Elizabeth St John – Puritan pioneer

Local tribal leader Wenepoykin, renamed Sagamore George by the English, headed the Rumney Marsh Indians who lived on the borders of the marsh in Lynn and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Conflict between the indigenous Native Americans and the English settlers was a very real threat.  This was Rev. Samuel Whiting’s new parish where he and his wife, Elizabeth St John moved to in 1636.

Elizabeth St John was a pious, serious young woman, about as different from her licentious cousin Barbara, Countess Castlemaine as it was possible to be.

Born in Bletsoe, Bedfordshire in 1605, Elizabeth was the daughter of Oliver St John and his first wife Sarah Bulkeley.

The 17th century St John’s were united by family associations but divided by political allegiance.  While the junior branch at Lydiard Tregoze stood firmly for the Royalist cause, the senior Bletsoe branch was Parliamentarian and Puritan.

Elizabeth’s elder brother was the celebrated lawyer Oliver St John who challenged the illegal Ship Money tax imposed by Charles I and later served as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.  Oliver was a staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell and eventually married into the Lord Protector’s family – twice; firstly to an aunt, Johanna Altham and secondly to a cousin, Elizabeth Cromwell.

Raised in the well heeled St John family Bletsoe home, Elizabeth received a comprehensive education and developed an interest in public affairs.  Her biographer William Whiting writes that she was a fit companion of scholars and statesman. Elizabeth almost sounds too good to be true as William eulogises – ‘Beautiful in person and of cultivated mind, heroic but gentle, learned but modest …fearless of personal danger but of sensitive delicacy towards others, too high spirited to submit to the dictation of British prelates but too sincere a believer in the Prince of peace to provoke or endure controversy which could be honourably avoided, this noble woman gave her heart to her godly husband and her life to aid him in the ministry of the gospel.”

But there can be no denying that Elizabeth was made of stern stuff.

It is not known how or where Elizabeth first met Samuel Whiting.  Before taking a ministry in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, Samuel had been chaplain to Sir Nathaniel Bacon and Sir Roger Townsend.

Elizabeth married the young widower in Boston, Lincolnshire on August 6, 1629.  The Puritan Pastor had already gained a reputation for his outspoken views and had been twice prosecuted for nonconformity. Influential New England Puritan Pastor Cotton Mather wrote about Samuel that ‘his design was not to please but to profit; to bring forth, not high things, but fit things.’

These were difficult times and the Whitings were among around 20,000 colonists who left England for America during 1630-1640 seeking religious tolerance and with a vision of creating a new and better society.

Whiting forfeited his property in England declaring – “I am going into the wilderness to sacrifice unto the Lord and I will not leave a hoof behind me.”

Elizabeth turned her back on the good life and with her husband, her step daughter Dorothy and her own little son Samuel, to embark upon the unknown. The small family left England in early April 1636 arriving at Boston, New England on May 26 after a tortuous journey.

“I would much rather have undergone six weeks imprisonment for a good cause than six weeks of such terrible sea sickness,” the Rev. Whiting said.

Samuel and Elizabeth remained in Boston for six months before moving north up the eastern seaboard to Saugus where Samuel was inducted on November 8, 1636.

Alonzo Lewis and James R. Newhall describe the area in a History of Lynn published in 1890 as then having a ‘bold and rocky shore, consisting of craggy and precipitous cliffs, interspersed with numerous bays, coves, and beaches, which furnish a pleasing and picturesque variety. Above these rise little verdant mounds and lofty, barren rocks, and high hills, clothed with woods of evergreen.’ Five miles from Salem in the northeast and nine miles from Boston in the southwest, the area contained 9360 acres with a boundary line measuring thirty four miles.

The Saugus territory was later renamed Lynn after Kings Lynn in Norfolk with which the Whiting family had an association.

Elizabeth’s life in Lynn was far removed from the affluent childhood she spent in Bedfordshire.   Among her many duties as Pastor’s wife she instructed the youth of the parish, helped her husband with his writings and ran his domestic affairs. William Whiting, a descendant of the couple, wrote in his memoir of the Rev Samuel Whiting published in 1873 that  Elizabeth’s days were ‘filled with many cares of her family, her parishioners, her guests, and even of the wild savages with whose presence she was not unfamiliar and to whom she gave hospitable shelter.’

