GRESLEY, Sir George, 1st Bt. (c.1580-1651), of Drakelow, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. c.1580, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Thomas Gresley† of Drakelow and his 2nd w. Katherine, da. of Sir Thomas Walsingham† of Scadbury, Chislehurst, Kent.1 educ. Balliol, Oxf. Nov. 1594, aged 14; Clement’s Inn; I. Temple 1598.2 m. settlement 17 Dec. 1600, (with £2,000) Susan (bur. 21 Aug. 1624), da. of Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth, Warws. and Walton-on-Trent, Derbys., 1s. d.v.p. 3da. (1 d.v.p.) 1 other ch. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1610;3 cr. bt. 29 June 1611;4 kntd. ?Sept. 1612.5 bur. 5 Feb. 1651.6 sig. Geo[rge] Gresley.

Offices Held

J.p. Staffs. 1607-25,7 Derbys.1612-at least 1648;8 commr. musters, Derbys. 1618-19;9 Forced Loan 1627,10 swans, Midland counties 1627, Staffs and Warws. 1638;11 freeman, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. 1628;12 commr. subsidy, Derbys. 1641-2,13 militia, Derbys. 1642, 1648;14 dep. lt., Derbys. 1642-at least 1645;15 commr. East Midlands Assoc. 1642, assessment, Derbys. 1643-48;16 sheriff, Derbys. 1644-45;17 commr. gaol delivery, Derby 1645;18 sequestration 1648.19


The Gresleys settled at Drakelow, close to Derbyshire’s border with Staffordshire, after the Conquest. Until the early seventeenth century the family also owned Colton manor in Staffordshire, comprising 3,500 acres, enabling them to play a prominent role in the affairs of both counties. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Gresleys sat for both Derbyshire and Staffordshire in Parliament. Gresley’s father, Sir Thomas, was sheriff of Staffordshire in 1583-4 before representing Derbyshire in 1597, where he was one of the 7th earl of Shrewsbury’s (Gilbert Talbot†) deputy lieutenants.20

In 1600 Gresley married Susan, sister of Sir John Ferrers*. On their marriage the couple moved to Colton, which was settled on Susan as her jointure. Consequently, Gresley first held public office in Staffordshire, where he was appointed to the bench in 1607.21 However, in 1609 Gresley was forced to sell Colton for £13,000 as his father had fallen heavily into debt.22 In compensation, Susan received an annuity of £500 out of the remaining Gresley estates, which still totalled 11,000 acres, together with a lump sum of £3,000 from the sale, which was deposited with her trustees.23

In 1610 Gresley was involved in ‘a great affray’ with Sir Philip Stanhope at Derby. The dispute may have been connected to Sir Thomas Gresley’s allegiance to the 7th earl of Shrewsbury, there having been a violent feud between Shrewsbury and the Stanhopes in the 1590s.24 That same year Gresley’s father died,25 having made his daughter Dorothy his sole executrix. Dorothy was left the residue of her father’s personal estate,26 which she sold to Gresley for £961. Despite being unmentioned in the will, Gresley undertook to pay their father’s legacies and funeral expenses.27

In June 1611 Gresley purchased one of the earliest baronetcies.28 He was subsequently one of the leaders of the baronets in their dispute with the younger sons of peers over precedence. At a hearing in April 1612, James I rejected the baronets’ case, but he granted them the automatic right to a knighthood, a privilege of which Gresley availed himself later that year.29 That December Gresley was one of the ten baronets who carried a bannerol at the funeral of Henry, prince of Wales, although he is not known to have held a formal position in the prince’s Household.30 He was granted a licence to travel abroad for three years in October 1615, but he evidently did not use this passport as the following August he helped bear the canopy at the earl of Shrewsbury’s funeral.31

