POWLETT, (PAULET), Charles I, Lord St. John of Basing (c.1630-99), of Lincoln's Inn Fields, London and Hackwood, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



8 June 1660
1661 - 5 Mar. 1675

Family and Education

b. c.1630, 1st s. of John Paulet, 5th Mq. of Winchester, by 1st w. Jane, da. of Thomas, 1st Visct. Savage. educ. travelled abroad (Italy). m. (1) 28 Feb. 1652 (with £10,000), Christian (d. 22 May 1654), da. and coh. of John Frescheville (later 1st Baron Frescheville) of Staveley, Derbys., 1s. d.v.p.; (2) 12 Feb. 1655, Mary (d. 1 Nov. 1680), illegit. da. and coh. of Emmanuel, 1st Earl of Sunderland, wid. of Henry, Lord Leppington, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. as 6th Mq. of Winchester 5 Mar. 1675; cr. Duke of Bolton 9 Apr. 1689.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Winchester June 1660, Hartlepool 1670; j.p. Hants July 1660-?d., Yorks. (N. Riding) 1664-?85, Surr., Mdx. and Westminster 1671-?80, (E. Riding) by 1680-85; commr. for assessment, Hants Aug. 1660-75, N. Riding 1663-75, W. and E. Ridings and co. Dur. 1673-5, loyal and indigent officers, Hants 1662, ld. lt. Hants 1667-76, 1689-d.; warden of the New Forest 1668-76, 1689-d.; high steward, Winchester 1669-84; custos rot. Hants 1670-6, 1689-d.; keeper of King’s Lodge, Petersham 1671-?76; commr. for recusants, Hants 1675, col. of militia horse and ft. by 1697-d.2

PC 22 Apr. 1679-d.

Col. of ft. 1689-98.


Lord St. John was descended from a younger son of the Somerset Pouletts. His ancestor acquired Basing by marriage in 1428, but the first of the family to represent the county was Sir William Paulet, who sat in the Reformation Parliament before becoming lord treasurer and Marquess of Winchester. St. John’s father was returned for St. Ives in 1620, but subsequently became a Roman Catholic. He was distinguished for his loyalty in the Civil War, when Basing House became a Cavalier stronghold and was sacked by the New Model Army. His estates were forfeited, but most of them were bought back by the family trustees.3

St. John himself was never a Papist, and his relations with his father, who lived out of the county, were not good. He may already have come under the influence of his country neighbour, Sir Robert Howard, during the Interregnum. He was briefly imprisoned as a Cavalier suspect in 1655, and early in 1660 Mordaunt recruited him for the Trust, but he was too politic to involve himself in plotting. Ineligible at the general election, he was returned for Winchester after the Restoration. An inactive Member of the Convention, though doubtless a court supporter, he immediately introduced a petition against Robert Wallop, who had been granted part of the family estates, but he was named to only four committees, including those to inquire into unauthorized Anglican publications and to consider a bill for the better observance of the Lord’s day. He acted as teller to agree with the Lords to except John Carew and Sir Arthur Heselrige from from the benefits of the indemnity bill. His only speech was on 6 July, when he moved for a new writ for Malmesbury.4

St. John moved up to the county at the general election of 1661. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 127 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in 11 sessions. He acted as teller in 20 divisions, and made 38 recorded speeches. He soon made his mark in the House as teller for burning the Covenant, for the corporations bill, and for a proviso to the militia bill. In the opening session he was named to the committees to restore the bishops to the House of Lords, to inquire into the shortfall in the revenue, to consider the corporations and uniformity bills, and to prevent mischief from Quakers. When Parliament resumed after Christmas he was teller for exempting houses worth less than £1 p.a. from hearth-tax, and for appropriating the revenue to arise from licensing hackney coaches. St. John’s income from his lead-mines was later computed at £5,000 p.a. or more, and he took a keen interest in the bill to define mines royal. He was named to the committee on 9 Apr. 1662 and helped to present an address at the end of the session asking the King to forbear granting any mining patents until the bill should pass. In 1663 he was again appointed to the committee for the bill, and was also among the Members ordered to devise remedies for sectarian meetings. He served on the Commons delegation to thank the King for his proclamation against Popish priests and Jesuits, but on 7 May he found himself in the dubious company of the crypto-Catholic Solomon Swale against a paragraph in the anti-Popery bill concerning refusal of the oaths. During this session a bill was introduced to confirm the King’s award settling the differences between St. John and his father, and reported by Giles Hungerford on 21 May. His activity may have declined in the immediately succeeding sessions, for on 10 Feb. 1665 he had to be summoned, together with Henry Seymour I, to attend the House; but ten days later he was named to the committee on the bill to enable his uncle, Lord Henry Powlett, to sell land. There is no evidence that he attended the Oxford session, but he was teller for the bill to prohibit the import of cattle and fish on 13 Oct. 1666. A few weeks later he exposed both his property and person to serious punishment by pulling the nose of (Sir) Andrew Henley in Westminster Hall while the courts were actually in session. St. John acknowledged ‘that it was a very heinous offence both against the King and his laws, and the honour of the House’. His habitual affability, which he carried almost to excess, must have won him many friends, for the Commons agreed without a division to endorse his petition for pardon, which was presented by the Speaker and many other Members. Andrew Marvell inevitably suggested, in an unpublished poem, that St. John had only escaped the loss of his right hand, the penalty prescribed for the offence, by paying for the roofing of Clarendon’s magnificent house in Piccadilly, then nearing completion; but his standing in the House was unaffected, for on 14 Jan. 1667 he was chosen to carry the coinage bill to the Lords.5