And Lynn parishioner Obadiah Turner wrote in his diary that ‘Elizabeth was a godlie woman and did much to cheer and help her husband.  By her learning she was able to give much instruction to the damsels of the parish, and they did all love her as she was a tender mother.’

The couple had six children.  Two died young but sons Samuel, Joseph and John became ministers themselves and their daughter Elizabeth married a minister.

Elizabeth died on March 3, 1677 aged 72.  Samuel died two years later.  They are both buried at the Old Western Burial Ground in Lynn.

Read more about the cemetery on  http://heartoflynn.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/old-western-burial-ground.html

Mary Rich

The 17th century English Civil War set neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend and divided families. Throughout this turbulent period the St John family suffered similarly, and most frequently it was the women who straddled the difficult political divide with diplomacy, skill and in some cases, cunning.

Anne St John, who lost three brothers to the Royalist cause, befriended the Parliamentarians to safeguard her family’s fortunes, while her sister in law Lady Johanna St John, daughter of the Cromwellian supporter Sir Oliver St John, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, learned how to play the perfect hostess to Charles II.

But when Lady Johanna and Sir Walter St John sought a suitable wife for their wayward son Henry, they turned to a family with an immaculate Parliamentarian pedigree.

Lady Mary Rich was the granddaughter of staunch Puritan, Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick. In 1642 Robert had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Essex and Lord High Admiral, and secured the Navy for the Parliamentarians at the outbreak of war.

Born in around 1652, Mary was one of the 3rd Earl’s three daughters by his wife the former Anne Cheek (pictured in white). Robert died in 1659 and on his deathbed entrusted the care of his three young daughters, Mary, Anne and Essex, to his brother Charles.

Charles and his Irish born wife Mary had no surviving children of their own. A baby daughter had died as the result of being tossed between two nursemaids and their only son died aged 21. An attempt to start a second family later in their married life had proved unsuccessful, and they seemed the perfect choice to take charge of the young sisters.

Charles’ devout Puritan wife Mary raised the girls ‘as a mother,’ at the family home of Leighs Priory, Felsted near Chelmsford, Essex and negotiated the marriages of all three nieces.

Following visits between the two families, Sir Walter settled the Lydiard estate on his son Henry in advance of the nuptials and the wedding took place at Leighs on December 11, 1673.

Satisfied with her matchmaking, Mary, Countess of Warwick recorded in her diary “because it was a very orderly and realidgious family, and ther was a very good estate, and the young gentellman she mared Mr Henry St Johns was very good natured and viceless and his Good father and Mother …were very eminent for owning and practising of Realidgeon.” The Countesses diary, in which she leaves an intimate account of her day to day life and her religious observances, is held at the British Library.

There is evidence that theirs was a happy marriage, equal in affection given and received. Mary St John quickly fell pregnant but miscarried in early 1674. With a London home in Bury Street, Westminster, the young couple also made frequent use of their Wiltshire country estate. Three more children were born, a daughter Mary and two sons named Walter, all buried at Battersea in 1675 and 1677.

In 1678 Mary was pregnant yet again. She retired to Lydiard for her confinement and on September 16 was delivered of a healthy boy. Sadly just weeks later Mary died and was buried at the neighbouring parish church of St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze on October 2. She was 26 years old. Her son was christened eight days later on October 10 at the church in Battersea.

Mary was not one of the big players on the St John stage. She left no known imprint on the Lydiard estate and no written record such as her stepmother’s diary. If Mary supervised planting in Johanna’s garden, we don’t know of it, if she was a dutiful daughter in law, a sisterly confidante, we don’t know of that either.

Mary’s legacy is that she was the mother of Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, Secretary at War to Queen Anne, friend of Swift and Pope, who ducked and dived throughout a tumultuous political career.

The portrait of Mary with her sister Lady Anne Barrington painted by Henri Gascard in around 1670, probably before her marriage, is held by a private collector.

In 2010 a portrait of Mary’s father, Robert Rich, 3rd Earl of Warwick (1611-1659) made a return to Lydiard House.  Sold during the great dispersal of the estate in the 1940s, the portrait was purchased from a private collector with the aid of grant support from the MLA/Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund, the Art Fund, the Friends of Lydiard Park, and private donations to the house through the Treasure for Ever scheme.

The portrait of Mary St John’s mother Anne Cheek (right) with her sister Essex Cheek, attributed to Van Dyck.

