ST. JOHN, Henry (1678-1751)

ST. JOHN, Henry (1678–1751)

cr. 7 July 1712 Visct. BOLINGBROKE

First sat 8 July 1712; last sat 23 Mar. 1715

MP Wootton Bassett, 1701–8; Berkshire 1710–12

b. 16 Sept. 1678, 1st s. of Henry St. John, cr. Visct. St John 1716, and 1st w. Lady Mary Rich, da. and coh. of Robert Rich, 3rd earl of Warwick. educ. ?Eton c.1692; DCL, Oxf. 1702; travelled abroad (France, Switzerland, Italy) 1698–9; Padua Univ. 1699. m. (1) 22 May 1701, Frances (d.1718), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Winchcombe, 2nd bt. s.p.; (2) May 1720, Marie Claire (d.1750), da. of Armand des Champs, seigneur de Marcilly, wid. of Philip le Valois de Villette, s.p. d. 12 Dec. 1751; will 22 Nov. 1751, pr. 5 Mar. 1752.1

Sec. at war 1704–8; PC 21 Sept. 1710–14; sec. of state (north) 1710–13, (south) 1713–14; envoy to France 1712; sec. of state to Pretender 1715–16.2

Ld. lt. Essex 1712–15; recorder, Harwich 1712–15; high steward, Newbury ?1712.3

Dir. S. Sea Co. 1711–15.

FRS 1713.

Associated with: Bucklebury, Berks.; Battersea, Surr.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, Alexis Simon Belle, c.1712, NPG 593; oil on canvas, attrib. to J. Richardson, c.1730, NPG 1493.

St John’s importance in politics long antedated his admission to the peerage. Variously dubbed ‘the captain’ and ‘man of mercury’, such sobriquets point to his at times contradictory persona as both a commanding and yet elusive presence in the latter years of Queen Anne.4 Talented and outspoken, St John was possessed of self-confidence bordering on arrogance. He admitted as much himself: ‘There are those in the world who, I believe, think me troublesome; but I have the satisfaction, in my turn, of knowing them to be ignorant.’5 Besides his pride in his abilities, St John was also famed for his salacious private life. One observer thought him ‘one of the lewdest men in England’.6 His notoriety and significance as both a minister and political theorist of Augustan politics has attracted the attentions of numerous biographers and essayists: most have found his apparent lack of principle both a draw and a frustration.

Early life, 1678–1708

Although St John was born into a substantial gentry family, a cadet branch of that of the earls of Bolingbroke, the details of his early life are surprisingly difficult to establish. The death of his mother shortly after his birth meant that his grandparents oversaw his early years, during which he appears to have received some instruction from a Dissenting minister through the influence of his paternal grandmother. It is by no means certain, as is often suggested, that he was a student at Eton, though he may have attended the school in the early 1690s. It is perhaps more probable that he was educated at a Dissenting academy which followed Eton’s curriculum.7 It is also unlikely that St John attended Christ Church, Oxford (though he was later to receive an honorary doctorate in civil law from the university). The first definite information relating to his early education refers to his tour to the continent in the closing years of the seventeenth century, which culminated in a period spent at the university of Padua.8

St John returned to England in 1700 and the following year he was elected for the family seat at Wootton Bassett, and married Frances Winchcombe, who brought with her the estate at Bucklebury, which was to become his adopted home.9 Although his marriage promised St John the prospect of a considerable fortune, his means remained limited while his father and father-in-law were alive. His predicament caused him to consider seeking a foreign posting, but absence from England would have left him at the mercy of others with claims on the Winchcombe inheritance.10

In the event, St John did not take up a posting overseas and concentrated instead on securing office in England. Following early prominence in the Commons, introducing the Act of Settlement in 1701 and the Occasional Conformity Act in 1702, in April 1704 he was appointed secretary at war. His promotion was largely through the patronage of Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, whose nomination as Speaker St John had seconded in December 1701. The secretaryship was presumably the occasion of St John becoming close to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, and in 1705 he managed Marlborough’s interest at Woodstock for the general election.11

Despite his close association with Marlborough, St John was unable to detach the duke from Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, during the governmental crisis of February 1708. Although under no particular pressure to do so, St John chose to join Harley in opposition but his failure to secure a seat at the general election that year led to bitter recriminations against his patron and other senior members of the former administration, whom he considered as having failed to offer him sufficient support in securing an alternative place.12 It may also have further strained his already uncomfortable relations with his father. Henry St John senior had opposed St John’s decision to resign and subsequently forced him to stand aside at Wootton Bassett, only to be defeated by Harley’s nephew, Francis Popham, and a Whig, Robert Cecil.13

Outwardly, St John professed relief at his new retired existence:

Whether it is owing to constitution or to philosophy I can’t tell, but certain it is, that I can make my self easy in any sort of life … Happiness, I imagine, depends much more on desiring little, than enjoying much; & perhaps the surest road to it is indifference. If I continue in the country, the sports of the field and the pleasures of my study will take up all my thoughts, & serve to amuse me as long as I live.14

St John’s period in the wilderness also provided him with an opportunity to begin to develop his own ideology based around a wholly Tory administration in preference to Harley’s continued efforts to maintain a cross-party alliance. In this he seems to have shared the view of his long-term correspondent Sir William Trumbull, that such an unnatural combination was monstrous.15 For the time being, however, he continued to lend his support to Harley’s policy of moderation.

Secretary of state, 1710–12

St John was returned for both Wootton Bassett and Berkshire in the general election of 1710. He chose to sit for the latter. Despite his two-year absence from the Commons, his importance within the ministry was demonstrated at once by his appointment as secretary of state, though Harley’s lack of complete trust was made plain both by his efforts to persuade St John to accept a lesser appointment and by excluding him from the preliminary peace negotiations with France.16 St John sponsored the pro-government newspaper, The Examiner, from August, but towards the end of the year worsening relations with Harley became increasingly apparent and from the beginning of the following year, St John and Simon Harcourt, later Viscount Harcourt, emerged as prominent leaders of the Tory October Club.

