I was busy researching the life and times of Henrietta St John, a sad story of 18th century double standards set against a backdrop of letters and gardening. Henrietta’s so say ‘platonic’ relationship with poet John Dalton led to her banishment from her home and her separation from her two children, and then during my research and reading I came across the name Doctor John St John, albeit from a different century.
I was loath to halt my work in progress but I couldn’t resist trying to find out who this man was. Although there are still large gaps in my knowledge, I have discovered that Dr John led a pretty interesting life.
Dr John was in the thick of the action during the 17th century Civil War. As troops assembled for the second showdown in the Berkshire countryside, Essex wrote to the Derby-House Committee
My Lords and Gentlemen,
It is a comfort to mee in this sad tyme of mine affliction, in minde and body, to see that I am continued in your care, being at this present soe uselesse a servant to ye State. The particulars of my disease, I shall crave pardon that I deferre the accompt of it till Doctor St John’s, old Mr Bowden of Reading, and Langley my owne Chirurgion shall set downe the trew state as much as they can perceive of it as yet, only thus much, I think it has been much occasioned (the inconveniency I am like to suffer) by striving soe long with it; …
He signs himself – Your Lordships’ most humble servant, Essex – Reading, 27 Oct., 1644.
The first and second battles of Newbury and the siege of Donnington Castle during the Civil War, 1643-6 by Walter Money published in 1884
It seems highly unlikely that the doctor attended his cousin Captain Edward St John who was fatally wounded at that same bloody battle. Dr John’s side of the family were Parliamentarians and his services would have been required in their camp. Edward made it home to Lydiard House but died five and a half months later. He is commemorated in St Mary’s Church by the unique memorial called the Golden Cavalier.
C.E. Challis in his book A New History of the Royal Mint published in 1990 also makes a reference to Dr John.
On Holland’s withdrawal from the Mint the office of warden was revived and filled by Dr John St John. Presumably his doctorate was an MD, though he is not listed in Munk’s Roll of the College of Physicians (1878). If so, he was probably related to Oliver, fourth Lord St John, who was one of twenty colonels raising troops for the Earl of Essex’s army in 1642. This could well explain why a John St John was ‘physician to the train and person’ in Essex’s army, attending Essex during his illness at the time of the second battle of Newbury in October 1644. At all events, once appointed in 1645, St John was to remain peaceably at the Mint throughout the rest of Charles I’s reign, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate. He probably died in Restoration year itself because on 30 June 1660 Oliver St John was ordered to surrender the Mint seal and trial plates lately in his possession.
Note to self – more research needed here!
So now we have Dr John in residence as warder at the Royal Mint in the Tower of London. I wonder if he lived within the walls of that fortress. Another St John cousin, Lucy married to the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Allen Apsley had once lived in the Queen’s House, but by 1645 Sir Allen was dead and Lucy had moved on (see The Lady of the Tower by Elizabeth St John.) The Mint left the Tower in 1810 and moved into a purpose-built factory on nearby Tower Hill. In the 1970s the whole operation moved again to Llantrisant in South Wales.
But who was Dr John St John? Why hadn’t I heard of him before and was he even connected to ‘our’ St Johns.
Oh yes, he most definitely was!
John was born in Keysoe, Bedfordshire in 1615, the son of Oliver St John (1563/3-1626) and his second wife Alice Haselden. Oliver had first married Sarah Bulkeley by whom he had at least six children, two of them making quite an impression on 17th century society.
Daughter Elizabeth married outspoken Puritan Pastor Samuel Whiting and has her own place in American history. The Whiting couple were among around 20,000 colonists who left England for America between 1630-1640 seeking religious tolerance and with a vision of creating a new and better society. In 1636 the Whiting family settled in Lynn on the eastern seaboard, five miles from Salem in the northeast and nine miles from Boston in the southwest. Among her many duties as Pastor’s wife Elizabeth instructed the youth of the parish, helped her husband with his writings and ran his domestic affairs.
Her brother Oliver was even more well known. Oliver St John (c1598-1673) matriculated from Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1616 and entered upon a career in law which brought him notoriety and esteem in pretty much equal measure. In 1641 he was appointed solicitor-general by Charles I, despite his defence of John Hampden who challenged and refused to pay the king’s Ship Money Tax. By the outbreak of war Oliver had firmly aligned himself with Cromwell and was recognised as one of the parliamentary leaders. In 1648 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.
Yes, I too was sceptical about Dr John’s accreditation regarding our illustrious St John family and then I discovered his will.
Written on ‘the tenth of Aprill in the year of our Lord God One thousand Six hundred and Sixtie being sicke and weake in body but of good and perfect memory thankes bee given to Allmighty God for the same Doe make this my last Will and Testament.’ Dr John bequeathed ‘unto the parish of Keysoe in the County of Bedford being the parish where I was borne fforty shillings to bee distributed amongst the poore.’ And then I knew I was on the right track.
In this will Dr John makes numerous bequests to friends and family among whom are a lot of very familiar names.
Item I give unto Mr John Barnard forty shillings to buy him a Ring And to his wife five pounds of lawful money of England And to each of his children twenty shillings a piece.
(John Barnard was the husband of Elizabeth, Oliver St John’s (c1598-1673) daughter by his second marriage to Elizabeth Cromwell and half-sister of Lady Johanna St John, chatelaine at Lydiard and Battersea, gardener and purveyor of pills and potion fame.)
There is a mention of a couple of Bulkeley cousins, John and Joseph, along with their wives who received forty shillings a piece to buy mourning rings.
He leaves to ‘Francis St Johns my nephew and sonne of the Lord Chiefe Justice St John, ffive pounds of lawfull money of England.’ Then we have Sir Walter St John and his wife (the aforementioned Johanna) along with Henry St John and his wife (Catherine, Johanna’s sister) and their respective children who all receive money with which to buy rings
And if any further proof were needed Dr John writes that he wishes to ‘ordaine and appoint the Lord Chiefe Justice St John Executor of this my last Will and Testament’.
Dr John St John died at his home in Boult Court and was buried at the Church of St Dunstan in the West on April 17, 1660.
The St John family continues to amaze and intrigue me, especially the women, but now it’s time to get back to Henrietta. Sadly, it would appear that Dr John never married. What a story that lady would be able to tell.
A view from the Tower walls
On guard at the Tower
The Norman White Tower built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s.
Changing guards at Lucy Apsley’s former home – The Queen’s House
A recent restoration of Sir Walter Raleigh’s garden.
Sir Walter St John
Lady Johanna St John
The Golden Cavalier