Anne Fitzroy, Countess of Sussex

It’s hardly surprising that two of Barbara Castlemaine’s three daughters went off the rails.  What is amusing is just how horrified the good gentlewoman was when they did so.

Anne Palmer was the first of Barbara’s six illegitimate children, supposedly conceived on the night of Charles II’s coronation in the early days of Barbara’s reign as maitresse en titre.  But to be perfectly honest there were a couple of candidates for father – the most unlikely of whom was Barbara’s husband Roger Palmer.  Both Palmer and Charles accepted paternity but Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield was generally believed to be little Anne’s father.

Anne, unlike her easy going, loveable sister Charlotte, was a chip off the old maternal block.

Aged not much more than thirteen Anne was married to Thomas Lennard, Lord Dacre at a sumptuous ceremony held at Hampton Court on August 11, 1674.  Guests included the King’s brother, the Duke of York; his nephew Prince Rupert and his eldest illegitimate son James, Duke of Monmouth.  Charles provided a £20,000 dowry for his daughter and settled a £2,000 pension on the bridegroom, conferring upon him the title of Earl of Sussex.  Whether Thomas ever received his wife’s dowry is debatable as the King’s largesse was frequently just a gesture.

The marriage proved to be an unsatisfactory one.  The first sign of trouble came with the arrival of Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin who appeared on the scene in 1676 having fled her own eccentric and abusive husband Armand Charles de la Porte, reputedly then the richest man in France.  Hortense had her sights on Charles – the couple had some ‘history’ – and she soon supplanted his then current squeeze Louise de Kerouaille.

Not only did Hortense bed the King, but rumour had it, his daughter Anne as well.  Unhappily married for two years and still only fifteen years old, Anne fell for the older woman’s charm and sense of fun.  They took fencing lessons together and once took part in a public match in St James’s Park wearing only their nightgowns.

This could be said to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Anne’s exasperated husband removed her to the country where she wept and wailed for her lover, spending the days in bed kissing a miniature portrait of Hortense.

Perhaps even these measures weren’t enough to subdue the wilful Anne.  The next reference to her comes two years later when in 1678 we find her in a French convent, living within reach of her mother Barbara who had retired to Paris, and also Ralph Montagu, Ambassador to France.  Courtier, diplomat and all round wheeler dealer Ralph Montague was more than twenty years older than seventeen year old Anne and had also been Barbara’s lover, when he seduced and abducted the young Lady Sussex.

“I was never so surprised in my whole life-time as I was coming hither, to find my Lady Sussex gone from my house and monastery where I left her, and this letter from her, which I here send you the copy of,” a furious Barbara wrote to Charles.

“She has never been in the monastery two days together, but every day gone out with the Ambassador and has often lain four days together at my house, and sent for her meat to the Ambassador; he being always with her till five o’clock in the morning, they two shut up together alone, and would not let my maitre d’hotel wait, nor any of my servants, only the Ambassador’s.”  Did Charles see the irony in all this?  

“I am so much afflicted that I can hardly write this for crying, to see a child, that I doted on as I did on her, should make me so ill a return, and join with the worst of men to ruin me,” she continued.

Unfortunately little else is known about Anne.  She had four children by Thomas Lennard but the couple eventually separated in 1688, so perhaps she didn’t calm down.

Anne wrote her will on May 15, 1722.  The first matter she wanted to address was the details of her funeral.  “I commend my Soul to the infinite mercy of God my Body to the Earth to be buried with the least expense viz early in the morning and one only Mourning Coach to attend my ffunerall.”

Anne had invested £4,050 in the South Sea Company.  As her will was written after the infamous South Sea Bubble of 1720 which saw so many lose their investments, presumably she managed to hold on to hers.

She divided her £4,050 between her two daughters, Lady Barbara Skelton and Lady Anne Teynham, with bequests to her two grandchildren Anne Roper and Thomas Barrett Lennard.

To her old servant Margaret of Radclyffe she left an annuity of £30 per annum during her natural life.  Other servants received a year’s wages over and above what was due to them.

Sadly there are no personal items such as those mentioned in her kinswoman Bridget St John’s will.  Anne appears only to be interested in hard cash, very much like her mother.

Anne appointed her son in law Henry, Lord Teynham as her executor and her will was witnessed by Charles Boucher, John Harrison and James Rainford.  She died the next day.

