Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 50.djvu/164

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

against benevolences (Lives of the Chief Justices, i. 450; cf. Gardiner, History of England, ii. 268). He also erroneously describes him as member for Bedford county in 1628, and ‘mainly instrumental in carrying the Petition of Right’ (Campbell, i. 452). St. John received employment from Francis Russell, fourth earl of Bedford [q. v.], in his law business, and was sent to the Tower in November 1629 for communicating to Bedford Sir Robert Dudley's ‘Proposition for his Majesty's service to bridle the impertinence of Parliaments.’ He was threatened with the rack and brought before the Star-chamber for circulating a seditious document, but the prosecution was dropped and the offenders pardoned on the occasion of the birth of Charles II (Gardiner, vii. 139; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1629–30, pp. 97, 98, 110; Life of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, ii. 40). St. John was also associated with the Earl of Warwick, Lord Saye, John Pym, and other opposition leaders in the management of the company for the plantation of the island of Providence (Cal. State Papers, Colonial, 1574–1660, p. 123).

Even more important in its influence on his political career was the connection with the Cromwell family, resulting from St. John's marriage, first with a distant relative, and after her death with a cousin of the future Protector. Cromwell's close friendship with the second Mrs. St. John is shown by the remarkable letter which he addressed to her in 1638 (Carlyle, Cromwell, Letter 2). According to Clarendon, St. John never forgave the court his imprisonment in 1629, and ‘contracted an implacable displeasure against the church purely from the company he kept’ (Rebellion, iii. 32). In 1637 his papers were seized in consequence of the suspicion that he had drawn Henry Burton's answer to the information preferred against him in the Star-chamber for his attack against the bishops (Bruce, Documents relating to William Prynne, pp. 77, 83, Camd. Soc. 1877). In the same year he acted as counsel for Lord Saye and John Hampden in their resistance to the payment of ship-money. His speech in Hampden's case gained him an immense reputation, and, though hitherto he had had little practice in Westminster Hall, henceforward he was called ‘into all courts and to all causes where the King's prerogative was most contested’ (Clarendon, Rebellion, iii. 32; Rushworth, ii. 481–544). In the Short parliament of April 1640 St. John represented Totnes. In August of the same year he helped Pym to draw up the famous petition of the twelve peers which led to the calling of the Long parliament (Camden Society Miscellany, vol. viii. ‘Papers relating to the Delinquency of Lord Savile,’ p. 2). When the Long parliament met, St. John, who was again returned for Totnes, became naturally one of its leaders. He was ‘in a firm and entire conjunction’ with Pym and Hampden, and ‘of intimate trust’ with the Earl of Bedford, being thus one of the half-dozen opposition politicians who made up ‘the engine which moved all the rest.’ Clarendon describes him as ‘a man reserved, and of a dark and clouded countenance, very proud, and conversing with very few, and those men of his own humour and inclinations.’ He was ‘very seldom known to smile,’ but could not conceal his cheerfulness when the king dissolved the Short parliament, believing that so moderate a body of men ‘would never have done what was necessary to be done’ (Clarendon, ii. 78, iii. 32). In the Long parliament St. John opened the attack on ship-money. On 7 Dec. 1640 he presented the report of the committee appointed by the commons to deal with the subject, and a month later set forth the case against that impost to the House of Lords (Commons' Journals, ii. 46; Mr. St. John's Speech in the Upper House of Parliament, 7 Jan. 1640–1, concerning Ship-money, 4to, 1640). On 29 Jan. following the king, at the proposal of the Earl of Bedford, appointed St. John solicitor-general, ‘hoping that he would have been very useful in the House of Commons, where his authority was then great; at least that he would be ashamed ever to appear in anything that might prove prejudicial to the crown’ (Clarendon, iii. 85).

Office, however, made no change in St. John's political attitude. He played an important part in Strafford's trial, promoted the bill for his attainder, and argued in his speech to the lords on its behalf that, as Strafford had endeavoured to destroy the law, he was not entitled to its protection. ‘He that would not have had others to have law, why should he have any himself? … We give law to hares and deer because they be beasts of chase. It was never accounted either cruelty or foul play to knock foxes and wolves on the head, as they can be found, because they are beasts of prey’ (ib. iii. 140; An Argument of Law concerning the Bill of Attainder of Thomas, Earl of Strafford, 4to, 1641, p. 72; Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion, pp. 341–7). According to Clarendon, both the Root and Branch Bill and the Militia Bill were drawn by St. John (Rebellion, iii. 156, 245). He was also a member of the committee ap-