Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke

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Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of kings.
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;

On the first occasion which offered itself, that of Pulteney's rupture with Walpole in 1726, he endeavoured to organize an opposition in conjunction with the former and Wyndham; and in 1727, began his celebrated series of letters to The Craftsman , attacking the Walpoles, signed "an Occasional Writer". He won over the Duchess of Kendal with a bribe of £11,000 from his wife's estates, and with Walpole's approval obtained an audience with the king. His success was imminent, and it was thought his appointment as chief minister was assured. In Walpole's own words, "as St John had the duchess entirely on his side I need not add what must or might in time have been the consequence", and he prepared for his dismissal. But once more Bolingbroke's "fortune turned rotten at the very moment it grew ripe", and his projects and hopes were ruined by the king's death in June. [15]

Henry St John retired in June 1735. Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (1678).jpg
Henry St John retired in June 1735.

He wrote additional essays signed "John Trot" that appeared in the Craftsman in 1728, and in 1730 followed Remarks on the History of England by Humphrey Oldcastle, attacking Walpole's policy. Comment prompted by Bolingbroke was continued in the House of Commons by Wyndham, and great efforts were made to establish the alliance between the Tories and the Opposition Whigs. The Excise Bill in 1733 and the Septennial Bill in 1734 offered opportunities for further attacks on the government, which Bolingbroke supported by a new series of papers in the Craftsman styled "A Dissertation on Parties"; but the whole movement collapsed after the new elections, which returned Walpole to power in 1735 with a large majority. [15]

Bolingbroke retired baffled and disappointed from the fray to France in June, residing principally at the château of Argeville near Fontainebleau. He now wrote his Letters on the Study of History (printed privately before his death and published in 1752), and the True Use of Retirement. In 1738, he visited England, became one of the leading friends and advisers of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who now headed the opposition, and wrote for the occasion The Patriot King, which together with a previous essay, The Spirit of Patriotism, and The State of Parties at the Accession of George I, were entrusted to Pope and not published. Having failed, however, to obtain any share in politics, he returned to France in 1739, and subsequently sold Dawley. In 1742 and 1743, he again visited England and quarrelled with Warburton. In 1744, he settled finally at Battersea with his friend Hugh Hume, 3rd Earl of Marchmont, and was present at Pope's death in May. The discovery that the poet had printed secretly 1,500 copies of The Patriot King, caused him to publish a correct version in 1749, and stirred up a further altercation with Warburton, who defended his friend against Bolingbroke's bitter aspersions, the latter, whose conduct was generally reprehended, publishing a Familiar Epistle to the most Impudent Man Living. [15]


In 1744, he had been very busy assisting in the negotiations for the establishment of the new "broad bottom" administration, and showed no sympathy for the Jacobite expedition in 1745. He recommended the tutor for Prince George, afterwards George III. About 1749, he wrote the Present State of the Nation, an unfinished pamphlet. Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield records the last words heard from him: "God who placed me here will do what He pleases with me hereafter and He knows best what to do". He died on 12 December 1751, aged 73, his second wife having predeceased him by one year. They were both buried in St Mary's, the parish church at Battersea, where a monument with medallions and inscriptions composed by Bolingbroke was erected to their memory. [15] The monument was sculpted by Roubiliac. [17]

He was succeeded in the title as 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, according to the special remainder, by his half-nephew Frederick St John, 3rd Viscount St John (a title granted to Bolingbroke's father in 1716), from whom the title has descended. [18] Frederick was the son of the 1st Viscount's half-brother John St John, by his father's second wife Angelica Magdalena Pelissary.


Portrait of Henry St John attributed to Jonathan Richardson Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke by Jonathan Richardson.jpg
Portrait of Henry St John attributed to Jonathan Richardson
The Viscount Bolingbroke
Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke. Attributed to Alexis Simon Belle, c.  1712. (NPG 593 at the National Portrait Gallery, London).
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
In office
17 August 1713 31 August 1714

Bolingbroke, Georgia, was named after him.

Republicanism in America

In the late 20th century, Bolingbroke was rediscovered by historians as a major influence on Voltaire, and on the American patriots John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Adams said that he had read all of Bolingbroke's works at least five times; indeed, Bolingbroke's works were widely read in the American colonies, where they helped provide the foundation for the emerging nation's devotion to republicanism. His vision of history as cycles of birth, growth, decline and death of a republic was influential in the colonies, [19] as was his contention on liberty: that one is "free not from the law, but by the law". [20]

Influence in Britain

Bute and George III derived their political ideas from The Patriot King. [21] Edmund Burke wrote his Vindication of Natural Society in imitation of Bolingbroke's style, but in refutation of his principles; and in the Reflections on the French Revolution he exclaims, "Who now reads Bolingbroke, who ever read him through?" Burke denied that Bolingbroke's words left "any permanent impression on his mind". [15] Benjamin Disraeli lionized Bolingbroke as the "Founder of Modern Toryism", eradicating its "absurd and odious doctrines", and establishing its mission to subvert "Whig attempts to transform the English Constitution into an oligarchy". [22]

The loss of Bolingbroke's great speeches was regretted by William Pitt more than that of the missing books of Livy and Tacitus. By the early 20th century, the writings and career of Bolingbroke would make a weaker impression than they made on contemporaries. He was thought by the author in his biography in A Short Biographical Dictionary of English (1910) to be a man of brilliant and versatile talents, but selfish, insincere and intriguing, defects of character which arguably led to his political ruin; and his writings were described as glittering, artificial and lacking philosophical merit. [23] Philip Chesney Yorke, his biographer in the Encyclopædia Britannica 11th Edition, commented that his abilities were exercised upon ephemeral objects, and not inspired by lasting or universal ideas. [15]

