The complicated extended family of the Tudors – The St John family

Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe

I’ve posted about Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe before. She is the mother of Margaret Beaufort – to the maternal grandmother of Henry VII. She was born in about 1410, the daughter of Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe in Bedfordshire.

In 1421 her brother John died and she became an heiress. She inherited the manors of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, Ashmore in Dorset as well as Bletsoe and Keysoe in Bedfordshire.

Four years later she married Sir Oliver St John. He died in 1437 in France. Margaret would marry again to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and have one child – Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. Margaret Beauchamp had effectively been elevated from the gentry to the aristocracy and her St John children became, at different times, more significant players upon the political chessboard as a consequence, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Margaret Beaufort (Hever Castle)

Sir John St John, Oliver St John, Edith St John, Mary St John, Elizabeth St John, Agnes St John and Margaret St John were Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings. Where there was close contact to Margaret Beaufort and the Tudors elevation followed.

Margaret St John became the prioress of Shaftesbury Abbey. She was elected in 1492 demonstrating that the nuns knew which sides their bread was buttered and were demonstrating their loyalty to the Tudor regime.

Edith St John married Geoffrey Pole a member of the Cheshire gentry and that would have been fine had not her son Richard then been married to Margaret the daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one who drowned in a vat of wine). Henry VII regarded it as a safe marriage which would effectively remove Margaret from the political game of crowns. Unfortunately for Edith’s Pole grandchildren and at least one great grand child Henry VIII was less convinced – Henry, Reginald, Arthur and Geoffrey Pole came to represent the last of the Plantagenet line. Margaret, Countess of Salisbury was executed without trial. Henry Pole her eldest son was executed and his son who had been imprisoned in the tower with his grandmother Margaret never emerged. Geoffrey narrowly escaped execution and went into exile where he had a breakdown. He eventually died in 1558 a few days before his more famous brother Cardinal Reginald Pole who spoke out against Henry VIII’s divorce.

Two more of Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings married into the Scrope family. The Scropes were an important North Yorkshire family who spent a lot of time on the borders fighting the Scots. Elizabeth St John was initially married to William la Zouche, the fifth baron. The Zouches were later attainted for their loyalty to Richard III but by then Elizabeth having been widowed in 1462 had married John Scrope, Baron Scrope of Bolton (Bolton Castle in Wensleydale) and another Yorkist.

Elizabeth, despite her Lancastrian antecidents, was one of Edward V’s godparents. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given that Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth’s half-sister, was herself godmother to one of Edward IV’s daughters. It reflects the fact that all parties thought that the battle for the throne was over and were settling down to winning power and influence under the Yorkist regime. There was no reason to suppose that Edward IV would die young and leave a minor on the throne.

John Scrope despite being Henry Tudor’s step-uncle supported Richard III at Bosworth so required a pardon, which was forthcoming. Unfortunately he then became involved with Lambert Simnel’s rebellion of 1487 and was forced to pay a large fine and stay in London. Ultimately his services as a northern lord were required for the traditional activity of fighting the Scots which he did in 1497 by which time Henry’s Aunt Elizabeth had died.

Elizabeth’s brother Oliver, the younger of the Margaret Beaufort’s two half-brothers married the twice widowed Elizabeth Scrope of Bolton, sister of John Scrope. He died in 1497 in Spain but his body was returned for burial to East Stoke.

And that just leaves John St John who for the purposes of this post married and had children – all related to the Tudor crown. What it takes is a little bit of digging to discover is that John’s grandson born in 1495- perhaps unsurprisingly another John – was raised by Margaret Beaufort and that he became a courtier. We know for instance that he went to Calais with Cardinal Wolsey in 1521 and that he began to take a key role in the administration of Bedfordshire and Huntingtonshire.

We know that John attended the coronation of Ann Boleyn in 1533. Much of the information comes from the inscription on his tomb. It describes him as ‘custos’ to Princess Mary. A letter of 7 Jan. 1536 sent to Cromwell by ‘John St. John’ request that the King excuse the writer’s wife from being a mourner at the ex-Queen’s funeral, both because she was recovering from a pregnancy and because the writer, ‘being in service with my Lady Princess’, could not furnish the horses and servants needed for the occasion. Although Princess Mary had been officially deprived of that title since 1533, this is who St John must have meant. History can continue to track St John at his royal cousin’s family occasions including the funeral of Jane Seymour and the baptism of Prince Edward. He was also on hand to help put down the rebels in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace. In 1547 he stood down from Parliament so that his eldest son – an Oliver- could take his place. He died in 1558.

John had positioned his son to advance in the Tudor court by obtaining a place for Oliver in Prince Edward’s household. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that when Elizabeth I was crowned in 1558 that Oliver became Lord St John of Bletsoe. The family continued its loyalty to the Crown into the Stuart period gaining titles on the accession of Charles I but siding with Parliament at Edge Hill.

So on one hand the St John family remained part of the gentry but on the other they were trusted by the Tudors because they were family and as a consequence their value on the political board rose…sometimes rather dangerously.

And why am I digging around the St John family? Well it turns out that Sir Robert Dudley the illegitimate son the Duke of Leicester was descended via his maternal grandmother from the St John family making him a someone distant member of the Tudor family circle, proving once again that in Tudor England everyone appears to be related to everyone else!

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3 thoughts on “The complicated extended family of the Tudors – The St John family

  1. John St.John had a mistress, Anne Neville (daughter of Thomas), with whom he had at least four children. One of the daughters, Cressit St.John (Butler) is my direct ancestor. Can you tell me any thing more about this family branch and if he eventually married this Anne Neville?

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