St. John, Oliver (1580?-1646) (DNB00)

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ST. JOHN, OLIVER, fourth Baron St. John of Bletsho and first Earl of Bolingbroke (1580?–1646), born about 1580, was son and heir of Oliver St. John, third baron St. John of Bletsho, by his wife Dorothy, daughter and heiress of Sir John Rede of Odington, Gloucestershire. The St. Johns of Bletsho and the St. Johns of Lydiard-Tregoz [see St. John, Oliver, Viscount Grandison] were both descended from Sir Oliver St. John, K.B. (d. 1437), and his wife Margaret Beauchamp, who afterwards married John Beaufort, second duke of Somerset, and was grandmother of Henry VII. The Bletsho family was the elder branch (see pedigree in G.E.C.'s Peerage, s.v. 'Bolingbroke'). Sir Oliver's great-great-grandson, Oliver, was created first baron St. John of Bletsho in 1558; was one of the judges who tried Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk [q. v.] in 1572, and died in 1582 (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 150). He was succeeded by his eldest son, John, second baron, who sat on the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, and died without male issue on 23 Oct. 1596. His only daughter, Anne, married William, eldest son of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham [q. v.] The barony of Bletsho devolved upon his brother, Oliver St. John, third baron (d. 1618), father of the subject of this article (cf. Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, ii. 283). Oliver St. John (1598?-1673) [q. v.], the chief justice, was grandson of Thomas, third son of the first baron St. John. Distinct from all the above was Oliver St. John who was fined 5,000l. by the Star-chamber and condemned to lifelong imprisonment for opposition to benevolences in 1615. He subsequently made a full submission, was released, and had his fine remitted (ib. v. 131-52; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. vii. 27-8; Howell, State Trials, ii. 899; Letters of Carew to Sir Thomas Roe, Camden Soc. pp. 140-3).

The third baron signalised himself by his opposition to the benevolence of 1614 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611-18, p. 225), and his son identified himself with the popular party in parliament. He was elected member for Bedfordshire in 1601, and again in 1603-4. In 1604 he served on the committee appointed to discuss the change in the royal title. On 3 June 1610 he was made knight of the Bath at the creation of Henry, prince of Wales. In September 1618 he succeeded his father as fourth Baron St. John of Bletsho. In the following year he sumptuously entertained James I at his house, and in 1620 he took his seat in the House of Lords (Lords' Journals, iii. 3). The 'right hon. Sir Oliver St. John, baron of Bletsho,' who according to the official return sat for Bedford in the parliament of February 1623-4, must mean his eldest son (see below). On 28 Dec. 1624 he was created Earl of Bolingbroke (a manor that had belonged to the Beauchamp family, from which he was descended). He took his seat on 22 June 1625. In December 1626 he refused to contribute to the forced loan (Gardiner, vi. 190); but in 1638-9 he contributed towards the expenses of the Scottish war. Nevertheless on 28 Aug. 1640 he signed the petition of the twelve peers, attributing the evils of the day to the absence of parliaments, and urging Charles to summon one forthwith. He remained with the Long parliament in 1642 when Charles retired to York, and in February 1642-3 was named by the parliament lord lieutenant of Bedfordshire; in this capacity he took an active part in raising the militia and providing for the safety of the shire. In the same year he took the covenant, and was appointed a lay member of the Westminster assembly. On 10 Nov. he was one of the commissioners named for the custody of the great seal. In 1645 he was excused attendance at the House of Lords, and he died in June or July 1646. He married, in April 1602, Elizabeth, daughter of William Paulet and granddaughter of Sir George Paulet, brother of William Paulet, first marquis of Winchester [q. v.] A portrait of Bolingbroke with his family, by Vandyck, belongs to the Earl of Morley (see Cat. First Loan Exhib. 1866, No. 732).

His eldest son, Oliver St. John (1603- 1642), born in 1603, was returned to parliament as member for Bedfordshire in February 1623-4, being erroneously described as 'Baron St. John of Bletsho.' He was re-elected in 1625, 1626, and 1628-9, acting throughout with the popular party. After his father's elevation to the earldom of Bolingbroke he was known by the courtesy title Lord St. John, and at the coronation of Charles I was made K.B. In 1628 he visited Eliot in the Tower. According to Clarendon (Rebellion, bk. vi. 93), he 'got himself well beloved by the reputation of courtesy and civility which he expressed towards all men,' but was of licentious habits, and was compelled by his pecuniary embarrassments to seek license to travel abroad under an assumed name. On 3 Nov. 1639 he was summoned by writ to the House of Lords on the strength, it is said, of a promise to support the king. Nevertheless he voted uniformly with the popular party, and on the outbreak of the civil war raised a regiment, in which Cromwell's eldest son, Oliver, served as cornet. Early in October 1642 he took possession of Hereford in the parliamentary interest, fortified the town, and refused admittance to Charles when he appeared before it on the 8th (A True Relation of the Proceedings at Hereford by the Lord St. John, 1642, 4to). He then joined the Earl of Essex and fought at Edgehill on the 23rd. According to Clarendon, he fled from the field, was wounded, taken captive, and died next morning. He married, in May 1623, Arabella, eldest daughter of John Egerton, first earl of Bridgewater [q. v.], but had no issue. The earldom of Bolingbroke consequently passed to Oliver St. John (1634?-1688), eldest son of Paulet St. John (d. 1638), second son of the first earl. On the death of Paulet St. John, third earl, unmarried, in 1711, the earldom became extinct,, while the barony of St. John of Bletsho passed to Paulet St. Andrew St. John, a descendant of Rowland, younger brother of the first earl of Bolingbroke, in whose family it still remains.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. passim; Journals of the House of Lords, vols. iii. iv. v. and vi. passim; Stowe MS. 276, f. 2; Off. Ret. Members of Parl.; Add. MSS. 22115 f. 8; 28852 ff. 30-7, 46; Visitation of Huntingdonshire, p. 2, and Chamberlain's Letters (Camden Soc.); Clarendon's Hist, of the Rebellion; Masson's Milton, passim; Gardiner's Hist, of England and Civil War; Forster's Life of Eliot; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Wood's Athenae Oxon. iii. 134; Collins, Burke, Doyle, and G. E. C.'s Peerages.]

A. F. P.