
- 12. Gresley, Letter to … Peel on Catholic Emancipation (1827) and Letter to … John, Earl of Shrewsbury in reply to … Reasons for Not Taking the Test (1828); Gresley mss D3999/2.
- 13. Countess Granville Letters, ii. 19; Von Neumann Diary, i. 187.
- 14. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 39.
- 15. Gresley mss D77/36/4, H.M. Levett to Gresley, 27 Nov.; D77/36/5, same to same, 29, 30 Nov., R.E. Heathcote to same, 30 Nov., Hardinge to same, 6 Dec. 1827; D77/37/9, Lushington to same, 17 Apr., J. Benbow to same [Nov.] 1827; D/3038/2/2.
- 16. Add. 40395, f. 101; Gresley mss D77/37/10, Mousley to Gresley, 29 Jan., Benbow to same, 5 Aug.; D77/37/11, same to same, 15 Feb. 1828.
- 17. The Times, 5, 18 Feb., 11, 26 Aug., 4 Sept., 31 Oct. 1828, 12, 23 Feb., 25 Apr., 8 June, 12 Nov. 1829; Gresley mss D77/36/6, 8, passim.; D3999/2.
- 18. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 11-13.
- 19. Add. 40412, f. 25; Derby Mercury, 20 Jan. 1830; Gresley mss D3999/2.
- 20. Gresley mss D77/36/7, T. Hale to Gresley, 6 Feb., Moulsey to same, 26 May; D77/38/5, same to same [27 June] [July], Durham to same, 2 July; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 28 June; Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Lady Gresley to Sir A. Lechmere, 3, 11 July; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 299