Roundell Palmer, 1st Earl of Selborne

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The Earl of Selborne
Lord Selborne LC LS&PC.jpg
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
28 April 1880 9 June 1885
SpouseLady Laura Waldegrave
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Trinity College, Oxford

Roundell Palmer, 1st Earl of Selborne, PC , FRS (27 November 1812 – 4 May 1895) was an English lawyer and politician. He served twice as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.


Background and education

Palmer was born at Mixbury in Oxfordshire, where his father, William Jocelyn Palmer, was rector. His mother Dorothea was daughter of the Rev. William Roundell of Gledstone Hall, Yorkshire. William Palmer and Edwin Palmer were his brothers. [1] He was educated at Rugby School and Winchester College. [2]

Palmer proceeded to the University of Oxford, matriculating from Christ Church, moving to Trinity College upon winning a scholarship there, and becoming a fellow of Magdalen College in 1834. He graduated BA in 1834 and MA in 1836. While at Oxford he became a close friend of the hymnist and theologian, Frederick William Faber. At Oxford he won the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Verse in 1831, the Ireland Scholarship in Greek and the Newdigate Prize in 1832, and the Chancellor's Latin Essay Prize in 1835. He was President of the Oxford Union in 1832.

Political career

Palmer was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1837. He preferred practice at the equity bar, and avoided juries. From 1840 to 1843 he was a leader writer for The Times . He was elected to the House of Commons for Plymouth in 1847. A Peelite, he was defeated in 1852, but was returned in a by-election the following year. He lost his seat in 1857, and was defeated again in 1859.

In 1861, Palmer was appointed Solicitor General in the government of Lord Palmerston and was returned unopposed for Richmond, receiving the customary knighthood. In 1863 he was promoted Attorney General, continuing in office under Lord Russell after Palmerston's death in 1865, until the government's defeat in 1866. His position as a law officer of the Crown meant that he had to handle the many questions of international law that arose out of the American Civil War, including the Alabama affair. [3]

An early follower of Gladstone, Palmer broke with him over the disestablishment of the Irish Church. After the Liberals were returned in the 1868 election, he refused Gladstone's offers to appoint him either as Lord Chancellor or Lord Chief Justice, preferring to be free to oppose Irish disestablishment as a backbencher. He was the leading counsel for Britain before the Alabama Claims tribunal in Geneva.

Despite his continuing opposition to the government on Irish and Church issues, Palmer was appointed on 15 October 1872 as Lord Chancellor under Gladstone. He was created Baron Selborne, of Selborne in the County of Southampton, and was sworn of the Privy Council. [4] His first tenure in office saw the passage of the Judicature Act of 1873, which reorganised the English judiciary. Selborne again held the Lord Chancellorship under Gladstone in 1880–1885. In the latter year he established a Lord Chancellor's Department. He was created Viscount Wolmer, of Blackmoor in the County of Southampton, and the Earl of Selborne in 1882.

Lord Selborne as Lord Chancellor, by Walter William Ouless. Lord Selborne LC by WW Ouless.jpg
Lord Selborne as Lord Chancellor, by Walter William Ouless.

After the fall of Gladstone in 1885, Selborne became increasingly alarmed by perceived radical tendencies within the Liberal Party. He finally broke with Gladstone over Irish Home Rule, refusing reappointment as Lord Chancellor when the Liberals returned to office in 1886, and joining the Liberal Unionists.


Selborne was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1860. [5] He was an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and an honorary Student of Christ Church, Oxford, High Steward of the University of Oxford and Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews.

Judicial decisions


Memorial in Winchester Cathedral Memorial to Roundell Palmer in Winchester Cathedral.jpg
Memorial in Winchester Cathedral

Selborne married Lady Laura, daughter of William Waldegrave, 8th Earl Waldegrave, in 1848. They had four daughters followed by a son. Their eldest, Laura Elizabeth, was born in 1848 and became an author and social reformer, who in 1876 married George Ridding, the first Bishop of Southwell, so becoming known as Lady Laura Ridding. [6] Their second, Mary Dorothea (1850–1933), married her first cousin, the 9th Earl Waldegrave in 1874. Their third, Sophia Matilda (1852–1915), named after her great-great-aunt, Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, [7] was a writer of fiction and married Amable Charles Franquet, Comte de Franqueville, in 1903. [8] [7] Their fourth, Sarah Wilfreda (1854–1910) married her second cousin, George Tournay Biddulph, son of Robert Biddulph, in 1883. [9] Their son William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne later became a prominent Unionist politician. Lady Selborne died in April 1885. Lord Selborne survived her by ten years and died in May 1895, aged 82.


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  1. "Palmer, William (1811-1879)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. "Roundell Palmer". Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  3. Frank J. Merli, The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War (Indiana University Press, 2004), pp. 89-119/
  4. London Gazette, Number 23910, p. 4898 (18 October, 1872).
  5. "Lists of Royal Society Fellows 1660–2007". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
  6. Serena Kelly, "Ridding , Lady Laura Elizabeth (1849–1939)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 22 Nov 2017.
  7. 1 2 Ridding, Lady Laura (1919). Sophia Matilda Palmer, Comtesse de Franqueville, 1852-1915: A Memoir. Albemarle Street, London: John Murray. p. 270.
  8. London: Jarndyce Catalogue No. CCXXXII. Women Writers 1789–1948, Part III, P–Z, Item 2. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  9. Lady Laura Ridding (1919). Sophia Matilda Palmer, comtesse de Franqueville, 1852–1915: a memoir. John Murray. p.  5.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Plymouth
With: Viscount Ebrington
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Plymouth
With: Robert Collier
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Richmond
With: Marmaduke Wyvill to 1865
John Dundas 1865–1866
Marmaduke Wyvill from 1866
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Preceded by Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Selborne
Succeeded by
Baron Selborne