St. John’s conduct on the fall of Clarendon does not suggest any feelings of gratitude on his part. He helped to draft the address of thanks for the lord chancellor’s dismissal, and to inquire into the sale of Dunkirk and into restraints on jurors. On the latter subject, which he was to make peculiarly his own, he was given leave to bring in a bill. As one of those who drew up the charges against Clarendon, he undertook to prove the offence of asserting that the King was a Papist at heart, in breach of the Security Act. When the House held that none of the original charges could justify an impeachment for treason, St. John joined with Howard and John, Lord Vaughan to produce a new article alleging the betrayal of state secrets to the enemy during the second Dutch war. After helping to prepare a justification of the Commons’ proceedings, he reported a conference with the Lords. On 16 Dec. 1667 he and Howard were tellers against agreeing with the Lords that a summons to Clarendon to give himself up had been rendered superfluous by his flight, but they were appointed to the committee to consider the bill to banish and disable him from office. He was appointed lord lieutenant of Hampshire and warden of the New Forest, in which capacity he drew the attention of the House to waste of timber; the treasury commissioners were accordingly desired to obtain an order suspending all felling and carrying. His bill against menaces, fines and imprisonment of juries was read on 17 Feb. 1668. He was named to the committee, though prime responsibility was assigned to the eminent lawyer, John Vaughan. In another important step towards assuring the liberty of the subject, he obtained leave on 10 Apr. to bring in a bill to prevent the refusal of habeas corpus, but this was still in committee when Parliament adjourned.6

In the next session St. John was teller against the impeachment of Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle), and was listed among Buckingham’s supporters. He was named to the committee for the second conventicles bill (2 Mar. 1670), and acted as teller for the Lords’ proviso asserting the royal prerogative in ecclesiastical affairs. When the House gave a somewhat sceptical reception to an offer from Howard to farm all the new taxes, St. John kindly hoped that he would be able to make out his propositions, and Marvell regarded him as Howard’s dupe in respect of the syndicate which he himself formed to farm the customs. Sir William Bucknall supplied the technical expertise, and other partners included Sir John Bennet, the principal shareholder, Sir William Doyley, John Bence, and John Man. St. John was on both lists of the court party at this time, and the award of so substantial a contract to a group containing so many MPs did not escape comment. The customary advance had been paid into the Exchequer, and the lease was due to come into force at Michaelmas 1671, when at the last moment the syndicate over-played their hand and the farm was cancelled. Most of the negotiations were doubtless in Bucknall’s hands, and St. John was still able to take an active part in Parliament. He intervened in the debate on conventicles of 22 Mar. to protest at the fining of jurymen, and he was again found acting as teller with Howard against the bill. On 22 Apr. he was sent to the Lords to desire a conference on preventing the export of wool.7

