Henry St John Viscount Bolingbroke

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Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (sĬn jŭn, bŏl´Ĭngbrŏŏk), 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 Disraeli. Entering Parliament in 1701, he associated himself with Robert Harley and eventually came to rival Harley as a Tory leader.

After the accession (1702) of Queen Anne he became a favorite of the powerful duke of Marlborough 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 Succession and the Henry Sacheverell 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 Swift 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 Masham, 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 Stuart, 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 Jacobites 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 Walpole. 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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Bolingbroke, Henry St John, 1st Viscount (1678–1751). St John was Tory MP for the family seat of Wootton Bassett (1701–8) and Berkshire (1710–12), secretary at war (1704–8), secretary of state for the northern department (1710–13) and for the southern department (1713–14). He was in charge of the negotiations for the peace of Utrecht (1713) ending the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1712 he had been, to his disappointment, created Viscount Bolingbroke, hoping to become an earl. This ‘snub’ contributed to the growing rift between him and Prime Minister Robert Harley, which effectively paralysed the Tory ministry. Dismissed office by George I he was impeached and attainted. He fled to France into the service of the pretender as his secretary of state, from which post he was also dismissed in 1716. He was pardoned and returned to England in 1723, and was restored to his estates in 1725, though barred from the House of Lords. Moving into opposition to Walpole, he provided much of the intellectual backbone to the ‘patriot’ and Tory parties with his philosophical and political writings, particularly in the Craftsman. He retired to France in 1735, and wrote essays on history, including his most famous work Patriot King (1738).

Clyve Jones

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Bolingbroke, Henry St John, Viscount (1678–1751) English politician. A prominent Tory minister under Queen Anne, in 1714 Bolingbroke fled to France and joined the Jacobites. In 1723 he was allowed to return to England, and continued to oppose the Whig regime, attacking political corruption under Robert Walpole. The best known of his many philosophical and political writings is The Idea of a Patriot King (1749), upholding the role of monarchy in government.