A series of reconciliations between St John and Harley were engineered over the following years. Their tottering alliance was shored up on several occasions by the intervention of Laurence Hyde, earl of Rochester, and Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, with whom St John was typically on good terms.17 Present at the interrogation of Antoine de Guiscard, which culminated in Guiscard’s attempt on Harley’s life, St John was one of those to rush to Harley’s aid, running the would-be assassin through in the ensuing scuffle.18 Although he made much of his outrage at Guiscard’s ‘villainous action which I think is not to be paralleled in history’ and hoped that Guiscard would recover from his wounds as it would be a ‘pity he should die any other death than the most ignominious’, St John did not fail to make use of the opportunity presented by Harley’s subsequent indisposition to build up his own support in the Tory party.19 At the heart of this was his plan for an invasion of Canada, for which Harley had shown little enthusiasm prior to his injury, but which St John was now able to foist upon the Council in Harley’s absence in spite of opposition mounted by Rochester.20 The adventure proved to be a costly failure.21 Nevertheless, it enabled St John to forge closer ties with Abigail Masham, who supported the expedition and was exasperated by Harley’s refusal to do so.22

St John became a director of the South Sea Company in May 1711 and the following month he established another political club, dubbed variously ‘the Club’ or ‘the Society’, comprising politicians and literary figures such as Charles Boyle, Baron Boyle (better known as earl of Orrery [I]), Abigail Masham’s brother, General John Hill, Sir William Wyndham, Jonathan Swift and John Arbuthnot. Writing to Orrery, St John explained that:

The first regulation purposed, and that which must be inviolably kept, is decency. None of the extravagance of the Kit Cat, none of the drunkenness of the Beef Steaks is to be endured. The improvement of friendship, and the encouragement of letters are to be the two great ends of our society.23

Harley’s promotion to the earldom of Oxford the same month (June 1711) elicited a typically equivocal response from St John. He commented to Orrery that:

Our friend Mr Harley is now earl of Oxford, and high treasurer. This great advancement is what the labour he has gone through, the danger he has run, and the services he has performed, seem to deserve. But he stands on a slippery ground, and envy is always near the great to fling up their heels on the least trip which they make. The companions of his evil fortune are most likely to be the supporters of his good; and I dare say he makes this a maxim to himself; for though he often wants that grace and openness which engages the affection, yet I must own I never knew that he wanted either the constancy, or the friendship, which engages the esteem.24

St John finally became apprised of the extent of the peace preliminaries in the autumn of 1711, after which he assumed a prominent role in the negotiations. Although it was suggested that he might be one of those to be promoted to the Lords (as earl of Bolingbroke) as part of Oxford’s mass creation of peers in December, his importance to the ministry as a manager in the Commons meant that for the time being he remained in the lower House.25 He also made plain his own disdain for the move, describing it as ‘an unprecedented and invidious measure, to be excused by nothing but the necessity, and hardly by that’.26

The peace conference at Utrecht convened in January 1712 and the following month St John led the assault in the Commons against the Barrier Treaty. His ability to polarize opinion was underscored when, as a result of his being elected to the presidency of the October Club in the spring, a splinter group sheared off and established the rival ‘March Club’ rather than submit to his leadership.27 Disgusted with the conduct of Elector George Ludwig (later King George I) in courting the Whigs, St John’s frustration with Britain’s allies was apparent by April, though he still believed that, with or without them, a suitable settlement was achievable.28 His stance increasingly drew him into conflict with Oxford:

If the Dutch come to their senses, and close with the queen, we shall treat on a better foundation, and may hope to carry the enemy far enough in their concessions; since we have brought them almost to that point, singly, and under the disadvantage of contesting with our allies, at the same time as we have treated with them.29

Fully aware of the potentially precarious position into which he had manoeuvred himself, in a diatribe that was to prove prescient, St John professed emphatically his confidence that he had chosen the correct path:

as to my conduct in the negotiation of a peace, I shall want no justification. I have, it is true, acted as boldly in the promoting that good work, as your lordship used to do, when you thought the interest of your country at stake; and I tell you, without any Gasconade, that I had rather be banished for my whole life, because I have helped to make the peace, than be raised to the highest honours, for having contributed to obstruct it.30

Criticism of the handling of the peace negotiations soon overtook the session and on 28 May St John reported to James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, on the ‘battle’ that had raged in Parliament that day over the ‘restraining orders’ which forbade Ormond from engaging the French while the peace negotiations were in train. These instructions had been penned by St John, according to him on the queen’s orders. His involvement in this allegedly treasonable action was later to become one of the major aspects of the case for his impeachment. St John led the government’s defence in the Commons, while in the Lords the court narrowly fought off the Whig assault by just 28 votes, though, as St John pointed out, ‘the spirit which was shown both above and below stairs, is more considerable, and a better omen, even than the majority by which we prevailed’.31

Viscount Bolingbroke, 1712–14

In recognition of his services in managing the Commons during the debates on the peace, St John was finally promoted to the Lords in July 1712, though the manner of his promotion only served to compound his increasingly difficult relationship with Oxford. The death of his cousin, Paulet St John, 3rd earl of Bolingbroke, without direct heirs in October 1711 had led St John to expect that he would be awarded the now extinct earldom, an expectation that was presumably bolstered by reports in June that he would shortly be created an earl.32 In the event he was granted the lesser peerage of Viscount Bolingbroke, at least in part on account of the queen’s disapproval of his notoriously lax private life.33 His disappointment at failing to secure the earldom was such that he considered requesting a different title, thus reserving the title of Bolingbroke for the future, or rejecting his ennoblement altogether. Swift advised that he ask to be created Viscount Pomfret but Bolingbroke demurred, believing (correctly) that that title was already in existence as a barony. He objected moreover that he had no association with the place.34 In the end Bolingbroke acquiesced in his promotion but he made no secret of his annoyance:

In the House of Commons … I was at the head of business, and I must have continued so, whether I had been in court or out of court. There was therefore nothing to flatter my ambition in removing me from thence, but giving me the title which had been many years in my family, and which reverted to the crown about a year ago, by the death of the last of the elder house. To make me a peer was no great compliment, when so many others were forced to be made to gain a strength in parliament; and since the queen wanted me below stairs in the last session, she could do no less than make me a viscount, or I must have come in the rear of several whom I was not born to follow …35