Although special measures were taken to insure that repayment of the advance for the abortive customs farm was not affected by the Stop of the Exchequer, when Parliament met again in 1673 St. John had finally joined the Opposition. More prominent than ever before, he evinced little regard for consistency with his previous record. He was teller for describing the address against the suspending power as unanimous, and for repealing the requirement for office-holders to abjure the Covenant. On 18 Mar. he complained that a regiment quartered in Hampshire was ruining the poor victuallers, who had been paid nothing since November, and he was among those ordered to draw up an address on the condition of Ireland. In the autumn session he declared with studied moderation that ‘a lady so nearly related to the court of Rome must be a very inconvenient match’ for the heir to the throne, and was appointed to the committee to draft an address against it. He was also among those instructed to prepare a general test bill. In 1674 he helped to draw up the address against the standing army and acted as teller against debating the speech from the throne. He told the House of some revealing remarks by Lauderdale on the authority of proclamations. As for Buckingham, St. John could be ‘a friend to no man that gives ill advice’, and alleged on the authority of ‘one of the Cabal’ that the King had been told ‘to force the House of Commons to pass bills, and if any refused to take off their heads’. On 15 Jan. he was given leave to bring in his habeas corpus bill, which had been improved on legal advice. He was the first Member appointed to the committee eight days later, but there must have been serious flaws in his draft, for it was replaced on 29 Jan. by another bill to prevent imprisonment overseas. St. John helped to draw up reasons for peace with Holland and was sent to the Lords to ask for a conference, which he later reported. Just as Richelieu’s apprentices were keeping up arbitrary government in France, he said, so in England ‘the Councillors now look to set themselves up by this army and [the] Guards; the money spent upon them might have made us masters of the sea’. He was largely responsible for pressing the charge of Popery against Samuel Pepys, which he had heard ‘six or seven times’ from Lord Shaftesbury. His committees included those for the general test bill, and the bills to prevent illegal exactions and to secure judges in office during good behaviour.8

Before the next session St. John had succeeded to the peerage. He remained steadfast in opposition for the remainder of the reign, attacking Danby and voting for exclusion. On the accession of James II he promised to secure the election of loyal candidates in Hampshire, Yorkshire, and Cornwall; but in January 1688 he sent his old associate Man to Holland with a letter promising support for the Prince of Orange, and he was given a dukedom after the Revolution. He died on 27 Feb. 1699, aged 68, and was buried at Basing. Burnet’s portrait of the eccentric Whig magnifico is famous and irresistible, though unfortunately it fails to do justice to his subject’s service in the Lower House in defence of habeas corpus and the freedom of juries:

He was a man of strange mixture. He had the spleen to a high degree, and affected an extravagant behaviour. For many weeks he would take a conceit not to speak one word, and at other times he would not open his mouth till such an hour of the day when he thought the air was pure. He changed the day into night and often hunted by torchlight, and took all sorts of liberties to himself, many of which were very disagreeable to those about him. In the end of King Charles’s time and during King James’s reign he affected an appearance of folly, which afterwards he compared to Junius Brutus’s behaviour under the Tarquins. With all this he was a very knowing and a very crafty, politic man, and was an artful flatterer when that was necessary to compass his end, in which generally he was successful. He was a man of profuse expense, and of a most ravenous avarice to support that, and though he was much hated, yet he carried matters before him with such authority and success that he was in all respects the great riddle of the age.9

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / Paula Watson


  • 1. VCH Hants , iv. 122; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 304; Grey, ii. 387; Thurloe, iv. 509.
  • 2. Winchester corp. assembly bk. 5, f. 139; 6, f. 45; C. Sharp, Hist. Hartlepool, 72; CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 78, 211; 1675-6, p. 577, 1676-7, p. 26; 1689-90, pp. 20, 21; Eg. 1626, f. 45.
  • 3. VCH Hants, iv. 116; Clarendon, Rebellion, iii. 408; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2533; HMC 7th Rep. 161.
  • 4. HMC 7th Rep. 172; N. and Q. (ser. 7, x), 41; D. Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy, 296-7; CJ, viii. 61, 135, 140; Bowman diary, f. 57.
  • 5. CJ, viii. 254, 291, 304, 383, 393, 435, 466, 656-8; Dering, 61; CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 299; Pepys Diary, 29 Nov. 1666, 6 May 1668; Milward, 52; Marvell, ed. Margoliouth, i. 139; ii. 310.
  • 6. Milward, 114, 185, 253; Eg. 2539, ff. 135-6; CJ, ix. 37, 39.
  • 7. CJ, ix. 114, 148, 230; Grey, i. 282; 407; D. Chandaman, Eng. Pub. Revenue, 26-28; HMC Le Fleming, 73; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 1122; Marvell, i. 169; ii. 310.
  • 8. CJ, ix. 257, 268, 284, 292, 302; Grey, ii. 131, 192-3, 237, 256-7, 396, 429.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 42; Dalrymple, Mems. ii. bk. 5, p. 91; Burnet, ed. Routh, iv. 413-14.