PP/GC/PO/14 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the possible choices for the sovereign of Belgium, 10 December 1830
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], Brussels, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: he has only been at Brussels for a few days, and his facts may be wrong. He has talked to many of the most influential men in Belgium, who have treated him with a frankness that surprises him. It seems clear that they are willing to believe that England is the best friend of their country. Ponsonby has found some who are inclined to be suspicious, as is natural in men unacquainted with public business, who have heard that diplomacy is another word for cheating, but Ponsonby believes that he will soon "beat that idea out of their heads". As Ponsonby has officially informed Palmerston, the armistice has been agreed. The article regarding the unrestricted exchange of prisoners has been modified only to defer its execution until a month, or less if possible, after the fulfilment of the obligations in the armistice agreement. The establishment of a line of demarcation has been considered, although so far with little success. "I observe, however, that it is necessary to permit these people to run out nearly the whole line, like a strong fish, before it is attempted to make them feel the controuling power of the rod, and I hope, after one or two more conferences, that we shall obtain a reasonable arrangement." The King of the Netherlands' actions regarding the Scheldt and Antwerp, and then in keeping closed the sluices in Dutch Flanders, have provoked jealousy and suspicion amongst the Belgians as to the character and intentions of the King. Ponsonby himself fears that Palmerston will come under continued opposition from the King to his plans for peace. The King may well think that he now has little or nothing to lose by war, and that it might be to his advantage if a general war broke out. The majority of Belgians wish to see peace and an end to the revolution, but the country is already extraordinarily well prepared for a contest and it may be very difficult to restrain the effects of popular indignation, if it is continually excited by the King. The Belgian army is said to number more than 30,000 men, with 300 pieces of field artillery, and the taxes are now well paid. Regarding payments, it has come to light that the men who came into the city to fight against the Dutch troops paid the turnpike or duty at the barriere, even during the action. The republican party is feeble. De Potter, one of its chiefs, has little credit. Van der Weyer told Ponsonby that he has separated himself from him, and strongly disapproves of his plans and conduct. The French democratic party may have more direct force than the republicans, and will certainly be ready to join with them in any attempt to disturb the tranquillity of the country in order to prevent peace. The democratic party looks to war as the means through which to attain its end, that is, an incorporation of Belgium with France. The success of the democratic party depends mainly on the fortunes of the faction in France which is opposed to Louis Philippe. The French government must be faithful to its declared line of conduct regarding Belgian affairs. The dominant party in Belgium is certainly purely national, and it will not deviate from its principle except to resist the imposition of any old or new yoke on the country. Ponsonby is of the opinion that as a barrier, Belgium may be much more steady and certain, in its separate insulated form, than under any possible connection with Holland. If Belgium is independent, the majority of the country's people will support independence against every aggressor, but united with Holland, a thousand jealousies and an unabatable antipathy for Holland will induce most Belgians to view any enemy or perhaps any conqueror, as preferable to even the most liberal connection with the detested neighbour. A country so situated cannot be strong, and the apparent physical force derived from additional Dutch provinces will be ten times overbalanced by the moral debility occasioned by the union, and France will of necessity be the Belgian refuge. As Palmerston has directed Ponsonby to say everything, he expresses a doubt whether current French policy does not foresee, in the establishment of the Prince of Orange at the head of the new Belgian government, an assured cause of future discord and overthrow of Belgium, and consequently giving an opportunity to France of becoming the arbiter of its destiny. France must now feel that "la poire n'est pas encore mure" [the pear is not yet ripe], but Ponsonby wonders "if she will willingly abandon the hope and chance of eating the fruit when it is mature". Ponsonby has tried to obtain the best possible information, in the circumstances, on the opinions and resolutions of the ruling party in Belgium, regarding the possibilities either of the supremacy of the King of the Netherlands with modifications and changes, including a complete separation of the administration of the two countries, or the election of the Prince of Orange, or any branch of his family, to be sovereign or chief of the new state. Ponsonby is sorry to say that he does not see the slightest chance of success of any scheme for the reintroduction into Belgium of any part of the family of Nassau. People do not hesitate to express their opinions on this point, both the enemies and friends of the members of the House, using language which is equally revealing of the fact that Nassau is a name nationally hated in Belgium. The Prince of Orange himself is said to be incapable of regaining the lost esteem of the country, through feebleness of character and other defects. He is said to be odious to the clergy and to the populace, and not to be trusted because he cannot command himself. If one of the Prince's children were to be selected, it is said that he must be brought to believe his grandfather a tyrant, his father a weak and