ST. JOHN, Sir Oliver (c.1559-1630), of Battersea, Surr. and Wharton House, Cannon Row, Westminster.

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



1604 - 22 Nov. 1606

Family and Education

b. c.1559, 2nd s. of Nicholas St. John† (d.1589)1 of Lydiard Tregoze, Wilts. and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Richard Blount† of Mapledurham, Oxon.2 educ. Trin., Oxf. 1577, aged 18; New Inn; L. Inn 1580.3 m. c.1593, Joan (bur. 10 Mar. 1631),4 da. and h. of Henry Roydon of Battersea, wid. of Thomas Holcroft† of Battersea, s.p.5 kntd. 28 Feb. 1600;6 cr. Visct. Grandison of Limerick [I] 3 Jan. 1621; Bar. Tregoze of Highworth 21 May 1626.7 d. 30 Dec. 1630.8

Offices Held

Cornet 1591-3;9 capt. of ft. [I] 1599-d., col. 1599-1603.10

J.p. Surr. 1593-1605, by 1621-d., Mdx. by 1621-d.;11 commr. maimed soldiers, Mdx. 1593,12 levies, Surr. 1597,13 oyer and terminer, the Marshalsea 1597,14 the Verge 1604-11;15 freeman, Portsmouth, Hants 1604,16 Galway [I] 1611,17 Roscommon [I] 1612,18 Bristol 1628;19 commr. plantation, Ulster 1608, co. Wexford 1614, co. Longford 1619, co. Londonderry 1624;20 v.-pres. Connaught [I] 1610-16;21 v.-adm. Connaught 1615-27;22 commr. sewers, Surr. and Kent 1624-5,23 Forced Loan, Mdx. 1626-7,24 boundaries of Tower liberties 1626,25 oyer and terminer, London 1629, Home circ. 1629-d.26

Gent. pens. c.1595-1605;27 master of the Ordnance [I] 1605-14; PC [I] 1605-d.;28 lord dep. [I] 1616-22;29 PC 1622-d.;30 commr. exacted fees 1622, 1627, 1630,31 alum works 1624;32 member, Council of War 1624-d.,33 High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1625-d.;34 lord treas. [I] 1625-d.;35 commr. recognizances [I] 1625,36 Persian trade 1625,37 Irish affairs 1627,38 poor relief 1630.39

MP [I] 1613-15.40


The second son of a cadet branch of the extensive St. John family, this Member originally intended to enter the legal profession; but in 1584 his hot temper involved him in a fatal duel, and he was obliged to flee the country.41 Instead he trained as a soldier, and served with distinction as a ‘brave, discreet, and honest’ cornet under the 2nd earl of Essex at the siege of Rouen in 1591.42 St. John then fought in Ireland, where his kinsman Lord Mountjoy (Sir Charles Blount†) was lord deputy, and became the latter’s most trusted henchman. A frequent carrier of messages between London and Dublin, he brought to King James the news of Tyrone’s surrender in 1603, and was rewarded with a pension of £182 10s.43

St. John remained in close touch with Mountjoy, created 1st earl of Devonshire in the new reign, consulting Sir Robert Cotton* on his behalf about the arrangement of Mountjoy’s library at Wanstead, for instance.44 It was Devonshire, by that time governor of Portsmouth, who arranged for St. John to represent the latter town in James’s first Parliament.45 The appointments St. John received included committees to consider the grievances brought in by Sir Edward Montagu (23 Mar. 1604); to draft an address on the controversial Buckinghamshire election (27 Mar.); and to restore Essex’s heir to his estates (2 April).46 St. John’s main concern was for his fellow officers in the Irish army. In ‘an excellent speech’ on 26 Mar. he outlined their services and hardships, and moved for a committee, to which he was himself named.47 Pressing the matter on 24 May, he warned that without relief they might be obliged to ‘turn to the Spaniard’.48 When the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, reminded the House of the veterans’ plight again on 12 June, St. John said that an extraordinary grant of £20,000 had been proposed in committee, to be raised by a levy on alehouses, a surcharge on the subsidy, a tax on lawyers, or a contribution from both Houses. Yet, despite the king’s recommendation, the Commons declined to enact a measure which might establish a precedent, contenting itself instead with an address promising support for a voluntary scheme, which was voted on 20 June.49

