ST. JOHN, Hon. Henry (1738-1818), of Rockley, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1761 - 1784
7 July - Dec. 1802

Family and Education

b. 1738, 2nd s. of John, and Visct. St. John, by Anne, da. and h. of Sir Robert Furnese, 2nd Bt., M.P., of Waldershare, Kent; bro. of Hon. John St. John. educ. Eton 1747-53.  m. 31 Aug. 1771, Barbara, da. of Thomas Bladen, M.P., of Glastonbury, Som., s.p.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1754; capt. 18 Ft. 1758; maj. 91 Ft. 1760; lt.-col. 1762; half pay 1763; lt.-col. 67 Ft. Nov. 1767; col. army 1776; col. 36 Ft. 1778- d.; maj-gen. 1779; lt.-gen. 1787; gen. 1797.

Groom of bedchamber to the Duke of York 1763-7, to the King 1771-1812.


St. John sat for Wootton Bassett on his family interest, and in politics followed his brother, Lord Bolingbroke, an adherent of the Bedfords. In August 1763 he accompanied the Duke of York on his tour of the Mediterranean countries. ‘I am very happy to attend him in his travels in Italy, a country I wanted much to see’, St. John wrote to George Selwyn on 24 July.1 Lord and Lady Spencer

met the Duke of York in many places in Italy [wrote Lady Mary Coke on 19 July 17642]; they seem to wonder he is able to support the fatigue he goes through, of which poor Mr. St. John is likely to fall a victim; he has been left at two or three places not being able to follow, and they think is going into a consumption.

They did not return till the end of 1764. On the dismissal of the Grenville Administration, St. John followed his brother into opposition and voted against Rockingham and Chatham. One of the gambling set at Brooks’s, he wrote to Selwyn, 9 Dec. 1766:3

Play ... has already, since October, taken £800 from me; nor am I in a likely way to reimburse myself soon by the emoluments of any place or military preferment, having voted the other evening in a minority. I own it appears ridiculous, in my situation in life, to be a patriot, but I think I can ... justify to you the opposition even of a poor younger brother on half pay ... I hope to pass a few days with my discarded friends at Woburn this Christmas. ... I own I am very sorry, on my own private account, they had not terms offered that were acceptable.

On 27 Feb. 1767 St. John voted with the Opposition over the land tax, according to Walpole with the Duke of York’s permission.4 Later on he set out once more on travels with the Duke—‘I go through a great deal of trouble and fatigue in accompanying mon Prince’, he wrote to Selwyn from Montpelier on 25 Aug. 1767.5 And with regard to politics, which had ‘taken so perverse a turn for some time’ for his nearest friends and himself:

I have not, it is true, followed a conduct in Parliament to make my seat advantageous to me, but I have the comfort to consider I have not deserted those I set out with, and professed myself attached to.

St. John was with the Duke when he died at Monaco on 17 Sept. 1767, and brought his body back to England.

His Majesty [he wrote to Selwyn on 10 Nov. 17676] as a mark of his approbation, immediately made me an offer, which many people blame me for accepting of ... though I think I could not in prudence or policy have refused, as it came immediately from the King ... He has given me a lieutenant-colonelcy in Minorca; that is, I am reinstated in the same commission I had near six years ago.

St. John started for Minorca in May 1768; and on 21 July wrote from Mahon: ‘I begin to count the days I have to stay here. I hope to leave the island in October.’ And on 26 Aug.:

I thank my stars (though I met with great indulgence from my late master, and was honoured with his friendship), that it is no longer my fate to follow the caprices of a young prince. My income has been considerably lessened by the loss of my place, and it has not been made up to me, which, when I have mentioned it to foreigners, they have been all astonished ... at the shabbiness of our court ...

About politics:

I was two years in opposition with the Bedfords, but I see no return of favour from them to me, which I think my brother and I have some right to claim.

He left Minorca in October 1768 and returned via Paris. The Bedfords having rejoined Administration, St. John henceforth voted with the court. During the crisis over the Falkland Islands, in December 1770, he had to rejoin his regiment in Minorca. ‘I never remember being so discontented in mind, in my whole life’ he wrote to Selwyn from Paris on 22 Dec., ‘as I am at this moment ... I pray for a peace, and a quick return to England.’ He returned early in 1771, and in May was appointed groom of the bedchamber to the King. But early in 1776 Selwyn wrote to Lord Carlisle:7 ‘Harry St. John ... because ... there is an aide-de-camp to the King made preferably to himself ... threatens not to give us his assistance in Parliament.’ That grievance, too, was soon removed, St. John being appointed colonel and aide-de-camp that same year.

The English Chronicle, in one of its character sketches of Members, having enumerated the posts St. John held at court and in the army, remarked:

The description of this gentleman’s dignities includes the most material part of his history; for, independent of this enumeration, nothing of consequence remains to be observed, but that he is the constant and most devoted friend of the existing Administration.

He continued indeed one of the most regular Government supporters. In December 1780, when the King requested North to ‘suggest some proper person to be recommended to the Queen as her vice chamberlain’, North named primo loco St. John. The King, however, replied on 28 Dec.: ‘Major-General St. John would certainly not choose for the addition of one hundred pounds to change his present employment for one that requires so much more attendance, besides his being on the staff would prevent his being able to attend so much as the office requires.’8

In Robinson’s list of March 1783 St. John was marked as connected with North, and ‘against’ Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, though in the division list for 18 Feb. published in the Morning Post of 27 Feb., his name does not appear. He adhered to the Coalition, and voted for Fox’s East India bill. In December 1783 Robinson wrote about Wootton Bassett that it was managed by St. John through ‘another agent on the spot’, and expected that St. John ‘may again come in for one’, but that the other seat might perhaps be sold to the Government for £3,000.9 Possibly because of Lord Bolingbroke’s secret service pension and the complications which the family’s connexion with the Opposition would create, none of the three St. Johns of the Bolingbroke branch stood for Parliament in 1784.

St. John died 4 Apr. 1818.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Jesse, Selwyn, i. 259.
  • 2. Jnl. i. 10.
  • 3. Jesse, ii. 102-3.
  • 4. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 300-1.
  • 5. Jesse, ii. 183-4.
  • 6. Ibid. ii. 193, 315, 323, 338, 341; iii. 6.
  • 7. HMC Carlisle, 317.
  • 8. Fortescue, v. 172-3.
  • 9. Laprade, 80, 109, 113.