Colonel Sir Palmes Fairborne


Colonel Sir Palmes Fairborne
A detailed drawing of Major Palmes Fairborne aged 34 and wearing Full Dress. Made by the distinguished artist Wenceslaus Hollar during a visit to Tangier in 1669, and incorporated by him into a large watercolour in the Print Room of the British Museum.

Described as an officer of “courage, integrity and energy”, Sir Palmes Fairborne was an officer whose career is worthy of study and record, not least because it was achieved on his own merits without patronage or favouritism.

The Queen's Royal Regiment were always justly proud of Colonel Sir Palmes Fairborne, who served and died heroically in the defence of Tangier, during the 17th Century British occupation. He was the first of many distinguished officers of the Regiment who achieved his advancement by his military skill, thoroughness and attention to detail and by his natural aptitude for command and leadership. At the former Depot in Stoughton Barracks, Guildford, his name is permanently commemorated by one of the roads within the newly developed Cardwell's Keep.

It would appear that the Fairbornes were a Lancashire family from St Anne's, and Palmes was born in 1635, seven years before the outbreak of the Civil War. His father Colonel Stafford Fairborne was a Royalist commander at Newark on Trent, which was for long a fiercely contested strategic crossing on the Great North Road. The "Queen's Sconce", (named after Charles I's consort Henrietta Maria) a large earthwork for mounting cannon, is still to be seen there.

It seems likely that prior to his formal commissioning he had met and married his wife Margery who was a young widow. Born Margaret Devereux, she had been briefly married to a Mr Mansell, and proved to be a loyal and supportive wife who accompanied her husband to Tangier. Altogether she bore him seven children, their eldest, Stafford, was born in Tangier in 1666.

At the time of the mustering of the Regiment under the Earl of Peterborough, on 14th October 1661, Fairborne commanded the second company. Warfare was not unknown to him as he had earlier distinguished himself in the defence of Crete against the Turks, service which entitled him to the right to a “Turk’s Head” on his coat-of-arms.

Fulfilling what had been envisaged as their principal task, The Queen’s with three other Regiments landed on Tangiers on 29th January 1662 to find it already defended by sailors of the fleet. The Queen’s were more than welcome by the Portuguese who a fortnight before had suffered a disastrous defeat by the Moors. But the Moors were an enemy to be reckoned with, and on 3rd May British forces suffered heavy casualties when they were ambushed and attacked.

In another attack, in 1664, the loss included that of the Governor. Captain Fairborne appears to have been on leave at the time but on his return he was promoted to Major and appointed to Command the two Regiments into which the survivors had been formed. Militarily, Fairborne was proving himself a great success, being twice chosen by the Governor in 1669 to lead counter-attacks against enemy assaults. Again, in 1671 he commanded a covering party which repulsed a serious Moorish attack without losing a man.

In 1675 he was Knighted, and the following year he was formally made Deputy Governor and acted vigorously as Governor for two years, during the absence of the Earl of Inchiquin. Corresponding with people of authority in England Sir Palmes pressed energetically for improvements in the lot of the garrison, whose needs were desperate and they were becoming mutinous; indeed he had to deal with several incidents with a firm hand. In 1678 Fairborne went on leave to England and on his return in 1680 found his presence was badly needed. The Moors again had become a most dangerous enemy and he was appointed Commander-in-Chief under the Governor.

On 1st August 1678, his son, Stafford Fairborne, was gazetted an Ensign in Captain John's Company in the Governor's Regiment, of which his father was Lieutenant Colonel. He was 12 years of age, and it is difficult to comprehend this 17th century practice of commissioning children, either by purchase or by patronage; probably Sir Palmes "fixed" it as he was by no means wealthy.

Fairborne was determined to fight the Moors, if necessary “to the last man”, but thankfully his appeals for reinforcements and supplies were by now bearing fruit and extra troops arrived in 1680. On Lord Inchiquin leaving for home, Sir Palmes became both Governor and Commander-in-Chief and launched a full-scale successful counter-attack against the Moors. Regretfully, disaster was at hand. Out riding at seven o’clock one morning he was fired on by the enemy and received wounds which proved fatal. Before he died he was able to witness a successful attack on the Moors which he had earlier planned.

Tangiers State papers describe him as a “worthy and brave officer who had been an officer here for nearly 18 years”, adding that “His Majesty has not a subject in the three kingdoms of more proper qualifications for the post”. Over a long period he had been the backbone of the territory’s defence.

Deeply mourned by everyone at Tangier he was buried in the Anglican Garrison Church, the site of which is now an Islamic Theological College, opposite the Grand Mosque. The latter was the Portuguese Roman Catholic Cathedral for nearly 200 years. The bereaved Lady Margery Fairborne, returned to England with her younger children and was awarded a pension of £500 a year for life by King Charles II, but this was irregularly paid after the first year, and she had financial difficulties, raising her large family of young children. As late as 1703 her eldest son Sir Stafford, was petitioning Queen Anne for the arrears of her pension. She erected a monument to her late husband Sir Palmes, with his coat-of-arms, in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

In 1683 she was married (for the third time) to Jasper Paston a younger son of the first Earl of Yarmouth. This remarkable lady, an early example of a "regimental wife" died in June 1694. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.

In the Irish campaign of 1689 the Regiment had the unusual distinction of having two of its companies commanded by naval officers. One was Captain S Fairborne RN, the eldest son of Sir Palmes “who had served for six years as an Ensign in the Regiment before transferring to the Navy in 1685". He, too, had a remarkable career, reaching the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1708. It is interesting, that 100 years before the Glorious First of June the Regiment already had a connection with the Royal Navy.

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