PALMER, Nathaniel (1660-1718), of Fairfield, Stogursey, Som.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 1 Sept. 1660, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Peregrine Palmer† of Fairfield by Anne, da. of Nathaniel Stephens† of Eastington, Glos., sis. of Abigail, 2nd w. of Sir Edward Harley*. educ. Winchester 1675; Trinity, Oxf. 1678; M. Temple 1678. m. c.1682, Frances, da. of Sir William Wyndham, 1st Bt.†, of Orchard Wyndham, Som., sis. of Sir Edward Wyndham, 2nd Bt.*, 2s. 4da. (and 2 other ch.). suc. fa. 1684.1
Palmer, a Tory, who had begun to involve himself in county affairs almost as soon as he came of age, was one of the first to join William of Orange at Taunton. In 1690 he was re-elected for Minehead but owing to an unexpected twist in the county contest was brought in as a last-minute candidate, and quickly garnered sufficient support to win him one of the shire seats. A first cousin of Robert Harley*, he later became closely identified with him politically, but at this stage he was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Tory and probable Court supporter, and again as a Court supporter at the beginning of and during the 1690–1 session. In April 1691 Harley had reasons for noting him as a supporter of the Country party. His only recorded intervention in debate occurred on 7 Dec. 1693, when he spoke in favour of adjourning the debate on the report of the commissioners of account concerning a crown grant of £2,000 to Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*). He was, however, frequently absent from the House, due to either illness or ‘indispensable business’ in Somerset, and to this end relied on Harley to make his excuses whenever the House was called over. When circumstances prevented his leaving Somerset in November 1691, he expressed to Harley the hope that ‘my former constant attendance’ would exempt him from the punishment of defaulters at a recent call of the House. In December 1693 a ‘sore throat’ and more business detained him at his estate during another call, and when he did appear after the Christmas holidays, it was only to seek further leave having suffered a relapse on the road to London which confined him to bed for the next fortnight. His request to the House on 3 Feb. 1694, though put to a division, was decided in his favour. The same situation arose a year later, his application on 20 Feb. 1695 ‘to go into the country upon extraordinary occasions’ receiving approval only after a division.2
Palmer’s reputation for poor attendance may have cost him his re-election for the county in 1695. Although he engaged in some initial canvassing, he found a safer haven at Bridgwater, some seven miles from his principal seat at Fairfield. By this stage he was a regular opponent of the Court, and was forecast in January 1696 as likely to oppose them on the proposed council of trade; and in March voted against the government on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was, however, an early signatory to the Association in February, and in April was one of the contingent of Somerset deputy-lieutenants and militia officers who conveyed the county’s Association to their lord lieutenant, the Duke of Ormond, with assurances of their loyalty and support. In March 1698 he shepherded a bill through the House on behalf of Bridgwater’s corporation and inhabitants for the renovation of the town’s bridge and quay, and on 30 Apr. acted as a teller against a government supply bill imposing duties on coal. Despite his recent legislative success, however, a strong Whig reaction had set in against him at Bridgwater which at the election that year precipitated his defeat. A post-electoral analysis of the House drawn up in around September 1698 provides further confirmation of his close association with the Harleyite Country party. Following the sudden death of one of the Somerset knights in April 1699, a ‘conclave’ of Tory gentlemen at Wells nominated Palmer as their candidate, and he was returned without opposition. In January 1700 he managed a private estate bill through the House on behalf of one of his Somerset constituents. He did not, however, offer himself at the January 1701 election. Writing to Harley in December 1700, he hinted that an imminent addition to his large family was the sole reason for his decision. He none the less congratulated Harley on his likely election as Speaker, believing it would prove a boon to King and country, ‘which I hope will no longer be thought separate interests’. The election at the end of 1701 allowed him to regain his county seat unopposed. On 12 Feb. 1702 he presented a petition from ‘the gentlemen of the remoter parts of the county’ complaining of the inaccessibility of Ilchester as the sole venue for Somerset’s elections and which sought a bill to facilitate adjournments to Wells and Taunton. The motion was strongly opposed by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, and defeated, even though, as one Country Whig observed, Palmer ‘had the right of his side by the argument’. Seymour appears, in fact, to have been anxious to defend the interests of the High Church Phelips family whose immediate sphere of influence lay in the Ilchester area. A fortnight later, on 26 Feb., Palmer voted in favour of vindicating the Commons’ late proceedings in the impeachment of the King’s Whig ministers.3
Palmer successfully contested Somerset in 1702. The next few sessions saw him a rather busier figure in the Commons, and dealing with a range of mainly constituency-related business. He reported the committee findings on a petition from the serge and wool weavers of Taunton on 4 Dec., acted as a teller on an amendment to the Cam navigation bill on 9 Dec., and presented a bill to prevent abuses in the woollen manufacture on 9 Jan. 1703. Granted three weeks’ leave on the 9th, he had returned by 13 Feb. when he voted against agreeing with the Whig Lords’ amendments to the bill extending the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In mid-March 1704 he was listed as a probable supporter of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) in connexion with the planned attack on him over the Scotch Plot. He was forecast in October as a probable opponent of the Tack, and acted as one of Secretary Harley’s managers in the successful lobbying campaign against it, being given the task of speaking to two west-country MPs, William Coward and Nicholas Hooper. He did not vote for the Tack in the crucial division on 28 Nov. During the remainder of the session he took charge of two private bills, one concerning the sale of estates in Somerset, and the other to allow a former receiver-general of taxes for Bristol and Somerset to compound with the Treasury for a debt of £14,000.
