ST. JOHN, Oliver II (1603-1642), of Bletsoe, Beds. and King's Ripton, Hunts.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
bap. 2 Apr. 1603,1 1st s. of Oliver, 1st earl of Bolingbroke (Oliver St. John I*, d.1646) and Elizabeth, da. and h. of William Poulett of Yelden, Beds. and M. Temple.2 educ. Queens', Camb. 1615, MA 1620; travelled abroad 1617;3 G. Inn 1627.4 m. settlement 1 May 1623, Arbella (d.1669), da. of 1st earl of Bridgewater (John Egerton†) of Ellesmere, Salop, 4da.5 styled Lord St. John of Bletsoe from 28 Dec. 1624;6 cr. KB 1 Feb. 1626;7 summ. to Lords by 14 May 1641.8 d. 23/28 Oct. 1642.9 sig. Oli[ver] St. John.
Col. of ft. and capt. of horse (parl.) Aug. 1642-d.13
Educated, like his five uncles, at Queens', Cambridge, St. John was presumably the man of this name granted a passport for the Continent in June 1617.14 As Oliver was the most popular name in his family, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish him from various relatives, including the Cromwellian chief justice, Oliver St. John† of Keysoe. Moreover, as St. John received the courtesy title of Lord St. John of Bletsoe after his father’s elevation to the earldom of Bolingbroke in December 1624, there is ample scope for confusion with John Paulet*, Lord St. John of Basing.
Heir to the family estates, St. John was matched with a daughter of the earl of Bridgewater in 1623. The dowry must have been substantial, as his wife received a generous jointure settlement.15 In February 1624, still two months short of his 21st birthday, he was returned as the senior knight for Bedfordshire on his father’s powerful electoral interest. His sole mention in the records of the session was on 27 Apr., when he certified that there were no recusant officeholders in Bedfordshire.16 Returned for the county again in 1625, he was more active, attending a conference with the Lords about a joint petition to the king for a general fast (23 June). He was also appointed to committees to consider two petitions for payments from the 1624 subsidies which had been embargoed by the House (10 Aug.), a bill to restrict the powers of ecclesiastical courts (27 June) and two naturalization measures (11 August).17
Re-elected in 1626, St. John was appointed to the committee for privileges on 9 February. His membership of this body probably explains why he was also included on the committee to consider the punishment of the sheriff of Leicestershire, who had been found guilty of misconduct at the county election (26 April). With the exception of two estate bills (15 Feb., 13 Mar.) and the adultery bill (4 Mar.),18 the other committees to which he was nominated addressed the financial and strategic implications of the war with Spain. One concerned a bill for fees for county muster-masters (28 Mar.); another drafted an assurance to the king that the House intended to augment the royal revenue (4 May); a third examined the failures of Count Mansfeld’s expedition of 1624-5 (22 Mar.); and a fourth considered Sir Dudley Digges’s* proposal for a privately funded squadron of commerce raiders in the West Indies (14 March).19 The last two of these committees implicitly criticized the Crown’s conduct of the war, which many blamed upon the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham. From an early date St. John aligned himself with Buckingham’s critics, for on 8 Mar. he was among those assigned to examine a complaint suggesting that the duke had connived at the repatriation of captured Spanish ships.20 Although the investigation came to nothing, complaints about Buckingham’s mishandling of relations with France were also soon being heard. Sir Dudley Carleton*, newly returned from France, was sent to the Commons on 18 Apr. to rebut these accusations, but two days later St. John attempted to stir up trouble by reviving the claim that the duke had allowed English ships to be used against the Huguenots at La Rochelle.21
St. John found himself in trouble within hours of the dissolution of 15 June, when he was one of five MPs called upon to surrender his copy of the Remonstrance the Commons had passed two days previously. If he complied with this instruction he had the presence of mind to keep another copy of this document, which remains in the family papers.22 Buckingham revenged himself on his enemies three weeks later, when St. John, his father and his uncles Sir Beauchamp St. John* and Sir Oliver Luke* were removed from the commission of the peace.23 The other three all refused the Forced Loan in 1626-7, but St. John was denied the opportunity to join them, as he had no estates on which to be assessed.24
In view of his family’s opposition to the Loan, it is surprising that St. John took little part in formulating the Petition of Right in 1628: he was named to attend only a single conference with the Lords on this issue (23 April).25 Reappointed to the privileges committee (20 Mar.), he was named to help investigate an early complaint about the illegal billeting of troops by the deputy lieutenants of Surrey (28 March). Beyond this, his only appointments were the fast conference with the Lords (21 Mar.) and two private bill committees (21 Apr., 17 May).26 Buckingham’s enemies were restored to the bench in December 1628, shortly after the duke’s assassination, a conciliatory move which may help to explain why St. John did not attack the government in the 1629 session. However, his sympathies clearly lay with the government’s chief critic, Sir John Eliot*, whom he applied to visit in the Tower after the dissolution.27
