Saturday, September 14, 2013

Portrait of the week - Lady Johanna St John

Lady Johanna St John died at her Battersea home on January 15 1704/5 and was buried in the family vault at neighbouring St Mary's Church.

Much of Johanna's writings survive, including her 1680 Receipt Book now held by the Wellcome Library and the subject of a whole host of events at Lydiard House this year, including a fascinating series of lectures.

In 1995 the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz published a transcription of Lady Johanna's will. Lady Johanna wrote the will herself in 1703 and then added a scrawling codicil on the fourth side of the original document, writing in the margins and obscuring some of the text.

The will, even in transcription, is quite difficult to interpret, but my special interest is in the personal bequests made to family and friends. Raised in the Puritan branch of the Bletsoe family Johanna has a no nonsense reputation, so it is pleasing to read evidence of the caring side of her nature.

Johanna did her philanthropic duty as can be seen in the following investment.

'Alsoe I give an Hundred pound to be placed out at intrest or vested in a purchace as my said exeqtrs shall think fitt & that Alice James my old servant shall have the profitt & intrest therof dureing her life & after her Death I would have the profitt therof & intrest layd out yearely or as often as conveniently may be in the placeing out to Apprentice a poor Girl or Boy of Battersea aforesaid'

Susanna Foot, another trusted servant receives -

'..all my weareing Clothes Linnin & woolen new & old & all the whole Furniture in my Closit & Chamber except the Clock the Cabinet in my Closet & the smal Pictures & thos thing wch I have already disposed to .. alsoe I give her Foot the Plate I used in my Chamber as the Porenger & spoon the Basin I wash in & the Cupp I drink my Choclatte in & alsoe in my Closit I give her all in it & my silver skillet.'

By the time Lady Johanna died at the age of 75 she had outlived all but five of her 13 children.

To her incorrigible eldest son Henry St John, convicted of the murder of Sir William Escott in The Globe Tavern she leaves 'the Great Bible in my Closet with the Pictures of the 4 Evangilists'

To her daughters and daughter's in law she leaves the following:

'Alsoe I leave to my Daughter Chute all the little Pictures (wherof Sr Walter St Johns mother is one) wch hang over my Table in my Closet & two Guilt canns Sr Walter gave me Alsoe I give to my Daughter Frances wife to my Son William St John my Jubely Chair in the Guilt Leather Rome in my said House & all the Chiny things in the same Room except what belongs to the Thea Table in the same Roo & two of my silver salvers To my eldest son Henrys wife I give the rest of my silver salvers wch are 6 in number & my two silver candlesticks alsoe I give her...To my Daurgr Cholmondeley I give my great Receit Book & crosstich screen in my House in the Dining Rome ther..'

The grandchildren also receive bequests.

'Alsoe I give unto my God Daughter & Grand Daughter Johanna Cholmondeley & Daughter to my Daughter Cholmondeley one Hundred pounds...To my Grand Dtr Soame according to my promise I give my Booke of receits of cookery & Preserves according to ....To my Grand Dater St John Toppe I give my cabinet in my Closet but would have the papers therin burnt first...' and her Grandson Henry's wife also receives a keepsake.
'To my Grand Daughter wife to my Grandson Henry St John I give the oval silver Chamberpott & the two smal silver cupps with covers wch I had last of Mr North I give them to my Grand Daughter Mrs Frances St John.'

The Codicil written a year later reads:

I give my Pendelum clock in my Chamber to my Brother Frances St John of Long thorp in Northamptonshire I give to my Godson Frances Lee son to the Earl of Litchfeild 40 pounds in one yeare afer my Death to be payd him if alive or elce to come to my Grand son Henry St John when my personal Debts as for Clothes & such things as I pay for with the allowance of 150 pound a yeare Sr Walter give me if any mony be left I desire Susan Foot may have it given her as an addition to what I have given her before in this my will Sr Walter knows & so doe all concernd my Hand that I doe not live to write it out fair (as I intend) I hope it shall be no obiection to its being Authentick & my will as my Hand will shew it to be.

But perhaps the two references I find most moving are the ones she makes to her friend the Countess of Lindsey -

'To my old & Deare Friend the Countess of Lindsey I leave my Gold cupp wch Mrs Drax left me for a Legesey, And wish I could leave her a Friend may love her as much & have more power to serve her then my selfe'

and to her husband of 56 years, Walter St John, then aged 75.

'I desire if Sr Walter St John outlive me his old servants may be continued about him & that he may not be removed to Liddiard London or any other place from Battersea wher he has lived so long least it hasten his Death'

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