PALMER, Charles (1777-1851), of Brock Street, Bath and Albany, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 6 May 1777, 1st s. of John Palmer† of Bath and 1st w. Sarah Mason. educ. Eton 1791-3; Oriel, Oxf. 1793. m. 14 Feb. 1823, Mary Elizabeth, da. of John Thomas Atkyns of Hunterscombe House, Bucks., niece and coh. of John Atkyns Wright†. s.p.m.s. suc. fa. 1818. d. 17 Apr. 1851.
Cornet 10 (prince’s own) Drag. 1796, lt. 1797, capt. 1799, maj. 1805, lt.-col. 1810; brevet col. 1814; lt.-col. 23 Drag. Nov. 1814, half-pay Dec. 1814; maj.-gen. 1825.
A.d.c. to prince regent 1811-25.
Palmer’s family were long established in Bath and had played a prominent role in that city’s development in the eighteenth century. His grandfather, a prosperous brewer and tallow chandler, founded the Theatre Royal and his father, a driving force behind the development of the mail-coach system in the 1780s, served on the corporation and secured the parliamentary representation in 1801. He was ‘groomed for a gentleman’s life’, originally pursued an army career (serving in the Peninsula), and moved in the highest social circles, including the regent’s, ‘for which his agreeable manners ... amiable disposition and ... attainments, admirably qualified him’.1 In 1808 he replaced his father as Member for Bath and ten years later inherited his interests in the Bath and Bristol theatres and some adjoining properties, along with a quarter-share of the residue of the estate, which was sworn under £7,000.2 He joined Brooks’s Club, 7 May 1816. At the general election of 1820 he was returned unopposed for Bath with Lord John Thynne after the recorder, the 1st Marquess Camden, who had wanted to turn him out in favour of a lawyer to sit as a ‘stopgap’ until his son came of age, was deterred by the threat of a petition against such ‘unconstitutional’ interference. In his speech of thanks to the corporation, Palmer boasted that his voting record proved his ‘independence of all parties but that of the constitution and my country’.3
He was a fairly regular attender and continued to act with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 31 May 1821, 25 Apr., 24 June 1822, 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He was absent from the division on Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, but voted for it, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He expressed no opinion on the charges laid against Queen Caroline, 26 June 1820, but condemned the ‘unmanly’ conduct of ministers in excluding her name from the liturgy, as ‘derogatory to the honour of the crown’ and ‘a most improper act on the part of men who complained of the revolutionary principles, infidelity and disaffection ... that were prevalent in the country’. On 9 July 1823, the last day of that session, he moved for production of the instructions sent to the ambassador in Madrid regarding the French military intervention in Spain. Asserting that the ‘crooked policy’ of ministers did not represent the views of the British people and that invasion was the policy of the Bourbon regime, not of the French people, he looked forward to Britain declaring war ‘for the liberties of France’ and joining hands with the French people to protect Spain’s independence. He said he had no wish to take the sense of the House and the motion was negatived without discussion.4 In the debate on the address, 4 Feb. 1824, he spoke under the ‘strongest feelings of shame and indignation’, denouncing British neutrality towards Spain and the whole ‘system’ of ministerial policy based on national self-interest, which had made Britain ‘the enemy of the whole human race’. He warned that France and the Holy Alliance were preparing to strike against Britain ‘at any moment’. He regarded the Aliens Act, 12 Apr., as another ‘measure of that weak and dishonourable policy’ that had ‘aggravated the danger of the country’ and ruined its character: ‘of all the dupes upon earth, he considered John Bull to be the greatest’. He presented Bath petitions for repeal of the assessed taxes, 24 Feb., 18 Mar., and inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 31 May 1824.5 In a wide-ranging speech on the address, 4 Feb. 1825, he attacked the foreign secretary, Canning, ‘the enemy of his country’, whose foolish ‘half measures’ had left Britain ‘degraded and despised’. He dismissed his free trade principles as an attempt to ‘patch an old coat with new cloth’ and argued that it was essential to tackle the problem of the national debt, ‘the root of the evil, which nothing but reform could cure’. He regretted that in the peace settlement of 1815 ministers had ‘conspired with the powers of Europe against the liberties of the people, solely to prevent reform in the abuses of their own governments’, and demanded Catholic emancipation. He