Henry St. John Bolingbroke, viscount, an English statesman and author, born at Batter-sea, London, Oct. 1,1678, died Dec. 12, 1751. He was the son of Sir Henry St. John, bart., and of a daughter of the earl of Warwick. Plis early education was managed by his mother, on strict puritanical principles. After attending school at Eton, he proceeded to Christ Church college, Oxford, where he distinguished himself by the brilliancy of his parts rather than by diligence. After a tour on the continent in 1698-'9 he was married in 1700 to Frances, daughter of Sir Henry Winchcomb; but the union was unhappy, and they speedily separated. St. John's varied attainments and personal attractions rendered him a favorite in the fashionable circles of London, and before he was 25 years of age he was a notorious libertine. In the hope of interesting him in honorable pursuits, his father retired from the position of representative in parliament for the borough of Wootton Basset, which was transferred to him, and he was thus brought into conspicuous public life. The tories, under the lead of Rochester and Godolphin, were then in power, and St. John at once attached himself to them.
In 1704 he entered the ministry as secretary at war, and for four years he discharged the duties of that office. "When Go-dolphin became a whig, and with Marlborough formed a new ministry, St. John retired to the country, and devoted himself to study. Two years later the tories triumphed, and he was made secretary of state in the department of foreign affairs. In 1712 he was called to the house of lords with the title of Viscount Boling-broke. Soon after the conclusion of the peace of Utrecht, in the negotiation of which he took an active part, a violent dissension broke out between him and his old friend Harley, then lord high treasurer and earl of Oxford, which did not terminate till Queen Anne had dismissed Oxford and made St. John her prime minister. The queen died a week later, and George I. dismissed him, as he was suspected of having plotted for the return of the Stuart family to the throne. He fled in. disguise to France, and became titular prime minister to the pretender, James III. During his absence he was impeached by Walpole at the bar of the house of lords, and formally attainted. After the failure of the pretender's Scottish expedition Bolingbroke was dismissed for neglect.
He then sought a reconciliation with the Hanoverian party, but Walpole procured the prolongation of his exile, and for seven years he remained in banishment, residing principally at La Source, near Orleans, and devoting himself to belles-lettres and an active correspondence with Pope, Swift, and other literary contemporaries. His wife dying in 1718, he was privately married two years later to the widow of the marquis de Villette, a niece of Mme. de Maintenon. It was chiefly through her instrumentality, in bribing the duchess of Kendal, a mistress of King George, with the sum of £11,000, that he gained permission to return to his own country in 1723. He recovered his property, but being still excluded from the house of lords, he began writing political papers in the "Craftsman," under the titles of "An Occasional Writer" and "Humphrey Oldcastle," in which he attacked the ministry. His "Letters upon English History " and his "Dissertation upon Parties" formed parts of this series. Failing in his efforts to overthrow the ministry, he quitted England once more for France, in 1735 and remained abroad till the death of his father in 1742, when he returned to take possession of the family estate at Battersea. He passed his leisure in the preparation of his literary works, and in intercourse with his philosophic and literary friends, among whom were numbered many of the most eminent men then living.
On his death he bequeathed his manuscripts and works to David Mallet, who published a complete edition of them, in 5 vols. 4to, in 1754. A new edition, with a life by Goldsmith, appeared in 1809, in 8 vols. 8vo. Among the most noteworthy of his writings, besides those already noticed, are " The Idea of a Patriot King," a "Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism," "Some Reflections on the Present State of the Nation," "Letters on the Study and the Use of History," and " Concerning Authority in Matters of Religion." They are written in a fluent, flexible, and eloquent style, combining an apparently profound philosophy with a sprightly and careless wit; but the rhetoric is sometimes artificial, the learning borrowed, and the thought unimportant. In spite of their serious defects, however, his writings for a long time influenced the tone of thought as well as the manner of writing of his age, and will ever occupy a distinguished place in the literary history of that epoch. As an orator, Bolingbroke held a high rank, but no complete specimen of his eloquence is now extant.