Enlightenment philosophy

Bolingbroke held certain views of opposition to church and theological teachings [1] that may have had influence during the Age of Enlightenment. The atheist antireligious French-German philosopher Baron d'Holbach quotes Bolingbroke in his political work Good Sense, in reference to Bolingbroke's statements against religion. [2]

Country Party

Bolingbroke was especially influential in stating the need and outlining the machinery of a systematic parliamentary opposition. Such an opposition he called a "country party" which he opposed to the court party. Country parties had been formed before, for instance after the king's speech to Parliament in November 1685, but Bolingbroke was the first to state the need for a continual opposition to the government. To his mind the spirit of liberty was threatened by the court party's lust for power. [24]

Liberty could only be safeguarded by an opposition party that used "constitutional methods and a legal course of opposition to the excesses of legal and ministerial power" (On the Idea of a Patriot King p. 117). He instructed the opposition party to "Wrest the power of government, if you can, out of the hands that employed it weakly and wickedly" (On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 42). This work could be done only by a homogeneous party "because such a party alone will submit to a drudgery of this kind" (On the idea of a Patriot King p. 170). It was not enough to be eager to speak, keen to act. "They who affect to head an opposition ... must be equal, at least, to those whom they oppose" (On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 58). The opposition had to be of a permanent nature to make sure that it would be looked at as a part of daily politics. It had on every occasion to confront the government (On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 61). He considered a party that systematically opposed the government to be more appealing than a party that did so occasionally (On the Spirit of Patriotism pp. 62, 63). This opposition had to prepare itself to control government (On the Spirit of Patriotism p. 61).



    1. 1 2 See e.g., Henry St. John Viscount Bolingbroke, "Letters or Essays Addressed to Alexander Pope: Introduction", The Works of Lord Bolingbroke: With a Life, Prepared Expressly for This Edition, Containing Additional Information Relative to His Personal and Public Character, (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1841) Vol 3, pp. 40–64. Also available on Project Gutenberg as "Letter to Alexander Pope" in Letters to Sir William Windham and Mr. Pope.
    2. 1 2 D'Holbach, Baron. Good Sense paragraph 206
    3. The philosophical works of Lord Bolingbroke Volume 2, p. 287
    4. Allen, Brooke, Moral Minority p. 75
    5. Voltaire, God and Human Beings pp. 64, 80, 104
    6. Ruth Mack (2009). Literary Historicity: Literature and Historical Experience in Eighteenth-century Britain. Stanford UP. p. 8. ISBN   9780804759113.
    7. H. T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke (London: Constable, 1970), p. 2.
    8. 1 2 3 4 Yorke 1911, p. 161.
    9. Dickinson, pp. 2–3.
    10. Dickinson, pp. 3–4.
    11. Yorke 1911, pp. 161–162.
    12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Yorke 1911, pp. 162.
    13. Alimento, Antonella. War Trade and Neutrality Europe and the Mediterranean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. FrancoAngeli.
    14. Yorke 1911, pp. 162–163.
    15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Yorke 1911, pp. 163.
    16. Lecky, William Edward Harpole (1888). "Volume I, Chapter III" (With 1877 preface). History of England in the XVIIIth Century (first ed.). New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1,3, and 5 Bond Street. p. 343.{{cite book}}: |chapter-format= requires |chapter-url= (help)
    17. Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis p.331
    18. Yorke 1911, pp. 164.
    19. Garrett Sheldon, Encyclopedia of Political Thought (2001) p. 36
    20. Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner, eds. Republicanism: Republicanism and Constitutionalism in Early Modern Europe (2002) p. 41
    21. Durant, Will and Ariel (1965). The Age of Voltaire. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 100.
    22. Disraeli, Benjamin (1914). Whigs and Whiggism: political writings. Macmillan. pp. 218–220.
    23. Cousin 1910, p. 41.
    24. Caroline Robbins, "'Discordant Parties': A Study of the Acceptance of Party by Englishmen", Political Science Quarterly Vol. 73, No. 4 (Dec. 1958), pp. 505–529 in JSTOR
    25. "The manuscripts, Letter from Andrew Millar to Dr. Cadell, July 16,1765. See footnote 27". millar-project.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 1 June 2016.

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    Primary sources

    Parliament of England
    Preceded by Member of Parliament for Wootton Bassett
    With: Henry Pinnell 1701, 1702–1705
    Thomas Jacob 1701–1702
    John Morton Pleydell 1705–1706
    Francis Popham 1706–1707
    Succeeded by
    Parliament of Great Britain
    Parliament of Great Britain
    Preceded by
    Parliament of England
    Member of Parliament for Wootton Bassett
    With: Francis Popham
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Member for Wootton Bassett
    With: Richard Goddard
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Member of Parliament for Berkshire
    With: Sir John Stonhouse, Bt
    Succeeded by
    Political offices
    Preceded by Secretary at War
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Secretary of State for the Northern Department
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Secretary of State for the Southern Department
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Jacobite Secretary of State
    Succeeded by
    Honorary titles
    Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Essex
    Succeeded by
    Preceded by Senior Privy Counsellor
    Succeeded by
    Peerage of Great Britain
    New title Viscount Bolingbroke
    Succeeded by