presented Bath petitions for repeal of the house tax, 8 Feb., and all assessed taxes, 3 Mar.,6 and expressed his support for ‘all motions for relieving the burthens of the people’, 17 May. Declaring an interest as the owner of a French vineyard in the debate on the wine duties, 22 Mar., he warned of the dangers of French and Portuguese trading monopolies and advocated equalizing the duties on foreign wines. He was averse to the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 10 June 1825, but felt honour bound to support it as he had previous grants for the royal dukes. During the debate on reform, 27 Apr. 1826, he defended Bath corporation, describing it as ‘the only example of a close borough alike independent of the crown, the administration and the aristocracy of the country’, and praising its members for ‘not availing themselves of their unconstitutional power to promote their private interest’. Despite this flattery, which was suspected of being calculated, he lost his seat at the general election that summer, polling four votes fewer than Lord Brecknock, Camden’s son, a result that was reportedly ‘viewed with disgust by the inhabitants’.7
Palmer offered again for Bath at the by-election in February 1829 occasioned by Brecknock’s appointment to office, but the outcome was a tie, and when another poll was held the following month he was defeated by two votes.8 However, he regained the seat by the same margin at the general election of 1830, benefiting from changes in the corporation’s personnel and divisions among his opponents over Catholic emancipation. He was hailed by a local newspaper as ‘a universal favourite with the citizens’, who had ‘maintained the character of an independent English gentleman’ and consistently advocated economy, retrenchment and reform.9 The Wellington ministry regarded him as one of their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov 1830. He presented two Bath anti-slavery petitions that day, and one for repeal of the house and window taxes, which was ‘much more numerously signed than any other [previously] presented on this subject’, 23 Dec. 1830. He presented a Bath petition for repeal of the game laws and four parish petitions for parliamentary reform, 19 Mar. 1831. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned unopposed for Bath with Thynne, after Brecknock withdrew from the contest, but his success was thought to be due rather to ‘personal regard’ for him among corporation members than ‘approbation of his political principles’.10 He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and voted steadily for its details in committee and its passage, 21 Sept. He used the debate on the Scottish bill, 4 Oct., to address the reform issue generally, describing the ‘rotten system of the late Tory government’ as ‘worn out’ and welcoming the ‘fortunate events’ that had ‘combined the crown, the government, and the people in the same just cause’. He accepted the division of counties as a ‘necessary compromise’, personally favoured the ballot as the only protection against ‘undue influence’ and concluded that no Member could ‘seriously believe’ that the ‘present glorious measure’ would be a final one. He voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He was in the minority to allow the eleven Members chosen for the Dublin election committee to be sworn, 29 July, but after its report he voted with ministers to punish only those guilty of giving bribes, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for its details. He defended the conduct of the political unions, which had ‘stood forward ... in defence of the constitution’ and protected the country from the potentially ‘dreadful effects’ of the Lords’ rejection of the bill, 20 Mar. 1832. He endorsed the principle that ‘every man who contributes to support the government, either in his person, property or labour, is entitled to a vote’, and observed that ‘there will be no honest means of preventing universal suffrage but to relieve labour from taxation’. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, and presented three Bath petitions to withhold supplies until the Lords passed it, 25 May. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832.
Palmer was returned at the head of the poll for the greatly enlarged Bath constituency in 1832 and sat as an advocate of ‘Whig principles’ until his defeat in 1837.11 His final years were blighted by the disastrous consequences of his ‘immense’ investment in his Bordeaux estate, which placed him in the hands of the ‘usurers’ and obliged him to sell the Bath theatre and ‘pass through the insolvent court’. At last he became ‘a mendicant in the streets of London, shunned where he once was courted’.12 He died in April 1851 and no will or grant of administration has been traced.