Roger Palmer, the first Earl of Castlemaine, was an English writer, diplomat and courtier who sat in the House of Commons. Palmer was a devout Roman Catholic and a staunch supporter of the Stuart Monarchy. Palmer’s loyalty was so committed that he even acquiesced to the appointment of his wife, Barbara Villiers as Charles II’s favored mistress. It is in honor of his wife’s services in the King’s bedchamber that Palmer received his title as Earl of Castlemaine, and not for his service in the King’s court.
Following James II’s accession to the throne in 1686, Castlemaine was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican and sent to Rome on diplomatic errands for the crown. After the Glorious Revolution in 1688 however, he was imprisoned in the Tower and accused of high treason for his embassy to Rome the year before. Castlemaine was a committed patron to the arts. His collection was so valuable, that it was auctioned off on April 20, 1689 for £10,000 in order for him to post bail.
A formal, published account of Castlemaine’s entry into Rome as English ambassador is preserved in John Michael Wright’s illustrated work, An Account of His Excellence Roger Earl of Castlemain’s Embassy… to his Holiness Innocent XI (1688). In An Account, there are engravings depicting the numerous works of art he commissioned to celebrate and adorn his entry. Included in these works are ten elaborate carriages.
As the European roads were in a state of disrepair, and traveling by carriage was far from comfortable, the primary function of these carriages was ostentation. Carriages like the ten commissioned by Castlemaine, were used a display of magnificence. This print shows the intricacies of the carriage itself.
Print: Front view of the Second Carriage of Lord Castelmaine, 1687–1700. Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. John Innes Kane. 1945-17-6-b.
Fully figured putti, acanthus leaves and scrolls adorn the side and front of the carriage.
Print: Rear view of the Second Carriage of Lord Castelmaine, 1687–1700. Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. John Innes Kane. 1945-17-6-c.
The back of the carriage features a group of four children and a seated woman that rises over the rear axle. The woman is carrying a bracket with four crowns. It would likely have been entirely gilded, giving the carriage the appearance of a large-scale metalwork object. In the context of his embassy to Rome, these carriages acted as moving propaganda for the English monarchy, specifically James II. They were a tribute both to the power of the crown as well as to Castlemaine himself.