Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Sir William Huntley-Palmer - an 18th century spy?

In an earlier post, we discovered the English minor aristocrat and traveller Sir William Huntley-Palmer. He was described as being "late of the 11th Dragoons, who travelled widely in Savoy, Piedmont, Carinthia and Hungary in the 1750s as some kind of undefined agent of the British government."

Here, we have a chance to discover a few more things about Captain Huntley-Palmer.

William Huntley-Palmer was born in the county of Somerset in 1724. His parents were Sir Arthur Huntley-Palmer of East Chewbury and Lady Arabella (née Arabella Melchett of Underton) and he was born in the ancestral home, Chewbury Manor.

His parents bought him a commission as Cornet of Horse in the 4th Regiment of Horse when he was 16 and he served in that regiment between 1741 and 1746, rising to the rank of full Lieutenant. In 1746, following the Battle of Culloden, he was offered a the chance to buy a captaincy in Kerr's (later the 11th) Dragoons, which he accepted.

He remained with his regiment until 1750, when he was seconded to the staff of a relative, General Sir George Augustus Melchett for unspecified service. He never resigned his commission, but it also seems to be the case that he never returned to active service with his regiment.

In 1751, he travelled to Carinthia and Savoy on behalf of the British government. He remained in Europe, visiting Piedmont and Hungary in 1752 before arriving in Syldavia in 1753. His movements then took him to Bavaria, Savoy again and Austria before returning to Syldavia in 1756, taking up residence in Klow. Documents in the Melchett Archive show regular correspondence between Huntley-Palmer and his patron General Melchett. In 1757 Huntley-Palmer was offered a position in the Syldavian service, in a military capacity. Seeking advice from "M" (as the Huntley-Palmer Papers refer to General Melchett), he accepted the role and travelled around the country, visiting various regimental headquarters, fortresses and garrisons.

The Melchett Archive contains several letters from "H-P" that refer to annexes in a now lost cypher. A plain text of one of these survives, containing an assessment of the capabilities of the Syldavian army. In it, H-P writes that the army is “reasonably well turned out, of tolerable quality and stout manners” but records that “the regiments of light Horse are impetuous, difficult to restrain and prone to looting”. Other passages suggest that H-P also played a more active role in the training and drilling of Syldavian cavalry regiments. It also appears to be the case that H-P spent several months in 1759 in the garrisons and towns along the eastern border with Borduria, where he records in his journals that "On several occasions my engagements across the river became somewhat troublesome and on more than one occasion my life was at risk. Only the stout and steady behaviour of our troops prevented my capture." He writes elsewhere of "Business on the islands of Polishoff" and "Clandestine adventures in the cities of Peshod, Salinkari and Ugaljigrad". A heavily redacted document in the Archive refers to "H-P's journey as plenipotentiary to the Grand Turk" and "stirring up unpleasantness amongst the Borduri".

Whatever is being hinted at clearly served the interests of the Syldavian Crown as, in 1761, Huntley-Palmer was created a Grand Knight of Order of the Black Pelican and was awarded the honorary colonelcy of the Piskot Cuirassier Regiment the following year. It seems that he was also awarded estates and a pension by King Ottokar IX. 

In his journals, H-P alludes to several romantic dalliances but in 1763 he became betrothed to the 22-year-old Doroteja Svinjske-Klobase, a member of a noble family related to the Syldavian Royal House of Almaszout.

We know little more of H-P's activities in Syldavia, apart from a suggestion that he was involved in the thwarting of a plot against the life of the King and that there seems to have been more than one attempt made on his own life.

In 1764, H-P and his wife travelled via Dbrnouk to Venice, on Syldavian official business and he took up residence in Trieste the following year. The Melchett Archive suggests that at this time, H-P was acting on orders from "M" and performing some kind of British government business. While in Trieste, H-P fought and won a duel against a certain Count Strabomytes of Kardouk and became involved in something that is only recorded as "The Bazarov Affair". In 1766, William and Doroteja became parents for the first time when their son James was born, followed in 1767 by a daughter, Caroline.

In 1768, Sir Arthur Huntley-Palmer died and William and Doroteja returned to England, where they took up residence in Chewbury Manor, where they proceeded to raise a large family.

In 1771, Sir William was elected to Parliament in the Whig interest as Member for East Chewbury.

He died in 1801.


  1. A friend of the Comte de Bourbon-Creme perchance?

  2. It is entirely possible that their paths may have crossed, but perhaps not as friends.