PALMER, James (1585-1658), of Elsing Hall, Enfield, Mdx.; Whitehall and Dorney Court, Bucks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 29 Jan. 1585, 6th but 3rd surv. s. of (Sir) Thomas Palmer†, 1st Bt. (d.1625), of Wingham, Kent and Margaret, da. of John Poley of Badley, Suff.;1 bro. of Roger*. educ. G. Inn 1631. m. (1) 1613, Martha (d. 6 July 1617), da. of Sir William Garrard of Dorney Court, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) by 8 June 1626, Catherine, da. of Sir William Herbert* of Powis Castle, Mont., wid. of Sir Robert Vaughan of Llwydiarth, Mont., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.2 kntd. c.Apr. 1629. d. 15 Mar. 1658.3 sig. James Palmer.

Offices Held

Servant to Sir Philip Herbert*, 1st earl of Montgomery by 1609-at least 1620;4 groom of the bedchamber 1622-at least 1627;5 gent. usher of the privy chamber 1629-at least 1643;6 commr. wardrobe inquiry 1635;7 dep. chan. of the Garter 1638-41, chan. 1641-6.8

Freeman, Canterbury, Kent 1626;9 j.p. Bucks. 1635;10 dep. lt. Mont. by 1637-at least 1642;11 commr. array, Bucks. 1642,12 administer oaths (roy.) 1645.13

Gov. of Tapestry Works, Mortlake, Surr. by 1638-at least 1641.14


‘Well-versed in the Belle Littere and all things befitting a courtier’, or so an account of his family in 1672 relates,15 Palmer was one of the many talented young men drawn to the Court at the beginning of James’s reign. Sometime between 1605 and 1608 he had his portrait painted by Hilliard, under whose influence, and that of Isaac Oliver, he became an accomplished amateur miniaturist himself. Indeed, his surviving works, which have been praised as achieving ‘an almost professional standard’, include portraits of the earl of Somerset (1619), James I (c.1621) and the duke of Buckingham (1627). 16

By 1609 Palmer had attached himself to the earl of Montgomery, who resided in Enfield as keeper of Elsing Hall.17 As Montgomery’s servant he was nominated for Queenborough in succession to his brother Roger at the general election of 1620.18 No doubt his presence in the third Jacobean Parliament was required to defend the glass monopoly which Montgomery had recently taken over; but he left no trace on its records. In April 1622, however, following the expulsion of another man, he was rewarded with a place in the bedchamber with a pension of £500.19 In 1624 he purchased Dorney Court from his first wife’s family, although his main estates evidently lay in Wales.20

According to the account of his family compiled in 1672, Palmer could have refuted one of the most sensational charges against Buckingham, since he had used the same plaster applied to the dying king for himself, when sick of an ague.21 It may have been in the hope of using his testimony that in 1626 Buckingham’s ally Montgomery nominated him for Canterbury, six miles from the family home and where Palmer’s nephew, Herbert Palmer, had recently been appointed lecturer of St. Alphege. Canterbury’s aldermen were so desperate to earn Montgomery’s favour that they overlooked Palmer’s non-residence, dispatching their chamberlain to Westminster to swear him in as a freeman.22 His only committees were to consider of all points concerning religion (10 Feb.) and to attend the conference of 4 Mar. about the summons to Buckingham.23 He made no speeches, but his letters to Sir John Scudamore* show that his attendance was interrupted by illness during March. ‘I find the House will hardly give’, he wrote on 18 Mar. ‘without redress of these grievances, and those to touch my lord. On the other side the king is bent to protect him. The success must be left to God’.24 Thereafter his attention may have been distracted. ‘James Palmer, like an excellent painter’, wrote Sir Henry Herbert* on 8 June, ‘hath taken the face of my Lady Vaughan, the dainty widow, so long that now he hath taken her heart, and is married to her’. Although Lady Katherine Vaughan had been bred a Catholic, she took care to raise her children in the Anglican faith.25

In 1627 Palmer and his fellow grooms of the bedchamber persuaded secretary of state Sir Edward Conway I* to approach the king for payment of their arrears.26 He again stood at Canterbury in 1628, although he and his wife were then embroiled in a Star Chamber suit. The corporation were now reluctant to accept him, believing that he had ‘played the courtier with us’ in 1626, and on receiving Montgomery’s letter of nomination they canvassed only half-heartedly on his behalf. A few of Canterbury’s puritan voters were initially willing to support him out of loyalty to Herbert Palmer, whom they much admired, but Herbert himself made it clear that he supported Thomas Scott*. Indeed, on the eve of the election Herbert advised his uncle to seek a seat elsewhere, though he directed his letter to Roger Palmer*, as Palmer himself, apparently confident of success, had retired to Wales.27 Palmer was subsequently defeated by Scott and (Sir) John Finch II.