Bolingbroke took his seat in the House on 8 July, introduced between Oxford and Thomas Trevor, Baron Trevor.36 Two days later, eager to emphasize his new dignity, he wrote to the deputy Earl Marshal, Henry Howard, 6th earl of Suffolk, requesting a warrant to garter king of arms for the addition of supporters to his arms.37 On 23 July, his brother-in-law, Robert Packer, succeeded to the vacant seat in Berkshire, no doubt through Bolingbroke’s interest. The same month Bolingbroke introduced deputations bearing loyal addresses from Cheshire and Essex.38

Bolingbroke travelled to France on 2 Aug. to undertake negotiations concerning the peace treaty, a mission that Oxford intended primarily as a means of compensating him for failing to acquire the desired earldom.39 In Paris he was fêted by French society ‘from the first minister to the lowest peasant’ but he exasperated the administration at home by staying abroad longer than was originally anticipated and by exceeding his instructions in attempting to bring forward a separate peace with France.40 He also excited the queen’s extreme displeasure by attending the opera on the same occasion as the Pretender; the two men occupied adjoining boxes.41 The near-encounter strengthened concerns that Bolingbroke’s sympathies lay with a Jacobite restoration and the same month rumours were put about that Bolingbroke and Oxford were both involved with a Jacobite plot to overthrow the queen.42

Whether or not he indeed exceeded his instructions, Bolingbroke certainly made the most of his opportunity to shine in French society. Having dallied there for a month, he returned to London at the close of August. The following month he was at pains to intervene with the mayor of Poole on behalf of the crew of a captured French fishing boat, reminding him of the ‘suspension of all acts of hostility’ and that civil behaviour to the French was ‘a compliment that costs little’.43 During the autumn of 1712, disagreements with Oxford again came to the surface over the direction of the peace, with Bolingbroke advising a separate peace between Britain, France, Spain and Savoy in opposition to Oxford’s desire to secure the agreement of the Dutch as well. A heated cabinet meeting on 28 Sept., at which Oxford accused Bolingbroke openly of exceeding his instructions, ended with Bolingbroke being forced to capitulate and write both to the British ambassador, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, and to the French minister, the marquis de Torcy, explaining that Britain intended to stand by the Dutch. The following month it was reported, inaccurately, that he was to travel to France again.44

After his discomfiture at cabinet, Bolingbroke retired to Bucklebury to lick his wounds for a few days. He spent the time hunting along with Sir William Wyndham, though he ensured that he was present at Windsor for a cabinet meeting held there in Oxford’s absence. Such assiduity failed to stem reports that he was to be moved from the secretaryship to the office of master of the horse.45 Although he avoided being ousted from his post, he was angry to be excluded from those being granted the garter that autumn, annoyance that was in no way palliated by his appointment to the lord lieutenancy of Essex. His interest in the county, which he had been building on since the previous lieutenant (Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers) had fallen sick, was consolidated in December with his election to the recordership of Harwich.46

Bolingbroke’s fortunes steadily improved from the end of 1712. In December he stood godfather to Lady Masham’s son, alongside General Hill and Baroness Trevor, and in February 1713 his brother, George St John, succeeded William Harrison as secretary to the British ambassador at Utrecht.47 Bolingbroke anticipated that the new session, which was due to meet on 3 Feb. 1713, would be a stormy one, though in the event its opening was delayed on account of the queen’s ill health.48 For all his improved standing, Bolingbroke’s position was still uncertain and tensions remained high among the members of the ministry. In mid-February he engaged in a furious argument with John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S] (also earl of Greenwich), over the Barrier Treaty. Argyll accused Bolingbroke of acting more like the Pretender’s minister than that of Queen Anne and threatened to have him impeached.49

The hiatus in the meeting of Parliament invalidated Orrery’s proxy, which Bolingbroke had in his possession, requiring him to send an additional blank form for Orrery to sign and return in time for the opening of the new session.50 The queen’s continued indisposition extended the delay to April, prior to which Bolingbroke communicated to Shrewsbury his desire that ‘we shall have a short and easy session, and that such measures will be taken as may secure the elections in every part of the kingdom, and make the best use of that peace which we have been so long struggling to obtain’.51

Bolingbroke was, unsurprisingly, noted by Jonathan Swift in advance of the new session as a likely supporter of the ministry. He took his seat at its opening on 9 Apr., after which he was present for just over 53 per cent of all sitting days. The following day it was rumoured that he was one of several members of the ministry to be promoted in the peerage, though none of the expected honours proved forthcoming.52 On 2 May he made his maiden speech in the House, during the debates on the French commerce bill, when it was reported that he ‘came off very well’ despite ‘some repartees between him and my lord Sunderland’ (Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland).53 On 9 May he presented the treaty to the House. Towards the end of the month he reported to Shrewsbury that:

The laying of the treaties before the Houses of Parliament, has undeceived so many people, who had been imposed upon, and induced to believe the grossest absurdities, that the opposite party seem to hope for no success, either within or without the parliament walls, by attacking the terms of peace, or measures of the negotiation.54

Bolingbroke encountered far greater difficulties over the commercial aspects of the Treaty of Utrecht (the eighth and ninth articles), against which the Whigs raised a substantial ‘clamour’:

Multitudes of papers are called for by the House of Lords, several days have been spent in very unnecessary reading, others will be as idly consumed, and I am much out in my judgment, if the aim of the Whig managers be not so to perplex the cause, and to retard the progress of the bill expected from the House of Commons, so as to hinder the ninth article in the treaty of commerce from being made effectual this year.55

Frustrating though Whig intransigence towards the commercial treaty proved, more damaging still was the defection from the government ranks of the Hanover Tories, led by Sir Thomas Hanmer in the Commons and Arthur Annesley, 5th earl of Anglesey, in the Lords.56 Bolingbroke also suspected that Oxford’s support had been little more than lukewarm. In contrast to the lord treasurer, Bolingbroke’s support for the French commerce treaties went beyond the merely practical and reflected his deep affection for France and French society. This he made plain in a letter to Matthew Prior:

this … is calculated to hinder those prejudices, which our people have been possessed with against France, and which begin now to wear off … Nothing unites like interest; and when once our people have felt the sweet of carrying on a trade to France, under reasonable regulations, the artifices of Whiggism will have the less effect amongst them.57

