Friday, September 6, 2013

Portrait of the week - Sir John St John (c1585-1648) later 1st Baronet

painted 1603 English School

This portrait of dashing John St John, dressed in blue silk and wearing a pearl earring, would have caused the fluttering of a few young hearts no doubt, but John was already spoken for. He was about 17 years old when this was painted in 1603, the year before his marriage.

John was the second son of Sir John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. His father died in 1594 when John was about 8 years old. His mother quickly remarried but by 1598 she too was dead.

The guardianship of the young, wealthy boy, went first to a member of the senior branch of the family, another Sir John St John, 2nd Baron St John of Bletsoe and after his death in 1596 to the boy's uncle Oliver St John. However, another gentleman had his eye on the St John family fortunes.

Sir Thomas Leighton, Governor of Guernsey, was already close to the St John family and perhaps especially so after the tragic events of the summer of 1597. On that inauspicious day in August Sir Thomas had planned a day's hunting on the nearby island of Herm, one of the perks of being Governor of Guernsey. It had not been his intention to take the party of teenagers staying with him and at Castle Cornet, but they nagged him so much he eventually succumbed. The youngsters included Walter St John, our John's elder brother who was about 15 years old at the time. Whether Sir Thomas was young Walter's guardian remains unknown.

While Sir Thomas and his party enjoyed the hunt the boys worked at their lessons, after which the whole party sat down together  to dine.

After they had eaten, the boys asked if they could go bathing, a request that was at first denied by the Governor. But these youngsters didn't give in easily and eventually Sir Thomas gave his permission on the understanding that three older men in the party accompanied them and that they didn't go too far out to sea.

The impetuous young Walter leapt into the sea ahead of the rest of the party and immediately ran into difficulties. His tutor Isaac Daubeny dived in and shouted to Walter to climb on his back, which he did, causing them both to sink. Another man called John Andros, who had hurt his foot in a previous rescue attempt, plunged into the sea again, but became entangled in the weeds. He narrowly escaped disaster by grabbing hold of a submerged rock to which he clung. 

Two others attempted a rescue, but it was John Bowyer who found the drowned body of Walter standing upright, entangled in the weeds.

Sir Thomas later became the guardian of Walter's brother John. Perhaps he felt a responsibility to the young man who had lost his parents and brother in a few short years. Sir Thomas's wife Elizabeth Knollys was a cousin of the Queen to whom she made an application for the wardship of the young man, stating they had 'a mind to match him to their daughter.' But maybe even this is not as mercenary as it might at first appear.

Still a ward of court, John married Anne at St John's Church, Hackney, close to her London home, on July 9, 1604. He was 19 years old and she was just 13. It seems unlikely that the couple set up home together immediately as the first of their 13 children was born eight years later  in 1612.

The portrait of the young John St John was purchased in 1965 and now hangs in the dining room at Lydiard House.

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