The Palmer Family of Angmering

Early historians believe that the Palmer family may have had some roots in Angmering prior to the 14th Century but there seems to be no evidence of this. In the 1524 Subsidy Rolls, John Palmer (1498-1563) heads the list of West Angmering taxpayers which probably indicates his status. The manor of West Angmering seems therefore to have been acquired by the Palmers before this date, possibly by the first John Palmer (born c1445). They probably restored and took up residence in New Place manor house, one wing of which still exists today.

What we do know is that under a Bargain and Sale of 20 July 1540, a John Palmer "of Angmering" exchanged his manors of Ford for the manors of Ecclesden (in Angmering) and Wiggonholt, and Ecclesden Rectory. The Palmer family therefore possessed two of Angmering's manors and were probably the most powerful family in the village. They were certainly known at the Court of Henry VIII. Later in the 16th Century, the family also acquired the manor of East Angmering.

A feature of the Palmer family was the number of knighthoods that were "bestowed" on them. However, this can be misleading and few (if any) of the Palmers appear to have received the honour as a result of some knightly deed. The reality of obtaining knighthoods was rather different. Wealthy members of the gentry were expected to present themselves for knighthood - and probably paid substantially for the privilege! Henry VIII was in dire financial circumstances for much of his reign and conferring knighthoods was probably quite profitable for him. Prior to his reign, all land was owned by the King, but Henry changed all this by selling off land to replenish his usually depleted Exchequer funds.

Seven children of John Palmer can be traced but the two who are of the most interest are Sir Edward Palmer and his brother Robert Palmer.

Robert Palmer (c1475-1544) was a London mercer who obviously added to his wealth and established the Palmer line at Parham, Sussex. From this line, the Palmers of Fairfield, Somerset, arose. These Palmers still owned some land in Angmering and Robert's granddaughter, Mary Palmer (born 1545) of Parham married her cousin Sir Thomas Palmer (born c.1543) of Angmering, the grandson of Sir Edward Palmer. The Parham Palmers, however, fall ouside the scope of this article.

Sir Edward Palmer's (c.1470-1517) main claim to fame was the siring of triplets by his wife Alice (nee Clement) in the most unusual circumstances, which led to the continuation and expansion of the Angmering branch of the family. It is alleged that Alice was in labour for a fortnight producing John, Henry and Thomas on three Sundays in succession. The medical profession today are aware of such a phenomenon but, of course, it is extremely rare. Two of these sons received knighthoods but the lives of all three took very different paths. We will look at each of them in turn in reverse order of their birth:

Sir Thomas Palmer (c1495-1554) of Angmering

Sir Thomas was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII. He was beheaded in 1554 for taking part with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, in the support of Lady Jane Grey's bid for title to the Crown.

Sir Henry Palmer (c1495-1558) of Angmering

Sir Henry married Jane Windebank. They went on to found the Wingham, Kent, branch of the family. A later descendent was created Earl of Castlemain by Charles I. An article in SAC Vol. V on " The Descent of Wiston" refers to Sir Henry Palmer as governor of Guisnes who lost his life "defending that fortress". Guisnes Castle was one of two guarding Calais and an English possession up to 1558.

John Palmer (c1495-1563) of Angmering

John was probably the Palmer who bought the Angmering manors and lands from Henry VIII. His brother had a position at Henry's Court and John himself was appointed Sheriff of Sussex in 1533/4 and 1543/4. He sired Sir Thomas Palmer (b. c1543) which continued the Angmering line for a number of generations. John, however, may not have been the most popular lords of the manor as the following extracts from an article by Julian Cornwell MA from SAC Vol. 113 illustrates:

  "People who happened to be passing through West Angmering on their way to market one morning, probably early in 1545, were astonished to find this undistinguished village in an uproar. In the midst of it could be seen John Palmer, the local landlord, backed up by seven or more of his servants, doing their utmost to smash down the doors of about half a dozen cottages .......". When asked why he was so acting, he responded "Do ye not know that the King's grace hath put down all the houses of monks, friars and nuns? Therefore now is the time come that we gentlemen will pull down the houses of such poor knaves as ye be!".  

Other documents described him as "a man of great substance and power, and wholly addicted, inclined and given to cruelty and mischiefs". Troubles had been brewing for about 15 years, principally over grazing rights in Ecclesden. Following John's actions, a number of his tenants were evicted from their homes which were subsequently demolished, and thrown off the "commons" on which they had been grazing their cattle. Six of the villagers quite understandably took exception to John's actions and bullying and appealed to the Court of Star Chamber. The villagers lost their case although the Court appears to have considered John's tactics questionable and served to halt further aggression on his part.

Greater detail of John's conflict with his tenants and more about the New Place and Old Place estates can be found in the article by Mr RW Standing. Click here to read.

Sir Edward also had two daughters, Catherine and Eleanor. It has been suggested by some historians that this Catherine was Catherine Palmer, Abbess of Syon House, Isleworth who led her community into exile on the accession of Queen Elizabeth I and died from shock in 1570 when the Lutherans pillaged her convent. Until 1540, the Abbesses of Syon House were also owners of the advowson of St Margaret's Church, Angmering and the manors of West Angmering and Ecclesden so, despite lack of written evidence, there is the distinct possibility that the Abbess Catherine may have originated from the Angmering Palmer family.

The Angmering Palmers continued living at New Place until May 1615 when Sir John's grandson, Sir Thomas Palmer, sold the manors and lordships in East and West Angmering, Ecclesden, Avenells farm, Poling, and other lands to Sir Thomas Bishopp.

The Palmers still owned land in Angmering and close-by parishes which probably included land at Wick and the manor of Peppering (Burpham), but their genealogy becomes rather uncertain at this point. The last Palmers lived at and appeared to enlarge the house today known as Conyers in Church Road, Angmering, adding the south wing which is today St Nicholas House. However, the link between these Palmers and those of half a century earlier cannot be established. This particular line died out by the late 18th Century without any apparent issue.

Neil Rogers-Davis

October 2003

Page Last Updated: 16 January 2018