unworthy person, his uncle a bloody executioner of the people, and his whole family justly proscribed for their crimes. That is, "the new Prince, upon whose virtues so much of the happiness of the country will be dependent, is to be educated to commit a breach of the highest [?character], is to be made unnatural and systematically rendered a bad man". It is also observed in Belgium that a child of the Prince of Orange must either be taken from its mother as well as alienated from all its other relatives, or that the Princess must be made Regent, as has been proposed by some. In this case, all the opinions to be impressed on the child by education must also be exacted from the mother, with additional degradation deriving from the fact that she is the wife of the branded man. These are the prevailing opinions amongst the type of people mentioned, although certain classes, the shopkeepers and small manufacturers, who have been severely affected by the stagnation of trade, are believed to wish for the restoration of the Prince of Orange. It is however said that the Prince of Orange has personally no share in this opinion as a cause. The shopkeepers are said to desire his re-establishment solely as the quickest way to obtain a restoration of their business, and that their bias towards the Prince of Orange has no other cause. Anybody else would be agreeable to them, if he brought peace and tranquillity. As to the more general part of the question of the choice of a sovereign, Ponsonby has heard a great variety of opinions as to the individual who might or ought to be selected. All sensible people agree that the choice must be agreeable to the great powers, meaning particularly England and France. Many think that it is not necessary for the future sovereign to be a Catholic, although Ponsonby suspects nevertheless that it will be found highly important that he is Catholic. There is no longer any idea of choosing Comte Felix de Merode, nor any chance of selecting of a native Belgian. "People obviously reject the thoughts of raising an equal to supreme rank, and there is no person belonging to the country who has performed acts calculated to dazzle the popular ego and to overcome the adverse effects of personal jealousy on such a matter." Many propose an attempt to gain the agreement of France and England to the choice of a sovereign by a marriage between some French Prince and an English Princess. Van der Weyer told Ponsonby that he intended to go to Paris and to London to try to bring about such a plan. Ponsonby told him that he thought the plan objectionable and unlikely to be well received by the English court at present, and that it would also be necessary to consider events and the interests of other powers, as well as England and France, in an attempt to find somebody who would not be opposed by any of the great powers. Unquestionably, the Prince of Orange would immediately create unanimity in the views of those powers, and would be a beneficial connection between Belgium, as a separate state, and Holland. The sovereignty of the Prince of Orange would give an outlet to all Belgian products, and an assured end to the evil and danger of war. Van der Weyer replied that the Prince of Orange and all the family of Nassau must be out of the question forever. Attempts to re-establish any of them would ensure the power of the French party, and end in the overthrow of the national independence. "We must think of other persons, to restore the Nassau is physically impossible." Ponsonby asked him to bear in mind what he had said about the consideration to be paid to the wishes of the great powers, and to recollect that there was no example in history of a country over which a French Prince had been placed as sovereign, either by its own choice or exterior force, ever having been exempt from "the tyranny of French influence, directly or indirectly exerted over its counsels and fate". Van der Weyer admitted that this was true and asked to speak to Ponsonby again on the subject. Van der Weyer is without doubt the man who currently has the greatest influence and credit in Belgium. He is generally and, Ponsonby believes, justly, esteemed. He is well informed, and has proved that he possesses courage in the field and the greatest calmness and self possession in the sudden emergencies created by popular irritation and its attendant danger. Ponsonby believes his ambition is to elevate himself by honourably serving the country, and does not think he belongs to any faction. The city of Ghent is said to be considerably in favour of a connection with Holland. Ghent provided the larger part of the manufactured goods sent to Batavia. On the other hand, the provinces of Liege and Limbourg, and other districts on the same frontier, are influenced by particular interest to be extremely hostile to the Orange family and Holland. Ponsonby has a great deal more to say, but will wait for another occasion, rather than overpower Palmerston with it all at once. 10 Dec 1830 The letter is marked: "Private". It is noted on the docket that the letter was received on 12 December 1830.
Three papers, tied together with green ribbon
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John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby, British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Belgium: revolt; revolution; independence; partition of the Netherlands
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
Louis de Potter, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Sylvain van der Weyer, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Louis Philippe, King of the French
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
Prince Frederick of the Netherlands
Anna, Princess of Orange
Felix, Comte de Merode, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Ghent, Belgium
Batavia, Dutch East Indies, later Jakarta, Indonesia
Liege, province, Belgium
Limbourgh, or Limburg, or Limberg, province, Belgium
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