ST. JOHN, Henry II (1678-1752), of Bucklebury, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 16 Sept. 1678, 1st s. of Henry St. John I* by his 1st w. educ. ?Eton 1692, travelled abroad (France, Switzerland, Italy) 1698–9; Padua Univ. 1699. m. (1) 22 May 1701, Frances (d. 1718), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Winchcombe, 2nd Bt.*, s.p.; (2) May 1720, Marie Claire (d. 1750), da. of Armand des Champs, seigneur de Marcilly and wid. of Philip le Valois De Villette, s.p. cr. Visct. Bolingbroke, 7 July 1712, Earl of Bolingbroke in Jacobite peerage, 26 July 1715; suc. fa. 8 Apr. 1742.1
Commr. public accts. 1702–4, building 50 new churches 1712–15.2
Sec. at war 1704–8; PC, 21 Sept. 1710; sec. of state (northern dept.) Sept. 1710–Aug. 1713, (southern dept.) Aug. 1713–30 Aug. 1714; envoy to France Aug.–Sept. 1712.3
Dir. S. Sea Co. 1711–15.
Ld. lt. Essex, Oct. 1712–Jan. 1715; recorder, Harwich, Dec. 1712–Aug. 1715.4
Sec. of state to Pretender, July 1715–16.
The ‘man of mercury’, St. John was one of the most brilliant figures in Queen Anne’s House of Commons. Contemporaries and historians alike have found the interplay between his prodigious ability and flawed personality a source of fascination. Swift trumpeted his talents by proclaiming a
mind . . . adorned with the choicest gifts that God hath yet thought fit to bestow upon the children of men, a strong memory, a clear judgment, a vast range of wit and fancy, a thorough comprehension, an invincible eloquence, with a most agreeable elocution.
However, others doubted the uses to which these gifts were put, Dr Stratford questioning in 1713 ‘of how little use the greatest parts are to one void of all sense of honour and religion’. Throughout, an air of superficiality pervaded St. John’s actions, making it appear that he lacked ‘bottom’ and defeating historians’ attempts to find a consistency of principle behind his dashing career.5
The marriage, in about 1649, of St. John’s paternal grandparents, Sir Walter St. John, 3rd Bt.*, and Johanna, daughter of Oliver St. John†, the Cromwellian lord chief justice, represented a rapprochement between two branches of a family hitherto rent apart by Civil War. Sir Walter was a member of the Church of England, but his wife continued after 1660 to patronize Dissenting divines, such as Dr Thomas Manton. Until his father remarried in 1687, St. John’s grandparents probably played an important role in his upbringing, following the death of his mother a few days after his birth. What effect the libertine behaviour of his father had on St. John is unknown, although his own rakish behaviour could have been copied from the parental example. Mystery, too, attaches to his education. Looking back from 1720, St. John himself was not entirely satisfied by his experience, ‘daily observation upon myself’ having convinced him that no moment should be lost in the education of the young. This may reflect either a late start to his formal education or its disruption owing to serious illnesses. Alternatively, it may have been a comment on the kind of education he had received, since he later wrote that reading Dr Manton had ‘taught my youth to yawn, and prepared me to be an High Churchman’. This, in turn, suggests that his grandmother may have engaged various private tutors of a Nonconformist hue to supervise his early learning. The course of St. John’s later education is also unclear. He may have been the St. John admitted into Eton in 1692, aged 14, before one of his bouts of illness, and his later comment, apropos of his eldest half-brother, then aged about 15, could be taken to imply that he attended the school: that it was
late for him to go thither unless he has been instructed according to the method of that school. I remember the pain it cost me to fall into that method and to overtake those in points of form, who were behind me in knowledge of the Latin tongue.
However, this could just as easily be taken as a reference to more unconventional schooling at a Dissenting academy. One source has him attending at Sheriffhales, but unfortunately it also lists Robert Harley* who was not a pupil. The only certain fact is that he completed his education with a grand tour, spent in the company of other aspiring politicians such as James Stanhope* and Edward Hopkins*. His movements abroad can be traced through his correspondence with Sir William Trumbull*, whom he flatteringly claimed to have chosen ‘for my pattern, and being resolved to draw as good a copy as I can after so excellent an original’. St. John eschewed political comment in his letters to Trumbull except for allusions to classical virtue and criticism of the luxury of Charles II’s reign. In 1702, Hopkins denounced St. John’s conduct in the Commons for being ‘diametrically opposite to the principles he professed with vehemence when abroad’, a volte-face Hopkins attributed to ‘the chiefs of the party opposite to the Court, [who] by buoying up his vanity, of which he was very susceptible, had gained him to that side’. If Hopkins may be believed, St. John had originally expressed an attachment to the then fashionable tenets of Country Whiggism, derived as they were from classical republicanism and religious Dissent, but had calculated that his beliefs tallied more closely with the emerging Country Toryism of the time. One thing was soon to be revealed: from the outset of his parliamentary career in February 1701, St. John sought to articulate the concerns of the young High Church Tories and quickly became, as Bagehot put it, ‘the eloquent spokesman of many inaudible persons’.6
St. John’s appearance on a list of those Members likely to support the Court in 1701 over the ‘Great Mortgage’ demonstrated his desire to support as far as possible the new Tory ministry. He was certainly very active for a new Member, and was keen to attack the previous Whig administration, being appointed on 1 Apr. to the committee preparing articles of impeachment against the Earl of Portland. This committee became the key body entrusted with all the business of the impeachments, and associated conferences, thereby propelling St. John immediately to the centre of parliamentary events after only two months in the chamber. Following the votes on 14 Apr. to impeach Lords Somers (Sir John*), Halifax (Charles Montagu*), and Orford (Edward Russell*), St. John acted as a teller on the 15th, in favour of an address to the King asking him to remove Somers ‘from his Council and presence forever’. When the Whigs sought to amend this address on 16 Apr., to include a specific commitment to ‘prevent the ill consequences that seem to threaten the peace of Europe and the interest and trade of this nation by the present union of France and Spain’, St. John acted as a teller against the motion, no doubt because the Tories wished to maintain the peace, if at all possible. However, he was not unaware of the French threat to England, as was seen by his contribution to the debate on 9 May in which he supported the Dutch plea for assistance (itself backed by the King) through a judicious use of one of Aesop’s fables to stress the need for unity, noting ‘that we were like a bundle of faggots . . . easily broke stick by stick, but when bound up together not so easily broken’. On 21 May St. John reported from a committee set up to examine a petition concerning the recovery of estates and revenues being put to superstitious uses, that the projectors interviewed had proved their case and that a bill should be introduced to encourage further discoveries. St. John was ordered to prepare the resultant legislation, but the addition by the Commons of an instruction that any estates recovered be used for the benefit of Greenwich Hospital rather than the projectors, probably explains why the bill failed to progress beyond its first reading. After negotiations over financial details which had been in progress since at least January 1701, St. John married on 22 May at the height of the parliamentary session. However, he did not regard this event as constituting a major hindrance to his duties as an MP, informing Trumbull on 26 May that although he could not send him an account of events in the Commons, ‘tomorrow is the last day I sacrifice to form’. The Journals support St. John’s contention, recording that he was in the chamber on the 27th when appointed to a committee on a private bill. On 4 June, he intervened in a debate on the report of a committee appointed to consider a message from the Lords requesting that the impeachments of Halifax and Portland be proceeded with more quickly. In support of the Tory view embodied in the Commons’ answer that the Lords’ message was ‘without precedent and unparliamentary’, St. John ‘said the honour of the House was concerned which was worth a thousand of us, and more warm stuff’. By this time St. John had emerged as a leading spokesman for the impeachment committee: indeed on 13 June he was deputed to report from the impeachments committee concerning the dispute between the Houses. On this occasion Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, described him as ‘a forwardly young fellow of a great estate whom the angry party have blooded [?with] taking notice of him’. Before the end of the session St. John had acted as a teller on two further occasions. On 14 June he revealed his Country inclinations, as he told against a successful amendment to the supply bill on low wines which respited the sale of Irish forfeited estates. The second tellership, on the 20th, was more a party matter, as he joined with other Tories to pass a motion that blamed any future ill consequences caused by a delay in voting supply on those Whig lords who had sought to embroil the two Houses in a dispute over the impeachments.7
St. John was clearly perturbed at the way the political wind was blowing towards the Whigs by the summer of 1701. On 22 June he wrote to Trumbull of ‘the disorderly condition of our Parliament affairs and the unaccountable game that is played at court’. He saw the influence of the King behind the tactics employed by the Lords: otherwise it would have been incomprehensible that ‘his servants and his pensioners’ should have delayed the money bills and caused the postponement of the King’s journey to Holland. Unless more Tories were brought into the ministry, St. John predicted that ‘the old rogues will ride us once more and those that are now called the new ministry will be their sacrifice’. This analysis complemented St. John’s view that the Whigs had worked hard to widen the breach between the Houses in order to persuade the King to dissolve Parliament. Contrary to Cocks’s belief, St. John did not possess a ‘great estate’, merely the prospect of one on the deaths of his father, grandfather and father-in-law. Indeed, so straitened were his circumstances at this time that he discussed with Trumbull the prospect of a diplomatic post. However, he felt unable to leave England for fear that the death of his ailing father-in-law during his absence would allow his wife’s family to defraud him in some way. Such thoughts also ruled out a visit to Hanover, where he might hope to ingratiate himself and thus lay ‘the foundation of a future fortune’. Furthermore, he risked being stranded if the King invited the Hanoverian heir to reside in England. By the time St. John wrote to Trumbull on 24 Aug. 1701, the logic of his affairs had propelled him towards seeking office at home, although ‘it would vex a man to learn with pain and trouble how to serve his country, and yet not be able to do it’, which, he thought, seemed to be the fate of ‘those few that are honest in public station’. By mid-September, St. John’s mind turned towards the approaching parliamentary session. He commended Sir Humphrey Mackworth’s* pamphlet on the preceding session, Vindication of the Proceedings of the House of Commons, which ‘contains a great deal of plain truth’. On the prospects for the ministry he pronounced gloomily, ‘a coach may as well be driven with unequal wheels as our government be carried on with such a mixture of hands’, before pondering on the next step to take against the impeached Whig peers. At the end of October he thought he saw ‘the strong convulsions of a dying party’, and was therefore shocked and indignant when Parliament was dissolved on 11 Nov., particularly as the accompanying proclamation recounted the King’s desire ‘to meet a Parliament of good Englishmen and Protestants’ which he felt sent some outgoing Members ‘into the country with libels affixed to our backs’. This was indeed the intention of the Whigs, who published a black list of those Members, including St. John, who had opposed preparations for war with France. In a foretaste of the views he would develop after 1708, St. John blamed the dissolution on the Dutch and their ‘modern Whig’ allies, who wished to enter the war ‘upon the same foot as the last’.8
St. John was returned again for Wootton Bassett in December 1701, and duly listed with the Tories in Harley’s analysis of the election results. On 26 Dec. St. John informed Harley that he would be returning to London by the 28th. The significance of this exchange was made clear on the opening day of the new session, on 30 Dec., when St. John seconded Harley’s nomination as Speaker, thereby cementing a friendship which seems to have begun socially only the previous October. The general election had unexpectedly left the parties evenly balanced in the new Parliament, so the Tories vied with the Whigs to demonstrate their loyalty to the King. St. John played his part by seconding a motion on 9 Jan. 1702 for leave to introduce a bill for the further security of the King and the Protestant succession, the main provision of which was the imposition of a compulsory abjuration oath, as opposed to the voluntary oath embodied in a parallel bill being promoted by the Whigs in the Lords. St. John was prepared to divide against his erstwhile travelling companion, Edward Hopkins, when the disputed Coventry election came before the House on 24 Feb., and the following day he voted for an unsuccessful motion that the King’s Whig favourite, the Earl of Romney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) should repay two-thirds of the purchase money paid him for the Irish forfeited estate he had been granted (bills relating Irish forfeitures accounted for another five of his tellerships during the session). St. John was also ready to fly the party flag on more general matters, even to the extent of reopening the divisive disputes of the previous session. Thus, on 26 Feb., in a committee of the whole on ‘the rights, liberties and privileges of the House’, Cocks described how
that young firebrand St. John stood up and in Jack Howe’s* usual place made a flaming oration of the great good qualities of the last Parliament, of what great things they had done for the kingdom and how necessary it was to justify them in the matters of the impeachments and to assert our own rights to impeachments,
ending with a motion that ‘the House of Commons had not right done them in the matter of the impeachments in the last Parliament’. Another Tory, Thomas Coke, duly seconded and a debate of six hours ensued before the motion was defeated by 235 votes to 221, in the largest division recorded in William III’s reign. St. John’s name duly appeared on the ‘white list’ of that division produced by the Tory press. On 4 Mar. he attended an important Tory dinner in company with Hon. James Brydges*, Arthur Moore*, Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, and Coke, at which he was one of six Members slated to stand in the ballot held on 17 Mar. for commissioners of accounts. He was duly elected in fourth place. He acted in another party cause on 17 Mar., as a teller against the motion declaring the Whig John Thornhagh* to be duly elected for East Retford. A hint that some contemporaries at least perceived an ambitious side to his nature came on 19 Mar. when a rider was added to the public accounts bill that no commissioner should accept another place. Cocks noted that ‘most thought Brydges and St. John not well pleased with it’. William III’s death did not alter St. John’s suspicions of the Dutch, so it was with mild surprise that he informed Trumbull on 16 Mar. that the resolutions passed by the Commons on that occasion had resulted in their not ‘showing any slackness or consternation’, but rather renewed vigour. St. John’s penchant for political point-scoring in debate showed up again during the exchanges which followed the Queen’s speech on 30 Mar. The Tories used this occasion to make a pointed comparison between the Queen’s Englishness and the national allegiance of her predecessor. When Lord Spencer (Charles*) objected to such reflections and accused King William’s critics of having ‘French hearts’, St. John neatly turned the tables on him by replying ‘Qui capit ille facit’, a clear reference to Spencer’s father, the Earl of Sunderland. Keenly partisan as ever, St. John contributed on 9 Apr. to the division on the chairmanship of the committee of the whole on the bill appointing commissioners to negotiate a union with Scotland, by seconding Hon. Henry Boyle* who was chosen in preference to Sir Rowland Gwynne*. On 18 Apr., during a debate on Irish forfeitures, St. John again expressed Tory antipathy to Sunderland, whose arrival in London was presumed to presage a return to influence at court. According to Cocks, St. John
thought by his youthful heat to awe that cunning old minister, ‘Sir’ says [he] ‘I am for taking great care of the Protestants and I abominate those men that have forsaken their religion and thought that they could dissemble with God, that it was a scandal to that government that employed such men’.