While the 1610s witnessed a rise in Gresley’s social status it also saw the break-up of his marriage. He and his wife were still living together in London in July 1612, but separated soon thereafter.32 Gresley responded by drafting a parliamentary bill to cancel his wife’s £500 annuity and declare any children born after she had left him illegitimate. The bill justified the rescinding of his wife’s jointure on the grounds that Lady Susan had converted the £3,000 received from the sale of Colton to her own use, purchasing an annuity of £300, whereas it had been intended for their younger children, and ‘for the terrifying of such evil disposed wives’.33 The bill received a first reading in the Commons on 23 Feb. 1621, but proceeded no further.34 The lack of progress is explained by the fact that, by the early 1620s, Lady Susan, who lived in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, moved in influential Court circles. In 1622 Sir John Hippisley* told the marquess of Buckingham that she could procure York House for him and, in April the 18th earl of Oxford was sent to the Tower for words spoken in her house. When she died in 1624 Chamberlain described her as the ‘famous’ Lady Gresley, and Thomas Meautys*, her neighbour and friend, frequently visited her in her last illness.35

The break-up of Gresley’s marriage coincided with a sharp deterioration in his finances. Gresley blamed his misfortunes on his wife, whom he held responsible for losing him £12,000,36 but many of his debts were probably inherited, and he had compounded his problems by purchasing a baronetcy. His plight was so serious that, in about 1618, he was imprisoned in the Fleet, where he spent at least two years. Despite, or rather because of his difficulties, he attempted to obtain the wardship of his son and heir, Thomas, who was then under-age. Gresley only had a life interest in his own estates, and in order to come to terms with his creditors he needed to make agreements in his son’s name as well as his own. To procure the wardship he lobbied Buckingham with the help of ‘E V’, possibly a reference to Sir Edward Villiers*, with whom Gresley seems to have been previously acquainted.37 However, it is unlikely that Gresley was successful as it was not until April 1624 that the estate was settled to pay off the debts, by which time Gresley’s son Thomas was almost certainly no longer a minor. By then Gresley had married his son to the daughter of Sir Thomas Burdett, from whom he received a substantial dowry. As a result of the 1624 settlement the estate was transferred to Thomas, who agreed to provide £1,333 in portions for his two sisters and to pay £7,022 to settle Gresley’s debts. At this time the annual rental income from the estate totalled about £900. The debts were cleared by means of substantial land sales in the 1620s, totalling £11,132, which included estates in Leicestershire. This left a surplus of more than £4,110, of which a third accrued to Gresley.38

Gresley’s religious views are difficult to establish, although his father was apparently a zealous Protestant. Accounts kept by him in the 1620s show that he had eclectic theological reading tastes. He owned several Catholic works, including the Jesuit Robert Parsons’ answer to Sir Edward Coke’s* Fifth Report, and a polemic against the Oath of Allegiance. He also owned a copy of Laud’s sermon preached at the opening of the 1626 Parliament, John Donne’s* Devotions, as well as several works by Calvinist writers, including Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety, Rhemes Against Rome by the moderate puritan Richard Bernard and Anthony Wotton’s tract against Richard Montagu, A Dangerous Plot.39

Gresley’s papers include a considerable number of separates, mostly relating to the 1628 Parliament, but he also had items dealing with the impeachment of Buckingham in 1626, including the speeches of Sir Dudley Digges and Sir John Eliot, and material relating to the 1624 Parliament. Some of the separates are copied in Gresley’s own hand, suggesting a close interest in national politics in the 1620s.40 However, Gresley does not seem to have become directly involved in politics until 1626, when Charles I tried to raise a Benevolence after the failure of the 1626 Parliament. At the July quarter sessions the Derbyshire justices agreed to assemble the subsidymen in each hundred to raise contributions, whereupon Gresley and his son-in-law Sir Thomas Burdett were assigned to Repington Hundred. At the meeting held on 7 Aug. the subsidymen ‘with one voice denied to give otherwise then by way of Parliament’. Neither Gresley nor Burdett attended the meeting of justices held ten days later to report back to the Privy Council, arousing suspicions in the Council that Gresley had prompted the subsidymen’s answer. Gresley, along with Sir John Ferrers*, who had also failed to attend the 17 Aug. meeting, was accordingly summoned before the Council and obliged to agree to contribute £20. It is unlikely that he honoured this promise speedily: contributions to the Benevolence were later counted towards the Forced Loan, but in the autumn of 1627 Gresley’s assessment of £20 towards the latter was still outstanding. On the other hand, there is no evidence that Gresley was purged from the Derbyshire bench, which suggests that he did pay eventually.41

