PALMER, Roger (1634-1705), of Llanfyllin Hall, Mont.
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Family and Education
b. 3 Sept. 1634, 2nd s. of Sir James Palmer† (d.1657) gent. of the bedchamber, of Dorney Court, Bucks. being 1st s. by 2nd w. Catherine, da. of Sir William Herbert†, 1st Baron Powis of Powis Castle, Mont., wid of Sir Robert Vaughan of Llwydiarth, Mont. educ. Eton 1648; King’s, Camb. 1652; I. Temple 1656. m. 14 Apr. 1659, Barbara Villiers, da. and h. of William, 2nd Visct. Grandison [I], ?s.p. cr. Earl of Castlemaine [I] 11 Dec. 1661.
Freeman, Windsor Apr. 1660; j.p. Mont. July 1660-2, Card. and Mont. 1687-9; commr. for assessment, Berks., Essex, Card. and Mont. Aug. 1660-1 sewers, Westminster Aug. 1660; dep. lt. Wales and Mon. Feb.-Oct. 1688; high steward, Buckingham, Feb.-Oct. 1688.1
Ambassador to the Vatican 1686-7; PC 25 Sept. 1687-Dec. 1688.
Palmer’s family was established in Sussex in the 14th century, and represented various local constituencies, including the county, under the Tudors. The Kentish branch from which he sprang was prominent at the Courts of the Stuarts. His father, MP for Queenborough in 1621 and Canterbury in 1626, removed to Dorney, three miles from Windsor, after his first marriage. He attended Charles I, whose artistic tastes he shared, during the Civil War, was designated chancellor of the order of the Garter, and compounded on the Oxford articles. Palmer’s mother, who was probably a Roman Catholic like most of her family, seems to have lived in Windsor during her widowhood. Although low of stature, unprepossessing in appearance, and of modest wealth, Palmer was accepted in marriage by the most beautiful nymphomaniac of her day, who, in consequence of a teen-age affair with the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, required a complaisant or gullible husband. On the eve of the Restoration Charles II was told of his ‘gay wife, great expenses and slender fortune’, and, anxious to improve his acquaintance with the first of these handicaps, wrote to thank him for his signal services to the royalist cause, though it is not known what they were.2
Despite the ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers’ sons, Palmer was successful at the general election of 1660, and seated on the merits of the return. A frequent speaker in the Convention, he was only moderately active in other respects. Twenty-six of his speeches were recorded, he was named to seven committees, and he acted as teller in five divisions. His public standpoint was that of a high Anglican Cavalier, and on 22 May 1660 he was appointed to the committee for the better execution of the laws against recusancy. He took a prominent part in the passage of the indemnity bill. On 9 June he moved for favour to John Hutchinson, and five days later acted as teller against putting the question for excepting William Boteler. He spoke against Charles Fleetwood, but would have Bulstrode Whitlock† spared for his son’s sake. Although teller against hearing the petition from the intruded fellows at Oxford, he was appointed to the committee to consider it. In the debate on unauthorized religious propaganda on 30 June, he moved to examine Presbyterian as well as Anglican propaganda. He proposed disabling abjurors, members of the high court of justice, and major-generals, and both spoke and acted as teller for the compulsory repayment of gifts and salaries received during the Interregnum. On 9 July he defended the basing of the establishment on the 39 Articles, as well as the scriptures. He spoke ‘very high and excellently’ against the bill of sales, urging that all forfeited lands should be restored. He moved the prohibition of ‘extravagant’ preaching on 30 July, and on the same day was appointed to the committee on the bill for settling ecclesiastical livings, though on its third reading he seconded the motion for recommittal. In the renewed debate on the indemnity bill, he wished to agree with the Lords, and related a damaging remark of Sir Arthur Hesilrige. He was appointed to the committees for the disbandment bill and to consider defects in the poll bill. In the debate on modified episcopacy in the second session, he spoke against transforming the Worcester House declaration into a bill and acted as teller against it with another future recusant, (Sir) Solomon Swale.3
With the dissolution of the Convention, Palmer’s parliamentary career ended, just as his notoriety as a cuckold began. To give a title to the King’s mistress, and status to their children, he was made Earl of Castlemaine. Soon afterwards he declared himself a Roman Catholic, and his wife left him. He travelled extensively in Europe and the Levant, becoming an accomplished linguist and an author. In 1666 he published The Catholique Apology, valuable chiefly for its account of Roman Catholics who had suffered in the cause of the Stuarts. He was arrested in November 1679 and charged with complicity in the ‘Meal-Tub Plot’; his acquittal on 23 June 1680 further damaged the credibility of Oates and Dangerfield. On the accession of James II he was sent to the Vatican as the first accredited English ambassador since 1559. Although warned by Lord Chancellor Jeffreys and others that such a mission was statutory treason, he departed with a splendid equipage and £4,000 worth of plate from the Jewel House; but as James explained, he was totally inexperienced in business, and his swaggering incompetence made him the laughing-stock of the diplomatic colony. He even offended the Pope by his subservience to the French, and had to be recalled. He consoled himself by publishing a profusely illustrated account of his embassy, composed by the artist John Michael Wright, who had acted as steward of his household; the frontispiece depicts the ambassador kissing the Pope’s toe. Castlemaine was probably of more use to the Government on the committee for managing elections in 1688, as the only available Roman Catholic who had been active in the House of Commons. On James’s flight, he left London for his Welsh estate, but was detained at Oswestry by ‘the rabble’ and committed to the Tower. On 30 Oct. 1689, the Commons ordered that he should be charged with treason for endeavouring to reconcile England with the see of Rome, but he was released on bail at the dissolution. He was excepted from the Act of Indemnity, and twice more arrested, in 1690 and 1696, when he was charged with embezzling the embassy plate. But on each occasion he was released on undertaking to leave the country, though he does not seem to have remained abroad for long. He died 28 July 1705, and was buried at Welshpool. He left to his nephew an estate in Wales valued at £1,500 p.a., but heavily encumbered.4