Anne Leighton

Anne Leighton grew up during the volatile period of political intrigue and religious fervour that marked the end of the Tudor period and the beginning of the Stuart. The daughter of professional soldier Sir Thomas Leighton and Elizabeth Knollys, who shared a Boleyn ancestry with Queen Elizabeth I, Anne was the first wife of Sir John St. John 1st Baronet.


Anne was christened on October 14, 1591 at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, Hanbury. Four miles from Droitwich, Hanbury in Worcestershire was the Leighton family seat. However it is likely she spent most of her childhood in Guernsey where her father was appointed Governor in 1570 and remained until his death in 1610.

With her royal pedigree and wealthy background Anne received an education befitting her status. Along with her brother Thomas and sister Elizabeth, Anne was educated at home in Guernsey by the controversial, uncompromising, Puritan preacher, William Bradshaw. The girls also received instruction in the skills required for running their own establishments.

The association between the Leighton and St. John families was a long standing one. The John St John and his siblings were orphaned in childhood. After their father’s death in 1594, their mother Lucy married her cousin Sir Anthony Hungerford of Black Bourton. Following her death in 1598 the heir to the St John estates was made a ward of the monarch.

Queen Elizabeth granted Sir Thomas Leighton the wardship of the young John St. John and the lease of his lands after an appeal from Lady Elizabeth Leighton who stated that she and her husband were ‘minded to match him to their daughter.’ 

Sadly, whilst on holiday with Sir Thomas in 1597 John’s elder brother Walter got into difficulties bathing off the Island of Herm with a group of fellow young guests. His tutor Isaac Daubney went to his aid, but both were drowned. John subsequently succeeded to the family estate, aged just 11 years old.

Anne duly married John at St. John’s Church, Hackney on July 9, 1604. Still a ward of court, John was 19 years old. With no legal age for marriage, Anne was just 13.

It is not known when the young couple first set up home together, although the daughter of Sir John’s sister Lucy St John suggests it was soon after their marriage.

“The rest of my aunts, my mother’s sisters, were dispersed to several places, when they grew up till my uncle, Sir John St. John, being married to the daughter of Sir Thomas Laten, they were all again brought home to their brother’s house,” Lucy Hutchinson writes in her Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson.

Lucy also writes of the kindness shown by Anne to her mother, the youngest of six sisters among whom there was considerable rivalry in the matrimonial stakes – “my uncle’s wife, who had a mother’s kindnesse for her, persuaded her to remove herselfe from her sister’s envie, by going along with her to the Isle of Jernsey where her father was governor.”

The St. John family was the largest landowners in the 17th century parish of Lydiard Tregoze with the medieval deer park, numerous farms including Windmill Leaze and Wick, plus others at Shaw and parcels of land in the neighbouring parish of Lydiard Millicent.

In 1604 the medieval mansion house to which the newly married couple returned consisted of two wings linked by a central hall block. This was a period when a number of titled families were renovating their ancestral homes and in many instances it was the lady of the house who was in charge of building operations. Perhaps Anne was the driving force behind the modernisation of Lydiard House, dragging it out of the past and into the 17th century. The remodelled Palladian house as seen today was the work of her great grandson John, 2nd Viscount St. John.


Unlike subsequent members of the family who divided their time between their various establishments, the Lydiard mansion was the permanent home of John and Anne. These were busy times for the young couple and their growing family. Knighted at Whitehall on February 2, 1608/9, Sir John became one of newly crowned James I’s Baronets in 1611.

The St. John’s had status, wealth and connections. The family finances were secure. These, it might be said, were the glory years.

The ladies at Lydiard kept up with the fashion of the day as this extract from a London dressmaker’s bill indicates. The total cost for items for Anne, her two daughters Anne aged 15 and Barbara eleven years old and a Mistress Talbot came to £12 17s 5d, presented for payment after Anne’s death in 1628.

The Lady St. Johns of Lideard the 28 of March 1629

For Canvas stifning and whalbone for Mistress Ans grene and white flowered grogram goune
for fustyan to lyne the sleves and Clasps
for a yeard of Crimson and silver grogram for the same goune
for a norme and quarter of new silver lan[…]
for the bodis and sleves
for faring for the same goune
for silke

There are three representations of Anne at Lydiard House and Park. A portrait by an artist thought to be Gilbert Jackson hangs in the dining room. Dressed in fashions typical of the period, Anne wears a grey dress with epaulettes embroidered in green, red and gold and a deep lace collar edged with red and gold embroidery. Her hairstyle owes more to the Elizabethan period worn swept back from her face with a pendant inset and earrings to match. She has a kindly expression, unlike the severe looking Margaret Whitmore, Sir John’s second wife, whose portrait hangs above the one of Anne.

