Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/St. John, Oliver (1559-1630)
ST. JOHN, OLIVER, Viscount Grandison and Baron Tregoz (1559-1630), lord deputy of Ireland, born in 1559, was the second son of Nicholas St. John (d. 1589) of Lydiard-Tregoz (or Liddiard Tregoze, as it is now spelt), Wiltshire, by his wife Elizabeth (d. 1587), daughter of Sir Richard Blount of Mapledurham, Oxfordshire. His mother was distantly related to Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire [q. v.], and on the father's side he was descended through a female line from the Grandisons (see G.E.C.'s Complete Peerage), and was related to the St. Johns, barons of Bletsho [see St. John, Oliver, first Earl of Bolingbroke]. The future lord deputy was educated at Oxford, matriculating from Trinity College on 20 Dec. 1577, and graduating B.A. on 26 June 1578. He adopted the legal profession, and in 1580 was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn. But about March 1583-4 he killed George Best [q. v.], the navigator, in a duel, and was compelled to flee the country.
St. John now sought his fortunes as a soldier abroad, and served with distinction in Flanders and in France. Before 1591 he had attained the rank of captain, and in the autumn of that year commanded Essex's horse at the siege of Rouen; 'he served very valiantly, namely, the first day of the siege of Rouen, when he had his horse killed in a charge, which he performed very well' (Cal. Hatfield MSS. vi. 570). In 1592 he returned to England, and was elected member for Cirencester in the parliament summoned to meet on 19 Feb. 1592-3. In March he was placed on a commission for the relief of maimed soldiers and mariners, and made several speeches during the session (see D'Ewes, Journals, pp. 475, 489); but parliament was dissolved in April, and soon afterwards Essex recommended St. John to Cecil as 'a leader of horse fit to be employed.' He again sought service in the Netherlands, and was present at the battle of Nieuport on 2 July 1600.
Meanwhile Tyrone's rebellion necessitated the presence of experienced soldiers in Ireland, and St. John accompanied Mountjoy thither in February 1601: he was knighted by Mountjoy at Dublin on 28 Feb. (Collins, Letters and Memorials, ii. 180), and was given command of two hundred men. He took a prominent part in the siege of Kinsale in the autumn, repulsing a night attack of the Spaniards on 2 Dec., when he was wounded. On 13 Dec. he left the camp to carry despatches to Elizabeth and inform her of the state of Ireland (Chamberlain, Letters, pp. 130,134). In November 1602 he was back in Ireland commanding twenty-five horse and 150 foot in Connaught, under Sir George Carew, and in the same year he was recommended by Cecil for the office of vice-president of that province. The arrangement does not seem to have been carried out. From 1604 to 1607 he sat in the English parliament as member for Portsmouth. On 12 Dec. 1605 he was made master of the ordnance in Ireland with a salary of 200l. a year, and sworn of the Irish privy council. Several of his reports on arms and ammunition in Ireland are preserved among the state papers.
From this time St. John was Chichester's most trusted adviser. Early in 1608 he was named a commissioner for the plantation of Ulster. In that capacity he drew up a scheme for the plantation of the province, and accompanied Chichester in his progress through Ulster in 1609. As an 'undertaker' he had grants of fifteen hundred acres in Ballymore, co. Armagh, and a thousand acres in 'Keernan.' He advised that no grants of the lands of the banished earls should be made, but that they should be let to natives at a high rent. Early in 1609 Chichester sent him to England, and he drew up a report of the commissioners' proceedings for Salisbury's benefit. In 1613 he was elected member of the Irish parliament for co. Roscommon, and took an important part in the dispute about the speakership [see Davies, Sir John; O'Brien, Barnabas]. Speaking from his experience of the English House of Commons, he urged that the first business of the house was to elect a speaker, and that the proper method of voting was to leave the house and be counted in a lobby. Everard's supporters, however, refused; and, during the absence of their opponents, placed Everard in the chair, from which he was forcibly ejected by the majority. St. John was one of the members sent to lay the matter before James I. In December 1614 he resigned the mastership of the ordnance, being highly commended for his conduct in that office. He was in England during October 1615, when the Earl of Somerset was committed to his custody (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1011-18, p. 317).