Gresley was elected senior burgess for Newcastle-under Lyme on 23 Feb. 1628, spending £1 13s. 4d. in the process. However, it was not until 3 Mar. that he was admitted a freeman of the borough.42 He probably owed his election to the patronage of Robert Devereux, 3rd earl of Essex, Staffordshire’s most important magnate. There was a long-standing connection between the Devereux family and the Gresleys, as Gresley’s paternal grandfather had purchased former monastic lands from the 1st earl of Essex in the 1560s, and his father had been part of the 2nd earl’s political affinity in Staffordshire. Moreover, Sir Simon Weston*, a close ally of the 3rd earl, was named a trustee when the Gresley estate was settled in 1609.43

Gresley’s account book lists his daily expenditure between the first meeting of the 1628 Parliament on 17 Mar. and 1 May. The recorded expenditure totalled nearly £50 and suggests he spent roughly £1 4s. per day. The highest amount spent in a single day was £8 4s. 6d. on 16 April. The entries are laconic and probably mostly relate to his subsistence, but they also include 2s. for ‘Parliament’ on 17 Apr. - perhaps a reference to the fee of 2s. payable by all borough Members to the serjeant-at-arms every Parliament - and £3 described as ‘Lord Brooke’s’ on 22 April. On 11 Apr. he spent £1 2s. on ‘speeches’ and on 8 Apr. 12s. for ‘copies’, which were probably separates.44 His separates from the 1628 Parliament include copies of messages from the Crown and speeches by Sir John Coke, Sir Thomas Wentworth, Sir Edward Coke and Sir Benjamin Rudyard.45 He also kept a copy of the ‘scoffing dialogue’ satirizing puritans written by Richard Burgess, the vicar of Witney, which John Pym reported to the Commons on 28 Apr., and a paper justifying the 1st earl of Cork’s proviso in the bill for the restitution of Sir Carew Ralegh†.46

Gresley himself appears only infrequently in the surviving records of the Parliament. On 17 Apr. he testified that he had seen the earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard, Lord Walden*) talking to Sir John Strangways when the former was alleged to have said John Selden deserved to be hanged, but he had apparently not heard the words spoken. He received only one committee appointment, on 2 May, to consider the bill to enable Dutton, 3rd Lord Gerard, a substantial Staffordshire landowner, to make a jointure. Finally, on 21 June, Sir Robert Phelips moved for privilege for Gresley, who had been served with a subpoena.47 Gresley is not mentioned in the surviving records of the 1629 session, but he did possess a copy of Eliot’s three resolutions voted on 2 March.48

Twenty-one newsletters by Gresley to Sir Thomas Puckering*, the brother-in-law of Sir John Ferrers, dated between May 1629 and January 1634, survive. Most were printed, not always accurately, in Thomas Birch’s Court and Times of Charles I.49 These were written from Essex House on the Strand, where Gresley stayed during prolonged visits to London to conduct legal business.50 Gresley also seems to have written newsletters for Essex, and indeed he may have given priority to his noble patron. Essex’s papers contain a report signed by Gresley, of the case between Lord Reay and David Ramsay in the Marshal’s Court, dated 28 Nov. 1628, which is almost identical to a large part of Gresley’s letter to Puckering dated the following day.51

Gresley’s newsletters showed his sympathy with the Commons’ Members prosecuted for the disturbances at the end of the 1629 session. When describing the opinions of the judges, he characterized supporters of the arrested Members as ‘for us’ and those who opposed them as ‘against us’, and said of one previously supportive judge that he had ‘turned Turk’.52 Gresley also referred to the ‘haughtiness of spirit’ of the former Speaker of the 1628-9 Parliament, (Sir) John Finch II.53 Beyond the confines of Westminster, Gresley naturally sympathized with the anti-Habsburg cause, and when Prague fell to the anti-Imperialists in November 1631 he declared it to be ‘joyful news’.54 He seems to have been concerned that senior members of the Church of England were unsympathetic to the European Protestant cause: on 27 Oct. 1631 he reported that an unnamed bishop had told the king that it would have been better if Gustavus Adolphus had been defeated at the battle of Breitenfield, although he carefully added that he did not know if this was true, or whether the bishop concerned was Laud.55 Gresley’s connections nevertheless went beyond the supporters of international Protestantism, for by the 1630s Gresley was well acquainted with the pro-Spanish Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, to whom he introduced the antiquarian William Dugdale.56

