Wednesday, February 1, 2012

His Lordship - Frederick 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke


Frederick St John inherited titles, property and a predilection for the good life. Born in 1732, the son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wealthy wife Anne Furnese, he came into his inheritance young.

Following the death of the boy’s parents, Henry St John, political philosopher and Secretary at War in Queen Anne’s government, undertook guardianship of his orphaned 14 year old nephew, but soon regretted his decision.

He described the boy as the ‘plague of his life’ and wrote that Frederick ‘has not only the vices of a young fellow, that may be overcome or moderated, and in the meantime laughed at, he has all those of a good for nothing fellow of forty confirmed in moroseness, and insensibility to friendship, to gratitude, and to every notion of honour.’

Frederick inherited his father’s title 3rd Viscount St John in 1748 and that of 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke after his uncle Henry’s death three years later.

In 1762 Frederick sold the family pile at Battersea to his wife’s cousin, John, Earl Spencer for £30,000 to settle some pressing debts, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. A large slice of the family fortune had already gone on wine, women and an impressive collection of valuable Sevres porcelain.

But probably Frederick’s greatest weakness was gambling and his passion for racehorses. Frederick had a stable at Newmarket and enlarged those at Lydiard Park to accommodate his every increasing string of racehorses, an estimated 70 acquired during a five year period in the 1860s.


Frederick also raced his own horses and sustained an injury after falling from his mount as reported in the London Chronicle, July 15 1765.

“On Wednesday last, the Lord Viscount Bolingbroke had the misfortune to be thrown from his horse on the heath Newmarket, by which he received a violent contusion in his leg; but by the immediate assistance of a Surgeon, his Lordship is in a fair way of recovery.”

This was the same year in which Frederick bought Gimcrack, a small grey stallion standing just fourteen hands high, from William Wildman after watching it win its first ever race at Newmarket in the spring of that year. On July 10 Frederick raced Gimcrack, an easy winner, against Sir James Lowther’s Ascham in a grand match run on Newmarket racecourse. Bets that day exceeded £100,000 with one unnamed nobleman punter placing a wager of more than £30,000.

In October 1765 Gimcrack was beaten for the first time and Frederick parted company with the horse he had owned for just three months, selling it to the Comte de Lauragais. Gimcrack went on to race against all the top racehorses of the day, racking up 27 wins out of 36 races, eventually retiring to stud at Grosvenor.

Ten years later and Frederick had acquired yet another promising yearling, Highflyer, who ran under Frederick’s racing pseudonym of ‘Mr Compton.’ He was eventually forced to part with the horse to settle yet more gambling debts, selling him to Richard Tattersall for £2,500. Highflyer retired to stud at Red Barns, Suffolk where he became the most successful sire of the 18th century, earning Tattersall an estimated £15,000 a year.

Frederick was an early patron of the artist George Stubbs and commissioned at least four works, including one of Lustre, Turf, Hollyhock and Gimcrack painted in front of the Rubbing Down stand at Newmarket with his jockey, trainer and stablelad with the race taking place in the background. The paintings, including the famous Gimcrack one, were sold at Christies on December 10, 1943 by Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke during the disposal of the family estate. The painting came up for sale again in the summer of 2011 for just the third time in its long life. It sold for a record breaking £22.4 million on Tuesday July 5, 2011.


Despite his many affairs, Frederick famously divorced his wife Lady Diana Spencer, in 1768 following her adultery with Topham Beauclerk, the great grandson of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynne.

Frederick suffered both mental and physical ill health towards the end of his life and was once described as being ‘out of his mind.’ He died on May 5, 1787 and was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze eight days later.

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