ST. JOHN, Francis (c.1634-1705), of Thorpe Hall, nr. Peterborough, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1634, 1st s. of Oliver St. John, l.c.j.c.p., of Keysoe, Beds. and Thorpe Hall by 1st w. Joanna, da. and h. of Sir James Altham of Markshall, Latton, Essex. educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1648; L. Inn, entered 1648, called 1656. m. (1) Mary, da. and h. of Dionise Wakering of Wakering Hall, Essex, 1s. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 14 May 1674, Mary, da. of Dannet Forth, Brewer, of London, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1673.1
Commr. for charitable uses, Peterborough 1656, feoffee for town lands 1656-83; j.p. Peterborough 1657-Oct. 1660, Northants. and Peterborough by 1701-d.; commr. for assessment, Northants. 1657, 1679-80, militia, Essex 1659, Northants. Mar. 1660; conservator, Bedford level 1666-7.2
Commr. for trade 1656-7.
St. John’s father, from an obscure branch of the Bletsoe family, won fame as counsel for the defence of John Hampden in the ship-money case and as the remorseless prosecutor of Strafford in 1641. An Independent in religion, he became chief justice of the common pleas in 1648, but took no part in the trial of the King. As a sitting tenant he bought the manor of Longthorpe, two miles from Peterborough at the sale of church lands, and built Thorpe Hall at the cost of £40,000. St. John himself had become a royalist agent by 1659, when he was described as ‘a man of sharp understanding, great industry, temperance and prudence’. These qualities were insufficient to offset his father’s unpopularity among his tenants at Peterborough in the general election of 1660; he was returned after gross irregularities with the roll of voters, and unseated in favour of Lord le Despenser (Charles Fane) without having taken part in the business of the Convention. His father was deprived of civic rights at the Restoration, and fled abroad in 1662; but the dean and chapter allowed him to renew his lease of Longthorpe. St. John also remained a dissenter, holding no local office except for one assessment commission between October 1660 and the Revolution, though his estate was valued at £1,200 p.a. A keen student of history, he built up a fine library on this subject.3
St. John regained his seat in the Exclusion Parliaments, and he was marked ‘honest’ on Shaftesbury’s list. Moderately active in 1679, he may have served on five committees, including those for the continuance of the Irish Cattle Act and for hearing complaints against the excise farmers, and he voted for the exclusion bill. He was less active in the second Exclusion Parliament, though he was probably added on 26 Nov. 1680 to the committee to examine the proceedings of the judges in Westminster Hall, and at Oxford he may have been appointed to the committee of elections and privileges and included among the Members instructed to inspect the Journals relating to Danby’s impeachment. In the list of Northamptonshire Whigs in 1682, he was described as a dangerous man. Next year he was presented as disaffected by the grand jury, and forced to resign his trusteeship of the Peterborough town lands to Charles Orme. Nothing is known of his attitude to James II’s wooing of the dissenters in 1687-8. Presumably he welcomed the Revolution, but he did not regain his seat till 1698, and then only for one Parliament. He died on 29 July 1705 and was buried in St. John the Baptist, Peterborough, the last of this branch of the family to sit in Parliament.4