St. John’s other interests in the Commons included the Union with Scotland, on which he was appointed to a conference with the Lords on 14 April. Four days later he urged a further meeting, pointing out that the Scottish Parliament had already consented to the Union, and was among those chosen to marshal objections to adopting the style ‘Great Britain’ (18 April).50 It was probably St. John who spoke on 20 Apr. in support of a bill to remove benefit of clergy for stabbing, and after its first reading moved for a clause to prevent duelling; he was subsequently appointed to the committee (25 April).51 He was granted privilege on 8 May in respect of a subpoena in Chancery in a family lawsuit.52 Among his other committees were those for bills to naturalize the Scottish favourite Sir George Home (18 May), and to confirm the queen’s jointure (24 May).53 On 1 June he was a participant in heated debates about the proposed reform of wardship.54 He also spoke in the debate of 20 June on the Commons’ Form of Apology and Satisfaction to James, but the substance of his contribution went unrecorded.55

Appointed master of the Irish Ordnance on 12 Dec. 1605, doubtless at Devonshire’s request, St. John does not seem to have taken up his post for some four months, maintaining a high level of parliamentary activity for most of the second session.56 On 30 Jan. 1606 he was appointed to consider the purveyors’ bill, subsequently speaking for the interests of Middlesex on 18 March.57 He was named to a conference on recusancy (3 Feb.), and was one of those charged with considering how to prevent Englishmen taking service with Spain (6 February).58 His legislative committees also included bills concerning pluralities (5 Mar.); church attendance (19 Mar.); and ecclesiastical government (1 April).59 In the supply debate of 25 Mar. he urged, ‘he that giveth, let him give freely’, moving for payment of one subsidy and two fifteenths by Michaelmas, and two more subsidies in the next two years.60 Only 234 Members were then in the House, and the next day he suggested that all those present should summon their absent friends to return by a certain date, on which the Commons should be called. As a precedent, he alleged that the 1571 Parliament had been called fortnightly.61 His last committee appointment, for a bill concerning the lands of Sir Christopher Hatton*, was on 4 Apr., and he probably left England soon afterwards.62 At the beginning of the third session his absence was referred to the privileges committee, and on 22 Nov. it was resolved that his Irish appointment, which was for life, precluded his continuance as a Member.63