Anne also appears in the St. John Polyptych that stands in St. Mary’s Church, next to the mansion house. Commissioned by Sir John in 1615, the painting is a celebration of the St. John ancestry and a memorial to his parents, Sir John and Lucy who take centre stage, kneeling on a tomb. To the right of the family portrait are their six daughters while to the left stand the younger Sir John and Anne, their arms interlinked in a display of informality and intimacy.


Anne did not live to see the turmoil of the Civil War in which five of her sons played an active role.

The first of Anne’s three sons to die for the Royalist cause was William born 1617, killed in action at nearby Cirencester. A lieutenant in the infantry, William was fighting alongside Prince Rupert when Cirencester was seized on February 2 1642/3. His body was returned to Lydiard House where he was buried alongside his mother in the family vault at St. Mary’s.

Later the same year, John, Anne’s second son, died fighting in Nottinghamshire. The Royal garrison at Newark was blockaded during the winter of 1643 and it is believed that John was killed during fierce fighting. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church at Newark.

The third of Anne’s sons to die fighting in the Royalist ranks was Edward. A captain in Sir John Byron’s Regiment of Horse, Edward saw action at the Second Battle of Newbury on October 27 1644. He returned to Lydiard House where fatally wounded he lingered on, eventually dying of his injuries over five months later. He was also buried in the family vault at St. Mary’s.

Anne’s two youngest sons Walter and Henry both married daughters of Cromwellian sympathiser Oliver St. John, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, nailing their colours firmly to the Parliamentarian mast.

Finally, an effigy of Anne can be seen on the magnificent alabaster St. John tomb commissioned by Sir John fourteen years before his actual death. The carving is of the highest quality and a comparison with existing portraits confirms the accuracy of the representations of Sir John and his two wives.


The inscription reads: “Anne was the daughter of Thomas Leighton, Knight, by his wife Elizabeth of the Knowles family and of the kindred of Queen Elizabeth, as blessed in character as in connection. She lived for thirty seven years, endowed with noble gifts of mind, body, and manner, a rare example of virtue and piety; she was the mother of thirteen surviving children; in the end, long worn down by the painful agonies of her last confinement and at last overcome, she fled to heaven on the 19th September, 1638.” 

The date is incorrectly recorded and should read 1628.

The new royal baby’s connection to Anne Leighton is through Anne’s daughter Anne St John who married Henry Wilmot 1st Earl Rochester. Anne Leighton’s 9x great grandson is Edward John Spencer 8th Earl Spencer who is the father of Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana married Prince Charles in 1981 and is the grandmother of Prince George and the new royal baby due next year.

Portrait of Anne Leighton courtesy of Lydiard House
Views of the St John memorial and polyptych in St. Mary’s Church courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball www.oodwooc.co.uk

Isabella Hompesch

Pity the three significant women in the life of George Richard St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke.  The first, Charlotte Collins, he abandoned on his country estate at Lydiard Park with their three young children, but not before he embroiled her in his incestuous love affair with his half sister Mary Day Beauclerk.  Charlotte even claimed the son born in Paris in 1787 was hers in an attempt to hush up the scandal.  However, another three sons later and George Richard also tired of Mary.

George Richard’s love life eludes a certain amount of detail, but it would appear that by 1789 he was living in Heidelberg where he made the acquaintance of two brothers, Barons Charles and Ferdinand von Hompesch, the sons of Baron Franz Carl Baron von Hompesch and Antonia von Hacke.

Invited back to the family’s castle at Dusseldorf, George met their young sister Isabella Antonia Marianne Charlotte Sophia Baroness Hompesch.  The impressionable seventeen year old was seduced by the smooth talking English aristocrat who conveniently forgot to mention his wife and the family he had left back home.

He persuaded Isabella to marry him in a secret ceremony held in a nearby village church.  Then the heartless Lothario threw Isabella’s bonnet and shawl in a stream to evince her death by drowning, and later intercepted the girl’s letters to her father in which she pleaded for forgiveness for her clandestine marriage.