Palmer was in fact keen to acquire the county receivership for himself, but Harley’s efforts on his behalf shortly before the 1705 election were unsuccessful. Palmer’s conduct in Parliament, especially over the occasional conformity issue, had become the subject of much criticism among leading High Tories in Somerset, and he was forced to give assurances that in the next Parliament he would be more supportive towards the Church, and agreed ‘not to attempt any thing in Parliament any more against Ilchester’. It would appear from this that Palmer had continued his efforts to gain local approval for the idea of moving the focus of county elections away from Ilchester in a way that threatened to undermine the High Tory interest. But although a correspondent warned Edward Phelips* that neither promise could ‘be relied upon in the opinion of several of his brother Members of Parliament upon observing his actings in the late Parliament’, he was returned with substantial support from the Court interest which was largely facilitated through his partner, John Pigott’s connexion with Lord Poulett. His absence from the divisions on the Speakership in October 1705 and the regency bill in February 1706 may have been as a direct result of the promises he had lately given, since he was certainly in the House in the early months of 1706 supervising the passage of a private estate bill. However, his behaviour thereafter evidently remained sufficiently pro-Court for him to be marked erroneously in a list as a Whig following the 1708 election. A slightly earlier list identifies him correctly as a Tory. During the 1707–8 session he shared responsibility for a bill to enforce a local duty for the upkeep of the harbour at Watchet, while on 12 Dec. 1707 he took the lead in initiating a bill to effect a navigation scheme for the Tone in Somerset, an earlier attempt, with which Palmer was also involved, having failed to make any headway in 1704. He was a teller for the bill’s committal on 12 Feb. 1708.4
Harley’s resignation early in 1708 appears to have predetermined Palmer’s own fate in the election a few months later, coupled with the likelihood that his conduct in Parliament continued to irritate leading county Tories. He remained out of the House until 1710 when he was chosen for Bridgwater. Classed as doubtful in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament, he seems to have had little difficulty in transferring his allegiance to the new Tory ministry and featured as a ‘worthy patriot’ who participated in exposing the mismanagements of the previous administration. The month’s leave of the House which he secured on 19 Mar. 1712 seems, however, to have been symptomatic of a growing weariness with parliamentary attendance and its expense. On 9 Sept. 1712 he wrote to his son Thomas†, who had been an unsuccessful candidate in the last election and was awaiting the outcome of his petition:
All I can say is what I have done already that I must leave the management of yourself to your own discretion. As for my own particular, my opinion is that nothing will be done either to you or any one else till the next session of Parliament is over and then you are to be fooled into the next, but I thank them my interest in Bridgwater is gone, seeing I am thought to use them as they do you, and I design to quit it now, at the mayor’s feast which is just upon Michaelmas that I nor none of mine shall be tempted any more. I am sensible that in the very next Parliament, if not this next session, friends may be wanting and I believe very few new ones are made and how others are kept I leave you to judge. I must think of making a provision for your brother and sisters and my estate can’t bear your and my attendance at London upon so uncertain and precarious a bottom.
He voted on 18 June 1713 in favour of the French commerce bill. Despite his disenchantment with parliamentary life, the promise of an unopposed return at Bridgwater deterred him from his thoughts of standing down, and in the new Parliament he was classed in two lists as a Tory.5
Palmer did not seek re-election in 1715. He died early in 1718, there being a record of his interment at Stogursey on 16 Jan.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. IGI Som.; Harbin, Som. MPs, 181; HMC Portland, iii. 352.
- 2. Add. 70014, f. 301; 70204, Palmer to Harley, 11 Nov. 1691; 70037, f. 113; 70251, Palmer to Harley, 22 Mar. 1694; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 805.
- 3. Add. 28880, f. 120; 70204, Palmer to Harley, 30 Dec. 1700; Cocks Diary, 211–12.
- 4. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 498; Som. RO, Phelips mss DD/PH/224/63, Richard Gorges to Edward Phelips, 21 Apr. 1705.
- 5. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss PW2 Hy 992, Nathaniel to Thomas Palmer, 9 Sept. 1712.
- 6. Harbin, 181.