The unexpected defeat of the commercial treaty in the Commons was thus far more than a mere political setback for Bolingbroke.58 While the outcome of the measure still hung in the balance, he faced an equally uphill struggle with the passage of the malt bill, which had effectively been foisted on the ministry by backbench pressure. This time his efforts were rewarded and, he having spoken in the House in favour of the bill on 8 June, it was carried the same day by 64 votes to 56.59

Later the same month Bolingbroke introduced a bill making it high treason to recruit men for service abroad. Oxford unsurprisingly included him in a list of about 13 June as one of those in favour of the bill confirming the 8th and 9th articles of the French commercial treaty. At the forefront of the ministry’s consideration, though, was the defection during the session of Hanmer and Anglesey over the commercial treaty. This inspired Bolingbroke to advise Oxford to break with the Whigs and Hanover Tories, exhorting him to:

separate, in the name of God, the chaff from the wheat, and consider who you have left to employ; assign them their parts; trust them as far as it is necessary for the execution each of his part; let the forms of business be regularly carried on in cabinet, and the secret of it in your own closet. Your lordship would soon find those excellent principles, laid down in the queen’s speech, pursued with vigour and success.60

Despite Bolingbroke’s apparent desire to rescue Oxford’s ministry, he took the opportunity of the lord treasurer’s weakened position to resume his efforts to supplant him. He was forestalled by a summer reshuffle, which although it saw the promotion of his close friend Sir William Wyndham as chancellor of the exchequer, despite having reputedly ‘neither experience nor a character sufficient for such a post’, also saw other places taken by confirmed allies of the lord treasurer.61 Other places were taken by confirmed allies of the lord treasurer. Reports that Bolingbroke himself was to be put out altogether, sidelined as lord privy seal or demoted to the office of master of the horse, proved not to be the case and he was instead relocated to the southern department, thus displacing his adversary within the administration, William Legge, earl of Dartmouth, who became lord privy seal.62 His move was certainly not welcomed by the British envoy to Russia, Charles Whitworth (later Baron Whitworth [I]), one of Oxford’s ‘creatures’, who wrote to his patron how Bolingbroke’s new post, ‘would be a great disencouragement to me if I did not consider that your lordship was at the head of affairs’.63 Bolingbroke also appears to have done his utmost to irritate Strafford by suggesting that John Robinson, bishop of London, should have precedence among the envoys negotiating the peace, he being a privy councillor.64

Bolingbroke was among those rumoured to be advanced as knights of the garter later that summer but this too proved not to be the case.65 In August he was fortunate to escape with his life when he and a servant were set upon by a man formerly in Wyndham’s service. Shots were fired and Bolingbroke was hit in the head, but his injuries proved to be slight.66 Undeterred by the botched assault, Bolingbroke was active in employing his interest in Essex, Berkshire and Wootton Bassett in the general election that autumn.67 At Harwich, his nominee, Carew Hervey Mildmay, was elected on petition following a double return, but Bolingbroke’s ‘underhand and partisan methods’ in attempting to manipulate the corporation caused considerable disquiet.68 The election resulted in a number of Tory gains but the party remained disunited with between 80 and 100 classed as Jacobite, and approximately 75 who looked to Hanmer, Montagu Venables Bertie, 2nd earl of Abingdon, and Anglesey as ‘Hanoverian Tories’. Bolingbroke and Oxford meanwhile continued to pull in different directions. Bolingbroke persisted in his efforts to undermine Oxford and began once more to forge closer ties with Shrewsbury and also with Lady Masham.69 The death of Oxford’s daughter, Lady Carmarthen, in November 1713 removed the lord treasurer from court at a critical time. Although Bolingbroke was also suffering from poor health he managed sensibly to alternate his time between Bucklebury and Windsor, enabling him to remain in close contact with the queen.70 On 3 Dec., under the guise of professing his loyalty, Bolingbroke goaded Oxford for his continuing absence:

I am sorry there is little show of government when the difficulties we have to struggle with require that all the powers of it should be exerted. I can truly say I am ready to contribute all the little in my sphere whenever your commands direct me. The only reason why I did not attend you this week was the belief that you intended to be here today, and therefore, pray my lord, do not once entertain a thought that I give myself airs, or have the least lukewarmness.71

On 17 Dec. he wrote again with plans that he believed would give ‘new strength, new spirit to your administration’. When the queen fell sick on 24 Dec. Bolingbroke was quick to capitalize on Oxford’s absence and to develop an improved understanding with the stricken monarch, who for long had looked on him askance. Bolingbroke continued to profess his support for Oxford and on Christmas Day he wrote urging him to rally to the queen at Windsor.72

The opening months of 1714 abounded with rumours that Lady Masham had at last forsaken Oxford for Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke also made a concerted effort to consolidate his interest, overseeing a substantial purge of the Essex commission of the peace and inserting 23 Tories, among them three sitting Members.73 Ramifications of the peace dominated affairs and, shortly before the opening of Parliament, Bolingbroke and Oxford were both in attendance at a dinner held at Merchant Taylors’ Hall following a meeting to discuss the settlement of the Asiento with Spain.74 Anticipating a stormy session, Bolingbroke wrote to Strafford in advance of Parliament assembling, describing the ‘clamour’ raised by the Whigs and ‘the rage which they express’ which were ‘almost without example’.75 Bolingbroke took his seat on 16 Feb. 1714, after which he attended on 72 per cent of all sitting days. On 2 Mar. he received the proxy of Lady Masham’s husband, Samuel Masham, Baron Masham, which was vacated on 15 Mar., and on 17 Mar. he also received that of Other Windsor, 2nd earl of Plymouth (vacated by Plymouth’s return to the House on 30 April).

