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Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke

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.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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