Lady Johanna’s letters to John Locke

Lady Johanna St John was far more than a good gentlewoman with a little time on her hands and an interest in gardening.

Lady Johanna St John

Her Booke dated 1680 contains recipes for pills and pellets, purges and potions to tackle the onslaught of 17th century ills.  Catalogued in the domestic medicine and receipt books archive at the Wellcome Library Lady Johanna’s book is an example of a woman extremely knowledgeable in the curing properties of plants and herbs.

Lady Johanna’s Booke

Lady Johanna St John and her husband Sir Walter spent the greater part of the year at their Battersea home.  Their country estate at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire provided a welcome retreat from London life.  It was to Lydiard Park that Johanna sent her children to recuperate from childhood illnesses and Windmill Leaze, the estate’s home farm, provided a steady supply of provisions for the busy round of entertaining at Battersea.

The medieval mansion house had received little attention since Walter’s father Sir John engaged in a bit of modernisation some 80 years previously.  Johanna’s garden to the front of the house seen on a contemporary sketch was swept away when the couple’s grandson John landscaped the parkland.  It was in these formal and walled gardens that Johanna supervised the care and cultivation of the plants and herbs she used in her recipes.

Lady Johanna’s book reads like a 17th century who’s who of the great and the good and among her associates she included the renowned John Locke, philosopher, physician and medical researcher.

John Locke

Two letters from Johanna to John Lock survive and are held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

28 April 1693


I returne yu my thanks for yrs & beg yr pardon for trobleing you wth that paper wch I suppose to be as much nonsence as I se his practise to be who made it we have taken the best advice for my son we could think of but a Friend of his much more likely by his example to bring him to such a desease then by his judgment to find out a man fit to cure it commended this man to him the man warants he will effect a perfect cure & we thought it reasonable to satisfie my son with a short tryal but I find he takes a way as unlikely as hitherto unsuccesful for he gives him such things as purg him that whereas he used not to goe above 5 times he goes 9 & his Gripes returne with violence & he lays downe this for a Rule that he must purg a way the Humore & so strengthen his Stomach we find in his purges Aloes & in his Tomach strengthners wormwood, either of wch I think very hot & improper for him & we find his strength & his Appetite much abated since the use of them, yet he begs of me to let him try a little more wholly against my own sence.

The only thing I can think of is to have three Drs & a chirurgion & govern him by what they agree upon & Sr it would be a great charity in yu & a great favor to me if yu pleased to be heare for I should be then confident they durst not impose upon my Ignorance for I know Dr Gibbones (who must be one) has so great a vallue for you that he would doe his best that he might have yr good oppinion whenever yur occasions cal you up my coach shall attend yu either at the Green Man or where yu please & I beleve & hope Battersea Aayre may be of as good advantage to yr Health as any other whatsoever because our soyle is so good.

My Brother mends but so slowly that he does not yet arise every day.  I shall let him know of my Lady Mashams great favour in inviteing him to Oates but I have been beforehand in perswadeing him to come hither but at presant he is only fitt for his chamber.

We heare noe news only K Wm made choyce of an Irish Gentleman to cary a present of his of 4 fine Horses to the Du of Bavaria & at Newport he swam the Horses over & carryed them to the K of France ther is a report that the French are coming before Mastrech [W]th a Hundred & so thousand men & tht ther Fleet is out & has chaced one of our men of warr home & that an Almanake maker in the Fishery of Naples has sd we shall this yeare have a victory at sea over the K of France & take some great Towne in France.  I doubt I shall tire yu therefore give me leave to subscribe myselfe.

Sr yr obliged Friend & ser Jo St John

My Humble service to my Lady & Sr Fr(ancis Masham) I owe my Lady a letter but beg her pardon if I do not write this post.

My sons wife who was big when you were there lyes in of a son.

Robing Houses continues stil ther as a knott designed to rob my La Windom & cut all ther Throats one of them discovered it & some are taken.

We heare my Lo Middleton has carryed to K Ja a scroole of many hands at his service.  I doubt Monseire Jo will find hot work in Scotland Sr Jo Cutler has left my Lo Radnor 8000 pnd a yr & 60 thousand Pnd in mony besides wht he has left his kinsman.

My service to my cosin & Mrs Cudworth I saw Mr Lukin at my Bro on Wensday last.

For my Honored Friend Mr Locke at Oates in Essex to be left at Mr Joslins in Bishops Starford, Hertfordshire.

9 May 1693


I was extreamly sory yr Health was so impaired by yr last being in Towne & canot but wish that insteed of takeing a longer Journey you would have tryed Battersea where yu should have found a Hearty welcome tho worse company it is now very sweet wth woodbines and Bean Blossoms the natural perfumes of the season.

I heare by my cos Walker yu have been at Matchin wch gives me hopes of yr being somwhat recovered wch I cannot yet brag of fr my two Friends.  My Brothers Leg broke of itselfe & was more opened by Mr Knoles yet he had a new confluenc of Humores to it the last Satterday & alsoe a Chilnes folowed wth a smal Feavor his leg is full of Kirnels & in his Groyne a swelling as big as an egge not withstanding his Dr does not think fitt to purg him tho I thing it might have prevented his last relapps.  As to my son he has left his Dr & I found out this device to keep him from excesse in meat & Drink to perswade him to try the milk diet since wch his Bloud is stpt & his gripeings quite gone.  I doe not expect a cure from it nor that his patience will last long but to delay hime tel more seasonable weather tho I cannot then tel what to resolve upon for him.  Dr Gibbons said when he left him he had all that Art could doe & to Mr Bennet (who is of kinn to him) he sd he must cure himselfe wch makes me feare he can say nor doe noe more & new ones will but repeat what we have tryed alredy the weather is so wett that he cannot ride constantly every day.

Were not yr charity so great I should a thousand times beg yr pardon for trobleing yu wth my affaires & yr beareing wth my nonsence tis natural to us to troble others wth what trobles us & the best natured & most usefull have most of it least I troble yu more sr give me leave to give yu thanks for yr past &

& beleve me yr most obliged Humble ser

Jo St John

For my Honored Friend Mr Locke at Sr Francis Mashams at Oates to be left at Mr Joslins at Bishops Starford Hertfordshire.

These letters were transcribed by Frank T. Smallwood MA FSA from originals at the Bodleian Library and published in The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report 6 1973

published courtesy of David Robarts

John Locke lived at Oates, High Laver in Essex, the home of Lady Johanna’s kinsman Sir Francis Masham, from 1691-1704. (More to follow on Locke’s intellectual and romantic involvement with Sir Francis’s wife Damaris.)

Read about Swindon’s Youth Theatre summer production Johanna’s Miracle Garden on Status, Scandal and Subterfuge.


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