Object Title

Painting - Portrait, probably William Palmer

Painting - Portrait, probably William Palmer



Object Number



Purchased at auction from Christie's, 24 November 1998, lot 3

Physical Description

Oil on panel. Framed.


UnframedHeight990 mm
UnframedWidth700 mm

Bibliographic References

plate IIA.

G Rimer, T Richardson and J P D Cooper, Henry VIII: arms and the man, Leeds, 2009,


This oil on panel portrait probably depicts William Palmer, Gentleman Pensioner, about 1539, with his pollaxe and basket hilted sword, wearing a black gown and doublet, and a medallion of St George on the upturned brim of his hat.

Henry VIII established a new body guard of fifty lances, the Honourable Band of Gentlemen Pensioners, in 1509, a 'new and sumptuous Troop of Gentlemen composed of cadets of noble families and the highest order of gentry' (Pegge 1791: 2-18). Under their captain Henry Earl of Essex they accompanied the king at the battle of the Spurs in 1513 and at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Renamed the Gentlemen at Arms in 1834, and today numbering 5 officers and 27 gentlemen, the body survives as the second oldest guard in England, and the weapons are still in the custody of the Axe Keeper and Butler.

Their characteristic weapon soon became the pollaxe with a spiked head, as they increasingly attended the king on foot at the coronation of Edward VI they were 'apparelled all in red damask, with their pole-axes in their hands' (Pegge 1791: 29), and versions of the are still carried by their successors, the Gentlemen at Arms, today. A pollaxe in the Royal Armouries, no. VII.2044, is the only known surviving example from the early period of the unit. The basket-hilted sword depicted in the portrait is close in form to an English sword of about 1560 in the Royal Armouries collection, no. IX.2574 (formerly in Claude Blair's collection, 1981 fig. 113-5), which in turn forms part of a small group of such early basket hilted swords of the mid-16th century, mostly from English provenances or collections, including examples from the River Can, Chelmsford, Bolling Hall, Bradford, the Haarlemmeer in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and a hilt from Pembridge Castle in the Royal Armouries, no. IX.1404 (Blair 1981: 207-215, Wilson 1986, Mazansky 2005: 49-51).

William Palmer of Lemington, Gloucestershire, was recorded in the earliest list of Gentlemen Pensioners of 1539 and another of about 1540-5 transcribed by Pegge (1791: 27-8, from British Library Harleian MS 642, see Blair 1981 note 70). He was last recorded as a Gentleman Pensioner at the funeral of Edward VI in 1553, and died in 1573 (Blair 1981: note 71). The arms of Palmer of Gloucestershire and Warwickshire, quarterly of four, 1, chequy or and azure a chief gules for Palmer, 2, argent three martlets sable for Godweston, 3, argent, on a chevron between three lions heads erased gules, a mullet for difference, for Rocliff, 4, quarterly argent and sable, 3 fleur-de-lys of the first for Garshall appear at the top right. The attribution to the German artist Gerhard Flicke was made by the Sabin Galleries in 1978. Born in Osnabr³ck he came to England about 1545 and died there in 1558; he is best known for his Holbein-like portrait of Thomas Cranmer in the National Portrait Gallery, London (Hervey 1910).