GREGORY, Robert (d.1611), of Melcombe Regis; later of Poole, Dorset.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Mayor, Melcombe Regis 1569-70, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis 1574-5; commr. piracy and dep. v.-adm. to Thomas Howard, 1st Visct. Bindon 1573-80; dep. searcher, Weymouth by 1577, for Poole, and for Lyme by 1600.1; overseer of customs officials in west of England 1584.
Gregory, whose origins are obscure, was a merchant, shipowner, customs official and pirate. Probably the Anne Gregory who married a son of Robert Hassard was a relative, as, no doubt, were those after whom some of his ships were named, the Michael Gregory, the John Gregory and the George Gregory, all of Weymouth. Gregory was described as ‘my servant’ by the Earl of Leicester in a letter of 1570. He obtained a safe-conduct from Leicester to buy cloth in France, suggesting that he should buy wine there and convey it to Kenilworth via Bristol. The first of many charges levelled against Gregory concerned some salt belonging to Dutch merchants in 1574. Three years later he upset the Howards of Bindon and the other local gentry by going to London ‘to accuse certain men of the shire to the Council’ for piracy. Though the Privy Council began by backing him up, his social status was not equal to that of his opponents, and the Council brought him to heel, Bindon naturally depriving him of his office of deputy vice-admiral. Gregory’s own conduct emerged in the course of things. Besides using his official position to buy ships and goods taken by pirates so as to re-sell them to their proper owners, he himself victualled and harboured pirates on a scale rivalling Sir Richard Rogers. The Earl of Leicester, however, stood by him, recommending him in 1582 for the post of surveyor of Devon. After representing the combined boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe in the Parliament of 1589, Gregory moved to Poole, where again he secured a lucrative job in the customs, and again came up against the Howards of Bindon. He died there on 1 June 1611, and was buried in the parish church beside his wife Elizabeth, who had died eight years previously.
Gregory was the author of a survey (now in the British Library, Cottonian mss) of ships in the port of Poole in 1591, which appears in his letter book with a covering letter to Walsingham in which he advocated a scheme for an annual survey of all ships in every port, with details of their tonnage and armament. This, he urged, would speedily lead to the suppression of the clandestine trade in arms, ‘for our ships do carry under colour of defending themselves some of them eight, ten, twelve, sixteen and twenty pieces of good ordnance, but at their return do not, for the most part, bring home again the one half, but have sold the same in such foreign country where they have trafficked’.2