When Oxford introduced the bill for securing the Protestant succession (also on 17 Mar.), in which it was made high treason to bring foreign troops into the country, Bolingbroke showed outward support for his colleague. The measure was questioned by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, as potentially damaging to the Hanoverian interest but Bolingbroke responded that ‘he doubted not, but the noble peer who made the motion, meant only such foreign troops, as might be brought into the kingdom by the Pretender or his adherents’.76 Oxford and Bolingbroke had recently come under fire in a scurrilous pamphlet, in which it was stated that both men were ‘given to drinking and whoring and are Jacobites and in the interest of France’.77

Despite Bolingbroke’s demonstration of support over the Protestant succession bill, by the end of the month the breach between him and Oxford, long in the making, was widely acknowledged. By the beginning of June it was openly referred to during debates in the Commons.78 While he worked to supplant his colleague, Bolingbroke continued to protest his loyalty to Oxford’s leadership:

I most sincerely desire to see your lordship, as long as I live, at the head of the queen’s affairs, and of the Church of England party; to see the administration flourish under your direction, the quiet of the queen’s reign secured, and effectual measures taken to put those of our friends who may outlive the queen beyond the reach of Whig resentment.79

Increasingly preoccupied with the likely consequences of a Whig administration coming in after the queen’s death and the refusal of the Pretender to contemplate even tacit conversion to Anglicanism, both Oxford and Bolingbroke were forced to concede that a Jacobite restoration was all but impossible and that preparations should be made to safeguard their interests under a Hanoverian monarch.

Bolingbroke was forced to defend the ministry’s policies towards the Catalans on 2 April.80 Three days later the ministry again came under fire from the Whigs in protest at the peace, but when no specific motion was made Bolingbroke, according to George Lockhart speaking ‘like an angel’, pointed out the difficulty of responding in the circumstances.81 On 12 Apr. the ministry narrowly averted defeat on the question of the safety of Protestant succession, with a tied vote (61 to 61) being settled in its favour by the addition of two proxies. Over the next two days Bolingbroke presented papers for the House’s consideration concerning the demolition of the fortifications at Dunkirk and other matters concerning the peace. On 14 Apr. he received the proxy of Henry Bowes Howard, 4th earl of Berkshire, which was vacated two days later.

The ministry’s narrow victory did nothing to prevent rumours circulating that the government was ‘raising the mask’, ‘that its aim is to introduce the Pretender’ and that Bolingbroke had been engaged in secret talks with the French to prepare the way for a Jacobite succession.82 On 17 Apr. it was reported that he had fought a duel with Charles Montagu, Baron (later earl of) Halifax, ‘the one to prove the peace honourable, advantageous and lasting, the other au contre’.83 Despite their rift, Bolingbroke rallied to Oxford’s defence on 20 Apr. 1714, proposing and carrying a motion of confidence in the embattled lord treasurer over the policy of bribing highland troops.84 His success enabled him to report to Matthew Prior the same day how:

The Whigs have affronted the queen and teased her servants almost a month without control, at last a spirit has been exerted which should in my poor opinion have been sooner shown, and they have been defeated in all their attacks though fortified by a considerable detachment from our party.85

Besides the unsettled relations with Oxford, Bolingbroke was also preoccupied with the fragmentation within the Tory party. Although he lamented the administration’s misfortune at seeing Anglesey, leader of one of the most substantial factions in the House, ‘differ from us in a very public and remarkable manner’, he still hoped to ‘maintain a good correspondence’ with him and was heartened by the prospect of Shrewsbury’s imminent return from Ireland, whose ‘wisdom and experience’ he trusted would save the day.86

In spite of such aspirations, problems and disappointments continued to mount. The same month (April 1714) Bolingbroke was again refused his coveted earldom and the following month he clashed with Oxford once more over the payment of arrears to Hanoverian troops. Talk of division within the ministry and Oxford’s successful manipulation of the queen into persuading her to declare her support for the Hanoverian succession led some to conclude that Bolingbroke was on the back foot and would soon be turned out. Others reckoned that ‘he stands as firm as any one whatsoever. His parts make him generally esteemed, and his other good qualities as generally beloved.’87 At that stage the latter were probably the closer to the truth. In spite of her declaration in favour of the elector, the queen indicated her increasing reliance on Bolingbroke over Oxford by approving the former’s choices for a series of diplomatic postings, most notably that of her cousin, Edward Hyde, 3rd earl of Clarendon, as envoy to Hanover in preference to Henry Paget, Baron Burton (later earl of Uxbridge), Oxford’s preferred candidate.88 Baron Bothmer was in no doubt that this was the significance of Clarendon’s appointment: ‘the changing Lord Paget for this fool Clarendon, having been brought about with Lord Oxford’s knowledge, shows that Bolingbroke has acquired a superiority’.89 The Hanoverian resident Kreienberg echoed this opinion, informing the Hanoverian minister Robethon that: ‘Lord Oxford told me, the day before yesterday, as he spoke of Lord Clarendon’s departure, that he knew very well his lordship would not speak well of him at Hanover: a certain sign that it is Bolingbroke who sent him.’90 It was also reported that Bolingbroke and Lady Masham were once more co-operating after her brief flirtation with the lord treasurer.91

Although he had succeeded thus far in sidelining Oxford in the queen’s affections, Bolingbroke still faced an uphill struggle in his efforts to dominate the Tories. In an attempt to regain the initiative with them, he promoted the schism bill in May 1714, working in close association with Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester.92 The bill was managed through the Commons by his henchman Wyndham.93 Unsurprisingly forecast by Nottingham as being in favour of the measure, Bolingbroke championed the bill in the House, introducing it on 4 June. He insisted that it was:

a bill of the last importance, since it concerns the security of the Church of England, which is the best and firmest support of the monarchy, both which, all good men, and, in particular that august assembly, who derive their lustre from, and are nearest the throne, ought to have most at heart.94

Opposition to the bill was voiced by Thomas Wharton, earl (later marquess) of Wharton, who made much of Bolingbroke’s own Dissenting past, and by Halifax, William Cowper, Baron Cowper, Nottingham and Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend.95 On 9 June an amendment proposed by Halifax, which would have permitted the survival of Dissenting schools, was rejected by 62 to 48.96 A subsequent petition from a delegation of Dissenters promoted by Wharton was also rejected, largely through Bolingbroke’s influence.97 Although the Hanoverian Tories led by Anglesey and Abingdon backed Bolingbroke, Oxford (who may also have been the subject of Wharton’s jibe) significantly left the chamber without voting.98 The bill was passed by five votes on 15 June.99