So what do you think of him so far?

George Richard brought Isabella to England, but obviously not to his Wiltshire home.  Their first son was still born in February 1794 in London.  A second son, George Frederick was born the following year, also in London, after which George Richard removed his family to a hideaway in Wales.

Did Isabella never question why they lived their life in secrecy?  Why her letters to her family went unanswered?  George claimed to be unable to return home as his father Frederick was incensed that he had married a Catholic.  Frederick, however, had been dead for more than five years and had spent his last years ‘out of his mind.’

After two years spent in hiding it would appear that George Richard’s cover was blown and the couple left Wales for America.  On arriving in New York the couple first took a house in Greenwich Street where another son William James was born.

In 1798 George Richard brought a property in Elizabethville, New Jersey.  Liberty Hall, a 14 room country house standing in 22 acres, was built in 1772 for William Livingstone, a New York lawyer who became Governor of New Jersey and famously signed the American Constitution in 1787 alongside George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

While Liberty Hall may have played a prominent part in America’s history, George Richard led an undercover existence, known as Lord Bolingbroke to friends only and as Mr Belasise to everyone else.

“He has been here nearly ten years now, and as they say means to return to England this year,” the Rt Hon Augustus John Foster wrote to his mother in September 1805.  “She [Isabella] is anything but handsome; a little square German with broken teeth, but they say very amiable.  Their children are remarkably fine.  He flatters himself they he is not known here to be Lord Bolingbroke.”

Accounts of Isabella describe her as kind and thoughtful, perhaps unsurprisingly, a resilient character and a woman who found pleasure in everything.

Family friend and fellow exile Count Niemcewicz wrote in his diary after the couple returned to England that “Lady Bolingbroke who, although she was not beautiful, possessed not only all the virtues but also all the graces.  She was calm and sweet with a lustful husband, the best possible mother, a good friend, with a heart in which trust follows respect once given.”

In a strange quirk of history, polish born Niemcewicz also deserted his wife Susan to return to Europe.  Susan would end her days at Liberty Hall, the former Bolingbroke refuge, purchased by her son Peter Kean.

With the death of Charlotte in 1803 George Richard decided to come clean – there is no record of how poor Isabella received the news.   So after a bigamous marriage, six illegitimate children and with Isabella pregnant yet again, the couple were legally wed on August 1, 1804 in Trinity Church, New York.

The following year they sold Liberty Hall to wealthy New York City merchant and philanthropist, Thomas Eddy for $12,500 and on June 6, 1806 set sail for England.

The arrival of the family at Lydiard Park must have set local squiredom tongues a wagging, or perhaps not.  By then George Richard’s reputation was well known.

George’s last years were dogged by ill health.  It was he who built the plunge pool on the edge of the lake in Lydiard Park in 1820, revealed during excavations in 2005 ahead of the £5 million parkland restoration.

In 1824 he left Lydiard with his daughter for a restorative tour of Italy.  He died in Pisa on December 11, 1824.  His body was returned for burial in the family vault at St Mary’s.

Isabella outlived her husband by more than twenty years.  At the time of the 1841 census she was living in Torquay, close to her eldest son George who was a vicar there.  She died in 1848.

George Richard is buried with his two wives in the St John vault beneath St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.  Sadly there are no known surviving portraits of either Charlotte Collins or Isabella Hompesch.

Johanna, Lady St John

“Bid them have a care of the children and not to let them pick ther noses nor doe any other thing for which I use to chide them,”  Lady Johanna St John wrote to Thomas Hardyman, her steward at Lydiard House. Like any other mother, Lady Johanna was anxious that her children behaved themselves – all thirteen of them.

Born in 1630, Johanna was the eldest of Oliver St. John’s four children by his first wife, Johanna Altham. Oliver St. John enjoyed a somewhat bumpy political career. Despite his defence of John Hampden, a Puritan landowner who refused to pay the contentious Ship Tax imposed by Charles I, Oliver St. John was appointed Solicitor General by the king in 1641.

However by the outbreak of the Civil War Oliver St. John had firmly aligned himself with Oliver Cromwell, and was recognised as a leading figure in the parliamentarian camp. Kinship ties with the Cromwell family remained strong. After the death of Johanna Altham, Oliver St. John went on to marry a further two wives, both of them related to the Lord Protector.