In April 1629 Palmer, with the support of Montgomery’s brother the earl of Pembroke,28 succeeded his new father-in-law as gentleman usher of the privy chamber, and probably at about this time he was also knighted. In 1633 he was appointed to accompany the king to Scotland.29 Following the death in 1636 of (Sir) Francis Crane* he took over the royal tapestry works at Mortlake. From May 1638 he also deputized for his first wife’s cousin, Sir Thomas Roe*, as chancellor of the Garter during the latter’s absence on the Continent.30 During the 1630s he was closely connected with the formation of the royal picture collection, and may have compiled a catalogue.31

In 1638 Palmer donated £10 towards the repair of St. Paul’s Cathedral.32 In 1641 he succeeded Roe as chancellor of the Garter, and at the outbreak of the Civil War he accompanied the king to Oxford. Dorney Court was plundered, and he paid fines totalling nearly £900 for his delinquency.33 Despite his royalism, he remained on friendly terms with Montgomery, now 4th earl of Pembroke, whom he made a trustee of his Buckinghamshire lands. He made out his will on 3 Dec. 1657, died on 15 Mar. 1658, and was buried in his vault at Dorney.34 A portrait showing Palmer wearing the badge of the Garter, hangs at Dorney Court. The son of his second marriage, Roger, sat for New Windsor in 1660 as a strong supporter of the Restoration.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 177.
  • 2. Ibid. 109, 147; Soc. Gen. Dorney par. reg.; W. Robinson, Enfield, ii. 38; C115/107/8538.
  • 3. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 109.
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 125; Cent. Kent. Stud. Qb/C1/30.
  • 5. LC5/50, p. 166; LC2/6, f. 38; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 77.
  • 6. LC5/132, p. 105; Northants. RO, FH3775.
  • 7. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 4, p. 127.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1638-9, p. 518; W.H. Black, Cat. of Mss Bequeathed to Univ. of Oxf. by Elias Ashmole, 760-1, 765, 936-7.
  • 9. Roll of Freemen of City of Canterbury comp. J.M. Cowper, 322.
  • 10. C231/5, f. 188.
  • 11. HEHL, EL7443.
  • 12. Northants. RO, FH133.
  • 13. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 267.
  • 14. VCH Surr. ii. 356; CSP Dom. 1639-40, p. 143; Finet Note Bks. ed. A.J. Loomie, 302.
  • 15. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 109.
  • 16. J. Murdoch, Seventeenth-Cent. Eng. Miniatures in Collection of V. and A. Museum, 13-14; G. Reynolds, British Portrait Miniatures, 40.
  • 17. VCH Mdx. v. 227.
  • 18. Cent. Kent. Stud. Qb/C1/30.
  • 19. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 434; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 416; 1623-5, p. 127.
  • 20. VCH Bucks. iii. 223. For his Welsh estates, see C115/108/8631; Procs. 1628, vi. 135.
  • 21. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 109.
  • 22. Canterbury Cathedral Archives, U66, f. 13; Procs. 1628, vi. 129.
  • 23. CJ, i. 817b, 830a.
  • 24. C115/108/8630, 8631, 8633.
  • 25. C115/107/8538; CSP Dom. 1637-8, p. 277.
  • 26. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 77.
  • 27. Procs. 1628, vi. 129-30, 132, 134-5.
  • 28. SP16/139/68.
  • 29. Northants. RO, IC4313.
  • 30. Oxford DNB; VCH Surr. ii. 356; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, ii. 167.
  • 31. G. Reynolds, English Portrait Miniatures (1988), pp. 36-7.
  • 32. GL, ms 25475/1, f. 106v.
  • 33. Misc. Gen. et Her. i. 109; CCC, 1460.
  • 34. CSP Dom. 1644-5, p. 367; PROB 11/274, f. 185.