PP/GC/PO/370 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Lord Beauvale, concerning the Sultan's ill health, and the likely consequences of his death, 19 June 1839
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, later first Viscount Ponsonby [British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Constantinople] to Frederick James Lamb, first Baron Beauvale [British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Vienna]: he does not think the Sultan will recover, but hopes he will last long enough to allow time for measures to be taken "to prevent the greatest evils". He has set out the case in an open despatch. Much of the information comes from Baron de Sturmer, and Prince Metternich can probably tell Beauvale more. Nobody in Turkey is fit to govern the country, but the best man is Husrev. He has more than forty years experience as Pasha, but he is eighty and "false as a counter". He had great influence with the army, and probably still has some. It is important to secure the army at the first opportunity, in order to keep the peace, which Ponsonby fears may be disturbed by a reaction against Mahmud's reforms. Such a reaction could be dangerous to the security of the Franks as well as others. He hopes that Austria and England will recognise their own interests and act in partnership. Austrian interests are the same as Britain's: the independence of the Ottoman empire and the security of that independence against future accidents. Ponsonby does not blame the Russians for wanting to possess Turkey, for that is a vital question. Either the Russians control Constantinople or they will be forced to retreat. Austria, however, will be destroyed if the Russians get Constantinople, a staggering blow will be dealt to English interests. It would cause a universal war, and that gives Britain the right to use her power to resist Russia, just as Russia will try her utmost to secure herself. The death of the Sultan will force these questions to a head, and Austria, England and France will either have to hand over Turkey to Russia or come forward themselves and interfere jointly, insisting on a settlement of affairs that will give security to Europe against all chances of future danger from Russia. "It is idle to talk of the moderation of Russia and so forth: the Emperor Nicolas and his heirs will betray the cause of their family and country if they are moderate, and really the language held on that subject of moderation is in the very finest style of namby pamby. The crisis occasioned by the Sultan's health may easily be made the means whereby peace in Europe shall be preserved, and it may be allowed to ensure war. We all know that the interests of Austria and England and of Louis Philippe are the same, so far as securing Turkey is in question, and who can imagine that Russia will dare to oppose, or should she dare, will have even a shadow of success in her opposition to the resolutions of those powers ? Let those powers act at once !" There has already been a long delay due to the attempts to maintain the status quo, which have only contributed towards the destruction of the Ottoman empire and necessitated the efforts which must now be made to save it. The Muslim people, who are the best defence against Russia, have been nearly destroyed, and the various rayah tribes who are left are incapable of governing the country, and could only fight with each other and hand their country to Russia either by their dissention or by their friendship, thus placing the heart of Europe in the hands of that nation. People do not attribute enough importance to Constantinople. The French talkers do not understand how little other than talk they will be able to do if the military and naval post is in Russian hands. Prince Metternich must know that Austria will be reduced to a petty power, and must realise the effect a Russian establishment at Constantinople will have upon Hungary. England is the only country who could patiently put up with this evil, for England could secure her Indian possessions from Russian aggression if she agreed to help, or quietly consented to Russian occupation of the Ottoman empire. "Who is there will doubt that Russia would be delighted, for such a bribe, to grant everything that could be asked by England, or that there must not be enough gained by Russia in such a bribe to give constant occupation to her for half a century to come, and that she would cease to look towards India; but there are deep interests as well as honor and justice to prevent England taking such a part unless it be forced upon her by the conduct Austria and France though, if they abandon us, I heartily hope we shall know how to make them repent of it. England has a clear strait path to follow: she has to place the balance of European power in security and to preserve peace by arresting the conquering advance of Russia and placing insurmountable barriers in the way of it in future." If Austria will concur honestly in this, the thing can be accomplished without difficulty, and without war. France will have to concur with England and Austria. If the Austrian government is too afraid of Russia to begin, she might still put England forward. If Beauvale thinks the occasion calls for the action Ponsonby has set out, perhaps he could broach the subject with the government. "I am Austrian in politicks; I am for the most intimate close and perpetual connection between England and Austria, and really in examining the state of this part of the world I am more influenced by my conviction of the immense dangers to which Austria is exposed than by any that may seem to menace our own country directly." To sum up, Austria should concur with England and France in whatever action is necessary to force an immediate settlement of Turkish affairs, inviting Russia to take part, but ensuring that the thing is done with arms in hand, that is, with British, French and Russian squadrons present. The whole question is a naval one. Russia cannot come by land, unless with the permission and support of Austria. Asia is also out of the question except with the help of a fleet. If there was a British fleet at Constantinople and the Black Sea was open, Britain would be in the same advantageous position as Russia. As long as the naval force is excluded, there is no possibility of an agreement between France and England to do anything contrary to the independence of Turkey. "If one of them were to have any such notion, the other would be interested in opposing it. It will be for the wisdom of the governments to provide for the future, but it will be of minor importance what the provision is if the Black Sea be opened, as it must be in the execution of such a measure. I have no doubt that Turkey may easily be placed in a situation to be able to go staggering on for years as she now is, apparently on the very verge of ruin, and be free from the dangers of being subdued by a power whose success would be fatal to Europe. The great problem may be solved. Constantinople may be innoxious by being still in the hands of a people incapable of turning the immense power that naturally belongs to it, against anybody. Nobody can fear the Turks, everybody must fear any other nation that should obtain possession, and keep it, of Constantinople." Ponsonby has written this letter in a great hurry, and although he has much more to say, will limit himself to a few words about Mehemet Ali. The main question is over the partition of Turkey. People are well enough agreed about the consequences of the partition of Poland to think that it is not certain that the partition of Turkey would be a good thing. Ponsonby has not written to the government on this subject. "I have bored them enough with foretelling that some accident or other would defeat the status quo." As this is an Austrian concern as much as it is a Turkish one, Ponsonby hopes Beauvale will use his influence to "save us from the dire disgrace of losing Turkey". Beauvale can pass on anything Ponsonby has written if he wishes to. 19 Jun 1839: contemporary copy
Six papers
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Mahmud II, Ottoman Sultan
Turkey: disease; illness; infection; medicine
Bartholomeus, Baron von Sturmer, Internuncio or Austrian ambassador at Constantinople
Frederick James Lamb, first Baron Beauvale, later third Viscount Melbourne, British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Vienna
Clemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Prince of Metternich-Winneburg
Husrev Mehmed Pasha, alias Chossrew Muhammad Pasha, former Seraskier or Turkish Minister of War
Tsar Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Muhammad Ali Pasha, alias Mehemet Ali, Viceroy or ruler of Egypt
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