ST. JOHN, Oliver I (c.1583-1646), of Bletsoe, Beds. of Abbot's Ripton, Hunts. and St. Bartholomew-the-Great, London

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.1583, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Oliver, 3rd Bar. St. John† of Bletsoe and Dorothy, da. and h. of John Rede† of Boddington, Glos.;1 bro. of Sir Alexander*, Sir Anthony*, Sir Beauchamp*, Sir Henry* and Sir Rowland*. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. c.1595; G. Inn 1597.2 m. settlement 21 Apr. 1602, Elizabeth (bur. 26 Oct. 1655), da. and h. of William Poulett of Yelden, Beds. and M. Temple, 4s. 3da.3 cr. KB 2 June 1610;4 suc. fa. as 4th Bar. St. John 1618; cr. earl of Bolingbroke 28 Dec. 1624.5 d. bet. 5 June-3 July 1646.6 sig. O[liver] St. John.

Offices Held

Commr. depopulation, Hunts. 1607,7 sewers, Gt. Fens 1609-31, 1646;8 oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1617-36;9 recorder and j.p., Bedford 1618-36, j.p., Beds. and Hunts. 1618-26, 1628-d.;10 ld. lt. (jt.) Hunts. 1619-27, 1629-36,11 Beds. (parl.) 1642-d.;12 commr. subsidy, Beds. 1621-2, 1624, Forced Loan 1626,13 charitable uses 1635,14 cts. martial, London and Westminster 1644.15

Adventurer, Bedford Level 1631-d;16 member, Bedford Level corp. 1635.17

Commr. gt. seal 1643, assessment arrears 1645, excise fraud 1645, relief of Ire. 1645, heraldry abuses 1646.18

Commr. scandalous offences 1646.19


The St. Johns traced their ancestry to a Norman family granted Fonmon Castle in the Welsh Marches in the twelfth century. The family’s first MP was returned for Northamptonshire in the early fifteenth century, and his grandson acquired Bletsoe in Bedfordshire by marriage to the heiress Margaret Beauchamp. The famiy acquired more than mere acreage, as Margaret’s daughter by her second marriage was mother to Henry VII, and this, as much as the family’s wealth, explains their ennoblement in 1559.20 By 1603 the family owned nearly 20,000 acres in Bedfordshire, a figure swelled by St. John’s match to a stepdaughter of Viscount Saye and Sele (Richard Fiennes†), whose lands lay adjacent to his own.21

The St. Johns’ estates and connections gave them considerable electoral influence in Bedfordshire, which county St. John represented in 1601 and 1604. Being under 21 on both occasions, it is unsurprising that there is no record of him speaking in the House. However, he was named to attend the conference at which the king set out his initial proposals for the Union (14 Apr. 1604), an issue in which he was evidently interested, as the family papers contain copies of the Commons’ objections to the name change which the king requested, and of James’s letter to the Commons of 1 May which dropped this proposal. St. John later attended another conference at which the Union commissioners unveiled their proposals to both Houses (24 Nov. 1606).22 He was named to a handful of other committees, including two for ecclesiastical causes (1 Apr., 10 Apr. 1606) and another for a bill against pluralist and non-resident ministers (4 Mar. 1607). A further committee on which he was included considered flood relief in the Severn estuary, which included the family estates at Fonmon (3 Mar. 1607).23

At the general election of 1614 the senior county seat went to Sir Henry Grey, son of the county’s lord lieutenant, the 6th/7th earl of Kent. Lord St. John, perhaps reluctant to see his son relegated to the junior seat, encouraged his nephew Sir Oliver Luke to stand, thereby leaving St. John without a seat. St. John should not be confused with a namesake, ‘black Oliver’ St. John, a junior member of the Wiltshire branch of the family, who was fined £5,000 by Star Chamber in April 1615 for writing a letter to dissuade Marlborough corporation from contributing to the Benevolence raised after the dissolution of the Addled Parliament.24

St. John succeeded his father on 2 Sept. 1618.25 His attempt to purchase the earldom of Glamorgan in the autumn of 1624 was vetoed by the 3rd earl of Pembroke, who apparently wished to preserve his family’s monopoly of Welsh peerage titles, but St. John secured the earldom of Bolingbroke on 28 December.26 One of the earliest opponents of the Forced Loan in 1626, St. John was a reluctant participant in the first Bishops’ War in 1639.27 He opposed a grant of supply in the Short Parliament and was one of the 12 peers who petitioned for fresh elections at the height of the 1640 campaign.28 Appointed lord lieutenant of Bedfordshire under the Militia Ordinance of March 1642, he remained at Westminster during the Civil War.29 He was last mentioned in the parliamentary ordinances on 5 June 1646, and was dead by 3 July, when administration of his goods was granted to his widow.30 The earldom and family estates went to his grandson Oliver, but neither he nor the 3rd earl, his brother Paulet St. John†, produced male heirs, and the title lapsed after the latter’s death in 1711, when the estates and barony passed to a descendant of Sir Rowland St. John.31

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 194.
  • 2. Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.
  • 3. Beds. RO, SJ.1; Bletsoe ed. F.G. Emmison (Beds. par. reg. xxiv), 25; C142/207/111; Vis. Hunts. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliii), 2.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 158.
  • 5. C142/376/126; CP.
  • 6. A. and O. i. 853; PROB 6/21, f. 72.
  • 7. C205/5/1.
  • 8. C181/2, ff. 83, 282, 320v, 330; 181/3, f. 35v; 181/4, ff. 19v, 29; 181/5, f. 268v.
  • 9. C181/2, f. 265; C231/5, p. 214.
  • 10. C231/4, ff. 73-4, 228, 261; 231/5, p. 223.
  • 11. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 24.
  • 12. Add. ch. 33168A-B; A. and O. i. 1.
  • 13. C212/22/20-3; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 144.
  • 14. C93/15/21.
  • 15. A. and O. i. 487.
  • 16. Hunts. RO, D/DM19/3/1.
  • 17. W. Dugdale, Hist. Imbanking and Draining of Divers Fens and Marshes (1772), p. 410.
  • 18. A. and O. i. 342, 658, 691, 723, 839.
  • 19. Ibid. i. 853.
  • 20. Coll. Top. et Gen. i. 310-11; S. Adams, ‘Patronage of the Crown’, in Reign of Eliz. I ed. J. Guy, 28.
  • 21. C142/249/56; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 139.
  • 22. CJ, i. 172a, 324b; Beds. RO, J.1268-9; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform 1603-4’, Faction and Parl. ed. K.C. Sharpe, 63-6.
  • 23. CJ, i. 291b, 296b, 346a, 1026a.
  • 24. APC, 1613-14, pp. 582-3; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 256, 344; Chamberlain Letters, i. 568; HMC Downshire, v. 144-5, 206.
  • 25. C142/376/126.
  • 26. Northants. RO, Montagu 3/121; C66/2338/5.
  • 27. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 172-3; CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 485; 1638-9, pp. 465, 478.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1640, pp. 66, 639-40.
  • 29. A. and O. i. 1.
  • 30. Ibid. i. 853; PROB 6/21, f. 72.
  • 31. CP (earl of Bolingbroke, Lord St. John of Bletsoe).