A second source confirmed the tenor of this attack, noting that ‘Mr St. John, a young gentleman that hath a good opinion of his own faculty of speaking, and speaks often at all adventures, said in Parliament a man that had denied his God in another reign was trying to insinuate himself’. On 28 Apr. St. John came to the aid of Speaker Harley, when he was bullied by the Tory John Manley* who resented being made to wait before making a committee report. He suggested that Manley withdraw from the chamber, preparatory to further action, whereupon Manley apologized. On the following day, in another anti-executive manoeuvre, he acted as a teller against an amendment to the bill encouraging privateers, which safeguarded the rights and perquisites of the warden of the Cinque Ports and the officers of the court of Admiralty. St. John was thwarted on 2 May in his attempt to second an address of thanks to the Queen for communicating to the House the conditions under which the allies would declare war against France, when the Speaker recognized Lord Coningsby (Thomas*) instead. St. John ended his second session with a reputation as a fierce advocate of the Tory cause. His diligence in this respect, coupled with his consequent neglect of his young wife, prompted at least one wit to lampoon him by means of a fake petition from his wife’s grandmother, Lady (Frances) Winchcombe, and his own grandmother, Lady St. John, representing St. John’s wife as a grievous sufferer by her husband’s ‘vocal endeavours to serve this House, by which his strength and vigour is exhausted’; as a remedy he was ‘enjoined [to] silence till his wife finds relief’.9
St. John appears to have been remarkably sanguine at the prospect of the new reign, even if this meant war, going so far as to profess in June 1702,
so great an inclination in myself to be a courtier now, that I should desire extremely for the Queen’s honour to see . . . that power reduced and that pride abased which our late hero contributed . . . more to raise than all the policy of France.
His only qualms were that unscrupulous ministers might increase their estates at the Queen’s expense. A few days later, on 20 June, his mood was more uncertain: ‘trimming goes on at court’, he wrote, ‘or to speak more truly, Sunderland, weighty with sin, is got into the balance and sinks it down on the Whig side’, although, in a comment suggestive of Harley’s influence, he also expressed the hope that the Queen would not be ‘exposed to all the uneasiness which two contending parties must give her’. By mid-July St. John was probably in London, in order to form a quorum of the commission of accounts, but this work may have been interrupted by the general election in August, which saw him re-elected for Wootton Bassett and optimistic that the results would provide an opportunity to ‘heal the wounds our constitution has suffered of late years’. By 14 Aug., no doubt as a reaction to his investigations into the nation’s accounts, he was railing against the ‘knavery and trifling of [Lords] Ranelagh [Richard Jones*] and Orford’, while expressing concern at the exodus of young Whigs to Hanover (once his own plan) which, if not countered, ‘we shall have just reason to apprehend their succeeding to this crown’. While playing the courtier by accompanying the Queen on a visit to Oxford, St. John received a doctorate, a tribute to his precocious abilities, but an award that he admitted, put ‘a banter upon all learning’. More pointedly he likened the distinction to ‘making Somerset president of a council, Keppel a peer and a Knight of the Garter [and] Tenison an archbishop. Honour, religion, politics and learning are all prostituted.’ By early October he was preoccupied with politics and impatient for the arrival of the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†). St. John had been alarmed by the actions of some of Marlborough’s ‘creatures’ in disavowing certain steps taken by the ministry. Much depended on the Earl’s ‘admirable good sense’, for he could become ‘the darling of good men’ or, alternatively, fail miserably as ‘he dances on a rope and many have fallen who were better fixed’.10
As might be expected in a man of St. John’s status, he was appointed on 23 Oct. 1702 to the committee to prepare the Address. When reported on the 26th this referred to Marlborough’s military exploits as having ‘retrieved the ancient honour and glory of the English nation’. The Whigs, perceiving a calculated slight on King William’s memory, suggested replacing the word ‘retrieved’ by ‘maintained’. Never one to miss an opportunity, St. John ‘stood up and owned it was a reflection and for that reason he desired it should be in, but not so much upon the late King as his ministers, who, he said, were the worst any prince ever had’. No doubt the large majority on his side of the question fuelled St. John’s optimism for on 3 Nov. he wrote to Trumbull that there was
notwithstanding all their peccadillos, an inclination in our ministry to pursue steadfastly the good and honour of England, and in the Parliament the same principle of reforming abuses and inviolably adhering to the interest of their country that are showed in our adversity.
Further evidence appeared the following day for his belief that a new reforming zeal stalked the Commons when he was one of those Members ordered to prepare a bill against occasional conformity. On 11 Nov. a report signed by the commissioners of accounts, including St. John, was presented to the Commons. It launched the long-heralded attack on the financial integrity of Lord Ranelagh, the paymaster-general, and disproved St. John’s belief, evinced in August 1702, that the hard work of the commissioners would meet with ‘an ungrateful return’. When the occasional conformity bill was presented on 14 Nov. St. John seconded the motion for a second reading. Following the bill’s relatively easy passage through the Commons, St. John’s next involvement with the measure occurred on 10 Dec. when he was appointed to a committee to consider one of the amendments made by the Lords. This same committee was ordered on 12 Dec. to draw up reasons for a conference on all the amendments disagreed to by the Commons, and then managed the conference with the Lords on the 17th. Thus one may assume that St. John was at the heart of Tory efforts to win the argument with the Lords over the occasional conformity bill, an inference confirmed by both his reappointment as one of the Commons’ managers on 11 Jan. 1703 and his role in reporting on 5 Feb. the proceedings of the marathon conference with the Lords held on 16 Jan. During this controversy, however, St. John was also concerned in other parliamentary affairs: on 16 Dec. 1702 he was appointed to the committee preparing an address against the grant from crown revenues to the newly created Duke of Marlborough, which he reported on the 18th. No doubt his concern for the public purse helped St. John secure re-election, with 254 votes, to the new commission of accounts, although he dropped to fifth place in the ballot. Buoyed up by this vote of confidence he launched the commission’s attack on Lord Halifax on 18 Jan. 1703, presenting an account of revenue and expenditure between 1700 and 1702. One of the report’s consequences was a vote on 27 Jan. that Halifax be prosecuted by the attorney-general for financial irregularities while teller of the Exchequer. In a final act of the session St. John supported the Tory position on 13 Feb. 1703 when he voted against agreeing to the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration.11
Although St. John sat for a Wiltshire borough it was plain by 1703 that his attentions were divided between the metropolis and his wife’s estate at Bucklebury, conveniently situated as it was for the capital. His political position in his adopted county of Berkshire was recognized in the spring of 1703 by his nomination to the county bench, even though his ailing father-in-law was still alive. During the summer of 1703 St. John remained broadly supportive of ministerial policy, and favourably disposed towards Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), of whom he wrote, ‘it’s a pity that he who cures so many diseases every day . . . in the very vitals of our government, should want health himself’. In a similar comment concerning Harley’s health, he incidentally let slip his own preference for London life when he observed that health and vigour were ‘the only good thing a man can go into the country for’.12
The death of St. John’s father-in-law on 5 Nov. 1703 may have delayed his arrival at Westminster for the new session. His name first appears in the Journals on 25 Nov., when he was ordered to assist in preparing another bill against occasional conformity, after delivering a ‘much admired’ speech. An anonymous correspondent of Trumbull provided some indication of St. John’s political associates at this time, including him in a ‘secret committee’ with many prominent country Tories such as Howe, Coke, Musgrave, Simon Harcourt I*, Mackworth, Robert Byerley* and James Grahme*, and asserting in particular that ‘while St. John pretends to be of the Duke of Marlborough’s party, he is his determined enemy, and that his seeming to be his friend does great hurt by deceiving many who else would not join with him’. This may have been no more than one way of reconciling St. John’s evident adulation for Marlborough with his fierce partisanship over issues like occasional conformity. St. John could certainly not be accused of seeking to calm political tempers, because on 18 Dec. he was appointed to search the Lords’ Journals for the proceedings concerning the persons recently arrested for plotting against the government, and particularly the manner in which prisoners of the crown had been transferred without royal leave into the custody of the Upper House. He reported the committee’s highly critical findings on 20 Dec. and was duly appointed to a committee to draw up an address condemning this invasion by the Lords of the royal prerogative, presenting it the following day in a manoeuvre designed to attack the Whig lords who had prompted the investigations into the so-called Scotch Plot. The need to devote some time to family estate matters probably explains the fortnight’s leave of absence granted him on 7 Jan. 1704.13
As might have been expected in mid-session, St. John was quick to return to the fray, being back in time to contribute to the debate on 26 Jan. 1704 on the resolutions of the committee of the whole on the Aylesbury election case. In particular, he supported the committee’s second resolution that ‘neither the qualification of any elector, or the right of any person elected, is cognizable or determinable elsewhere than before the Commons of England in Parliament assembled’, by refuting Lord Hartington’s (William Cavendish*) argument that this might enable the crown to increase its influence over the House. In St. John’s view, the opposite was the case: ‘I cannot think that the liberties of the people of England are safer in any hands below, or that the influence of the crown will be stronger here than in other courts.’ Although St. John took a partisan position on election disputes and on religious and constitutional issues, over the war he drew back from siding with his more extreme Tory friends. Thus, an attempt by the Tories on 29 Jan. to delay supply, by opposing a motion to go into a committee of the whole on an annuities bill, was defeated when St. John, Musgrave and Howe failed to support it, an incident which may have been crucial in ensuring that St. John drew back from the ‘high-flyers’ and moved towards Harley. St. John also gave notice of his ambitions when the House came to consider renewing the commission of accounts. His name was not on the list of those declared elected on 25 Feb. since both he and William Bromley II ‘were left out of the bill at their request . . . that they might be capable of better employments as is supposed’. St. John may have had an inkling of things to come as, on 4 Apr., almost immediately after the end of the session, he ‘kissed hands’ for the post of secretary at war.14
Reactions to St. John’s appointment were inevitably mixed. Bonet, the Prussian resident, simply noted his eloquent championship of the more ardent Tories. Boyer was more laudatory, describing him as ‘a gentleman of great parts, who had made himself no less famous in the polite and learned world by his ingenious composures, than by his eloquent and loyal speeches in the House of Commons’. Because St. John’s rise coincided with the fall of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) and Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, Tory reaction was less favourable. St. John was well aware of Tory unease, expressing the hope in a letter to Grahme that he was ‘not sorry for what has lately happened to me because you judge better of points than some of our people who are nebotical [sic nabothical] enough to be angry at those of their friends who think fit to come upon the stage and have their share at least in the power’. As time passed, and the ministry became steadily more Whiggish in tone and personnel, Tory criticism of the Harleyites for taking office and weakening the party became more marked. However, friends and clients of St. John were entitled to view the alteration in his circumstances somewhat differently. For Captain Richard Pope it was a subject of rejoicing, as now ‘we shall have a man of so good sense and manners to apply ourselves to, when affairs require it’. St. John brought to his office a capacity for hard work which he utilized to master his brief. As he wrote on 2 May to Trumbull, ‘till I have tumbled over all the books and papers in the office, and am out of the guardianship of my clerks, I cannot be easy. I go in leading strings till I know more of the business than they, and this is what in a months’s time I hope to bring about.’ St. John’s only complaint was that his predecessor, William Blathwayt*, remained in the old accommodation, while he had to work in ‘a little room in my clerk’s house in Scotland Yard’. His administrative abilities quickly impressed. On 2 July Godolphin wrote to Marlborough, ‘I am very glad you are so well pleased with Mr St. John’s diligence, and I am very confident he will never deceive you’. St. John was sanguine about the parliamentary prospects of the revamped ministry, especially as military success, allied to perseverance with present policies, would be sure to quell the ‘hoarse voice of faction’. He rejected the charge that the ministry, shorn of the likes of Nottingham, was now in the Whig interest. Indeed, he was sharply critical of those Tories removed from office since the start of the reign, who ‘struggled not for the Church of England party, but to vest the power in a cabal that styled themselves so’. Perceptively, St. John saw the main threat to harmony as a revival in the next session of the occasional conformity bill. His answer was to persuade Tories to delay raising the matter until times were more propitious, on the grounds that since the bill could not pass the Lords, to reintroduce it into the Commons would merely unite the Whigs and incur Tory resentment against the ministry. He also questioned the motives of the bill’s backers, characterizing them as people that ‘care not for the bill as such, but make use of the distress it will bring on her Majesty’s administration’. Such expressions of opinion by St. John were probably responsible for the view attributed to the Tory back-bencher Gilfrid Lawson* in August 1704 that St. John and Thomas Mansel I ‘have deserted the Church and are looked on as Whigs in the House of Commons’. By mid-August St. John felt confident enough to leave his office in London for Bucklebury where, he told Marlborough, ‘I am employed in improving my own private fortune, and laying the foundation of some interest in the country’. For the next two months he lived ‘a most unpleasant life’ in which the strain of working (most notably on the estimates for the approaching parliamentary session), and of negotiating a financial arrangement with his wife’s family, made him ill. Political prospects for the new session had darkened somewhat, as ‘there is inclination enough to do mischief, and there have been several meetings for this good purpose’, although St. John hoped ‘private feuds’ would be of no consequence.15
