London: Printed by G.M. for John Bartlet, 1641. 4to. [ii], 78 pp. ONE OF FOUR PRINTINGS. Title within decorated woodcut border, woodcut initials and headpieces. Later full blind-ruled calf; other than some barely noticeable wormholes, interior fine. Printed waste paper (?) in front hinge, visible under end paper: “Termino Michaels, Tricesimo octavo & Trice- | simo nono Elizabeth e, in Banco Reginæ.”. Item #17571
One of four editions, all printed in 1641 (no priority noted). St. John (1598?–1673) was a lawyer and politician. He served in both the Short and Long Parliaments. Along with the Earl of Bedford, John Pym, and John Hamden, he formed a reformist yet moderate coalition known as the “middle group.” Since St. John occupied this middle ground in Parliament, Bedford eventually convinced Charles I to appoint him as Solicitor General. It was in this capacity that St. John led the impeachment and attainder against Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. St. John’s famous speech to Parliament is here transcribed and enlarged. In an especially vitriolic passage, he described Parliament as “both the physician and the patient” saying that if the government had any corrupt member, like poison or gangrene, then the government had the power to “cut it off for the preservation of the rest.”
In addition to evocative metaphors, St. John built on his earlier arguments concerning the hated ship-tax that Charles I imposed in the late 1630s. By the end of the attainder, he had successfully charged Wentworth of treason and removed him from Parliament. This was a serious blow to the monarchy as the Earl was one of the king’s most trusted advisors.
Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (1593-1641), was an English statesman and a major figure in the period leading up to the English Civil War. He served in Parliament and was a supporter of King Charles I. From 1632 to 1639 he instituted a strong authoritarian rule as Lord Deputy of Ireland. When recalled to England, he became a leading advisor to the King, attempting to strengthen the royal position against Parliament; that attempt to consolidate the sovereign power of the king led to his impeachment and execution by Parliament. Charles reluctantly signed the death warrant and Wentworth was beheaded on Tower Hill on 12th May, 1641.