Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke

Summary

Henry St. John, First Viscount Bolingbroke (1 October 1678 (1678-10-01) – 12 December 1751) was an English political philosopher, statesman, and writer of the Tory Party. He served as Secretary of State for War (1704-1708) and Foreign Secretary (1710-1714) under Queen Anne Stuart. In 1714, shortly before Queen Anne”s death, he became de facto head of government. Resigned after the accession of George I. In 1715, he supported the Jacobite rebellion aimed at overthrowing the king. After the failure of the rebellion he fled to France. He was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was later reversed and Bolingbroke was allowed to return to England in 1723. He developed the ideology of the Agrarian Party.

A descendant of one of England”s oldest and richest families, whose lineage goes back to before the conquest of England by the Normans, the only son of the baronet St. John, he was born in Battersea (in Surrey).

Already during his student days at Oxford he displayed those traits of his character which became typical and fatal to his political and literary activities, namely duality, brilliant mental and physical ability, original thinking and passion for activity, along with levity and depravity, which were recognized as unparalleled even among the general dissoluteness of the English high society of the time.

In the political arena, the doors of which were easily opened to Bolingbroke by his connections and talents, he appeared as a Member of Parliament as early as 1700 and, despite his youth, he soon assumed a leading position among the moderate Tories. In his 26th year he entered as Minister of War a cabinet formed from the middle groups of both parties and which began a new era in the history of England with its military victories and domestic successes and, most importantly, the final union of England with Scotland.

But the alliance between the Tories and the Whigs was short-lived. Thanks to the brilliant victories of Marlborough, who belonged to the Whig party, the latter gained the upper hand in the cabinet and began little by little to displace their opponents. After four years in power, Bolingbroke and his comrade Harley, the pious Earl of Oxford, had to yield their seats to Walpole and Newcastle, but the ruthlessness with which the Whigs used their victory, and especially their hatred of the exiled dynasty, deeply offended Queen Anne, who was at heart sincerely attached to her family and especially to her brother. Bolingbroke took advantage of this and, by clever intrigue, succeeded in overthrowing the Whig government and seizing power again in 1710. In the new government Bolingbroke became foreign minister. Bolingbroke”s influence must be attributed to the fact that peaceful aspirations prevailed in English politics, and the war with France finally ended with the Peace of Utrecht.

There was a time when Bolingbroke was the most powerful man in England, but the sudden death of Anne (August 10, 1714) immediately brought him down from that height. His attempt to deliver the throne to the pretender James Stuart was nipped in the bud, and the right of succession was recognized to the House of Hanover, which meant a complete victory for the Whigs and the fall of Bolingbroke.

On his way to England, George I declared Bolingbroke deprived of all his posts, and the Whig Parliament, which met in March 1715, accused him of high treason, confiscated all his estates, and he escaped death only by fleeing hastily to France. Now Bolingbroke finally joined the Jacobites.

To put his party back at the helm, he did not even shrink from the idea of bringing turmoil to the state. Having received from the Old Pretender the title and seal of minister (which, however, he himself laughed at), he tried to induce Louis XIV and his grandson, King Philip V of Spain, then Charles XII and the regency into war with England, and stopped short of encouraging rebellion in England and Scotland. But the danger of foreign invasion reconciled the warring parties: petty rebellions were suppressed, and James”s attempt ended in a complete fiasco. Bolingbroke, branded a traitor, was banished from the pretender”s court as well. Since then he never again succeeded in taking a seat in government, though in 1723 he received permission from Walpole to return home and took advantage of it.

Nevertheless, his political activity was not over. Bolingbroke chose only another field, namely publicity, and in that field he earned the fame of one of the most distinguished writers. The estates were returned to him only two years after his return by an Act of Parliament, while the doors of the House of Lords remained forever closed to him. Meanwhile, after the death of his first wife (1718), he married the widow of the Marquis de Villette, the niece of Madame de Mentenon. He lived with her partly in England, partly in France, and thundered the ministry in the press, namely, in the newspaper Craftsman (The Craftsman), which was an extraordinary success. His hope after Walpole”s resignation (1742) to rejoin the government did not materialize. Bolingbroke died after a long and painful illness on his family estate in Battersea.

Among Bolingbroke”s works, which made him one of England”s greatest writers, he is especially popular for his Letters on the study and use of history (1735), in which he presents his understanding of history not as a historical process, but mainly as a sphere of human spiritual activity. The study of history should have as its goal the cultivation “in us of personal and social virtue.” He also demanded that the student of history, in addition to contemplation of the dead, pass to contemplation of the living. He ridiculed the addiction and idolatry of scholars to everything that bears the stamp of decrepitude and pedantry, exposing the task of the historian struggle for freedom, exposing the lies and hypocrisy on which all hierarchy is based. “The Letters,” written in 1735, are addressed to an aspiring politician, Henry Hyde, Viscount Cornbury (1710-1753), great-grandson of the politician and historian Earl of Clarendon. The young Lord Conrbury asked for Bolingbroke”s opinion on the method of study and the usefulness of history. This accounts for the manner of presentation, in the form of essays, notes of lively conversation. Bolingbroke”s “Letters” are characterized by consistent rationalism and religious skepticism. The essays were first published in England only after the author”s death, in 1752.

In another of his works, “Discourse on Parties,” (that in constitutional states the untiring supervision of the people and of every individual over the government and its measures is an essential necessity, and that no form of government, no organization can guard against popular movements, and therefore free institutions are vainly condemned for this. “Even the theocracy, judging from the history of the Jews, was not without its disturbances; even the Tabernacle of the Covenant was not kept religion in its purity, and the state in its proper order.” The problems of political theory presented in Bolingbroke”s essay are extremely varied: the principle of separation of powers, the mechanism of mutual restraint of powers, origins, justification of the right of “the people” to resist authority, refutation of the “inviolable hereditary right” of kings, criticism of absolutism as a system of government and defense of the principles of constitutional monarchy. This work was described by J. Adams, one of the founders of the United States, as follows: “It is a diamond; there is nothing as profound, correct and perfect on the subject of government in English or in any other language.

The Complete Works of Bolingbroke, published by David Mollett in 1754, was condemned by a grand jury at Westminster as dangerous to religion, morality, the state and the public peace because of the religious skepticism and deism characteristic of many of the lord”s writings. Five editions of the Letters were published in England in the 18th century; the first French edition of the Letters also dates from 1752; there were five editions in all in 18th-century France. In German in the eighteenth century. “The Letters were published four times in German in the eighteenth century.

Sources

  1. Сент-Джон, Генри, 1-й виконт Болингброк
  2. Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke
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