St. John arrived back in London ready for the scheduled resumption of Parliament in October 1704. To Coke he predicted, ‘it is most certain our patriots design some gallant thing to open the session with, and that is what, out of kindness to them, everyone should oppose’. St. John was alluding to the likelihood of a renewed attempt to penalize occasional conformity and to the threat that the promoters of the bill would attempt to ‘tack’ the bill to a supply measure. Not surprisingly, St. John was forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack on a list compiled by Harley on 30 Oct. However, his previous support for such bills probably explains Mrs Burnet’s identification of him in a letter to the Duchess of Marlborough as one who voted on 14 Nov. for leave to bring in the bill, though she added the disclaimer, ‘if there was no mistake’. She was almost certainly incorrect because St. John himself reported to Marlborough on the day’s events which culminated in the successful vote to introduce the bill: ‘I am sorry it was attempted, but still believe no ill consequence will happen from it. There are great endeavours used to promote a party for consolidating of it with a money bill, but four in five hundred are against anything of that kind.’ It would seem that St. John’s failure to support the bill also incurred some fierce Tory criticism because, on 19 Nov., Godolphin expressed to Harley the wish that both St. John and Harcourt ‘had been sensible a little sooner, that they must not expect any quarter from their old friends unless they go along with them in everything’. St. John did not vote for the Tack on 28 Nov. and immediately after the vote he wrote an animated letter to Marlborough detailing the rout of the Tackers. He now predicted a smooth session, despite threats to attack the passage of the Scottish act of security, ‘which attempt, like this today, can end in nothing but exposing their weakness, at the same time as it discovers their malice’. St. John’s other activities in the House reflect his ministerial role as secretary of war. This involved the presentation on 3 Nov. of the army estimates plus numerous other accounts and extraordinary expenses later in the month. On the legislative front St. John took charge of one departmental measure, a recruitment bill, which he managed through the Commons. Similarly, he gained leave on 25 Jan. 1705 for a bill punishing mutiny and desertion, false musters and for the better payment of the army and its quarters. However, after presenting this measure on 2 Feb. he left the management to William Lowndes*. Personal ties also brought more legislative tasks. On 20 Dec. 1704 he was ordered to prepare a naturalization bill for the wife of Brigadier William Cadogan*. He presented the bill the following day, but was prevented from taking the chair owing to the death of his grandmother, so he arranged for Coke to stand in his stead. On the more partisan matter of the Aylesbury election case, St. John was able to ‘seem most warm in the matter’ on 26 Feb., while marrying his attacks on the Whigs with a defence of the privileges of the Commons and righteous indignation at the threat posed to supply by a dispute between the Houses.16
Parliament was dissolved on 5 Apr. 1705, propelling St. John into a round of electioneering, even though his own seat at Wootton Bassett was uncontested. As secretary at war, and an intimate of Marlborough, he was to some extent responsible for upholding the Duke’s political interest, especially at Woodstock, where he and Harcourt were enjoined to support Cadogan. Although St. John could offer no support to Tackers, he did what he could for other Tories, even if opposed by Whig courtiers. Thus at Westminster he helped Sir Thomas Crosse* by alerting Marlborough to the use Sir Henry Dutton Colt* was making of supposed ducal backing. St. John thought both parties critical of the ministry: ‘the Tories look on themselves as abandoned, and the Whigs think their reward not proportionable to their merit, thus all party men are dissatisfied, and ever will be so under a wise administration’. When he came to analyse the election results for Marlborough, however, St. John calculated that only 32 Tackers had lost their seats. The survival of the rest he attributed to the fact that ‘few men attempt such rash measures, but such as are almost certain of being elected again, either by the prevalency of their party, or the absolute dependency of their corporations’. In early May St. John had complained of being very busy ‘with country business, elections, the court and the lawyers’, the latter probably proving the most taxing as he attempted to extract an agreement to raise money on his wife’s estates. By the end of the month he was contemplating a summer with little official business to transact and begging Coke to return, as ‘whoring flags without you’. Soon, however, he was unhappy to learn of the Court’s sponsorship of John Smith I for Speaker in the new Parliament, arguing that the cause of moderation would have been better served if an alternative ‘man could have been found whom the Whigs would have voted for, and who might have reconciled a great many of those people to him that may cease to be Tories but never can become Whigs’. But for St. John a trouble-free session essentially depended less on who was employed at home than upon Marlborough ‘working some more miracles to save us abroad’. Even now, he harboured deep suspicions of the Dutch, writing of his hope that they would agree to the Duke’s proposals, ‘without which the war becomes a jest to our enemies, and can end in nothing but an ill peace, which is certain to ruin us’. The beginning of September 1705 saw St. John soliciting accounts from Marlborough’s secretary, Adam de Cardonnel*, in order to facilitate the preparation of the estimates and in the hope of avoiding the experience of the previous year when he had been left to guess at some of the figures. The death early in September of his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Winchcombe, brought his wife an enlarged estate, but seems to have unsettled St. John himself, not least, perhaps, because his friend Coke had been one of her suitors. His melancholy tone extended to politics for he asked Coke whether the country gentlemen would support the ministry in the new Parliament, even though the Queen employed unpopular men. To St. John, the Queen was justified in so doing, having ‘been forced to it by the indiscretion of our friends’, a reference to the Tack, and now ‘she seems to throw herself on the gentlemen of England, who had much better have her at the head of ’em than any ringleaders of fashion’. While in London at the end of September, St. John was taken ‘very ill of an ague and fever’, which necessitated a period of convalescence at Bucklebury, but by 7 Oct. he felt well enough to complain to Harley about his lack of a proper office.17
St. John must have returned to London by the opening of the session, because on 25 Oct. 1705 he voted in favour of Smith as Speaker. His name also appears on a list of placemen, by virtue of his office of secretary at war, and in an analysis of the new Parliament where the designation ‘sneaker’ was applied, no doubt owing to his attitude to the Tack. Tory office-holders who declined to vote for Smith were earmarked for dismissal and St. John saw an opportunity to increase his competence over military matters by taking over some of the functions of George Clarke I*. Complaining to Harley of underemployment, St. John pointed out that ‘while the care of the forces abroad was in other hands, and Mr Clarke, as secretary to his Royal Highness, concerned himself with those at home, I could not think myself very well used’. As a result of his application he was reported early in November to have taken over Clarke’s responsibilities for the marines. St. John’s parliamentary activities continued the pattern established in the preceding session. A few weeks into the session he presented the estimates. St. John remained partisan on such questions as disputed elections, favouring Tories, and even Tackers, if a division was forced, as on 1 Dec. when he voted for Sir Samuel Garrard, 4th Bt.* Predictable complaints about his conduct came from the Whigs, on whom the Court was coming increasingly to depend. However, on other matters St. John could not be faulted: on 4 Dec., together with Harcourt, Boyle and Robert Walpole II, he helped avert the ‘Hanover motion’, an address asking for an invitation to the heir presumptive to reside in England. Likewise, St. John adhered to the Court line on 8 Dec. when the Commons voted to concur with a Lords’ resolution lambasting those who insinuated that the Church was in danger, as enemies of ‘the Queen, the Church and the kingdom’. Sir William Simpson singled out St. John and Harcourt over this division, noting that ‘considering how they talked and voted last session’, it was ‘no small drudgery’. Furthermore, as St. John was one of the Members appointed on 7 Dec. to manage the conference with the Lords at which the resolution was passed to the Lower House, it was entirely appropriate that he should act as a messenger and manage the conferences on the 14th at which the Lords’ address, grounded on the joint resolution, was communicated to the Commons and sent back in amended form to the Upper Chamber. Yet again, on 19 Dec., St. John chose to support the Court rather than side with the Tories, on this occasion backing a motion that words reflecting on the lord treasurer spoken by Charles Caesar* during the debate on the regency bill were ‘highly dishonourable to her Majesty’s person and government’. Furthermore, St. John was present on 6 Jan. 1706 at a dinner attended by Marlborough, Godolphin, Sunderland, Boyle and Smith, the aim of which was to reconcile Harley and Halifax. St. John again sided with the Court during the debates on 12 Jan. over whether an instruction should be given to the committee on the regency bill to receive a clause to make effective the place legislation enshrined in the Act of Settlement, opposing the instruction on the grounds that it would delay the regency bill’s passage and possibly wreck it. Three days later, in committee of the whole on the bill, he spoke in favour of retaining provision for the ‘immediate’ summoning of Parliament upon the monarch’s death. Not surprisingly, in view of his contribution to the debate on 12 Jan., he supported the Court on 18 Feb. in the divisions over the so-called ‘whimsical’ clauses. On 23 Jan. he was ordered to prepare a recruitment bill, covering army and marines, which he presented on the 28th and then, as in 1705, left its management to Lowndes. Much to the chagrin of the Whigs, on 19 Feb. St. John again showed his unwillingness to desert the Tories on election cases, voting in committee against appointing a day to consider the petition of the Whig candidate for Bewdley, a clear indication of his support for Salwey Winnington*, a longstanding associate of the Harley–Foley clan. St. John was probably able to ride out Whig criticism over his conduct on election cases because of his efforts on behalf of the Court at other times as, for example, on 8 Mar. when he was a teller for the ministerial majority in the division which condemned the pamphlet, A Letter from Sir Rowland Gwynne . . .18
The victory at Ramillies in May 1706 was greeted by St. John as having ‘crowned all his [Marlborough’s] glorious actions’. On the domestic front, St. John’s response to growing Whig pressure for offices was to try to stiffen Marlborough’s resistance to these partisan encroachments. At the end of June he wrote to the Duke about
some restless spirits who are falsely imagined to be heads of a party, who made much noise and have no real strength; that expect the Queen, crowned with success abroad and governing without blemish at home, should court them at the expense of her own authority, and support her administration by the same shifts that a vile and profligate one can only be kept up with. Nothing but unnecessary compliance can give these people strength, and their having that, is the greatest terror of those who are truly servants to the Queen.
