ST. JOHN, Sir Alexander (c.1585-1657), of Renhold, Beds. and Tawstock, Devon; later of Shoreditch, Mdx. and Woodford, Northants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1585, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Oliver St. John†, 3rd Bar. St. John of Bletsoe, and Dorothy, da. and h. of John Rede† of Boddington, Glos.;1 bro. of Sir Anthony*, Sir Beauchamp*, Sir Henry*, Oliver I* and Rowland*. educ. Queen’s, Camb. 1601.2 m. (1) 23 Apr. 1607, Joan, wid. of William Lyne of Harlton, Cambs. and William Clarke of Renhold, Beds., s.p.;3 (2) 12 Nov. 1633, Margaret (d. 27 Aug. 1656), da. of John Trye of Hardwick, Glos., wid. of Thomas Draner of Shoreditch, s.p.4 kntd. 5 Aug. 1608.5 d. bet. 24 June-15 July 1657.6 sig. Alexander St. John.
With five brothers and seven sisters, St. John could expect little patrimony but considerable patronage. His first marriage brought him three messuages in Bedford, but these were promptly sold, and it was on his family’s interest that he was returned for the borough in 1614.11 At the start of the session he was one of those ordered to confer with the Lords about the marriage settlement between the Elector Palatine and Princess Elizabeth (14 April). He was subsequently named to a committee for a private bill for the sale of the Huntingdonshire estate of the Apsley family (19 May) and another to draft a petition asking the king to reconsider the status of the newly created order of baronets (23 May), which had been shunned by the county families of Bedfordshire.12
During the 1620s St. John’s eldest brother, Oliver St. John I*, having succeeded his father as 4th Baron St. John, proved an ambitious parliamentary patron, returning his close relatives and clients for both county and borough seats throughout the decade. Never prominent in the Commons, Sir Alexander was named to a handful of committees during the 1621 session. At a committee of the whole House on religion on 5 Feb., he was one of those delegated to draft a petition to the king ‘for the execution of the laws against Jesuits, seminary priests and recusants, and for avoiding danger by them and suppressing their insolency’. Five weeks later, he was one of those appointed to confer with the Lords about the best course to take against monopolists following the king’s qualified approval of the investigations thus far (12 March). He was subsequently named to the committee appointed to draft the grievances to be submitted to the king before the summer recess (16 May).13 The Apsley estate bill returned to the House, and he to its committee (4 May), while St. John and the other Bedford Member, Richard Taylor, were both named to the committee for a bill to protect magistrates against actions for false imprisonment brought outside their jurisdiction (20 March). In the autumn sitting his only mention in the known records was a nomination to attend a conference with the Lords about the informers’ bill (3 December).14
From 1624 Sir Alexander was joined in the Commons by his elder brother Sir Anthony. The records do not often distinguish between the two men, although it seems likely that Sir Alexander was generally the man cited as ‘Sir A. St. John’; on this basis, and that of his earlier parliamentary experience, he was clearly the man appointed to the privileges’ committee in 1624, 1625 and 1626.15 His eldest brother supported a breach with Spain, and thus it is not surprising to find Sir Alexander named to attend a joint conference on 11 Mar., at which Prince Charles assured Members that any supply they voted would be assigned to a war with Spain. This understanding was later enshrined in the preamble to the subsidy bill, the committee for which task included St. John (10 Apr.), and with a war in prospect, he was also named to the committee for the bill to ensure that the local militia was provided with modern equipment (16 April). He was also named to the committees for several estate bills of local significance, two for Cambridgeshire families, the Stewards (7 Apr.), and the Palavicinos (19 May); and a third to confirm an exchange of lands between Prince Charles and Sir Lewis Watson of Rockingham, Northamptonshire (9 April).16 With little legislative activity in the 1625 session, St. John played almost no recorded part in the session. On 27 June he was one of the committee appointed to consider a bill ‘for the mitigation of the sentence of greater excommunication’, while at Oxford he was named to the committee for the petty larceny bill (6 Aug.) another set up at Sir Thomas Hoby’s behest to establish how much of the taxation voted in 1624 had been disbursed locally (10 August).17
