Facts and Events
Roger Palmer, 1st Earl of Castlemaine, PC (1634–1705) was an English courtier, diplomat, and politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1660. He was also a noted Catholic writer. His wife Barbara Villiers was one of Charles II's mistresses.
Born into a Catholic family, Roger was the son of Sir James Palmer of Dorney Court, Buckinghamshire, a Gentleman of the Bedchamber under King Charles I, and Catherine Herbert, daughter of William Herbert, 1st Baron Powis. He was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. He was admitted at the Inner Temple in 1656.
In 1660 Barbara Villiers, his wife of one year, became mistress to King Charles II. The king created Palmer Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine in 1661, but the title was limited to his children by Barbara (as opposed, that is, to any later wife he might have) which made it clear to the whole court that the honour was for her services in the King's bedchamber rather than for his in the King's court. This made it more of a humiliation than an honour: see the diary of Samuel Pepys for 7 December 1661:
"... to the Privy Seale ... And among other things that passed, there was a patent for Roger Palmer (Madam Palmer's husband) to be Earle of Castlemaine and Baron of Limbricke in Ireland. But the honour is tied up to the males got on the body of his wife, the Lady Barbary — the reason whereof everybody knows."
While on a prolonged tour in France and Italy, he served as an officer in the fleet of the Venetian Republic in 1664 before returning to England later that year. In 1665 he served under the Duke of York in the Royal Navy during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
Palmer showed unwavering and public devotion to Roman Catholicism, in spite of heavy legal and social penalties, and also staunchly supported the Stuart monarchy. His loyalty to the throne and the Stuart succession in general and to the person of Charles II in particular forced his acquiescence to his wife’s position as the King's mistress.
As a prominent Roman Catholic, Castlemaine came under suspicion at the time of the Popish plot alleged by Titus Oates and others. In the atmosphere of anti-Catholic hysteria of the time, Palmer was committed to the Tower of London and subsequently tried at the King's Bench Bar in Westminster for high treason. He had to represent himself and, as shown by the verbatim account in the State Trials, secured his own acquittal with skilful advocacy in his own defence against Judge Jeffreys and Chief Justice Scroggs.
He became a member of the English Privy Council in 1686, following James II's accession to the throne. He was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican, where he was ridiculed as Europe's most famous cuckold. As ambassador, he promoted James's plan to have Pope Innocent XI make his Jesuit privy councillor, Edward Petre, a cardinal. Innocent declined to do so.
After the Revolution of 1688, Castlemaine spent most of 1689 and part of 1690 in prison. After enduring almost 16 months in the Tower, he was freed on bail. He was arrested and sent to the Tower again in 1696 after failing to attend the Irish Parliament but was released again 5 months later.
He died quietly in Oswestry, Shropshire, in 1705 at the age of 70 and was buried in the Herbert family vault at St Mary's Church, Welshpool, Montgomeryshire. His estranged wife Barbara followed him (separately) to the grave four years later in 1709. Castlemaine's heirs included his nephew, Charles Palmer of Dorney Court, to whom he left property in Wales which had come to him from his mother's family, but it proved to be heavily encumbered and worth little.
His titles became extinct at his death. His wife's sons might technically have claimed them since they were all born while she remained married to him, and there is a presumption of legitimacy in marriage, but no-one ever contended that they were in fact legitimate and no such claim was ever made. The sons had, in any event, all been granted titles of their own by Charles II.
The writings of Roger Palmer, Earl of Castlemaine, include the Catholique Apology (1666), The Compendium [of the Popish Plot trials] (1679) and The Earl of Castlemaine's Manifesto (1681).