In support of his analysis, St. John cited the insistence of the Whigs on the employment of ‘the scum of their own party’. In his discussions with men of less influence, such as Grahme, he affected a more relaxed air about his increasingly exposed political position: ‘a peace may be made and more leisure fall to my share, or I may happen to fall on the slippery ground of a court and roll down to this quiet place [Bucklebury]’. Another letter written during the summer of 1706 to Thomas Erle* attested to his pride in being able to master a frantic round of business and pleasure: ‘I got to town last night early, writ my letters, lay with my mistress, and after nine hours’ continued sleep, find myself in perfect health, so that I discover with great joy in your humble servant a constitution fit for one that is secretary to so many rakes.’ At least St. John’s trips to the country to see his neglected wife allowed him to gauge the political temperature of the country gentlemen, who, he reported to Marlborough in late August, ‘seem to be in a very good disposition at this time, and I think that a little care will keep them so’. It was probably during these visits to Bucklebury that St. John persuaded his wife to mortgage her estate at Colthorpe to James Brydges for £6,500, the first of a series of financial expedients by which he sought to pay for his hectic lifestyle.19
In the political manoeuvring which preceded the 1706–7 session, St. John pressed the case for an approach to the Tories, rather than a capitulation to Whig pressure. Even a temporary move to the Whigs he characterized as very dangerous, just as ‘a short-lived inundation may prove a lasting evil. The torrent may make such a havoc and leave such scars in a little time as years will not repair.’ He hoped for ‘a little more commerce with some gentlemen than has been of late kept up’, naming Bromley and (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (4th Bt.) as potential partners. All efforts were in vain, however, as early in December the Earl of Sunderland (formerly Lord Spencer) was appointed secretary of state. St. John’s role in the Commons did not change. On 7 Dec. 1706 he presented the estimates. Socially, he still mixed with Tories, and even non-jurors, as on 11 Jan. 1707 when he attended the funeral of Henry Grahme*. On 31 Jan. he was given the task of preparing the annual recruiting bill which on this occasion he managed through all its stages in the House. The months following the end of the 1706–7 session coincided with another push by the Junto to extort more places. St. John’s view that ‘the Court is now divided in more senses than one’ was considerably calmer than some of the alarmist reports of dismissals spread by Brydges. St. John was deeply engrossed in the problem of raising fresh troops for Spain in the wake of the defeat at Almanza, and also in pressing Marlborough and Godolphin for an increase in salary. Godolphin agreed, but only if this was made public, St. John, typically, having preferred it otherwise. Further evidence of his desperate need for more money, no matter how it was obtained, occurs in a letter written in September to Brydges regarding a military contract in which St. John stressed the need ‘when we report this matter, specially to my lord treasurer, to have his approbation thereof in authentic manner, otherwise we shall appear to have acted without a good voucher’.20
As was the established pattern, the opening of the 1707–8 session saw St. John present the estimates to the Commons on 15, 28 Nov. and 22 Dec. However, he was soon embroiled in efforts to recruit to the army, a particularly pressing problem, given the losses sustained in Spain. On 12 Jan. 1708 he moved for a committee of the whole to consider more effective methods of recruiting, stating that 15,000 men were required, a number beyond the powers of the existing statutes. The House scheduled a committee for 16 Jan. when St. John presented a detailed account of the numbers needed: 19,557 men were required, some 15,000 urgently.
The country gentlemen immediately called upon him for his expedient to raise the number proposed, which it was not thought proper to communicate at that time. This a little displeased several, who were dissatisfied likewise that this matter had not been laid before them much sooner.
Charges that St. John was grossly unprepared for this debate seem unfounded in view of his letter to Marlborough on 26 Sept. in which he identified the need to apply to Parliament for a new method of raising men. Indeed, it would seem that he knew what kind of measure was necessary, but was uncertain how the House would respond to a broader definition of those liable for recruitment. It was the effectiveness of the opposition, led by Peter King*, on this very point which forced the committee to adjourn until the 20th. On that day St. John’s idea, intimated as early as the debate on 12 Jan., that troops be raised proportionately throughout the kingdom, was narrowly defeated in committee, throwing the House back on variations on the idea of recruiting those men unable to secure a livelihood. It is noticeable that on 20 and 21 Jan. (when the committee reported) other speakers on the Court side were more effective. St. John may well have been preoccupied by another gathering crisis, namely the furore over the shortfall in the number of troops in Spain at the time of Almanza. It had all begun, innocuously enough, on 8 Dec. 1707, when a day was appointed to take into consideration the state of the war in Spain, and information was requested on the number of troops present in Spain at the time of the battle. On 13 Dec. St. John presented an account of the regiments then in Spain, but not the actual numbers of men, and he was still having difficulty acquiring the information during the Christmas recess. Finally, on 12 Jan. 1708, he informed the House that 8,660 men had been in Spain at the time of the battle. This figure became controversial once MPs had digested the accounts presented on 16 Jan. by Paymaster-General Brydges, showing that Parliament had paid for 29,395 troops for the Spanish theatre. The issue came to a head on the 29th when St. John was asked to explain the discrepancy ‘upon which the whole [Tory] party, and a few of the country Whigs began to grow warm’. He did what he could to fend off attacks, arguing that the figure of 8,660 ‘was the best account he could gather from the officers that were in town’, and that it excluded officers, prisoners and the sick. Unconvinced, the Tories introduced a motion stating that of the 29,395 troops provided by Parliament, only 8,660 had been in Spain and Portugal at the time of Almanza. The ministry only avoided defeat because the Whigs helped carry an adjournment motion by 15 votes. When the debate resumed on 3 Feb. St. John gave a fresh account in defence of his position, observing that the 8,000 men voted onto the Spanish establishment in January 1707 could not reasonably be expected to have been there by April, and that his figure of 8,660 did not include the sick or one whole regiment captured before the battle. However, despite his efforts St. John only managed to force one concession from the House: the 8,660 was deemed to exclude all officers and servants. This resolution led to an address for an explanation of the deficiency. By the time the House received a proper reply on 18 Feb. St. John had resigned. Not surprisingly he intervened in the debate on the Queen’s answer, on 24 Feb., in order to vindicate himself, leaving the chamber before the vote on an opposition motion blaming the deficiency on the ‘want of timely and effectual recruits being sent thither’.21
Some historians have attributed to this crisis a major role in the fall of Harley from office, and the subsequent resignation of St. John. However, the events of February 1708 had their roots in a dispute between Harley and Godolphin as to where the ministry should look for its parliamentary majority, and in Harley’s plans to replace the lord treasurer and bring the Tories into the administration (see HARLEY, Robert). St. John was deeply implicated in Harley’s intrigues, as one of ‘a triumvirate that were framing a new scheme of administration’. Rumour had it that he would have been named secretary of state in a new administration. Although St. John had failed to persuade Marlborough to desert Godolphin, he was to some extent protected by the Duke’s high regard for his abilities. Clearly he did not have to resign, and some of his associates chose to remain in the ministry. It seems likely that his decision to join Harcourt and Mansel in resigning was because, as Brydges recounted, Harley’s removal was ‘looked upon as a full declaration of the ministry’s intentions to join entirely with the Whigs, which they thought was inconsistent with the declarations they had made to them’, and which they had in turn given to the Tories. For the remainder of the session St. John was able to begin the process of reassimilation into the ranks of the Tories, the party designation allotted him on a list of early 1708. Fortunately for St. John, he was almost immediately given an opportunity to demonstrate his Tory credentials by joining Dean Atterbury’s opposition to the cathedrals bill. In a ‘warm debate’ on the second reading on 2 Mar. St. John, Harley and Harcourt joined with Hanmer and Bromley against the bill. On 4 Mar. the House was about to resolve itself into a committee on the bill ‘after some instructions proposed by Mr St. John and others . . . had first been overruled’, when the proceedings were interrupted by the announcement of an imminent French invasion. On 9 Mar., just before the House was due to go into committee on the cathedrals bill, St. John acted as a teller in favour of instructing the committee to receive a clause preserving to the crown the right of local visitation in those foundations of Henry VIII which had received no subsequent statutes. The instruction was defeated, Bishop Nicolson taking note that St. John was among those who opposed the bill.22
Although more at home on the back benches, St. John had a problem finding a seat when Parliament was dissolved on 15 Apr. due to his father’s decision to contest Wootton Bassett. In filial duty St. John could not oppose him although, ironically, it would seem that his father lost the election because of the way he had treated his son, ‘the most considerable of the borough having resolved for that reason to vote for anyone rather than for him’. Most observers did not appreciate the seriousness of this setback, assuming with Cropley that ‘the party will bring him in at another place’. However, St. John laboured under several disadvantages, most notably the fact that he would be entering the campaign too late to establish a proper interest in a new seat and at a time when pressure from the Whigs meant that Tory safe seats were at a premium. Furthermore, many Tory patrons mistrusted St. John after his apostasy in 1704. Other small Wiltshire boroughs seemed to offer possibilities, and St. John was mentioned as a prospective candidate at Cricklade, Devizes and Westbury. Dr Stratford thought that Edward Harley’s* recent purchase of the manor of Bishop’s Castle ought to have enabled the family to nominate one Member and was a little perplexed when they failed to do so. George Granville* was apologetic that his inability to recover his interest at Bossiney precluded St. John from standing there. The end of the election brought fresh hope owing to the practice whereby Members chosen for two constituencies would stand down in the place most likely to favour their own party. St. John hoped to be put forward as the Tory candidate for Weobley after Hon. Henry Thynne* opted for Weymouth, but Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) endorsed Caesar. St. John could not even get in at Weymouth when Henry Thynne died in December 1708. St. John had hopes at Lostwithiel if the election petition of Hon. Russell Robartes* was successful, but then chose to sit for Bodmin until a protracted dispute ruined this opportunity. Similarly, Thomas Medlycott* took too long in choosing Westminster over Milborne Port for St. John to consider a challenge. Given his interest in the outcome in these several boroughs, he could confidently contradict rumours that he had deliberately avoided standing for re-election. However, he did affect a positive outlook on his enforced absence from the House, believing ‘I shall now have three years’ time to live to myself, which is a blessing I never yet enjoyed’. The sense of contentment paraded by him at every opportunity, was in fact a pose exposed by Swift when he recorded St. John’s reaction to the following verse proffered to him by a local gentleman:
From business and the noisy world retired
Nor vexed by love, nor ambition fired
Gently I wait the call of Charon’s boat
Still drinking like a fish, and – like a stoat.
