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Gregory, William (1766-1840) (DNB01)

GREGORY, WILLIAM (1766–1840), Irish under-secretary, was the youngest of three sons of Robert Gregory, a member of a family sprung from an offshoot of the Gregorys of Styvechale Hall, Coventry, who came to Ireland with Cromwell and settled in Tipperary. His father, Robert Gregory (1727–1810), himself a man of some mark, was chairman of the East India Company for many years till 1783, and member of parliament for Maidstone from 1768 to 1774, and for Rochester from 1774 to 1784; there is a portrait of him by Dance at the family seat, Coole Park, co. Galway, and a bust by Nollekens (Gent. Mag. 1810, ii. 385).

William Gregory was born in 1766 and educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1783 and M.A. in 1787. On 16 May 1781 he was admitted student of the Inner Temple. In the Irish parliament of 1798-1800 he appears to have sat for Portarlington (Off. Ret. ii. 690), and he served as high sheriff of co. Galway in 1799. Though it does not appear that he had had any previous official training, Gregory was appointed in October 1812 civil under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant of Ireland (Lascelles, Lib. Mun. Hib. iii. 106). There was at this time a military under-secretary as well, but in 1821 the two offices were united, Gregory holding both for ten years. In this position he enjoyed great authority as the confidential adviser and close friend of successive viceroys and chief secretaries; was described by friendly critics as 'the dry nurse' of young English statesmen; and was credited by O'Connell and other hostile critics with being the real ruler of Ireland. He was on terms of warm intimacy with Sir Robert Peel during that statesman's long tenure of the chief-secretaryship, and, down to the date of Peel's conversion on the question of Roman catholic emancipation, was his chief adviser on Irish affairs. During the greater part of Lord Liverpool's premiership Gregory's influence at Dublin Castle was supreme, but after the retirement of his friend William Saurin [q. v.] from the attorney-generalship his authority gradually waned. In 1827, when Lord Anglesey became viceroy in Canning's administration, it was thought inexpedient to continue Gregory in office. His resignation was called for, and was actually placed in the lord-lieutenant's hands, and in anticipation of his retirement Gregory was created a member of the privy council, besides receiving the offer of a baronetcy, which he declined. But Canning dying before his successor could be appointed, and 'the transient and embarrassed phantom' of Lord Goderich [see Robinson, Frederick John] vanishing before any fresh arrangements had been made, Gregory retained his office four years longer. On the return of Lord Anglesey, however, Gregory's career was quickly closed. He was removed from office in December 1831, and retired from public life.

In addition to his office of under-secretary Gregory held from October 1812 the post of ranger of the Phoenix Park, in which his official residence was situated. Gregory died there on 13 April 1840. He married in 1789 Lady Anne Trench (d. 1833), daughter of William Power Keating, first earl of Clancarty; by her he left issue two sons, Robert, father of Sir William Henry Gregory [q. v. Suppl.], and William, rector of Fiddown.

'Though not at all a brilliant man, Gregory possessed many high qualities excellent judgment, sound sense, attention to business, and great clearness and accuracy in his transaction of it. ... Few people have been more popular in Ireland during so long a period of great power. Though a tory of the tories, he was not disliked by those who differed from him in politics' (Autobiography of Sir William Gregory). His correspondence from 1813 to 1835 is preserved at his seat, Coole Park, co. Galway. A selection from these papers was published by Lady Gregory in 1898, under the title of 'Mr. Gregory's Letter-box.' This volume, besides exhibiting Gregory in the guise of an able, shrewd, and conscientious adviser of the Irish government, throws much light on a period of Irish history hitherto very imperfectly illuminated.

[Mr. Gregory's Letter-box, 1898; Autobiography of Sir William Gregory, 1894; Graduati Cantabr. 1659–1823; Gent. Mag. 1840, i. 668; Correspondence of Sir Robert Peel, vol. i. 1891; Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell, 1888; Recollections of Lord Cloncurry, 1849; Burke's Landed Gentry; information from G. E. Latton Pickering, esq., of the Inner Temple.]

C. L. F.