Maundy Gregory (1 July 1877 – 28 September 1941) was a
British theatre producer and political fixer who is best remembered
for selling honours for Prime Minister David Lloyd George. He may
also have been involved with the Zinoviev Letter, the disappearance of
Victor Grayson, and the suspicious death of his platonic companion,
Edith Rosse. Gregory said he was a spy for British intelligence.
1 Early life
2 Selling honours
3 Edith Rosse
4 Further troubles
5 Later life
6 Frederick Rolfe
7 References in popular fiction
9 See also
12 External links
Gregory was born in Southampton, where his father was a clergyman. He
attended Banister Court school in Southampton. A classmate was Harold
Davidson, the infamous rector of Stiffkey. He attended Oxford
University, but left before graduation. Gregory became a teacher, and
later worked as an actor and theatre producer.
Much of the information about Gregory comes from his own papers and
curriculum vitae, the truth of which is questionable. According to
these sources, Vernon Kell, head of MI5, recruited Gregory in 1909,
possibly because of Gregory's connections from London's nightlife. At
MI5, Gregory mainly compiled dossiers on suspected foreign spies
living in London. Later,
Sidney Reilly allegedly recruited Gregory for
the recently formed MI6.
Gregory referred to his alleged time at
MI6 when he asserted
that he had raised funds for the fight against Bolshevism. Official
records verify that Gregory served as a private in the Irish Guards,
but do not verify his time at
MI5 or MI6. Gregory claimed that at
about the same time he claimed he was working for
MI5 and MI6, he
became acquainted with Basil Thomson. Thomson was the Assistant
Commissioner of Scotland Yard's CID. The relationship between Gregory
and Thomson lasted for several years.
Around 1918, Gregory approached the Liberal Party to arrange payments
to the party in exchange for peerages. He was actually one of many to
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George hired him as a broker to gather funding
for the United Constitutional Party Lloyd George was planning to form.
At the time, prices for honours ranged from £10,000 (£310,000
today) for a knighthood to £40,000 (£1.24 million) for a
baronetcy. Later estimates state that Gregory transferred
£1–2 million (now £31–62 million) to the Liberal and
Conservative parties. He earned around £3 million a year, which
he used to buy the Whitechapel Gazette newspaper and considerable real
estate, including the Ambassador Club in Soho and the Deepdene Hotel,
Dorking, Surrey. Reportedly, Gregory gathered gossip about the sex
lives of contemporary celebrities who stayed at the two properties.
The hotel gained the reputation of being "the biggest brothel in
southeast England", and it was also rumoured that people at the
Ambassador Club sold stolen jewellery. Allegedly, Gregory used this
information for blackmail. The Whitechapel Gazette included
anti-Bolshevik articles by
Basil Thomson writing as
Gregory made many friends who were prominent members of British
society, including the Duke of York, later King George VI, and the
Earl of Birkenhead. He clashed, however, with the radical left-wing
politician, and supporter of Lenin, Victor Grayson, who had
reportedly discovered that Gregory was selling honours, but who waited
to denounce him until he had gathered further proof. Grayson also
suspected Gregory of having forged Roger Casement's notorious diaries,
which were used to convict him of treason, although it later turned
out that Casement had engaged in the activities described.
Some believe that Gregory was involved in Grayson's disappearance in
1920, because Grayson was stated to have been last seen entering a
house that belonged to Gregory. Grayson's biographer David G. Clark
suggested in his 1985 book that the statement was false, and that
Grayson's disappearance was due to an unrelated scandal involving
Grayson's alleged bisexuality. Clark also thought it possible that
Grayson survived into the 1950s under another name.
There are also claims that Gregory was involved in the Zinoviev letter
affair that influenced the defeat of the Labour Party in the 1924
General Election.
In 1927, the new Unionist government blocked Gregory's honours selling
scheme. He began selling non-British honours, such as noble titles
Serbia and Ukraine, and papal honours and dispensations, such
as the knighthood of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Among his victims was the Catholic father of actress Mia Farrow, to
whom he had promised a marriage annulment. Gregory himself was made
a Knight Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre.
According to published
MI5 files, when Russian diplomat Ivan
Korostovets tried to recruit Gregory to work against the Bolsheviks,
Gregory used the Anglo-Ukrainian Fellowship as a front to continue his
peerage sales and kept all the money for himself.
Gregory also continued to sell British peerages to those who were
unaware he could no longer provide them. Those who paid him had no
legal recourse; they could neither report him to the authorities nor
sue in civil court without themselves being prosecuted under the
Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. In 1930, Gregory was sued for
£30,000 by the estate of a baronet who had died before receiving a
peerage purchased from him. He was forced to return the money.