He ‘swore to me he could hardly bear the jest; for he pretended to retire like a philosopher, though he was but 28 years old’. More ominously, for the future, St. John attributed some of the blame for his enforced leisure to his political associates, complaining that ‘if I could have been of any great use, that which was impossible for me to compass in my circumstances, had been brought about by those whom it is my inclination and my principle to serve, and since they have left me out I conclude they do not want me’.23
St. John’s absence from the Commons between 1708 and 1710 was crucial for the development of the views he expounded when he returned to office in 1710. As early as October 1708 Trumbull was informed that ‘St. John is turned as errant a country gentleman as he was in the late King’s time, and, which is much better, is like to grow honest again for he had the D[ean] of C[hrist] Church [Henry Aldrich] and some of the Oxford grandees at his country seat’. October also saw the beginnings of a calculated campaign by St. John to convince Harley that the only feasible route back to power lay in an alliance with the Tories. Thus, on the 11th, he wrote regretting their mistake in ‘building up the power of a faction which it was plain we should find it necessary in a short time to pull down’. Release from the present ‘Egyptian bondage’ could only come from ‘the Church of England party, nor in that neither on the foot it now stands, and without more confidence than is yet re-established between them and us’. Bromley was the key man to gain, in order to forge an effective alliance, now that adversity had made the Tories wise and open to Harley’s arguments for moderation. ‘You broke the party, unite it again’ was St. John’s refrain. His next appeal to Harley, on 6 Nov., reflected the mood of war-weariness he had picked up in the country: he described the raising of 16 new regiments and the ‘mortgaging’ of either the land or the malt taxes to pay for the war as ‘downright infatuation’, a development which was nevertheless to be welcomed because it hastened the day when the Tories would re-emerge triumphant. Harcourt’s unceremonious expulsion from the House in January 1709 made St. John hesitate over venturing a return to the Commons for Milborne Port, as a Whig-inspired petition could easily have unseated him again. Given the rumours that the Gregg affair would be used as a pretext to proceed against Harley in the same manner as against Harcourt, St. John was probably right to avoid a risky return to the Commons. During his rustication at Bucklebury, he had plenty of time to refine his arguments, particularly with reference to the heavy toll the war was taking on the landed interest. Only two years previously, while still in office, he had observed that the landed interest although ‘bowed under the burden of taxes is still willing to pay them’. On 9 July 1709 he could write to Lord Orrery (Hon. Charles Boyle II*) of the disastrous effects of the war on landed men:
a new interest has been created out of their fortunes, and a sort of property, which was not known 20 years ago, is now increased to be almost equal to the terra firma of our island. The consequence of all this is, that the landed men are become poor and dispirited. They either abandon all thoughts of the public, turn arrant farmers, and improve the estates they have left: or else they seek to repair their shattered fortunes by listing at court, or under the heads of parties. In the meanwhile those men are become their masters, who formerly would with joy have been their servants.
September 1709 saw St. John expressing contentment with the rural pleasures at Bucklebury, although to Grahme he denied that his enjoyment of them implied a lack of ambition, proclaiming that ‘it is no part of my scheme, whenever the service of my country or of any particular friend calls me forth, to sit still’. Rather intriguingly, Harley told Mansel on 30 Sept. 1709 that there had been some ‘endeavours also used to divide H. St. John from us, but in vain’. The source of the approach is unknown, but it came at a time of growing intimacy betwen Harley and Whig independents such as the Duke of Shrewsbury and Earl Rivers (Richard Savage*). Harley’s suspicions may have related to St. John’s continued friendship with Marlborough, which led the Duke to inform his wife on 29 Sept. of a letter of congratulation on the victory at Malplaquet written in ‘the most extraordinary style . . . possible’, and which the Duke enjoined the Duchess to keep secret. By this date St. John was beginning to prepare for the next election, having apparently informed Dr Stratford in October 1709 that ‘there is an opposition already prepared to him against the next vacancy at Wootton Bassett’, and that he feared being pricked as sheriff for the following year. St. John avoided that fate, which was fortunate as his political prospects were transformed by the Sacheverell trial.24
Although not in Parliament during the impeachment proceedings, it is likely that St. John played a significant part in the manoeuvres by which Harley gradually undermined the Godolphin ministry in the spring of 1710. Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) made reference to St. John, Harley, Harcourt and Mansel who ‘met daily, and passed the evenings together and generally at Mr. Mansel’s in Soho Square, where they had messages from the Queen, generally by Mr Harley who had secret audiences by Mrs Hill’. As early as March 1710 St. John was reporting back to Harley discussions on the political situation with Rochester, Shrewsbury, Rivers and Argyll. Locally, too, he kept up the pressure on the Whigs, presenting on 14 Apr. 1710 an address from Wootton Bassett promising to oppose all the Queen’s enemies, both foreign and domestic, and to elect candidates whose loyalties lay with the crown rather than a faction. St. John’s active participation in the campaign for a dissolution obviously reflected his desire to return to the Commons, as well as his faith in a Tory victory at the polls. His own situation was now the opposite of 1708: more than one constituency wanted his services. In addition to Wootton Bassett, the Berkshire Tories invited him to join with Sir John Stonhouse, 3rd Bt.* St. John was duly elected for both constituencies and chose to sit for his adopted county. Before that, he was embroiled in a dispute with Harley over the office he should receive in the new ministry. St. John wished to see a Tory ministry in power, whereas Harley was keen to retain as many moderate Whigs as possible. For him to appoint St. John to high office would have been to transmit the wrong political signal. Thus, while Harley could allow St. John to be ‘very high’ in pressing for the dismissal of Sunderland in May 1710, it was another matter to appoint St. John to the vacancy. Initially, Harley offered him his old post as secretary at war, in the hope that St. John would relish renewing close ties with Marlborough. St. John’s rejection reveals his ambition: ‘I must own that to succeed Mr Cardonnel, upon the same foot as Mr Cardonnel was, is not coming into the service a second time with so good a grace as I came in the first and keeping one’s present situation is a good deal better than sinking while one affects to rise’. Harley next tempted him with the post of treasurer of the navy, probably relying on St. John’s financial insecurity, but was again rebuffed. By August St. John had won his point, primarily because Boyle would not continue as secretary of state. Dr Stratford, a pious commentator on the state of St. John’s spiritual health, hoped that high office would effect a reformation in his morals: ‘I pray God he consider himself under his new character, a secretary of state must not take all those liberties one of war might think perhaps proper to his station’. On 22 Aug. 1710, in a letter to Orrery, St. John expressed confidence in Harley’s ministerial reconstruction, although he thought that the Tories were not being admitted into office ‘with the best grace’, while conceding that much depended on the Tories being ‘made to proceed reasonably’. He adumbrated similar views in a letter at the end of the month to Trumbull, which was concerned in the main with defending the consistency of his previous conduct. Any appearance to the contrary was put down to ‘the secrets of a court, and the intrigues of a party’, whereupon ‘a pilot is often obliged to steer a western course to arrive at the port which lies northward’. St. John was finally appointed secretary of state on 21 Sept.25
Many commentators regarded St. John’s appointment favourably. The Dutch pensionary thought him ‘a jewel not enough to be valued’, because of his equal facility in French and English, while Boyer also saw him as better qualified than his rivals, ‘whether we consider his natural abilities, as readiness and vivacity of wit, penetration and judgement; or his acquired talents, as mastery of languages, flowing eloquence, affability and address’. Swift, on their first meeting, offered a comparison with Sir William Temple, 1st Bt.†, once regarded as outrageously precocious because he might have been secretary at 46: St. John was only 32. Only Lady Cowper (the wife of Sir William Cowper, 2nd Bt.*) noted with irony that ‘his relations say there’s not a more alagitious [sic] in being. Such are the instruments to promote High Church.’ He was optimistic that the new Parliament would be able ‘to restore our credit, make provision for our debts, and give the necessary supplies which are wanting for the war’. Indeed, the long-term future was even more promising because the elections had shown
what a difference there is between the true strength of this nation and the fictitious one of the Whigs. How much time, how many lucky incidents, how many strains of power, how much money must go to create a majority of the latter; on the other hand, take but off the opinion that the crown is another way inclined, the Church interest rises with redoubled force and by its natural genuine strength.
This euphoric, contemporary judgment must be placed alongside his later assessment in A Letter to Sir William Wyndham* which accused the Tories in 1710 of behaving exactly like their enemies in aiming at ‘the conservation of this power, great employments to ourselves, and great opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us, and of hurting those who stood in opposition to us’. In December 1710 St. John offered John Drummond† a ministerial view of the section in the Queen’s Speech of 29 Nov. which pledged ‘to maintain the indulgence by law allowed to scrupulous consciences’, a deliberate eschewing of the term ‘toleration’. This, he explained was the true interpretation of the Act of 1689 which had merely suspended the law’s penalties, its purpose being to remind Dissenters that as they did not have a legal establishment they were wrong to consider themselves on an equal footing with the Church of England: ‘The principle of the present ministry is neither to oppress the dissenters, under pretence of securing the establishment, nor to suffer them, under the specious colour of moderation, to gain spirit and strength enough to provoke and insult the Church.’ Tory eagerness to bring to account the previous administration placed St. John in a dilemma. He stayed unnaturally, if understandably, silent on 2 Dec. when Byerley reopened the controversy over the shortfall of troops at Almanza by successfully moving for a state of the numbers of effective men in Spain and Portugal at the time of the battle. St. John duly presented the accounts on 4 Dec., but not before he had penned a letter on the 3rd excusing his remissness in not promoting an immediate inquiry into past misdeeds and, with reference to the priorities of the government, suggesting that a secretary of state could not very well divert a House intent on granting supply. Early December saw London awash with rumours of a ministerial reshuffle which would send St. John as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Holland in place of Viscount Townshend. With the land tax passing quickly through the Commons, St. John informed Drummond that the ministry would probably acquiesce in Tory back-bench demands for investigations into the previous administration’s financial mismanagement. This would have political benefits as St. John could not
see how those who are now in the administration, and who have taken such a broken shattered game into their hands can be safe, and avoid bearing the load of other people’s guilt, unless they make a plain and obvious discrimination between their own management and the natural necessary consequences of that which went before.