On 2 July 1616 St. John was appointed lord deputy of Ireland; he received the sword of state on 30 Aug. His appointment was partly due to his connection with George Villiers (afterwards Duke of Buckingham), and his administration was marked by a vigorous persecution of the recusants. Bacon spoke of him as 'a man ordained of God to do great good to that kingdom' (Spedding, Letters of Bacon, vi. 207). He banished, by proclamation, all monks and friars educated abroad, and thought it would be a good thing if a hundred thousand native Irish could be sent to enlist in foreign countries. He also prosecuted the colonisation of Ulster, and the plantation of co. Longford in 1618 was followed next year by that of co. Leitrim. His 'intolerable severity' against the recusants created many enemies, and the fact that he owed his appointment to Villiers made him unpopular with many of his council. Early in 1621 they urged his recall; and, though James commended him and protested against involving him in disgrace, he was finally commanded to deliver up the sword of state to Loftus on 18 April 1622. He left Ireland on 4 May.
St. John still remained in favour at court. On 28 June 1622 he was sworn of the English privy council, on 23 June 1623 he was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick in the peerage of Ireland, on 16 Aug. 1625 he was made lord high treasurer of Ireland, and on 20 May 1626 was raised to the English peerage as Baron Tregoz of Highworth, Wiltshire. In 1624 he was placed on the council of war, and served on various other commissions. He also interested himself in foreign and colonial affairs, frequently corresponding with his nephew, Sir Thomas Roe [q. v.] In 1627 he bought the manors of Wandsworth and Battersea, where he had had a house since 1600 (Collins, Letters and Memorials, ii. 207). His health failing, he sought the advice of Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne [q. v.] After a visit to Ireland in 1630 to settle his estates there, he returned to Battersea, where he died on 30 Dec. in the same year, being buried there on 12 Jan. 1630-1.
St. John married Joan, daughter and heiress of John Roydon of Battersea, and widow of Sir William Holcroft; she was buried at Battersea on 10 March 1630-1; by her he had no issue. The barony of Tregoz became extinct. Grandison's manors, Wandsworth and Battersea, passed into the same branch of the family. The viscounty of Grandison passed, in accordance with the limitation of the patent, to his grand-nephew, William Villiers, son of Sir Edward Villiers, brother of the Duke of Buckingham, by his wife Barbara, younger daughter of Sir John St. John, Grandison's elder brother. Many of St. John's letters and reports have been calendared among the Domestic, Irish, and Carew papers. His portrait is included in a rare print of the council of war, preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries.[Cal. State Papers, Dom., Ireland, China, and Persia; Cal. Carew MSS.; Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 19839, 29314; Egerton MS. 2126, ff. 4, 6; Stowe MS. 173, f. 260; Cal. Hatfield MSS.; Winwood's Memorials; Aubrey's Topographical Collections, ed. Jackson, 1862, pp. 170, 174 ; Marshall's Visitation of Wiltshire, ed. 1882, p. 36 ; Lascelles's Liber Munerum Hib.; Morrin's Cal. Patent Rolls; Official Return of Members of Parl.; Clark's Reg. Univ. Oxon. ii. ii. 79, iii. 75; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714; Metcalfe's Book of Knights; Ellis's Original Letters; Letters of Carew to Sir Thomas Roe, passim ; Letters of Sir Robert Cecil to Sir George Carew, passim, Chamberlain's Letters, pp. 130, 134, Fortescue Papers, pp. 133-4 (these four publ. by Camden Soc.); Gardiner's Hist. of England ; Stafford's Pacata Hibernia, ed. Standish O'Grady; Fynes Moryson's Hist. of Ireland and Itinerary, passim ; Rothe's Analecta Sacra, ed. Moran, 1884, pp. 210, 212, 215; Coxe's Hibernia Anglicana, ii. 33-7; Lenihan's Hist. of Limerick, pp. 142, &c.; O'Donoghue's Hist. Memoir of the O'Briens, p. 253; Journal of the Cork Hist. and Archæol. Soc.ii. 47, 59 ; Dugdale's Baronage; Collins's Peerage, vi. 65-78; Lodge's Irish Peerage; Burke's Extinct Peerage; G.E.C.'s Complete Peerage, s.v. 'Grandison;' Manning and Bray's Surrey, iii. 330; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 373, vii. 27-8.]