Towards the end of the month, Bolingbroke was heavily involved with the bill for preventing the raising of forces for the Pretender.100 On 25 June he moved for a bill to be drafted to prevent soldiers from being sent overseas without licence and he then chaired the committee of the whole considering the measure the same day.101 His widely rumoured Jacobite sympathies were no doubt the reason for him being treated roughly in the debates.102 On 28 June he chaired the committee of the whole considering amendments to the bill again, and after further amendment the bill was engrossed. The frenetic atmosphere at court and in Parliament left people uncertain as to who might emerge ahead but opinion increasingly moved in favour of the likelihood of Oxford being ‘cashiered’ and of Bolingbroke succeeding him as lord treasurer.103 Around the middle of June, Shrewsbury, who had been ‘in suspense’ attempting to decide ‘whether he should be of Bolingbroke’s or Oxford’s party’, resolved (though only temporarily) in favour of the former, making it all the more certain that Bolingbroke would be the victor.104 Shrewsbury’s resolution was made in spite of his opposition to the schism bill.105

Bolingbroke’s apparent victory over his former mentor left him in rude good spirits. He made no secret of his delight and ‘in his cups and out of his cups brags what a mighty man he is’.106 Despite this, matters in Parliament remained tense and the debates in the House on 30 June and 1 July centred on the opposition’s criticism of the commercial treaties with Spain. According to Thomas Bateman, Bolingbroke was the only minister to speak in defence of the treaties.107 While one newsletter disagreed with this and reported that both Bolingbroke and Oxford spoke in favour of the measures, the consensus seems to have been that Oxford had abandoned Bolingbroke to the opposition’s recriminations, ‘which nice observers looked upon as a certain indication of a falling out between these two ministers’.108 On 5 July, in spite of his apparent espousal of the first, Shrewsbury attempted once more to reconcile Bolingbroke and Oxford. The same day Ralph Bridges equated the passage of the Schism bill with the developing schism between the two great men and described how Bolingbroke, Atterbury and Harcourt were now united in their aim to displace Oxford and for Bolingbroke to succeed him as treasurer.109 It was also thought that Marlborough’s expected return to England had been achieved through Bolingbroke’s interest and that this too signalled further problems for Oxford.110

Bolingbroke’s own position was by no means assured. Questions brought to the attention of the House by the South Sea Company concerning the commercial treaties with Spain soon dominated proceedings again and threatened to discredit him, Lady Masham and the queen, all of whom were accused of benefiting disproportionately from the deal. During the debates of 6 July Bolingbroke became embroiled in a dispute with Robert Sutton, 2nd Baron Lexinton, who had been envoy at Madrid at the time of the negotiations.111 A concerted effort to have Bolingbroke and his agent, Arthur Moore, consigned to the Tower for their role in negotiating the commercial treaties with Spain was ultimately averted only by the prorogation on 9 July.112

The fractious nature of the session took its toll on Bolingbroke. He complained to Matthew Prior that:

These four or five months last past have afforded such a scene as I hope never again to be an actor in. All the confusion which could be created by the disunion of friends, and the malice of enemies, has subsisted at court and in Parliament. Little or no public business has been transacted in domestic affairs; and as to you and your continent we have not once cast an eye towards you. We never could so justly be styled divisos orbe Britannos [Britons divided from the world].113

Bolingbroke was in no doubt that much of the furore had been part of a plot aimed particularly at unseating him and that the principals in the conspiracy were his supposed allies in the ministry, ‘in the service of whom I have drudged these 14 years’.114 He conveniently overlooked his own disloyalty to Oxford. The days following the session found him busier than ever in his efforts to supplant his former friend. Speculation was rife that he was now in talks with Anglesey and that the two had agreed to sideline Harcourt and to share the spoils, though parallel rumours had it that he and Oxford had reached an accord whereby Oxford would remain treasurer as a figurehead but that he would embrace Bolingbroke’s policies.115 On 24 July it was reported that Bolingbroke was at last to receive an earldom.116 Three days later Oxford was dismissed.117 The following day Bolingbroke (attended by Wyndham) presided over a meeting with a number of key Whigs in an effort to secure their support for a new administration.118 He succeeded only in eliciting a stark warning from James Stanhope, later Earl Stanhope:

Harry! You have only two ways of escaping the gallows. The first is to join the honest party of the Whigs, the other to give yourself up entirely to the French king and seek his help for the Pretender. If you do not choose the first course, we can only imagine that you have decided for the second.119

Failure to secure Whig support can hardly have come as a surprise to Bolingbroke and in a letter of 29 July it was reported that he and the lord chancellor (Harcourt) ‘rule the world, and it is said they will be swingeing Tories, and not a Whig left in place a month hence’.120

Despite such appraisals, undisputed supremacy continued to elude Bolingbroke. At a meeting of the Privy Council held on 30 July, it was Shrewsbury (who had changed his mind once more and was now determined not to support Bolingbroke) who was awarded the staff of office as lord treasurer. Bolingbroke was forced to be content with the effective leadership of an administration headed officially by the duke. The compromise may have owed something to Harcourt’s intervention, though one account suggested that Bolingbroke had recommended the move to the queen himself. Even if he did so, Bolingbroke was not pleased to have missed out once again; the efforts of his supporters to make light of this latest disappointment rang very hollow indeed.121 In any case, the sudden deterioration in the queen’s health overshadowed Bolingbroke’s triumph. Following the Council meeting his attention was concentrated on the composition of letters to a series of officials, including to the lord mayor of London ordering him ‘to take all possible care for preserving the peace of the city and preventing any evil consequence on this occasion’ and to the postmaster general commanding a stop to all packet boats leaving the country with the exception of those serving the lords justices of Ireland and the secretaries of state, in an effort to contain the rumours of the queen’s impending demise.122 Anne’s death on 1 Aug. left Bolingbroke with little to do but wonder at his poor luck: ‘the earl of Oxford was removed on Tuesday; the queen died on Sunday. What a world is this and how does fortune banter us.’123

Later career, 1714–51

Bolingbroke’s fall was rapid. Within days he found himself ‘threatened and abused every day by the party, who publicly rejoice, and swear they will turn out every Tory in England’.124 Members of the new administration headed by the regents took great pleasure in treating him little better than a lackey. More ominously for him, by the middle of August, it was already being reported that compromising papers had been found that it was thought might confront Bolingbroke with serious difficulties.125 The rapid reversal of his fortunes no doubt accounts for his presence on just three days of the 15-day session that met in the wake of the queen’s death.