It has been argued that Gresley was the Mr. ‘Greisley’ who refused to pay Ship Money in Derbyshire in 1636 and threatened to sue the sheriff; certainly Gresley was the only person of that surname who appears in the accounts of the Ship Money collections of Sir John Gell†, the previous year’s sheriff.57 In 1638 he suffered the indignity of again being arrested for debt, this time in the street in Westminster at the suit of his tailor.58

Gresley keenly supported Parliament during the Civil War. In his notebook he copied some ‘doubts and satisfactions’ in which the right of the people to defend themselves is roundly proclaimed and the parliamentarians are stated to be resisting tyranny rather than legitimate authority.59 One pro-parliamentarian account of the early months of the war in Derbyshire described Gresley as ‘the only gentleman of quality in this county that cordially appeared to be on our side’.60 As a result the royalists plundered Drakelow in September 1642.61 Gresley raised a troop of horse for Parliament,62 despite never holding military office. He was also a leading member of the parliamentarian county committee in Derbyshire, where he was considered part of Sir John Gell’s faction. As sheriff of Derbyshire in 1645, he supported the election of Gell’s brother Thomas in the Derby recruiter election, though at around the same time Gell’s opponents proposed Gresley for the governorship of Derby.63 Gresley found it difficult to discharge his duties as sheriff because, his estates being controlled by the royalists, he was deprived of an income. On appealing to the Commons in August 1645 he was voted £4 a week out of the sequestrations in Derbyshire.64 In 1650 he claimed that his annual income was only £250, and that he had no personal estate except a few books and clothes.65

Gresley last appears as a magistrate in October 1648 and he lost all public office with the creation of the Commonwealth.66 He was buried on 5 Feb. 1651 in the Temple Church in London on the Inner Temple side. No will has been found and there is no evidence that letters of administration were granted in respect of his estate. In the late nineteenth century there were said to be two portraits of Gresley at Drakelow.67 No Gresley sat in Parliament until Sir Roger Gresley was elected for Durham City in 1830, although Gresley’s great-grandson, Sir John Bowyer, 2nd baronet, was returned for Warwick in 1678.68