In 1648 Oliver St. John was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. The Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon described him “as a man reserved and of a dark and clouded countenance, very proud, conversing with very few and those men of his own humour and inclinations. He was very seldom known to smile.”

Soon after the birth of her young daughter, Oliver’s wife sought refuge at the home of her stepfather Sir William Masham in High Laver, Essex where the baby Johanna was baptised on January 27 1630/1. Johanna’s childhood was an unsettled one, lived out against the backdrop of a brutal civil war

In 1649, not yet out of her teens, Johanna married her cousin Walter. Johanna descended from the senior Bletsoe branch of the St. John family and Walter from the junior Lydiard Tregoze branch with both tracing their ancestry back to Sir Oliver St. John and his wife Margaret Beauchamp, grandmother of Henry VII through her second marriage.

The newlyweds made the Old Manor House at Battersea their main home, closer to parliament where Sir Walter served as Member for Wootton Bassett between 1661-1679 and for Wiltshire in 1656-1659, 1679-1685 and again in 1690-1695.

Walter’s father, Sir John St. John had acquired the property when he succeeded to the Lordship of the Manor of Battersea in 1630 on the death of his uncle, another Oliver St. John, Viscount Grandison. With forty rooms on either floor, the spacious house on the banks of the River Thames was, for some time, also home to Johanna’s sister Catherine who was married to Walter’s younger brother Henry.

Johanna’s first child Anne, was baptised at St. Mary’s, Battersea on December 8 1650. Henry, John, Johanna and a child who died young, were born during the 1650s with Oliver, Elizabeth, Barbara, Walter, John and William in the 1660s followed by Edward in 1670 and Francis in 1672/3.

Four of the children were baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze and therefore probably born in the parkland mansion house – Johanna in 1658, Walter 1666, John 1667 and William 1668.

Fortunately many of Lady Johanna’s letters to Hardyman survive, having escaped the 20th century cull of paperwork. Precious archival material was lost when Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke donated 2½ tons of paper to the Second World War salvage effort.

Johanna, with the help of Thomas Hardyman, kept a tight rein on Lydiard affairs, juggling the domestic arrangements of the Wiltshire household along with her Battersea home. In her letters to Hardyman Lady Johanna makes references not only to friends and family but neighbours and noble men, including the king who occasionally dined at Battersea.

The Lydiard estate produce was conveyed to the Battersea establishment and Lady Johanna’s housekeeping letters sometimes read more like a shopping list – “a brace of deer – som butter chees and rabbits.”  Although Lydiard Park was primarily the St. John’s summer home, it was also used to entertain Sir Walter’s political associates and in the summer of 1663 preparations for the visit of the Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon dominated Lady Johanna’s letters to Hardyman.

“Bid smith se the house scowered clean all the rooms and places and dusted downe and the task of employing staff eg Buttler, cooke, gardener,” Lady Johanna writes in a letter dated July 28.  “I might have had a very good servant who lived with my La Brown of oxFordsher bt I think he is a papist so I wil let him alone,” she informs Hardyman.

In the 17th century the manor house at Lydiard overlooked formal gardens where Joanna supervised the planting, and she is probably best remembered for her knowledge of plants and herbs and their healing properties.

Johanna made a record of the poultices, purges and potions she made and her Booke dated 1680 is now held at the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine.

Some of the remedies in Lady Johanna’s book are published with a personal recommendation. ‘For a Consumption cured my cos Fabian – muscadel a quart walnut water a pint the same of spirmint water a qtr of a pound of Loaf suger a pece of cinomon put all thes together into 2 grt Bottle shake it once a day for 8 days give a qtr of a pint morning & afternoon.’ 

Another tried and tested medicine was ‘A Wound Drink which a Friend procured me out of Holland it cured Sr John Mince who was run thurow the Lungs & had sore wounds in a Sea Fight.’

Among the contributors to Lady Johanna’s Booke were Sir Edward Spencer, my Lady Manchester and Lady Peterburough who all had remedies for sore eyes. And Sr Phillip Warwick who ‘commends Briony roote to weare in the pocket only’ to ward off an attack of the cramp.

Unfortunately the formal gardens were swept away by Johanna’s grandson John, 2nd Viscount St. John when he had the estate landscaped in the mid 18th century. However, the bricks were reused to create a new walled garden built behind the house where some of Johanna’s plants were transferred.