In 1623 St. John’s sister married the 4th earl of Bath, and he quickly joined her in Devon, managing the Tawstock estate. Bath had sufficient influence with his cousin Sir Francis Russell* to procure St. John a seat on the county bench, the colonelcy of the north Devon militia, and appointment as a deputy lieutenant. In 1626 Sir Alexander relinquished his seat at Bedford to his brother Sir Beauchamp, and was elected for Barnstaple, two miles from Tawstock, on Bath’s interest. He was among those named to attend the joint conference of 7 Mar., at which Archbishop Abbot and the earl of Pembroke outlined plans for a renewed offensive against Spain. However, he wisely stayed clear of any involvement in the main agenda of the session, the impeachment of the duke of Buckingham: most of his committee nominations concerned uncontroversial private bills.18 St. John’s military appointments involved him in the billeting of soldiers on Barnstaple in 1627, but he was nevertheless re-elected to the Commons in the following year. On 17 Apr. 1628, when the Commons learned that Theophilus (Howard*), 2nd earl of Suffolk, had claimed that John Selden* had forged a record relating to arbitrary imprisonment, St. John was one of those who attempted to confirm the inflammatory nature of the accusation, although the Lords later exonerated the earl. This was St. John’s only recorded parliamentary speech; he was otherwise named to two committees during the 1628 session, one for a conference with the Lords about a general fast (21 Mar.), the other for Lord Gerard’s jointure bill (7 May). He left no trace at all on the records of the 1629 session.19
In September 1628 St. John fell out with Bath’s heir-presumptive, Sir Henry Bourchier, over the withholding of the latter’s annuity; this eventually led Bourchier to challenge the earl to a duel, which matter St. John referred to the Privy Council.20 After his sister’s death in 1632, St. John left Devon, marrying a widow with lands in Shoreditch, Middlesex shortly thereafter. St. John remained in London during the Civil War, when his wife was assessed to pay £100 towards the parliamentarian cause in 1643. She was dead by the time he drafted his will on 24 June 1657, in which he left £700 to his wife’s niece Elinor Trye, and other bequests in excess of £400. His brother Sir Beauchamp, named as executor, was granted probate on 15 July.21
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Tim Venning / Simon Healy
- 1. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 194.
- 2. Al. Cant.
- 3. Genealogia Bedfordiensis ed. F.A. Blaydes, 105; PROB 11/71, f. 175v; C2/Jas.I/S25/61; C142/329/179.
- 4. PROB 11/162, f. 104v; GL, ms 7493; Vis. Glos. (Harl. Soc. xxi), 171; Collins, Peerage, vi. 744.
- 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 146.
- 6. PROB 11/266, f. 200v.
- 7. SP14/33, f. 5; C231/4, f. 175; 231/5, p. 530; A.H.A. Hamilton, ‘JPs for the County of Devon’, Trans. Devon Assoc. x. 309.
- 8. C181/3, f. 217.
- 9. Barnstaple Recs. ed. J.R. Chanter and T. Wainwright, ii. 201.
- 10. SP16/72/16, 16/90/55; APC, 1627-8, p. 435.
- 11. PROB 11/132, f. 349; C142/329/179.
- 12. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 82, 289, 323.
- 13. CD 1621, ii. 27; CJ, i. 551a, 622a.
- 14. CJ, i. 563b, 606b, 654b.
- 15. Ibid. 671b; Procs. 1625, p. 206; Procs. 1626, ii. 7.
- 16. CJ, i. 683a, 705a, 757a, 758b, 762a, 768a.
- 17. Procs. 1625, pp. 253, 411, 442.
- 18. Procs. 1626, ii. 216. For the private bills, see ibid. ii. 200, 305; iii. 97, 227.
- 19. Barnstaple Recs. ii. 201; CD 1628, ii. 42, 508, 518, 520; iii. 301.
- 20. HMC 11th Rep. vii. 162; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 138.
- 21. CCAM, 198; PROB 11/266, f. 200v; Collins, vi. 744.