More parochial matters concerned St. John on 19 Dec. when he was appointed to prepare a bill to make the Kennet navigable between Reading and Newbury (one of only four drafting committees). However, after he had presented the bill on 23 Dec. it languished in committee. Also, on the 19th, he joined in the Tory attack on the charter granted in 1708 to the borough of Bewdley. The main target during the debate was the former Whig lord chancellor, Lord Cowper (William*), who singled out St. John’s speech against him as being ‘particularly rude’. One of Trumbull’s correspondents saw it differently, claiming that St. John had been provoked by Walpole’s defence of Cowper, but had contented himself with ‘laying the stress upon the action (not the man) saying nothing ever came up to it’. Given that the Tory majority after debate was 160, his speech was probably effective: indeed, one observer noted that ‘St. John outdid himself, they say, in speaking . . . when he speaks his own thoughts no one speaks better, and nor one worse, others’. This debate also illustrated the depth of his commitment to the Tory cause on such matters, since it entailed a late sitting; he himself told Marlborough that he had been ‘much fatigued . . . with a tedious trial and debate’. St. John’s more ministerial outlook was in evidence on 21 Dec. when, after the committal of a place bill (which the government disliked), he moved the committal for the same date of the ministry’s alternative, a land qualification bill. The occasion provided him with the opportunity to air one of his favourite themes. Without such an Act, he argued, ‘we might see a time when the moneyed men might bid fair to keep out of that House all the landed men, and he had heard of societies of them that joined stocks to bring in Members, and such a thing might be as an administration within an administration, a junto’. This thesis was not challenged, but the Commons demonstrated its priorities by ordering the bill’s committee stage for two days after that of the place bill.26
Once the Christmas recess was over, St. John continued his role as a ministerial messenger to the Commons, usually announcing that the Queen had agreed to release certain documents for inspection. At the same time, as a Court manager, he often spurred the chamber to act upon these messages. Thus, on 2 Jan. 1711, his presentation of a message detailing a military defeat in Spain was accompanied by the government’s response which entailed a treaty with the Emperor to supply 2,000 horse for Catalonia. He was also appointed to the committee to draft an address pledging the support of the Commons in retrieving the losses suffered in Spain. In this debate Walpole’s suggestion that reference be made to the Queen acting in concert with her allies caused St. John to reply that Walpole was mixing his public and private resentments, and that ‘a tottering faction’ had only retained power by bringing in the allies. It may well have been in this debate that St. John also suggested that military setbacks in Spain ‘were more to be imputed to our own ill-conduct than the bravery of the enemy’. On 3 Jan., after Lowndes had presented an account of naval debts for the years 1702–10, St. John was also able to castigate the Whigs for reducing public credit. On the related theme of corruption in those departments supplying the armed forces, he foresaw political advantage in the appointment on 5 Jan. of a committee to investigate abuses in the victualling service, observing that when these frauds were revealed ‘the late applauded administration of the Treasury will appear, before this session concludes, to have been the most loose, the most negligent, the most partial that ever any country suffered by’. Despite worries over war finance, Swift found Harley and St. John in contented mood, writing on 12 Jan., ‘I always find them as easy and disengaged as schoolboys on a holiday’. However, there were differences between the two men over issues such as the future of Marlborough. Although St. John could be a trenchant critic of the Duke’s political role, he had great faith in his generalship and consequently was prepared to support Marlborough if he should signal his independence from the Whigs. Thus, St. John’s visit to Marlborough on 2 Jan. 1711 was probably designed to persuade the Duke to retain command of the army. However, it did not prevent him from wishing to break Marlborough’s grip on the army ‘without giving him any just mortification as general’. Marlborough, too, probably recognized that he had more chance of retaining his position through an approach to St. John, because on 25 Jan. Swift reported that an emissary from the Duke had visited St. John with the intent of making peace with the ministry. Furthermore, during 1711, it was St. John who managed to circumvent the ‘committee of the council at the war office’, and thereby retain more influence for the Duke. Marlborough seems to have reciprocated St. John’s goodwill, for Robethon reported to Hanover in March 1711, during the time of Harley’s incapacity following the assassination attempt, that the Duke had commended St. John as the only man applying himself to business and one who should be ‘looked after’. By April 1711 full confidence between St. John and Marlborough seems to have been restored. If Harley felt more inclined than St. John to circumscribe Marlborough’s power over army appointments, he also disagreed with St. John’s plan, outlined in January 1711, for an expedition to capture Quebec. Looking back from the standpoint of 1714, Harley dated the ‘separation’ between them to the beginning of February 1711 when St. John ‘began listing a party and set up for governing the House’. At this point a forced reconciliation between the two men was achieved over a private dinner attended by Shrewsbury and Rochester. St. John’s importance in the Commons was illustrated by the manner in which the ministry, in ways and means on 19 Jan., slipped out of a request from Byerley for an account of contingencies for the preceding year, with the excuse that the ‘matter would fall more properly under consideration’ when St. John was present. However plausible this excuse, it did not mean that St. John could always get his own way in the Commons: the place bill passed the House on 30 Jan., despite his best efforts to prevent it. He was on safer ground working with the grain of Country Tory prejudice, such as the desirability of looking into the Whig ministry’s finances. St. John himself was listed as both a ‘Tory patriot’ who had opposed the continuation of the war (and its expense), and a ‘worthy patriot’ who had detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. The Tory back-benchers were ready on 17 Feb. to acclaim his speech in favour of bringing in a bill for examining the public accounts in which he attacked Godolphin and
employed all the powers of his eloquence to show the necessity of taking into consideration the national expenditure; maintained that none but those who were enemies to their country, or who would themselves plunder the Treasury, would be so bold as to oppose the inquiry; and supported his arguments with the most ardent affectation of zeal for the church and constitution.27
On 8 Mar. 1711 the ministry was thrown into turmoil by Guiscard’s attempt on Harley’s life. The task of maintaining the ministry’s hold on the Commons devolved upon St. John. Edward Harley* saw his brother’s convalescence as the origin of St. John’s attempt to obtain control of the Tories ‘under the pretence that some person should be put at the head of the Church party, who would without reserve comply with all their passions’. Unfortunately for St. John his association with the Tory back-benchers also attracted to him the blame for their actions when they attempted to embarrass the ministry over supply. A proposal in ways and means on 26 Mar., in St. John’s absence, to levy a duty on leather was defeated because, according to William Brydges, ‘the country gentlemen’ were ‘resolved . . . to have some more Whigs out before they will give any more money’. Long afterwards, Arthur Onslow† alleged that St. John had fuelled the flames of this back-bench Tory revolt. If so, he quickly realized that he had been too effective and that supply had been endangered, for he reacted to the defeat by covering his tracks and making ‘a long speech of what a fatal consequence ’twas to the affairs of the nation to refuse so good a fund for supply, and that our credit which was just reviving to a great height this vote would throw it all down again’. Kreienberg heard that St. John’s speech was considerably more threatening in that he declared opponents of the duty to deserve the resentment of the Queen and the nation. In a letter to Marlborough, St. John explained how the situation had been retrieved, albeit with ‘a high hand’ in the committee of ways and means held on 27 Mar., through the manipulation of parliamentary procedure: ‘we renewed the same motion under other terms, the rules of the House not permitting us to do it under the same words, and we carried the question by a majority of 106’. Thus the leather duty became a tax on hides. On 29 Mar. St. John was able to please the Church interest by announcing to the House the Queen’s recommendation that 50 new churches be built in London. He probably found this more congenial than the Tory pressure for the release of the Scottish episcopalian clergyman, James Greenshields, and the broader issue of toleration in Scotland, because Harley attempted to use St. John, among others, to persuade the Scots to drop their appeal, which they eventually won on 1 Mar. St. John was deliberately kept out of the peace negotiations, not being apprised of them until April 1711. Indeed, as late as 30 Mar. he had informed Orrery that ‘the method taken of getting negotiations of peace on foot by the channel of the Duke of Lorraine we are informed of’. However, once let into the secret, St. John pursued his part in the negotiations with vigour, although Harley kept tight control over the real decisions. St. John may well have resented his own exclusion from the negotiations, which would explain Swift’s comment on his ill-temper caused by ‘sitting up whole nights at business and one night at drinking’. Dr Stratford was in despair at St. John’s behaviour, noting that ‘no one of my gown can be supposed to be intimate with him without hazarding his own credit’, and that since his office ‘cannot restrain him from extravagance . . . it would be foolish to think anything can ever alter him’. In April St. John’s Quebec expedition came under fire from Rochester in the Cabinet, but he defended it successfully and thereby safeguarded the handsome profit he expected to make from supply contracts. With St. John facing criticism in some court circles for having destabilized the ministry through his encouragement of other wilder Tory back-benchers and his own vainglorious claims that he himself had been Guiscard’s intended victim, he then changed tack completely on 24 Apr. during the report of the committee investigating the passage of various accounts, in order to defend his friend and creditor, James Brydges, under attack for failure to produce his paymaster’s accounts. Even worse, the terms in which he defended Brydges were that ‘he did not know that either Mr Brydges or the late ministry were at all to blame in this matter’, which was seen as being ‘very desperately spoken, and giving up the whole cause: for the chief quarrel against the late ministry was the ill measure of the treasure, and was more than all the rest together’.