In such circumstances, Bolingbroke had no option but to throw himself on the mercy of the new king, who was proclaimed the same day. He protested with hollow sincerity that ‘the same principles of honour and conscience, which induced me to serve the late queen until her death, with constancy and fidelity, will inviolably bind me to your Majesty, and that, whether at Court, in Parliament, or in my County, I will endeavour at all times’.126 Although almost two weeks after the king’s accession, Bolingbroke was able to comment on the remarkably peaceful transition, he was under no illusions of his own poor standing with the new regime:

For my own part I doubt not but I have been printed in fine colours to the king. I must trust to my conduct to clear me. I served the queen to the last gasp as faithfully as disinterestedly as zealously as if her life had been good for twenty years … on the same principle will I serve the king if he employs me and if he does not I will discharge my duty honestly and contentedly in the country and in the house of peers.127

To his own father, who was rewarded for his loyalty with a viscountcy the year after the accession of George I, Bolingbroke protested that he had always been ‘as true a friend’ to the Hanoverian succession ‘as any of those who clamoured the loudest and a better than some of them’.128 Unfortunately for Bolingbroke, the king remained unconvinced. At the close of the month he was commanded to deliver up the seals and was put out of government.129

Bolingbroke was unsurprised by the king’s decision. In a letter to Atterbury he remarked, sardonically, how ‘the manner of my removal shocked me for at least two minutes’. Nevertheless, he found himself in a quandary how best to behave: ‘It is not fit that I should be in town without waiting on the king when he arrives, and it is less proper that I should wait on him after what has passed, till by my friends some éclaircissement has been had with him.’ While professing to have no fear for his own safety, Bolingbroke saw in the manner of his removal from office and understood from the atmosphere in London the completeness of his party’s defeat: ‘the grief of my soul is this, I see plainly that the Tory party is gone’.130

Bolingbroke retired to the country shortly after being put out of office, not, as some rumours suggested, to France or to the Tower. Retirement, he protested unconvincingly, was precisely what he now aimed for, perhaps in response to reports that his likely impeachment was a major topic of conversation in the coffee houses.131 He returned to London for the coronation in October 1714 and took his place in the House in March 1715 for the first Parliament of the new reign. Despite earlier protestations that he was not ‘in the least intimidated by any consideration of the Whig malice and power’, fear of impeachment drove him to flee to France soon after, disguised (by the adoption of a black bob wig and with his eyebrows blackened) as a French courier.132

Bolingbroke had undoubtedly been in communication with the Jacobite court prior to the death of Queen Anne and he was quickly able to make the most of his contacts there. He joined the Pretender’s administration in exile and became a point of focus for the discontented, among them the impressionable Philip Wharton, 2nd marquess (later duke) of Wharton.133 Bolingbroke’s impeachment and loss of his title and right to sit in the House, his brief career in the service of the Stuarts as secretary of state to the Pretender, his protracted efforts to secure his return to England and his role as the author of an invigorated ideology of patriotism will be considered in the second phase of this work.

Having negotiated his return to England, Bolingbroke was largely resident in the country from 1744 until his death.134 It is all too easy, given the extent to which he dominated the politics of the closing years of Queen Anne, to forget that on his fall from grace he was still a young man, in his mid-thirties, with almost 40 more years remaining to him. Although he was still influential, his experience broke him financially. His Essex estates, said to have been worth £800 a year, had been sold prior to his getaway in 1715.135 In his will, he railed against the circumstances that had led to the loss of his titles, blaming ‘the injustice and treachery of persons nearest to me … the negligence of friends and … the infidelity of servants’. Excusing his inability to make the kind of bequests he had intended on account of his reduced circumstances, Bolingbroke’s principal beneficiaries were his French servants and his close friend the marquis de Matignon. Despite the loss of his titles, he was succeeded, without question, as 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke by his nephew, Frederick St John, 3rd Viscount St John, by virtue of the special remainder conveying his peerage to his father’s heirs.

