“What about a down payment of £2,000 or £3,000 on account?”
Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George sold honours to finance his political aims and to ensure that the House of Lords was packed with his supporters. Arthur John Peter Michael Maundy Gregory, the son of a Southampton clergyman, saw what was happening and offered his services.
Lloyd George hired Gregory to raise funds for his putative United Constitutional Party. Gregory set up an office near Downing Street and installed a commissionaire in a uniform very similar to those of government messengers. Gregory used bribery, flattery and gifts to learn who was in line for an honour and then wrote inviting them to dinner.
For a sum, he told them, he could ensure that they received an appropriate honour — he charged £50,000 for a peerage, £35,000 for a baronetcy and £10,000 for a knighthood. As news spread, various businessmen seeking honours approached him. Not all of them were honest — Richard Williamson received a CBE for “untiring work in connection with various charities”. He was a Glasgow bookmaker with a criminal record. There were many other instances. Gregory earned about £1.2 million for the Liberal and later Tory parties — about £32 million at present values. He also earned about £3 million annually, enabling him to buy the Ambassador Club in 1927 and his own newspaper, which he used to spew anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic views. He also acquired Burke’s Landed Gentry in 1929. When Lloyd George’s government lost power to the Conservatives they passed the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act on 7 August 1925, making the sale of honours illegal.
In 1932 he began to offer papal honours after being received into the Church of Rome on 22 January. Edith Rosse, Gregory’s long-term platonic companion (he was homosexual), died on 14 September of the same year at their London home. She left her entire estate, worth £18,000, to Gregory. He had her buried in an unsealed lead-lined coffin in a shallow grave in a cemetery next to the Thames, which meant that it often flooded.
On 23 January 1933 Gregory met Commander Edward W. Billyard-Leake and offered him a knighthood for £10,000. Commander Billyard-Leake went straight to Scotland Yard where he filed a complaint. He told Gregory that he “definitely [did] not wish to continue the matter” resulting in Gregory asking him to reconsider, asking for a payment of “S2,000 or £3,000 on account”. Thirty-six hours later, on Saturday 4 February, Gregory was arrested at his home. The case opened at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 16 February and Attorney-General Sir Thomas Inskip prosecuted Gregory. It was the first trial under the new Act and Gregory was the first offender — he was eventually persuaded to plead guilty and was jailed for two months, fined £50 and ordered to pay an additional fifty guineas in costs.
38 Parliament Street, London, England
On his release from Wormwood Scrubs on 12 April Gregory moved to France where, calling himself Sir Arthur Gregory, he lived on a pension of £2,000 per annum. On 28 April 1933 Edith Rosse’s body was exhumed and examined at Paddington mortuary for evidence of poison but the waterlogged ground prevented any conclusion being reached. The celebrated pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury had been unable to find any cause of death when he performed the autopsy. Many police believed that Gregory had murdered her. In November 1940 the Germans arrested Gregory and put him in an internment camp at Drancy. He died on 28 September 1941 of heart failure.