26 June, 2019

The Palmer Brothers, Shipwrights of London (d. 1335 and 1344)

Edward II knew two brothers, Alan and Martin Palmer, pretty well: both men worked as shipwrights next to the Tower of London, and often appear in Edward's accounts. Here's a post about them.

Alan, the elder brother, and Martin were the sons of one William Palmer; I have no idea when they were born, but would guess 1280s or early 1290s, and I also haven't been able to discover who their mother was or when their father died. As the elder son, Alan Palmer inherited their father's wharf at Petty Wales next to the Tower of London, and Martin also owned a wharf at Petty Wales. They appear in Edward II's accounts either as shypwryghtes, written in English in the middle of the Anglo-Norman of the accounts, or as fesours des niefs, 'makers of ships'. Martin Palmer also appears in the extant Coroners' Rolls of London in July and November 1324, when he was questioned as a possible witness to two murders which took place within the Tower of London.

Alan Palmer was married to a woman named Cecile, who was seriously ill in October 1324. Edward II, who was staying at the Tower at the time, sent her a gift of ten shillings probably to help with the cost of medicines. Cecile died shortly before 27 November 1324, when Edward spent two shillings and six pence on 'offerings for her soul'. He also gave Alan twenty shillings to pay for her funeral and interment. Alan and Cecile had a son named Philip Palmer, who at an unrecorded date before 1326 worked as a valet of the king's chamber. Later, Philip followed in his father's and his uncle's footsteps by becoming a shipwright.

In July 1325, Edward gave Alan and Martin a gift of five shillings each, and bought a ship called the Jonete of Westminster from Martin in or before September 1325. Edward invited both brothers and the six men they had working for them - four journeymen and two apprentices - to Kenilworth Castle in March and April 1326, during his long sojourn there. The eight built a small barge, a flat-bottomed boat and two fishing-boats for the king to use on the artificial lakes surrounding the castle. The king paid the two Palmers six pence a day each, their journeymen five pence each, and their apprentices four pence each. When they returned to London, Edward gave Alan Palmer five shillings to give to his son Philip, former royal valet, to buy himself linen cloth.

Alan Palmer made his will on 22 February 1335, leaving his son Philip his wharf and tenements at Petty Wales. Sometime after losing his first wife Cecile in November 1324, he married his second wife, Emma, who also appears in his will. Alan and Cecile's son Philip the shipwright wrote his will on Sunday, 11 July 1339. His wife was called Agnes, and their children - unnamed - are also mentioned in Philip's will. Martin Palmer, younger brother of Alan and uncle of Philip, outlived his nephew and made his will on 29 September 1344. He mentions his youngest son, John, so apparently had at least three sons though the others are not named, and had two daughters, Cecile - presumably named after his sister-in-law - and Joan. He left an unfinished boat each to his daughters, and his tenements to his son John. Leaving unfinished boats to his daughters implies that the women worked as shipwrights as well, which is rather fascinating. Martin's son John Palmer and his wife Amy both made their wills in 1348, and they had a son named Alan after John's uncle. All the Palmers were buried in the churchyard of All Hallows by the Tower. I lose sight of the family after 1348, unfortunately; it's possible that all of them perished in the terrible epidemic of the Black Death in 1348/49.


Chris Klein said...

Fascinating...is is possible to trace the secession of land ownership where their wharves were? I've been to the Tower twice and I don't remember what is specifically on the river by the Tower, but I have to think that is owned by the UK government at this point...any idea what happened to private property after the plague of 1348/49 when whole families perished? Thank you!

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Chris, thanks! If I ever find the time, I'll try to see if I can figure out who might have owned the Palmers' wharves subsequently. In their wills, Petty Wales appears as 'Petit Wales', i.e. Little Wales, and I think it's brilliant that the place still has the same name! Am also not sure offhand what happened if an entire family died in the Black Death and what became of their property. Very sad to think about, really. :-(

Ted Godwin said...

I'm curious why the gift of an unfinished ship would suggest the daughter was a shipwright? An unfinished ship is simply an asset worth something and thus requires disposal in the will. The beneficiary could sell it for materials or to another shipwright to finish.

Kathryn Warner said...

If Martin left unfinished boats to his son(s), would you leave a comment that this doesn't necessarily mean the son worked as a shipwright? A lot of women did work in the fourteenth century, made their own products, ran their own businesses. I know from my own research that Edward II often bought sails and oars from women along the Thames (among countless other items). Women didn't only stay in the home in fourteenth-century London.

sami parkkonen said...

This is fantastic info! I love how Edward, the Gods anointed ruler of the realm, has so close relationship with some craftsmen and their families. This side of Edward should be presented more often if not for any other reason than this was exceptional behavior from a king at this time and even much later. Kings did not mingle with the commoners usually but Edward did and often and more than that: he genuinely seemed to get along with them and enjoy their company. That is truly wonderful fact.

As for the women in medieval times: yes, it depends of the laws of the land but there were many rich and powerful women across the medieval Europe. Some were ruthless business women, some big land owners, some ran bakeries and other businesses as such, some ran prostitution as a business, and some were producing goods or services of all kind. In many cases they were either among the richest and mightiest people in their communities and/or among the most respected among their peers. In many ways the noble women were living much more restricted lives than the commoners who could inherit businesses and keep on running them as they saw fit.

Unfortunately later times with much more severe regime and attitudes towards women, like the 1600's, have blurred our vision to the older times. Thus we think that women in medieval world were all pawns and servants for men. Not so. Even in imperial Rome centuries before the medieval epoch there were rich and powerful business women. One, whose name I hav forgotten, was the biggest bread maker in the city of Rome and her biggest customer was the emperor himself who needed loads of bread to hand out to the roman population.