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Ben Coates


  • 1. F. Madan, ‘Gresleys of Drakelow’, Staffs. Hist. Colls. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. i), 71-2.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; I. Temple database of admiss.
  • 3. Derbys. RO, D77/15/7/6; Madan, 80-4, 90; Reg. of St. Martin-in-the-Fields London 1619-36 ed. J.V. Kitto, 188.
  • 4. 47th DKR, 125.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 152.
  • 6. Reg. Burials at Temple Church 1628-1853 ed. H.G. Woods, 9.
  • 7. C66/1748; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 15.
  • 8. C66/1898; J.C. Cox, Three Centuries of Derbys Annals, ii. 217.
  • 9. Derbys RO, D803MZ9, pp. 7-8.
  • 10. C193/12/2, f. 9.
  • 11. C181/3, f. 226v; C181/5, f. 90v.
  • 12. T. Pape, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 276
  • 13. SR, v. 61, 82, 149.
  • 14. LJ, v. 260; A. and O. i. 1235.
  • 15. LJ, v. 428; Derbys. RO, D1232/010.
  • 16. A. and O. i. 50, 228, 540, 621, 637, 686, 963.
  • 17. LJ, vi. 688.
  • 18. C181/5, f. 248.
  • 19. LJ, ix, 623.
  • 20. Madan, vii, 71, 198-9; Staffs. Hist. Colls. ed. W.K. Boyd and G. Wrottesley (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. iii), 30; R. Dias, ‘Pols. and administration in Notts and Derbys. 1590-1640’ (Oxford Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1973), pp. 82, 343.
  • 21. Derbys. RO, D77/15/7/6; HMC Hatfield, xii. 469; Cal. of Recs. of County of Derby ed. J.C. Cox, 149.
  • 22. Madan, 71.
  • 23. Add. 6671, ff. 16v, 24v; C3/388/75.
  • 24. W. Woolley, Hist. Derbys. (Derbys. Rec. Soc. 1981), p. 51; W. T. MacCaffrey, ‘Talbot and Stanhope: An Episode in Elizabethan Pols.’, BIHR, xxxiii. 76-85.
  • 25. WARD 7/44/98.
  • 26. PROB 11/116, f. 267.
  • 27. Derbys. RO, D77/8/3/5.
  • 28. SCL, EM 1284(a).
  • 29. K.S. Van Eerde, ‘Jacobean Baronets: An Issue between King and Parl.’, JMH, xxxiii. 139; L. Stone, Crisis of the Aristocracy, 88.
  • 30. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, ii. 498.
  • 31. APC, 1615-16, p. 315; J. Hunter, Hallamshire, 102.
  • 32. C2/Jas.I/G3/11.
  • 33. Derbys. RO, D77/15/7/6; C2/Chas.I/G19/67.
  • 34. CD 1621, vi. 3.
  • 35. HMC 4th Rep. 306; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 433, 579; C2/Chas.I/G19/67.
  • 36. Derbys. RO, D803M/Z9, f. 11; C2/Chas.I/G19/67.
  • 37. Derbys. RO, D803M/Z9, ff. 4, 11-16.
  • 38. Derbys. RO, D77/8/2/13; D77/16/10, Gresley’s acct. bk.; D77/27/1.
  • 39. Dias, 216; Derbys. RO, D77/16/10, Gresley’s acct. bk.; D77/22/8; C2/Chas. I/G43/28.
  • 40. Derbys. RO, D77/22/8-9.
  • 41. SP16/33/131, 16/33/131i, 16/79/67; APC, 1626, pp. 239, 258.
  • 42. Derbys. RO, D77/16/10, Gresley’s acct. bk.; Pape, 275-6.
  • 43. Add. 6671, f. 16v; Dias, 343.
  • 44. Derbys. RO, D77/16/10, Gresley’s acct. bk.
  • 45. Derbys. RO, D77/22/9.
  • 46. Derbys. RO, D77/22/8; CD 1628, iii. 135.
  • 47. CD 1628, ii. 508; iii. 301; iv. 417-18.
  • 48. Derbys. RO, D77/22/8.
  • 49. Harl. 7000, ff. 259-470; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, ii. 14-233.
  • 50. Harl. 7000, ff. 263, 450, 466.
  • 51. Add. 46188, ff. 135-v; Birch, ii. 145-7.
  • 52. Birch, ii. 18.
  • 53. Harl. 7000, f. 263.
  • 54. Birch, ii. 145.
  • 55. Ibid. 137-8.
  • 56. Life, Diary and Corresp. of Sir William Dugdale ed. W. Hamper, 10.
  • 57. L. Beats, ‘Pols. and Govt. in Derbys. 1640-60’ (Sheffield Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1978), p. 48.
  • 58. C2/Chas.I/G49/23.
  • 59. Derbys. RO, D803M/Z9, pp. iii-iv.
  • 60. S. Shaw, Hist. and Antiqs. of Staffs. (1798), i. pt. 1, p. 56.
  • 61. Eng.’s Memorable Accidents, 12-19 Sept. 1642, p. 16.
  • 62. CCAM, 1153.
  • 63. Beats, 188, 211, 225.
  • 64. Shaw, i. pt. 1, p. 71; Derbys. RO, D803M/Z9, pp. 29-30, 114; CJ, iv. 255.
  • 65. CCAM, 1153.
  • 66. Beats, 276, 403.
  • 67. Madan, 166.
  • 68. Ibid. 84; HP Commons, 1660-90, i. 697-8.