Friday, May 30, 2014

Yet another John St John (c1746-1793)

This John St John was born in about 1746, the youngest child and third son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wife Anne, daughter and heiress of Sir Robert Furnese. It was this couple who set about transforming the medieval mansion house and deerpark at Lydiard – John had the vision and Anne had the money.

Anne Furnese

Their eldest son was Frederick, the infamous ‘Bully’ who married and divorced Lady Diana Spencer. Second son Henry was a General and MP for Wootton Bassett. Daughter Elizabeth Louisa, born in 1744 married William 1st Baron Bagot and tragically lost three of her children across a three day period during an epidemic of scarlet fever in June 1773. John completed the family. Sadly his mother Anne died in 1747 and his father just a year later.

Elizabeth Louisa
Young John was educated at Eton 1756-63, the school favoured by successive generations of the St John family. He then attended Trinity College, Oxford before studying law at Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple. He was called to the bar in 1770.

With brother Henry taking the family parliamentary seat at Wootton Bassett, John was elected as MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1773. The newly elected MP made his maiden speech on June 10, 1773 in defence of Lord North’s East India Regulating Act – an act of parliament which sought to overhaul the management of the extensive and powerful East India Company. Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guildford, who served as Prime Minister between 1770-1782, shared a kinship with the supportive John St. John. Frederick’s stepmother, Catherine Furnese, his father’s third wife, was half sister to John’s mother Anne.

John went on to serve as MP for Eye in Suffolk for six years before being re-elected for Newport in 1780. He was also Surveyor General of Crown Lands, a lucrative post estimated to be worth £1,400 a year, from 1775-84.

So what kind of man was this junior member of the St John family? Opinions varied widely. John’s eldest brother Frederick wrote to George Selwyn in 1766 - “The intricacies of law, which may puzzle some of the peers on this occasion, I fancy are great, and I do most heartily lament with you that my brother has turned his thoughts to intrigue, dress, and all the personal accomplishments of the most refined Macaroni. Had he not done so, I doubt not but his clear apprehension, and very distinct and short method of explaining himself, would have made him a match upon this occasion, for a Mansfield or a Camden.” Perhaps he could have even followed in the footsteps of his famous uncle, statesman and orator Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke.

However John was described as delivering “a legalistic speech, precious and precise” when he spoke on the third reading of the Massachusetts Bay Bill, which may or may not be a compliment, while A M Storer wrote to Lord Carlisle on June 28, 1781 that “John St John is more dull, more tedious, more important than ever.”

John turned his hand to writing and his work includes a quantity of blank verse, a book entitled Observations on the Land Revenue of the Crown and a pamphlet against Paine’s Rights of Man. He also wrote two plays - a tragedy called Mary, Queen of Scots starring the celebrated Mrs Sarah Siddons in the title role and The Island of Marguerite, an opera in two acts, both produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1789.

Described as both a fop and a Macaroni (an 18th century English Dandy and fashionista) you get the impression that our John was a complex character.

John died at his home in Park Street, Grosvenor Square on the night of Tuesday October 8, 1793. He was interred seven days later in the family vault at St Mary’s alongside his brother Frederick. His brother Henry raised a marble mural tablet with an affectionate verse. The memorial can be seen in the south aisle, close to his John's burial place.