Although St. John joined his father in draining the Great Level in the 1630s,28 his affairs were overshadowed by an immense burden of debt. Clarendon (Edward Hyde†) later ascribed this to a ‘licentious and very much depraved’ lifestyle, and claimed that St. John ‘got credit enough by engaging the principal gentlemen of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire to be bound for him ... leaving his vast debt to be paid by his sureties, to the utter ruin of many families and the notable impairing of others’.29 A petition to the Commons in 1641 claimed that St. John owed £60,000, a figure which, if accurate, was astonishing for a man who had not yet come into his inheritance and thus had relatively little land to offer as security.30 His known liabilities, while more modest, were nevertheless significant: two earlier petitions enumerated debts of £6,900, and St. John was prosecuted at least once as a surety for the debts of his uncle Sir Thomas Cheyney.31 His creditors also put pressure on his own sureties: Sir Alexander St. John*, who had guaranteed loans of £6,000, had his goods distrained to pay his nephew’s debts, while Sir Capell Bedell*, fearing a similar outcome, sought immunity from prosecution while he arranged a composition with St. John’s father.32
In December 1638 St. John assigned the estates in which he had a life interest to his father, and attempted to flee abroad under a false passport. Delayed by illness at Rye, he was arrested under a warrant from secretary Sir Francis Windebanke†, but he subsequently either escaped or was allowed to proceed, as he spent the next two years in exile.33 While still abroad, he lobbied for immunity from prosecution, a request which was effectively granted when he was summoned to the Lords in May 1641.34 Clarendon spitefully observed that St. John ‘was never known to concur in any one vote for the king’s service that received any opposition’, but St. John seems to have spent most of his time fighting off his creditors’ attempts to gain restitution.35 He raised a regiment of foot and a troop of horse for Parliament at the outbreak of the Civil War, presumably on his father’s credit, and was mortally wounded and taken prisoner at Edgehill. Contemporary accounts inevitably disagree as to whether, before his death a few days later, he expressed remorse at having fought against the king.36 No will has been found, and none of his creditors sued out letters of administration, which suggests that he left virtually nothing to his four daughters. At his father’s death in 1646, the family estates and the earldom passed to a nephew.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. Bletsoe ed. F.G. Emmison (Beds. par. reg. xxiv), 2.
- 2. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 194.
- 3. APC, 1616-17, p. 267.
- 4. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.
- 5. Beds. RO, SJ.22; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 496; Vis. Beds. 194; PROB 11/330, f. 50.
- 6. CP sub Earl of Bolingbroke.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 161.
- 8. LJ, iv. 249.
- 9. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 643.
- 10. C231/4, ff. 175, 189, 210, 261; 231/5, pp. 215, 223.
- 11. C181/3, f. 257; C231/5, p. 214.
- 12. C181/4, f. 93v; Beds. RO, J.1053.
- 13. SP28/143 (treasurer’s acct. bk, earl of Essex’s army, 1642-4), ff. 6, 9v, 10v, 11v, 17v, 20.
- 14. Al. Cant.; APC, 1616-17, p. 267.
- 15. Beds. RO, SJ.22.
- 16. CJ, i. 776a; ‘Holland 1624’, f. 51v.
- 17. CJ, i. 813b, 815a; Procs. 1625, pp. 228, 253.
- 18. CJ, i. 816b, 819b, 830b, 835b, 849b.
- 19. Ibid. 836a, 840a, 842b, 855a.
- 20. Ibid. 832b; Procs. 1626, ii. 234-5.
- 21. C. Russell, PEP, 300-3; Procs. 1626, iii. 36.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 354; Procs. 1626, iii. 436-41; Beds. RO, J.1322.
- 23. Soms. RO, DD/PH 219/66; C231/4, f. 210v.
- 24. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 172-3; CSP Dom. 1626-7, p. 44; Add. 4177, ff. 261-2.
- 25. CJ, i. 887a.
- 26. Ibid. 873a, 874a, 876b, 886a, 899a.
- 27. C231/4, f. 261; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 499.
- 28. HMC Lothian, 84; Beds. RO, J.1053.
- 29. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, ii. 369-70.
- 30. Ibid.; HMC 4th Rep. 84.
- 31. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 40; 1640-1, pp. 94-5; Vis. Beds. 194; C2/Chas.I/S37/30.
- 32. C2/Chas.I/F29/68; CSP Dom. 1640, p. 177; 1640-1, p. 95.
- 33. CSP Dom. 1638-9, pp. 166-7, 170; HMC 4th Rep. 84; Clarendon, ii. 369-70.
- 34. CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 40; 1640-1, pp. 94-5; LJ, iv. 249a.
- 35. Clarendon, ii. 370; HMC 4th Rep. 84, 90, 97; HMC 5th Rep. 14-15, 24, 26-7, 30.
- 36. Clarendon, ii. 370; P. Young, Edgehill, 268, 278, 288, 294, 297.