Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palgrave, Francis

940993Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 — Palgrave, Francis1895Warwick William Wroth

PALGRAVE, Sir FRANCIS (1788–1861), historian, born in London in July 1788, was of Jewish parentage, his father being Meyer Cohen, a member of the Stock Exchange. He was educated at home by Dr. Montucci, from whom he acquired a great facility in Italian. At eight he translated the ‘Battle of the Frogs and Mice’ into French from a Latin version, and this was published by his father, with the title, ‘Ὁμήρου βατραχομυομαχία … traduite de la version Latine d'É. Berglère … par M. François Cohen de Kentish Town, âgé de huit ans,’ London, 1797, 4to, pp. 58 (Brit. Mus. Cat.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 66). In 1803 he was articled to Loggin & Smith, solicitors, of Basinghall Street, London, and afterwards acted as their managing clerk till 1822, when he took chambers in the King's Bench Walk, Temple. In 1827 he was called to the bar (Middle Temple), and was for several years principally engaged in pedigree cases before the House of Lords. In 1823, the year of his marriage, he had embraced the Christian faith, and at the same time changed the surname of Cohen to Palgrave, the maiden name of his wife's mother.

Palgrave had for a long time devoted his leisure to literary and antiquarian studies, and in 1818 edited a collection of Anglo-Norman chansons. From 1814 till 1821 he was a constant contributor to the ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Quarterly’ reviews, and he afterwards made occasional contributions till 1845. One of his most important articles was on the ‘Fine Arts in Florence’ (Quarterly Review, June 1840), in which he gave expression (as also in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy’) to certain views of art which have since found wide acceptance. Part of this article was extracted by the forger of Shelley's letters (in 1852), and passed off as the genuine composition of the poet. In 1821 Palgrave first gave attention to the publication of the public records, and in August 1822 a plan proposed by him was approved by the Commission of Records. From 1827 to 1837 he edited for the Record Commission the ‘Parliamentary Writs,’ the ‘Rotuli Curiæ Regis,’ the ‘Kalendars of the Treasury of the Exchequer,’ ‘Documents and Records illustrating the History of Scotland,’ and wrote his ‘Essay upon the Original Authority of the King's Council.’ In 1831 he published a ‘History of England’ in the Anglo-Saxon period for the Family Library. In 1832 he published ‘The Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth.’ This book was, on its appearance, pronounced by the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (July 1832, pp. 305 f.) ‘the most luminous work that has been produced on the early institutions of England.’ Palgrave's friend, Hallam, described it (Middle Ages, 10th ed. 1853, vol. i. pref. to sup. notes, xii) as a work displaying ‘omnifarious reading and a fearless spirit,’ though it did not always carry conviction to a sceptical temperament. Freeman says that it still ‘remains a memorable book,’ and shows its author's ‘characteristic union of research, daring, and ingenuity’ (Norman Conquest, i. 71, v. 334).

In 1832 Palgrave was knighted, and was subsequently one of the Municipal Corporations commissioners. In 1838 he was appointed deputy-keeper of her majesty's records, an office which he held till his death. Palgrave gathered together at the rolls office the national muniments that had till then been dispersed in fifty-six offices, and the erection of the first block of the Record Repository was due to his exertions. As deputy-keeper he issued twenty-two annual reports, beginning with 1840. In 1851 Palgrave published the first volume of his ‘History of Normandy and England;’ volume ii. appeared in 1857, but volumes iii. and iv. were published posthumously. The ‘Edinburgh’ reviewer (April 1859, pp. 486 f.) commented severely on the eccentricity and discursiveness of Palgrave's style, some faults of which were probably due to his having dictated the work to an amanuensis. Mr. Freeman declares that he has found some of Palgrave's theories more fascinating than sound, but remarks that Palgrave was pre-eminent ‘in asserting the great truth’ that imperial ideas influenced European politics long after A.D. 476. Palgrave was accused by one of his critics of a ‘fanaticism’ for mediæval historians, but Palgrave himself said that when he began to write, ‘a dead set had been made at the middle ages.’ There can be no question as to his services both in popularising and in promoting the critical study of mediæval history in England.

Palgrave died on 6 July 1861, aged 72, at his house at Hampstead Green, Hampstead, where he lived next door to Sir Rowland Hill of the Post Office (Walford, Old and New London, v. 490). He had been for many years a fellow of the Royal Society. A portrait, by G. Richmond, painted in 1844, is in the possession of his son, Mr. R. H. Inglis Palgrave, F.R.S.

Palgrave married, in 1823, Elizabeth, daughter of Dawson Turner of Great Yarmouth, by whom he had issue (1) Francis Turner Palgrave (b. 1824), now professor of poetry at Oxford; (2) William Gifford Palgrave [q. v.] the Eastern traveller; (3) Robert Harry Inglis Palgrave (b. 1827), F.R.S.; (4) Sir Reginald F. D. Palgrave (1829–1904), clerk to the House of Commons in 1886.

Palgrave's principal publications are as follows:

  1. Oμήρου βατραχομυομαχία, London, 1797, 4to (translated; see above).
  2. ‘Cy ensuyt une chanson … des grievouses oppressions qe la … commune de Engleterre souffre,’ &c. [edited by P.], 1818, 4to.
  3. ‘The Parliamentary Writs … collected and edited’ by P., 1827, &c., fol.
  4. Wace's ‘Le Romant des ducs de Normandie,’ ed. by P. [1828], 4to.
  5. ‘History of England,’ vol. i. only, London, 1831, 12mo (Family Library).
  6. ‘Conciliatory Reform,’ London [1831], 8vo.
  7. ‘The Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth’ (Anglo-Saxon period), 2 parts, London, 1832, 4to.
  8. ‘Observations on … the Establishment of New Municipal Corporations,’ London, 1832, privately printed, 8vo; another ed. 1833, 8vo.
  9. ‘An Essay on the Original Authority of the King's Council,’ 1834, 8vo.
  10. ‘Rotuli Curiæ Regis,’ ed. by P., 1835, 8vo.
  11. ‘The Antient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty's Exchequer,’ ed. by P., 1836, 8vo.
  12. ‘Documents and Records illustrating the History of Scotland,’ vol. i. 1837, 8vo.
  13. ‘Truths and Fictions of the Middle Ages: the Merchant and the Friar,’ London, 1837, 8vo.
  14. ‘Annual Reports of the Deputy-Keeper of the Public Records’ (Sir F. P.), 1840–1861; also ‘Index’ to the same, published at London, 1865, fol.
  15. ‘Les noms et armes de Chivalers et Bachelers qe feurent en la bataylle à Borghbrigge,’ ed. P. [1840?], fol.
  16. ‘Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy,’ 1842, 12mo; and later editions to 1877, 8vo.
  17. ‘The Lord and the Vassal: a familiar Exposition of the Feudal System in the Middle Ages,’ 1844, 8vo.
  18. ‘The History of Normandy and England,’ 4 vols. London, 1851–64, 8vo.

[The above account is principally based on the Memoir in Gent. Mag. 1861, pt. ii. pp. 441–45. See also 23rd Report of the Deputy-Keeper of the Public Records (T. D. Hardy), pp. 3, 4; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.