Palmer, Herbert, 1601-1647

Alternative names
Birth 1601
Death 1647

Biographical notes:

Herbert Palmer, 1601-1647, Church of England clergyman and college head, born at Wingham, Kent, younger son of Sir Thomas Palmer (d. 1625) of Wingham, and Margaret, daughter of Herbert Pelham, esquire, of Crawley, Sussex; Sir Thomas Palmer (1540/41-1626) was his grandfather. From an early age he demonstrated an aptitude for study and a religious disposition, maintaining the ambition to become a clergyman; in 1616 he was admitted as a fellow-commoner to St John's College, Cambridge, graduated BA in 1619 and proceeded MA in 1622; on 17 July 1623 he was elected a fellow of Queens'; ordained in 1624 and proceeded BD in 1631; in 1626, during a visit to his brother Sir Thomas Palmer (d. 1666), Palmer preached at Canterbury Cathedral and was subsequently persuaded by Philip Delmé, the minister of the French church in Canterbury, to take up a lectureship there at St Alphege's Church; here Palmer found himself troubled by both separatists and the cathedral clergy; his lectureship was briefly suspended by the dean and archdeacon, but was reinstated by Archbishop George Abbot upon receiving a petition from the prominent citizens of Canterbury and members of the local gentry; contemporary biographer records that he was not at this time persuaded of the `unlawfulnesse' of either episcopal church government or some of the ceremonies then in use, but generally opposed Laudian innovations (`Life', 420); in Canterbury Palmer preached every sabbath afternoon at St Alphege and he also preached to the French congregation; instituted to the rectory of Ashwell, Hertfordshire, Feb 1632 and about the same time he was appointed as a university preacher in Cambridge, which gave him licence to preach anywhere in England; at Ashwell Palmer perfected his system of catechism, which was greatly admired and first published in 1640 under the title An Endeavour of Making the Principles of Christian Religion ... Plain and Easie ; he was later involved in the drafting of the Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism (1647), which was also published according to Palmer's own method after his death as A Brief and Easie Explanation of the Shorter Catechisme (1648) by John Wallis; many of Palmer's publications were aimed at making the principles of the Christian faith clear and easy to understand; in 1644, for example, he published a brief spiritual guide to fasting based on the book of Nehemiah, chapters 9 and 10, with the intention of helping the `weak' and the `willing' to avoid `the greate Evill of Formalitie in our solemne Humiliations' ( The Soule of Fasting, or, Affections Requisite in a Day of Solemne Fasting and Humiliation , 1644, foreword). Chosen as one of the clerks of convocation for Lincoln diocese with Anthony Tuckney, 1640, and on 19 July 1642 appointed by the House of Commons as one of fifteen Tuesday lecturers at Hitchin, Hertfordshire; Appointed, 1643, to the Westminster Assembly and moved to London, leaving Ashwell in the charge of his half-brother, John Crow; collaborated with a number of other divines in writing Scripture and Reason Pleaded for Defensive Armes (1643), a tract justifying Parliament's `defensive' war against the king, in which they argued that `an open and publike resistance by armes, is the last Refuge under Heaven, of an oppressed, and endangered Nation' (p. 80); preached to both the House of Lords and the House of Commons on several occasions between 1643 and 1646; the central thrust of sermons such as The Necessity and Encouragement of Utmost Venturing for the Churches Help (1643), The Glasse of Gods Providence (1644), The Soule of Fasting (1644), and The Duty and Honour of Church Restorers (1646) was the need for further spiritual and church reforms; On 28 June 1643 he addressed the Commons on their fast day and urged them to undertake further reforms of the church especially in the matters of idolatry and the abuse of the sabbath and called for laws against clandestine marriages and drunkenness and the suppression of stage plays; in a sermon to both Houses of Parliament on 13 August 1644 he urged caution in the matter of religious toleration, and support for the recommendations of the Westminster Assembly; supported a presbyterian church settlement within limits; Lecturer at St James's, Duke Place, and later at the `new church' in the parish of St Margaret's, Westminster; one of the seven morning lecturers appointed by Parliament at Westminster Abbey; On 11 April 1644 he was appointed Master of Queens' College, Cambridge, by the Earl of Manchester; As Master Palmer donated money to the college library for books and helped to maintain poor scholars and refugee students from Germany and Hungary; died in September 1647; John Crow was his sole executor and the main beneficiary of his will; left all his history books in English, French, and Italian to his brother Sir Thomas Palmer, except for those already in the possession of Philip Delmé; ordered that his papers, apart from those that had been `transcribed', should be burnt (PRO, PROB 11/203, fol. 340r); reputation as a biblical scholar; in a letter written in 1643 Robert Baillie described him as `gracious and learned little Palmer' (on account of his small stature) and in a letter of 1644 as `the best Catechist in England' (R. Baillie, quoted in Shaw, 1.342). Palmer's biographer commented that it was almost a miracle that a man with `so weak a body as his' should be able to achieve so much, including speaking publicly for six to eight hours on the sabbath (`Life', 431). So small was Palmer's frame that when he first preached to the French congregation at Canterbury an elderly Frenchwoman cried out `What will this child say to us?'. She was overjoyed when she heard him pray and preach `with so much spiritual strength and vigour' (ibid., 421).

From the guide to the Sermons and other works by Herbert Palmer, 1626-1644, (Senate House Library, University of London)


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