Gregory had been friends with actress Edith Rosse for many years. He
leased a house called Vanity Fair located on
Thames Ditton Island
Thames Ditton Island to
Rosse and her husband in 1920, and moved in with them the following
year. After Rosse separated from her husband in 1923, she and
Gregory continued to live under the same roof in a platonic
relationship (Gregory was a homosexual). The couple later moved to
Abbey Lodge in
St John's Wood
St John's Wood (it was later converted into recording
studios, where the
Beatles recorded much of their best work).
In 1932, she turned down his request for a loan, but was persuaded to
change her will only a few days before her death. He inherited
£18,000. Some suspect Rosse did not die of natural causes, but rather
was poisoned by Gregory. After Gregory's fall in the "Honours" Scandal
Scotland Yard exhumed Rosse's body to look for postmortem
evidence of poison. However, Gregory had seen to it that Rosse's grave
was located in very wet ground and was unusually shallow with an
unsealed coffin lid. It was later alleged that Gregory delayed
Rosse's burial until he found a location that frequently flooded
because he believed that this would prevent later recovery of
evidence. Pathologist Sir
Bernard Spilsbury suspected as much, but was
unable to find any useful evidence or trace of poison. Rosse is buried
in All Saints' graveyard by the side of the Thames at Bisham,
In 1932, Gregory tried to sell Lieutenant Commander Billyard Leake a
peerage for £12,000. Leake pretended to be interested, but informed
the police and Gregory was arrested. Gregory could now threaten to
name in court those who had bought peerages. Because he pleaded guilty
(possibly persuaded to do so by embarrassed buyers), Gregory did not
have to give evidence in court. He did, however, give interviews to
the press trying to prove his innocence.
In 1933, Gregory was convicted under the Honours (Prevention of
Abuses) Act 1925 of selling honours. He was fined £50 and jailed for
two months. As of 2015, he remains the only person to have been
convicted under this act. The names of those who bought their peerages
are still unknown. His case file was moved to the National Archives in
Gregory declared bankruptcy in 1933. After he was released, he moved
to Paris, France, where he lived under an assumed name made up of his
third and fourth given names on a £2,000 annual pension from sources
close to the Conservative Party. British historian
Andrew Cook claims that Gregory took his records with him.
After the German occupation of France during the
Second World War
Second World War in
1940, he was captured and sent to a labour camp. Sources reporting
Gregory's death conflict. He reportedly died 28 September 1941, either
at an internment camp or at the Hospital de Val-de-Grâce in
Paris. Unlike most civilian Britons who died in enemy captivity, he is
not listed among civilian deaths in France by the Commonwealth War
His death is listed in the GRO Consular Death Indices 1941–1945,
Consulate Berlin, Germany, Vol 39, Page 129G, Gregory, Arthur J.M.,
Age at Death 64. Also listed under Maundy-Gregory, Arthur J.
Gregory took an interest in the life of the author Frederick Rolfe
(also known as Baron Corvo), and supported the author A. J. A. Symons
in obtaining materials for his biography of Rolfe, The Quest for Corvo
(published 1934). Gregory was able to use his connections to retrieve
two lost works by Rolfe, the novel Don Renato, and Rolfe's translation
of the poetry of Meleager. Symons gives a bemused description in his
Quest of Gregory's affluence and cultivated air of mystery, but notes
blandly that "Since [Gregory] left England to live abroad eight months
ago, my enquiries [to him] have remained unanswered."
References in popular fiction
In the 1993 novel Closed Circle by Robert Goddard, the main character,
Guy Horton, meets Gregory. Gregory employs Horton to encourage wealthy
businessmen to uses his services to obtain peerages. Goddard writes
that Horton "felt an immediate loathing for everything about him—the
egg-shell charm, the wafts of cologne, the dandyish dress, the
monocle, the rings, the voice; and especially the hungry fish-like
Andrew Cook – Hawking Peerages (History Today November 2006)
Cash for Honours
^ a b c d e f Graham Stewart (26 March 2006). "Honours broker supreme
– and crafty poisoner". The Sunday Times.
^ a b c d e f g Roger Wilkes (10 February 2001). "Inside story: Vanity
Fair". The Daily Telegraph.
^ a b c "
Maundy Gregory / Theatre impresario, political fixer, and
resident of Thames Ditton". exploringsurreyspast.org.uk. Retrieved 8
^ a b c Ben Fenton (25 July 2006). "
MI5 still keeps secrets of man
jailed for selling peerages". The Daily Telegraph.
^ Symons (1992) pp. 241–253.
Aldington, Richard - Frauds (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1957), pp
Douglas Brown and E.V.Tullett – The Scalpel of Scotland Yard: the
Life of Sir
Bernard Spilsbury (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co.Inc.,
Tom Cullen – Maundy Gregory: Purveyor of Honours (1974)
Symons, A. J. A, int. Sir Norman Birkett and Sir Shane Leslie (1992).
The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography. London: Folio
John Walker – The Queen Has Been Pleased: The British Honours System
at Work (1986) ISBN 0-436-56111-5
Spartacus Education about Maundy Gregory
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