Although St. John’s stance won praise from some, such as Drummond, who argued that it ‘showed that he understood the nature of the business better than some new commissioners perhaps may do for some time’, it no doubt caused Tory colleagues further pause for thought. Rumours of his dismissal began to circulate and even some of his own letters expressed a resigned expectation of such a fate, though he still praised Harley’s financial acumen, particularly in setting up the South Sea Company, of which St. John became a director in May 1711. Furthermore, St. John had the insight to recognize Harley’s abilities in managing the Commons and the problems he had himself faced while Harley recuperated: ‘as he [Harley] is the only true channel through which the Queen’s pleasure is conveyed, so there is and must be a perfect stagnation till he is pleased to open himself and set the water flowing’. St. John was relieved to see the prorogation of Parliament on 12 June, claiming that the session had ‘half murdered me’. Even then he had felt the need to argue for the session to be prolonged, on the pretext of the Queen’s illness, so that the ministerial changes attendant upon Harley’s promotion to lord treasurer (as Earl of Oxford) could be completed.28
At the end of the session St. John praised the Tories for their moderation. Despite previous sufferings under a Whig tyranny and having a large majority with which to take their revenge, ‘no man has been forced from his seat purely because we did not like him; no person has been impeached, and in a word no Whig-moderation has been shown’. Furthermore, funds for the war ‘have been carefully found, and cheerfully given, the debts of the nation have been provided for, and trade so long and scandalously neglected, has been begun to be thought of’. However, he pronounced himself appalled by the ‘eagerness with which places were solicited’, which he explained as a consequence of ‘frequent Parliaments, and of long wars, of departing from our old constitution, and from our true interest’. This viewpoint did not preclude St. John from hoping that more places would become available when the remaining Whigs in office were turned out. On a more convivial note, June 1711 saw him instrumental in forming ‘the club’, a select group chosen for their ‘wit and learning’, plus their proximity to the seats of influence. St. John had hopes of augmenting his own power following the death on 6 July of the Duke of Queensberry, the third secretary of state. The abolition of this post saw St. John acquire responsibility for all the areas administered by Queensberry, including Scotland. Despite increased duties, St. John seems to have spent the summer travelling between Bucklebury, London and Windsor. Early in August 1711 Swift accompanied him into Berkshire where he affected the role of contented country squire, smoking tobacco with neighbours, showing an interest in crops and visiting his hounds. A more frequent visitor to Bucklebury was Dr Stratford who saw him in a different light, his irregular private life ‘a sad instance to all young gentlemen of quality, how the greatest parts and expectations may be made useless and be disappointed by the folly of vice’. Stratford linked St. John’s moral deficiencies to his conduct in the Commons, which had brought him into difficulties with Harley and Harcourt. The root of this tension Stratford attributed to the ideas which were ‘instilled into him last winter by some who took that way to make their court to him, that he was of capacity enough to stand upon his own legs’. Criticism from colleagues, and his financial necessities, should perhaps have persuaded St. John that survival demanded prudence. Instead, he pursued a far riskier strategy aimed at securing for the Tories a monopoly of political power. At the highest level, the Cabinet, he forced the issue by refusing on 12 Aug. to sit with the Duke of Somerset who, he told Swift, ‘had so often betrayed them and was openly engaged with a faction which endeavoured to obstruct all her Majesty’s measures’. Whig-inspired rumours attempted to undermine St. John’s position by suggesting again that his dismissal was imminent, but in reality his position was secured by the ministry’s need for him to deal with the details of the peace negotiation and to repel Whig attacks in the Commons. Even the fiasco of the Quebec expedition, news of which ‘mortified’ St. John because the project was ‘of his contriving and he counted much upon it’, did not cost him his place, though there can be no doubt that the failure weakened his position. He confided to Swift on 20 Oct. that his perceived friendship with Marlborough was at the root of the Queen’s ‘coldness’ towards him and that he would be ‘upon a better foot, or none at all’. More congenial to St. John’s talents, in the period before the new session, was his campaign to harry Whig publishers, which led to 14 persons being seized in mid-October for printing scandalous libels. Nor did he neglect Tory propaganda, for at the end of the month he was helping Swift with The Conduct of the Allies, a collaboration which pushed Swift’s admiration to new heights, for on 3 Nov. he praised St. John as ‘the greatest young man I ever knew’. At the end of November rumour tipped St. John for a leading role at the peace conference but, given the need for his presence in the Commons, this was not a serious option.29
Before the 1711–12 session opened, St. John qualified for office by taking the sacrament. Swift noted how ‘several rakes’ had done the same: ‘it was not for piety, but employments, according to Act of Parliament’. St. John was evidently not one to dwell on his own hypocrisy in seeking to lead a Church party while an occasional conformist. The parliamentary outlook seemed favourable: ‘those who talk with the Members as they arrive from their several countries assure me that they come up determined to support all we are doing’. However, he was aware that at the opening of the session on 7 Dec., ‘the peace will be attacked in Parliament indirectly’. On that day the Whigs attempted to amend the Address to the effect that no peace was acceptable which left Spain in Bourbon hands. St. John appears to have offered a view of the peace which denied there were ‘preliminary articles’, only admitting to the fact that French proposals had been promising enough to permit a congress to go ahead. He was roundly attacked by Sir Peter King for suggesting that the Dutch were in agreement with the ministry, to which he replied that he entered with pleasure into the peace negotiations. Although the ministry triumphed on the Commons’ Address, the Whigs successfully inserted their amendment into the Lords’ Address. At first, St. John interpreted this reverse as a signal that the Queen was about to betray the ministry, but by 12 Dec. he had been reassured sufficiently to assert that ‘an entire turn will be made in favour of those who have obeyed and served her, and in opposition to those who have used her own power against herself’, such as Marlborough. Soon St. John could perceive hidden advantages in the Whig vote, supported as it was by various foreign envoys, since it would anger the Commons who, in turn, would ‘reduce the public expense to such a compass, as our treaties in the strictest sense required’. The problem of the ministry’s weakness in the Lords was solved by the creation of ‘Harley’s dozen’. St. John’s name was floated as a possible nominee, but the more astute commentators correctly surmised that his presence was still vital in the Commons where, with the peace ‘upon the anvil, he was best able to explain and justify the several steps towards it’. Before Parliament resumed after the Christmas recess, St. John had the delicate task of entertaining Prince Eugene who had been sent by the Emperor to bolster the war party in England. St. John was aware of the dangers, predicting that ‘the faction, under the pretence of doing him honour, would make use of him to serve their purposes, and these steps would as certainly raise a ferment on the other side’. However, embarrassing incidents were avoided, St. John’s previous service as secretary at war perhaps smoothing the Prince’s path: he certainly made a good impression, being described by the Prince in April 1712 as ‘a bold and daring spirit, of an aspiring temper, of good parts enough, acquired by the advantage of being concerned in business more than his age allows of’.30
When the House resumed on 14 Jan. 1712 St. John delivered a message from the Queen which in effect delayed until the 17th her announcement that Britain’s plenipotentaries had arrived at Utrecht. On that day he was appointed to the committee to draw up an address thanking the Queen for her promise to communicate to Parliament the terms of any peace agreed. On the following day, 18 Jan., the Whigs amended the address by adding a reference to procuring satisfaction for the allies, ‘particularly with relation to Spain and the West Indies’. Some Tories opposed this amendment because it had echoes of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ resolution, but St. John preferred to let it pass on the grounds that it merely reiterated ‘the very words used by the Queen in her message’ and set out ‘no more than the grand alliance expresses, which is the foundation we affect to stand upon’. However, he was careful to brief the Earl of Strafford, at Utrecht, not to allow the Whigs to score a propaganda coup by portraying this as a victory over the ministry. The news that Marlborough was seeking a vote in Parliament to justify his conduct led St. John to inform the Duke, via Brydges, that such a course of action ‘would be looked upon as an attack on the ministry which would engage many who would otherwise not appear against you to espouse their interest’. In fact it suited the ministry to discredit Marlborough by allowing Tory back-benchers to proceed upon a damning report of the accounts commission. As St. John told Strafford, the Duke ‘will be rendered accountable for great sums, and be left to the Queen’s mercy’. The evening before the censure debate on Marlborough, set for 24 Jan., Swift reported St. John to be making preparations ‘against the great business tomorrow’. However, it seems clear from accounts of the debate that the lead was taken by others. Most observers recorded that St. John spoke against the Duke, but L’Hermitage thought he spoke neither for nor against the resolutions, suggesting that, as with Brydges, St. John felt it difficult to attack his friends publicly, particularly over financial misdemeanours. Nevertheless, St. John was quick to interpret the debate for his diplomatic correspondents, such as Strafford, to whom he opined, ‘no merit, no grandeur, no riches, can excuse or save anyone who sets himself up in opposition to the Queen’, the whole debate having been ‘so managed as to show evidently to what the Duke was to ascribe his fall’. St. John also played a role in preparing the groundwork for the parliamentary debate on the peace. Included in this remit was the essential task of producing propaganda, which saw St. John discussing with Swift on 1 Feb. a passage in The Conduct of the Allies which dealt with the Barrier Treaty. He also found a ready outlet for his anti-Dutch feelings in parliamentary discussions on the war and foreign affairs. He blamed the resolutions of 5 Feb., which criticized the allies and revealed ‘our nakedness’ to the enemy, on the Dutch refusal to believe British determination ‘to have a reasonable peace or a practicable war’. On 11 Feb., when the Commons debated a request for access to the treaties mentioned in the Barrier Treaty, St. John opposed the Whig demand for the Treaty of Munster (1648), and in the committee of the whole on 14 Feb. he attacked the Barrier Treaty itself as ‘of great damage to our trade’, replying to counter-attacks with a declaration that the main obstacle to a good peace was ‘her Majesty’s factious subjects at home, who writ letters abroad and bid the Dutch stand out’. Nor were the Whigs the only troublesome elements in the House: in a committee of supply on 22 Feb., October Club spokesmen suggested that as a condition for maintaining British forces at the same level as the previous year, the Queen should not furnish the troops until the allies met their commitments. Such manoeuvres were potentially damaging, but St. John was able to get the estimates through by reminding Members that they could not suddenly renege on agreements, by reminding them of the present government’s measures of economy and also by pointedly attacking the commitments entered into by the Whigs. Such a defence had its drawbacks, some of which were noted in the House on 29 Feb.: St. John had been an integral part of the ministry which had entered into the very commitments he was lambasting and, moreover, had at that time argued himself that the Dutch could not contribute any more.31
St. John’s growing influence over the October Club during this session eventually caused the club to fragment and the more determined opponents of the ministry to break away. The event which precipitated the secession of the March Club was St. John’s election as October Club president for one meeting, which seemed to confirm the rumours emanating from the ministry ‘that the October Club were their friends, and acted by their directions’. St. John’s laudable propensity to defend his friends, even when they were in trouble for shady financial dealings, was shown over a petition that Arthur Moore should renounce his privilege so that he might be proceeded against in a personal suit concerning a land deal. St. John’s influence persuaded the committee of privileges to resolve that the petition was ‘frivolous and vexatious’, but the House overturned the decision. St. John’s vigilance was also required in order to ward off any serious threats to the passage of supply caused by the war-weariness of the Tory MPs. On 11 Apr. he had to rescue Lowndes, who was coming under fire over the report of a resolution from ways and means, by stressing that the granting of an adequate supply was necessary to secure a good peace. When the Commons came to consider, in a committee of the whole on 12 Apr., the Queen’s complaint concerning scandalous libels against the peace, St. John refused to be drawn into a reply when Richard Hampden II* declared that the complaints of Britain’s allies should not be called libels, and claimed that he could prove that one of the offending tracts came from the Dutch. The committal on 17 Apr. of a bill setting up a lottery saw St. John optimistic that as peace was close, present allocations would be sufficient. However, on 21 Apr., with neither St. John nor the chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Benson*, present to offer guidance, the October Club tacked to the lottery bill a controversial measure to appoint commissioners to examine the value of lands and other interests granted by the crown since William III’s accession. Given that the Lords would oppose the bill and be furious at the tack, the whole manoeuvre endangered supply. As a consequence, on 6 May, St. John rallied the Court against an attack from the March Club and broke the tack. Once separated off, the bill appointing commissioners then passed the Commons, only to fall foul of the Lords. St. John explained to the Earl of Peterborough, a recipient of William’s largesse, that ‘the Court was obliged to endeavour to carry the Act of Enquiry; our friends among the Commons expected this from us, and indeed, I am of opinion that the grantees themselves would have found their account in letting it pass’. Meanwhile, St. John was also engaged in the peace negotiations, sometimes magnifying his own role into that of a heroic figure defeating the opposition of the allies and the Whigs, while overcoming ‘those habits of thinking which mankind had contracted by the same wrong principle of government’, but at other times conceding that he played a minor part and was often kept in the dark by Oxford. Even so, St. John was pleased with himself, writing to Peterborough on 2 May, ‘I had rather be banished for my whole life, because I have helped to make the peace, than be raised to the highest honours for having contributed to obstruct it’. With the treaty not quite ready, St. John seconded Benson’s motion of 22 May, that the call of the House be adjourned until 4 June. The Whigs used the debate as a pretext for attacking the peace. St. John repudiated their charges as reflecting upon the Queen and her ministers, but calmed Tory tempers by suggesting that the leading Whig speaker, Hampden, should not be sent to the Tower as he ‘might be fond of that honour’. The next parliamentary furore over the peace concerned the so-called ‘restraining orders’ communicated by St. John to the Duke of Ormond. Although St. John later claimed that he had not been consulted by Oxford about these orders and had intended to oppose them in Cabinet before the Queen had herself interposed to sanction them, he still had to speak for the ministry on 28 May against the charge. The Whig motion to address the Queen to order Ormond onto the offensive was defeated after St. John had defended the principle of restraining orders (without actually admitting the existence of any) by pointing out the Dutch practice of allowing their deputies the power to forbid the generals to give battle. He was also able to answer the accusation that the peace negotiations had been carried on in a ‘clandestine and treacherous manner’ by saying
he hoped it would not be accounted treachery to act for the good and advantage of Great Britain. That he gloried in the small share he had in this negotiation, and whatever censure he might undergo for it, the bare satisfaction of acting in that view would be a sufficient recompense and comfort to him all his life-time.
