John Palmer, born in November 1928, was educated at the Heath Grammar School, Halifax, and the Queen’s College, Oxford where he read Greats. In 1952 he was successful in the written competition for what was then the Administrative Class of the Civil Service, gaining exceptionally high marks in what the Civil Service Commissioners called Metaphysics, and Present Day, and in translating Latin unseen into good English.
He served in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government - where he helped in the designation of the site of the Milton Keynes New City - the Cabinet Office, the Department of the Environment, and the Department of Transport. In the last he was for twelve years the Whitehall end of the Government’s relations with British Rail.
Some time after he retired from the service, he was taken on by British Rail to head up their preparations for running trains through the Channel Tunnel, and this he did until the day when the Queen opened Waterloo International Station, and she and President Mitterand opened the Tunnel. At that point he was removed from the Eurostar company at the behest of Ministers, who believed him unsympathetic to their privatisation plans. He continued for BR for some time dealing with various litigation about the Tunnel, and aspects of rail privatisation.
Now fully retired, he lives in Dulwich, where he plays bridge, tries to paint, serves on two local charities, appreciates the Dulwich Picture Gallery and enjoys foreign travel. He has two daughters, one married in France with two children.
Books by John Palmer
This is a book of interesting stories with handsome pictures. It is about diplomatic gifts, that is gifts carried by ambassadors from one sovereign to another. These embassies were sent for a political purpose - to seek a dynastic marriage or a military alliance, to congratulate a new sovereign or announce a victory, or to solicit an agreement on trade.
After a general overview of the many such purposes and the gifts that went with them. it then covers some twenty gifts, many of which still survive in collections and museums, over a period of a thousand years. It starts with the elephant that Haroun al Raschid the Caliph of Baghdad sent to the Emperor Charlemagne in Aachen in 800 AD, and goes up to the gifts that Lord McCartney took on his ill-fated mission to China in 1793. In between are one of the first pieces of Chinese porcelainto arrive in Europe, the giraffe that the Sultan of Eqypt sent to Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Raphael picture that the Duke of Urbino sent to Henry VII, the suit of armour sent by, the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetado to James I, the Italian pictures that the Dutch States-General gave to Charles II, the brilliant silverware in the Kremlin, the amber roon that the King of Prussia gave to Peter the Great, and the dazzling pieces of Moghul goldsmiths’ work that Nadir Shah of Persia looted from Delhi and sent to the Tsar of Russia. For each, the book tells the story of the ‘why’, with always interesting and often surprising facts, to go with the picture of the gift itself, or in some cases a contemporary picture of it.
This book breaks new ground. While particular gifts have been covered in individual books or articles , or in the catalogues of exhibitions, this is the first to survey the whole field.