St. John, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke

St. John, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke

(sĭn jŭn, bŏl`ĭngbro͝ok), 1678–1751, English statesman.

Political Rise

Although he was one of England's great orators, Bolingbroke was also an unstable profligate, and he was generally distrusted. Yet he apparently believed sincerely in a kind of "Tory democracy," for which he was later much admired by Benjamin DisraeliDisraeli, Benjamin, 1st earl of Beaconsfield
, 1804–81, British statesman and author. He is regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party.
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. Entering Parliament in 1701, he associated himself with Robert HarleyHarley, Robert, 1st earl of Oxford,
1661–1724, English statesman and bibliophile. His career illustrates the power of personal connections and intrigue in the politics of his day.
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 and eventually came to rival Harley as a Tory leader.

After the accession (1702) of Queen AnneAnne,
1665–1714, queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1702–7), later queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1707–14), daughter of James II and Anne Hyde; successor to William III.
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 he became a favorite of the powerful duke of MarlboroughMarlborough, John Churchill, 1st duke of
, 1650–1722, English general and statesman, one of the greatest military commanders of history.
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 and was appointed (1704) secretary for war. However, he resigned when Harley was forced out of his post by the Marlborough-Godolphin faction in 1708. When the unpopularity of the War of the Spanish SuccessionSpanish Succession, War of the,
1701–14, last of the general European wars caused by the efforts of King Louis XIV to extend French power. The conflict in America corresponding to the period of the War of the Spanish Succession was known as Queen Anne's War (see French and
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 and the Henry SacheverellSacheverell, Henry
, 1674?–1724, English clergyman, the center of a religio-political incident in the reign of Queen Anne. In two sermons (1709) Dr. Sacheverell attacked the Whig government, lashing out especially against its toleration of religious dissenters.
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 incident brought in a Tory ministry (1710) under Harley, St. John became a secretary of state.

St. John used the London Tory clubs and writers such as Jonathan SwiftSwift, Jonathan,
1667–1745, English author, b. Dublin. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest satirists in the English language. Early Life and Works
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 to influence public opinion in favor of his policies and carried on, despite protests from England's allies, separate peace negotiations with France. In 1712 he was created Viscount Bolingbroke, and by the influence of Abigail MashamMasham, Abigail, Lady
, d. 1734, favorite of Queen Anne of England. Her maiden name was Abigail Hill. A plain, intelligent person, she became (1704) bedchamber woman to the queen through the influence of her cousin Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough.
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, Queen Anne's favorite, he gradually rose to become the leading figure in the government. The Peace of Utrecht (1713) and Bolingbroke's intrigues preceding it were denounced by the Whigs, whose political influence he sought to weaken by the Occasional Conformity and Schism acts, directed against religious dissenters. He now broke completely with Harley, who was dismissed in 1714.

Flight to France

Bolingbroke's true intent is not known, but it is sure that, in anticipation of the succession of a pro-Whig Hanoverian to the throne, he negotiated with James Francis StuartStuart or Stewart, James Francis Edward,
1688–1766, claimant to the British throne, son of James II and Mary of Modena; called the Old Pretender.
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, the Old Pretender, and began replacing Whig officers, especially in the army, with Tories. Whatever plans he had were thwarted by the sudden death (1714) of Queen Anne and the peaceful succession of George I, who promptly dismissed Bolingbroke. He was impeached, but he fled to France before the trial and was then attainted by Parliament. In France, Bolingbroke helped plan the uprising of the JacobitesJacobites
, adherents of the exiled branch of the house of Stuart who sought to restore James II and his descendants to the English and Scottish thrones after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. They take their name from the Latin form (Jacobus) of the name James.
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 in 1715, but in 1716 he was dismissed from the service of the Old Pretender on suspicion of having given secret Jacobite plans to the English government. He abjured the Jacobite cause, but only in 1723 did he receive (with the help of a generous bribe) a pardon from George I.

Return to England

On his return to England, although excluded from the House of Lords, he exerted great political influence, at first supporting but later organizing strong opposition to Robert WalpoleWalpole, Robert, 1st earl of Orford,
1676–1745, English statesman. Early Life and Career

He was the younger son of a prominent Whig family of Norfolk.
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. He initiated new methods of opposition to the government, such as the use of parliamentary inquiries, and attacked the government in the pages of a new periodical, the Craftsman, to which he contributed a famous series of letters, including a "Dissertation upon Parties" (1735), under the signature of Occasional Writer.


He retired from politics in 1735 and spent most his remaining years on his estates in France, where he devoted himself to political and philosophical writing. His numerous writings, in a lucid but rhetorical style that was greatly admired at that time, include Letters on the Study and Use of History (privately printed, 1735–36), The True Use of Retirement (1738), and Idea of a Patriot King (1749). His works were edited by David Mallet (5 vol., 1754) and several times thereafter.


See his correspondence (ed. by G. Parke, 1798); biographies by Sir Charles Petrie (1937) and H. T. Dickenson (1970); J. P. Hart, Viscount Bolingbroke, Tory Humanist (1965); I. Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle (1968).

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