St. John continued to pursue his Whiggish opponents: on 10 June he was ‘zealous for condemning’ the preface to the bishop of St. Asaph’s published sermons, and then ‘presented to the House and complained of’ the Letter From the States-General which led to an address condemning its publication. Once the peace terms were made public, St. John told Strafford on 5 July, ‘we have passed the Rubicon, and we must triumph or sink’.32
One irrevocable step which St. John did take as a consequence of the peace was to leave the Commons for the Lords. It was his reward for managing the Lower House through a difficult session and, more particularly, for justifying the peace ‘with invincible reason and universal applause’. However, his elevation to the peerage as Viscount Bolingbroke was a source of bitter disappointment to him, given that he felt his services qualified him to revive the earldom of Bolingbroke, a title recently extinct on the demise of an elder branch of the St. John family. In a letter of 23 July 1712 he set out his ‘mortification’ and ‘indignation’:
In the House of Commons . . . I was at the head of business, and I must have continued so, whether I had been in Court or out of Court. There was therefore nothing to flatter my ambition in removing me from thence, but giving me the title which had been many years in my family, and which reverted to the crown about a year ago, by the death of the last of the elder house. To make me a peer was no great compliment, when so many others were forced to be made to gain a strength in Parliament; and since the Queen wanted me below stairs in the last session, she could do no less than make me a viscount, or I must have come in the rear of several whom I was not born to follow. Thus far, there seems to be nothing done for my sake, or as a mark of favour to me.
Although there was evidence that the Queen’s disapproval was responsible, St. John blamed Oxford, thereby exacerbating the tensions between the two men, which eventually engulfed the ministry in 1714.33
St. John lived for 40 years after his elevation to the peerage, but after the Hanoverian succession he did not enjoy political power again. He was a somewhat unconventional Tory, eschewing the deep commitment to the Church which characterized most Tories in the early 18th century. Indeed, it would be fair to describe St. John as a secular Tory who was prepared to ditch elements of the High Church canon, such as the campaign against occasional conformity when it threatened his political position. As a junior partner in the ministry between 1704 and 1708 St. John was forced to support many policies which went against his inclinations, but on exclusively party matters, such as election petitions, he voted with the Tories. This period of office was difficult for St. John as he had made his parliamentary reputation through an ability to articulate the inchoate thoughts of Tory back-benchers into witty and incisive attacks on such targets as Dissenters, money men, war profiteers and ‘corrupt’ Whig ministers. Although a minister after 1710, he was again able to turn impotent Tory rage onto these targets. If St. John had any coherent ideal it was for the Tory back-bench squirearchy which represented, for him, the natural rulers of the English polity. His own metropolitan sophistication did not prevent him from playing at this role himself when at Bucklebury, and it did provide him with a captive audience when he went on to the attack in the Commons. However, by its very nature it was a style conducive to opposition and the broad view, not one of much use in the detailed exposition of a cause, or the defence of an unpopular policy. This may explain his preference after 1710 for Tory rhetoric and plans to root out the Whigs from all places of influence. It could inspire the Tory back-benchers and increase his power in the ministry. Although Harley refused to countenance such a policy of Tory ‘thorough’, St. John implemented it locally after his appointment as lord lieutenant of Essex in 1712. In the end suspicions about St. John’s suitability for the role of chief minister may have delayed his ascent to a dominant position in the ministry until the eve of Queen Anne’s death. From then on his political career consisted of extra-parliamentary activities, whose lack of success no doubt contributed to the legend of his effectiveness before 1714. As the Earl of Chesterfield (Philip Dormer Stanhope*) was to recall in 1749, ‘I remember that though prejudiced against him by party, I felt all the force and charms of his eloquence’.34
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. H. T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 2–3; I. Parker, Dissenting Acads. 139; HMC Downshire, i. 777, 785–6.
- 2. Add. 70306–8, commn. of accts. ballot; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 268; xviii. 414; xix. 178–9; E. G. W. Bill, Q. Anne Churches, p. xxiii.
- 3. Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. 2.
- 4. Essex RO, Harwich bor. recs. 98/5, ff. 121, 159.
- 5. G. V. Bennett, Tory Crisis 1688–1730, 145; Dickinson, 4–6; HMC Portland, vii. 164.
- 6. Dickinson, 1–4; Add. 34196, f. 13; Egerton 2378, ff. 37–38; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, ii. 398; Parker, 139; HMC Downshire, i. 782–3; EHR, xxxiv. 498; W. Bagehot, Biog. Studies ed. Hutton, 182; G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. under Q. Anne, i. 349.
- 7. Cocks Diary, 118, 163, 173; An Act for Enabling Henry St. John . . . to Take and Enjoy Several Manors . . . (1725), 3.
- 8. HMC Downshire, i. 802–8, 810–11.
- 9. HMC Bath, i. 54; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 138, 498; Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 1017; EHR, xxxiv. 498; Cocks Diary, 225, 250, 260, 265, 270, 277; Add. 7074, ff. 192–3; 17677 XX, ff. 234, 238; 47025, ff. 57–58; Huntington Lib. Stowe 26(2), James Brydges’ diary, 4 Mar. 1702; HMC Downshire, i. 811–12; Lambeth Palace Lib. ms 2564, p. 408,  Apr. 1702.
- 10. BL, Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 12, 20 June, 7, 14 Aug., 4 Sept., 13 Oct. 1702; HMC Cowper, iii. 13, 14; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 77; BL, Lothian mss, Bromley to Coke, 28 Sept. 1702.
- 11. NLW, Penrice and Margam mss, L455, Erasmus Lewis* to Mansel 27 Oct. 1702; Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 3 Nov., 21 Aug. 1702; Bodl. Ballard 32, f. 185; Boyer, Anne Annals. i. 179; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 174–5; Life of Halifax, 77.
- 12. L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 159; Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 6 Aug. 1703; HMC Portland, iv. 73.
- 13. Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 142; Add. 17677 WWW, f. 408; HMC Downshire, i. 817–18.
- 14. Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 94; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 301–2; Lansd. 773, f. 6; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 263; Univ. Kansas Spencer Research Lib. Methuen–Simpson corresp. mss C163, Simpson to Methuen, 28 Mar. 1704; HMC Cowper, iii. 32, 57.
- 15. DZA, Bonet despatch 7/18 Apr. 1704; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. 2; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. n.s. lxviii. 119–20, 121–2; n.s. ii. 203; Lockhart Pprs. i. 295; HMC Cowper, iii. 33, 43; Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 2, 16, 30 May 1704; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 335; Bennett, 74–75; Add. 61131, f. 112; HMC Downshire, i. 835–6; HMC Bath, i. 64.
- 16. HMC Cowper, iii. 49, 56; Bull. IHR, xli. 179, 180; Add. 61131, ff. 118, 120; CJ, xiv. 406, 413; Methuen–Simpson corresp. mss C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 27 Feb. 1704[–5].
- 17. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 426; HMC Portland, iv. 176, 256–7; Add. 61131, ff. 124–8, 130–1, 136–7, 140–5; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. n.s. lxviii. 123–4; HMC Cowper, iii. 61, 62–64, 65; HMC Astley, 186–7.
- 18. HMC Bath, i. 79; Add. 17677 AAA, ff. 506, 511; Post Man, 8–10 Nov. 1705; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 79; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 31–32, 52, 66, 68; Methuen–Simpson corresp. mss, C.163, Simpson to Methuen, 11 Dec. 1705; Cowper Diary, 33; Bull. IHR, xlv. 48.
- 19. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 525, 538, 547, 557, 561; Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 7 June 1706; Add. 61131, ff. 173–4, 184; 36243, f. 3v; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. lxviii. 125, 126; Jnl. Brit. Studies, vii. 39.
- 20. HMC Bath, i. 121; Cobbett, vi. 587; Nicolson Diaries, 408; Stowe mss 57(1), p. 185; 58(2), p. 120; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. lxviii. 126–7; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 779, 837, 840, 863, 909, 916, 923; Add. 61132, f. 11.
- 21. HMC Mar and Kellie, 419; Dickinson, 55–58; Speck thesis, 200–6; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 305, 309–11, 318–20, 328–30, 335–7, 348, 355–6; Add. 61132, f. 74; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 272–3; Nicolson Diaries, 446–7; Bull. IHR, xxviii. 57.
- 22. G. Holmes, Pol. Relig. and Soc. 59, 62, 78; Burnet, v. 340; Dickinson, 58–59; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 345; Duke of Manchester, 280–1, 282, 292, 296–7; PRO 30/24/21/8, Cropley to Ld. Shaftesbury [Anthony, Ld. Ashley*], 4 Feb. ; Archaeologia, xxxviii. 8; Stowe mss 57(2), p. 18; Nicolson Diaries, 459–61; Bennett, 90–91, 94–97.
- 23. Stowe mss, 57(2), p. 27; Add. 70395, Stratford to Edward [Lord] Harley*, 16 May 1708; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss, U1590/C9/31, Cropley to James Stanhope, 18 July 1708; U1590/0138/29, Horatio Walpole II* to same, 30 Apr. 1708; HMC Bath, i. 190; HMC Portland, iv. 489, 491, 500, 514–15; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. lxviii. 127–8; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 164; Dickinson, 64–66.
- 24. Trumbull Alphab. mss 53, Ralph Bridges to Trumbull, 24 Oct. 1708; HMC Bath, i. 191–6; Dickinson, 66–70; HMC Portland, iv. 515, 517; Add. 61132, f. 78; 70395, Stratford to Edward [Lord] Harley, 29 Oct. 1709; Cam. Misc. xxvi. 145–6, 147–8; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Archit. Soc. lxviii. 128–30; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss L648, [Harley] to [Mansel], 30 Sept. 1709; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1389.
- 25. Ailesbury Mems. 618–19; Dickinson, 71–72; HMC Portland, iv. 535–6, 666; vii. 12; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 169–70; Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 2 June, 31 Aug. 1710; Holmes, Pol. Relig. and Soc. 143; Stowe mss 57(2), p. 271; 58(6), p. 52; 57(4), p. 96; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 604; Cam. Misc. xxvi. 148–9; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 4–5, 8; Add. 61132, f. 88.
- 26. HMC Portland, iv. 636; Boyer, Pol. State, i. 4, 48; Swift Stella, 91; Her