There are four portraits of Lady Johanna in Lydiard House. The two in the Drawing Room show her at very different periods of her life. Dressed in a silver gown and wearing a red sash about her shoulders, the portrait by John Michael Wright dates from around 1665 when Johanna was about 35 years old while the second one shows her as a much older woman, the epitome of a pious, puritan lady.

On March 7th 1703 Johanna signed the will she had written herself, three sides of foolscap folio paper complete with numerous additions and deletions which would result in probate being delayed.

The document contains several endearments giving a glimpse of the softer side of the strict, puritanical Lady Johanna. “To my old & Deare Friend the Countess of Lindsey I leave my Gold cupp wch Mrs Drax left me for a legesey,” she wrote. “And I wish I could leave her a Friend may love her as much & have more power to serve her then my selfe.”

“I desire if Sir Walter St. John out live me his old servants may be continued about him,” she continued, expressing concern for her elderly husband, “and that he may not be removed to Liddiard London or any other place from Battersea wher he has lived so long least it hasten his Death.”

Johanna died at her Battersea home aged 75. The memorial plate on her coffin declared, ‘Here lies the body of the Honble lady Johanna St. John late pious prudent Consort of Sr Walter St. John who exchanged this life for an immortal crown Jan 15th 1704 in the 56th year of her marriage.’

She was buried in St. Mary’s, Battersea in a coffin ‘quilt wth silk’ at a time when it was compulsory to be buried in wool. The family had to pay a 50s fine for this privilege.

Charlotte St John

Charlotte St John  died on January 11, 1804. Of all the indignities inflicted upon the Ladies of Lydiard, those suffered by Charlotte St John must rank as the most iniquitous.

Charlotte Collins was born in about 1760 the daughter of Rev Thomas Collins, second master of Winchester College. Little is known of Charlotte’s early life. In 1764 her father was appointed Rector of Graffham with the rectory of Coombes, and it can be supposed that Charlotte spent her childhood in Sussex.

It is thought likely that the Rev Collins was employed as a tutor to George Richard 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke and 4th Viscount St John and that this is how the young couple met. After a three year courtship George Richard and Charlotte married in Compton Rectory on February 26, 1783. George later liked to protest that he had been duped into marriage with Charlotte.

George Richard had experienced a troubled childhood. His parents were the warring Frederick St John and the former Lady Diana Spencer who endured an unhappy, volatile marriage that ended in adultery, scandal and eventually a divorce in 1768.


One might have thought George Richard would have learned a lesson or two from his parents, but it appears he was intent upon making his own mistakes, and plenty of them.

With the Battersea estate sold to pay for the excesses of previous St John’s and Lydiard Park let to tenants, the couple led a nomadic lifestyle. A son George was born in 1784 followed by Henry and a daughter Mary.

And then Mary Beauclerk came to stay. Mary was George Richard’s half sister, the daughter of his mother Diana and Topham Beauclerk. The couple began an incestuous relationship and Mary soon became pregnant. In an attempt to prevent yet another scandal Charlotte travelled aboard with Mary, nursing her through her confinement, and even claiming the son she bore as her own.


George Richard deserted Charlotte and resumed his travels, this time with Mary. The couple were to have four sons together and lived for a time in Paris as Mr & Mrs Barton.

But by 1794 George Richard had tired of Mary. He provided annuities for her and her four sons from the diminishing Lydiard coffers and took up with Isabella Antoinette, Baroness Hompesch.

George Richard and the Baroness left for America where Isabella gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Charlotte, meanwhile, remained at Lydiard House with her own three children and her father.

In June 1803 her much loved eldest son George died. ‘Providence supported me wonderfully in the last trial, I never felt my own debility, & had the resolution never to leave the dear angel ‘till he had breathed his last – and I kiss’d his beautiful face every day ‘till it was necessary to have his coffin soldered down,’ she wrote after his death.

Already ill herself, Charlotte travelled to Hot Wells, Bristol to take the waters, but the Lydiard money was in short supply, frittered away on the playthings of the past dissolute generations. When it came to paying for her own health care, Charlotte was reduced to taking a room in one of the infamous Clifton lodging houses known as ‘Death Row.’

Charlotte died on January 11, 1804 and was buried in the St John family vault at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. Her younger son Henry inherited the titles 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and 5th Viscount St. John. George Richard married Isabella Hompesch on August 1, 1804.