English statesman and judge
Born c.1598 Died 1673
Oliver St John was the son of Oliver St John. There were two branches of the ancient family to which he belonged, namely, the St Johns of Bletso in Bedfordshire, and the St Johns of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, both descendants of the St Johns of Staunton St John in Oxfordshire. Oliver St John was a member of the senior branch, being great-grandson of Oliver St John, who was created Baron Saint John of Bletso in 15591, and a distant cousin of the 4th baron who was created Earl of Bolingbroke in 1624, and who took an active part on the parliamentary side of the Civil War, being killed at the battle of Edgehill.
Oliver was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1626. He appears to have got into trouble with the court in connexion with a seditious publication, and to have associated himself with the future popular leaders John Pym and Lord Saye. In 1638 he defended Hampden on his refusal to pay Ship Money, on which occasion he made a notable speech. In the same year he married, as his second wife, Elizabeth Cromwell, a cousin of Oliver Cromwell, to whom his first wife also had been distantly related. The marriage led to an intimate friendship with Cromwell. St John was member for Totnes in both the Short and the Long Parliament, where he acted in close alliance with Hampden and Pym, especially in opposition to the impost of Ship Money. In 1641, with a view of securing his support, the king appointed St John Solicitor-General. None the less he took an active part in promoting the impeachment of Strafford and in preparing the bills brought forward by the popular party in the Commons, and was dismissed from office in 1643. On the outbreak of the Civil War, he became recognized as one of the parliamentary leaders. In the quarrel between the parliament and the army in 1647 he sided with the latter, and throughout this period he enjoyed Cromwell's entire confidence.
In 1648 St John was appointed chief justice of the common pleas; and from this time he devoted himself mainly to his judicial duties. He refused to act as one of the commissioners for the trial of Charles. He had no hand in Pride's Purge, nor in the constitution of the Commonwealth. In 1651 he went to the Hague as one of the envoys to negotiate a union between England and Holland, a mission in which he entirely failed; but in the same year he successfully conducted a similar negotiation with Scotland] After the Restoration he published an account of his past conduct (The Case of Oliver St John, 1660), and this apologia enabled him to escape any more severe vengeance than exclusion from public office. He retired to his country house in Northamptonshire till 1662, when he went to live abroad. He died on the 31st of December 1673.
By his first wife St John had two sons and two daughters. His daughter Johanna married Sir Walter St John of Lydiard Tregoze and was the grandmother of Viscount Bolingbroke. By his second wife he had two children, and after her death he married, in 1645, Elizabeth, daughter of Daniel Oxenbridge.
1 This title is still held by the family lineally descended from the 1st baron, said by J. H. Round to be the only peerage family descended in the male line from an ancestor living in the time of Domesday Book.
See the above-mentioned Case of Oliver St John (London, 1660), and St John's Speech to the Lords, Jan. 7th, 1640, concerning Shipmoney (London, 1640). See also Mark Noble, Memoirs of the Protectoral House of Cromwell, vol. ii. (2 vols., London, 1787); Anthony à Wood, Fasti Oxoniensis, edited by P. Bliss (4 vols., London, 1813); Edward Foss, The Judges of England, vol. vi. (9 vols., London, 1848); S. R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War (3 vols., London, 1886-1891), and History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate (3 vols., London, 1894-1901); Lord Clarendon, History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (7 vols., Oxford, 1839); Thurloe State Papers (7 vols., London, 1742); Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs, edited by C. H. Firth (2 vols., Oxford, 1894); Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches; C. H. Firth's article in Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 1. (London, 1897). (R.J.M.)
Being the entry for ST JOHN, OLIVER in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.