The marriage of St. John’s niece to Sir Edward Villiers* brought him into the Buckingham circle, and helped him to procure, in 1616, the post of lord deputy of Ireland, to the surprise of many at Court.64 His rigorous enforcement of the laws against Roman Catholics there led to frequent rumours of his recall.65 In 1621 he was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick, but despite James’s assertion that it was ‘a glory to have such a servant’ he was soon afterwards replaced by Viscount Falkland (Sir Henry Carey I*).66 Nevertheless St. John suffered no disgrace upon his return to England, where he was immediately appointed to the Privy Council. In the new reign, as a member of the Council of War, he was called before the Commons to defend the Council’s proceedings (3 Mar. 1626), but with Charles’s support he declined to be interrogated, and was given an English peerage.67 He bought the manor of Battersea from the Crown in 1627, rebuilding the manor house and contracting with Nicholas Stone for a suitably handsome monument in the parish church.68 He made his will on 16 Dec. 1630, and died peacefully a fortnight later.69 His widow died within three months, leaving his property, including an alphabetically catalogued library, to his nephew Sir John St. John*. His Irish titles passed through the Villiers line, but the English barony died with him.70 His portrait, by Cornelius Janssen, painted in around 1622, survives at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. PROB 11/75, f. 21v.
  • 2. Vis. Wilts. (Harl. Soc. cv and xvi), 168.
  • 3. Al. Ox.; LI Admiss.
  • 4. J.G. Taylor, Our Lady of Batersey, 69.
  • 5. Ibid. 46, 159.
  • 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 98.
  • 7. CP, vi. 74-5.
  • 8. C142/472/94; PROB 11/159, f. 1.
  • 9. APC, 1591-2, p. 277; 1592, p. 66; 1593, p. 416.
  • 10. APC, 1599-1600, p. 6; F. Moryson, Itinerary, ii. 293, 336, iii. 42, 146, 249; CSP Ire. 1599-1600, pp. 479, 489; 1601-3, p. 487; 1625-32, p. 595.
  • 11. Hatfield House ms 278; C193/13/1, ff. 62, 94; C231/4, f. 150; C66/2527.
  • 12. APC, 1593, p. 160.
  • 13. APC, 1597-8, p. 254.
  • 14. C231/1, f. 46.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 93v, 117v; C181/2, ff. 13v, 108v.
  • 16. Portsmouth Recs. 347.
  • 17. HMC 10th Rep. V, 464.
  • 18. CSP Ire. 1611-14, p. 292.
  • 19. Bristol RO, 04264/3, f. 4.
  • 20. CSP Carew, 1603-24, pp. 13, 301; CSP Ire. 1615-25, pp. 263, 515.
  • 21. CSP Ire. 1608-10, p. 481; APC, 1615-16, p. 556.
  • 22. HCA 49/106, packet A, no. 73; CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 207; Add. 37817 f. 16.
  • 23. C181/3, ff. 114v, 161.
  • 24. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 435; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 141.
  • 25. APC, 1626, p. 355.
  • 26. C181/4, ff. 13, 15, 34v, 60.
  • 27. LC2/4/4, f. 60; E407/1/36, 37.
  • 28. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 373; 1611-14, p. 491.
  • 29. CSP Ire. 1615-25, pp. 128, 350; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 620.
  • 30. APC, 1621-3, p. 266.
  • 31. APC, 1621-3, p. 325; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 168; 1629-31, p. 237.
  • 32. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 204.
  • 33. CJ, i. 774b; Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 18; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 214; 1625-6, p. 328.
  • 34. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 351.
  • 35. Rymer, viii. pt. 1, p. 128.
  • 36. CSP Ire. Addenda, 1625-60, p. 294.
  • 37. CSP Dom. 1625-6, p. 19.
  • 38. CSP Ire. 1625-32, p. 200.
  • 39. Rymer, viii. pt. 3, p. 148.
  • 40. CSP Ire. 1611-14, pp. 401-3; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, ii. 128.
  • 41. HMC 7th Rep. 639; Taylor, 152.
  • 42. HMC Hatfield, vi. 570; T. Coningsby, ‘Jnl. Siege of Rouen’ ed. J.G. Nichols in Cam. Misc. I (Cam. Soc. xxxix) pt. 4, p. 48.
  • 43. Chamberlain Letters, i. 193; Cecil Letters to Carew ed. J. Maclean (Cam. Soc. lxxxviii), 145; Lansd. 156, f. 122.
  • 44. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 327.
  • 45. Portsmouth Recs. 346.
  • 46. CJ, i. 151b, 154b, 156b, 162a.
  • 47. HMC Buccleuch, iii. 82; CJ, i. 152b, 153a.
  • 48. CJ, i. 979b.
  • 49. Ibid. 237b, 243a.
  • 50. Ibid. 172a, 176b, 950a.
  • 51. Ibid. 952a, 956b.
  • 52. Ibid. 203a, 968b.
  • 53. Ibid. 213b, 224a.
  • 54. Ibid. 230b.
  • 55. Ibid. 243b.
  • 56. CSP Ire. 1603-6, p. 373.
  • 57. CJ, i. 262a, 286a.
  • 58. Ibid. 263a, 264b.
  • 59. Ibid. 277b, 286b, 291b.
  • 60. Ibid. 289b.
  • 61. Bowyer Diary, 94.
  • 62. Ibid. 293b.
  • 63. CJ, i. 316a, 323b, 324a; Bowyer Diary, 186, 188.
  • 64. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 364.
  • 65. Ibid. 427; HMC Ancaster, 393; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 193, 380, 471.
  • 66. CSP Ire. 1615-25, pp. 312, 334; Addenda, 1625-70, pp. 345, 350, 353.
  • 67. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 89; Procs. 1626, ii. 186, 239, 242-3.
  • 68. Taylor, 67-69, 171-2.
  • 69. PROB 11/159, f. 1; C142/472/94.
  • 70. CP, vi. 74-5.