  • 1. TNA, PROB 11/793.
  • 2. HMC Stuart, ii. 11.
  • 3. London Gazette, 26–29 July 1712.
  • 4. H.T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 5; Add. 61636, ff. 175–6.
  • 5. Bolingbroke Corresp. ed. Parke, iv. 77–78.
  • 6. Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 67.
  • 7. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 2–3.
  • 8. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 339.
  • 9. Ibid. v. 339–40.
  • 10. HMC Downshire, i. 802, 804–5.
  • 11. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 340-1, 345.
  • 12. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 349–50.
  • 13. Ibid. ii. 700; v. 338.
  • 14. Bodl. ms Eng. misc. e. 180, f. 6.
  • 15. Eighteenth-century Life, xxxii. 94.
  • 16. B.W. Hill, Robert Harley, 130.
  • 17. D.H. Somerville, King of Hearts, 283.
  • 18. SCLA, DR 671/89, pp. 8–9.
  • 19. Bodl. ms Eng. misc. e. 180, ff. 18–19; HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 353.
  • 20. Hill, Robert Harley, 151.
  • 21. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 85.
  • 22. Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 530, 532.
  • 23. Bodl. ms Eng. misc. e. 180, f. 85.
  • 24. Ibid. ff. 83–84.
  • 25. Verney ms mic. M636/54, R. Palmer to R. Verney, 29 Dec. 1711; Swift, Works, ed. Davis et al. viii. 151.
  • 26. S. Biddle, Bolingbroke and Harley, 233-4.
  • 27. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 95.
  • 28. Bolingbroke Corresp. ii. 210.
  • 29. Ibid. ii. 264.
  • 30. Ibid. ii. 305.
  • 31. Ibid. ii. 319–20, 345.
  • 32. Add. 72495, f. 155.
  • 33. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 99; Biddle, Bolingbroke and Harley, 69.
  • 34. Jnl. to Stella ed. Williams, 545.
  • 35. Ibid. ii. 484–5.
  • 36. Wentworth Pprs. 291.
  • 37. TNA, SP 44/114/42.
  • 38. Cheshire ALS, Cholmondeley mss, DCH/K/3/26, M. La Roche to W. Adams, 22 July 1712; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 185.
  • 39. HMC Portland, v. 467.
  • 40. WSHC, Charlton mss, 88/10/93.
  • 41. Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 339; Flying Post, 2–4 Sept. 1712.
  • 42. UNL, Pw2Hy/1141.
  • 43. SP 44/114/61.
  • 44. Verney ms mic. M636/54, W. Viccars to Fermanagh, 7 Oct. 1712.
  • 45. Post Boy, 11–14 Oct. and 18–21 Oct. 1712.
  • 46. HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 185; v. 339, 358.
  • 47. Evening Post, 6–9 Dec. 1712, 19–21 Feb. 1713.
  • 48. Cam. Misc. xxxi. 359–60; NYPL, Montague collection, box 10, Bolingbroke to Shrewsbury, 4 Feb. 1713.
  • 49. NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, f. 66.
  • 50. Cam. Misc. xxxi. 360.
  • 51. Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 19.
  • 52. Add. 72496, f. 61.
  • 53. Wentworth Pprs. 331–2.
  • 54. Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 120.
  • 55. Ibid. iv. 137–8.
  • 56. Ibid. iv. 165.
  • 57. Ibid. iv. 153.
  • 58. Biddle, Bolingbroke and Harley, 252.
  • 59. Holmes, ‘Great Ministry’, 252, 257.
  • 60. HMC Portland, v. 311.
  • 61. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 942.
  • 62. Add. 72501, f. 32; NAS, GD 248/561/48/47; Wodrow pprs. letters, Quarto 7, f. 171.
  • 63. UNL, Pw2Hy/1331.
  • 64. Staffs. RO, D(W)1778/I/ii/430; HMC Portland, ix. 383.
  • 65. Add. 70216, J. Chamberlayne to Oxford, 11 Aug. 1713.
  • 66. Add. 72492, f. 108.
  • 67. Add. 72496, ff. 112–13.
  • 68. HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 197.
  • 69. Pols. in Age of Anne, 279–83; Add. 70222, C. Davenant to Oxford, 19 Oct. 1713; Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 343–4.
  • 70. Add. 70031, ff. 219–20; HMC Portland, vii. 174.
  • 71. HMC Portland, v. 369–70.
  • 72. HMC Portland, v. 373–4.
  • 73. HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 185.
  • 74. Add. 70070, newsletter, 14 Jan. 1714.
  • 75. Add. 49970, f. 29.
  • 76. Timberland, ii. 409.
  • 77. Add. 72496, ff. 117–18.
  • 78. Add. 72488, ff. 85–86; Add. 72501, f. 127.
  • 79. HMC Portland, v. 404.
  • 80. Timberland, ii. 411.
  • 81. Lockhart Letters, 92–94; Wentworth Pprs. 363.
  • 82. HMC Portland, v. 422.
  • 83. Verney ms mic. M636/55, W. Viccars to Fermanagh, 17 Apr. 1714.
  • 84. Wentworth Pprs. 374.
  • 85. Add. 49970, ff. 1–2.
  • 86. Ibid.
  • 87. Add. 72501, ff. 118, 120, 122; Add. 72488, ff. 79–80; Bodl. ms North c.9, ff. 74–75; Wentworth Pprs. 382.
  • 88. Gregg, Queen Anne, 385.
  • 89. Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 626.
  • 90. Ibid. ii. 632.
  • 91. Add. 72501, f. 124.
  • 92. Nicolson, London Diaries, 605–6.
  • 93. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 942–3.
  • 94. Timberland, ii. 422.
  • 95. BLJ, xix. 173.
  • 96. Timberland, ii. 427.
  • 97. NLS, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 131.
  • 98. HMC Kenyon, 455–6.
  • 99. Nicolson, London Diaries, 606.
  • 100. Add. 70070, newsletter 26 June 1714.
  • 101. Add. 72501, f. 137.
  • 102. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 125.
  • 103. Wentworth Pprs. 391.
  • 104. Add. 72501, ff. 130–1; Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 630.
  • 105. Verney ms mic. M636/55, Fermanagh’s notes, 15 June 1714.
  • 106. Wentworth Pprs. 395.
  • 107. Add. 72501, f. 139.
  • 108. Add. 70070, newsletter, 3 July 1714; Timberland, ii. 434.
  • 109. Add. 72496, ff. 147–8.
  • 110. Add. 72501, ff. 145–6.
  • 111. Timberland, ii. 436.
  • 112. Ibid. ii. 437–8; HP Commons, 1690–1715, iv. 915.
  • 113. Add. 4970, f. 12.
  • 114. Ibid.
  • 115. Add. 72488, ff. 89–90; Lockhart Letters, 108–9, 113.
  • 116. HMC Portland, v. 475.
  • 117. SCLA, DR 671/89, p. 27.
  • 118. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 943.
  • 119. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 130.
  • 120. HMC Kenyon, 456.
  • 121. HP Commons, 1690–1715, iv. 217; Add. 4804, f. 218; Add. 72496, ff. 149–50.
  • 122. SP 44/116/116–17.
  • 123. Add. 4804, f. 222.
  • 124. Ibid. f. 226.
  • 125. Add. 72501, ff. 156–7, 160.
  • 126. Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 645–6.
  • 127. Add. 49970, f. 16.
  • 128. HP Commons, 1690–1715, v. 338; Herts. ALS, D/EP/F204, Bolingbroke to Sir H. St John, n.d. (?summer 1714).
  • 129. HMC Portland, v. 492; Add. 72502, f. 1.
  • 130. Stowe 242, ff. 177–8.
  • 131. Add. 72509, ff. 208–9; Herts. ALS, DE/P/F56; Wentworth Pprs. 420–1.
  • 132. Stowe 242, ff. 177–8; HMC Portland, v. 509; Weekly Packet, 26 Mar.–2 Apr. 1715.
  • 133. Verney ms mic. M636/56, J. Baker to Fermanagh, 15 Nov. 1716.
  • 134. Gent. Mag. xxi. 572.
  • 135. Weekly Packet, 26 Mar.–2 Apr. 1715.