PP/GC/PO/40 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the chances of success for the Prince of Orange in Belgium and the advisability of destroying the Belgian fortresses, 14 January 1831
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 just received Palmerston's letter of 12 January. He wishes the Prince of Orange had included in his "production" assurances to officers of the army, and asks whether it could not still be done. Ponsonby has been assured of the co-operation between the chief in command at Antwerp and the Prince, by those to whom the Prince himself has declared that intention, founded on his conviction that only he can extricate Belgium from its difficulties. France has made a proposal to the provisional government to nominate General Favier for the command of the Belgian army. It will probably be resisted by some members, but not necessarily with any success. Ponsonby has prepared an opposition to it. He thinks the appointment would injure the provisional government very much, and the knowledge that they had considered the idea of it would worsen matters, and it is a dangerous experiment to let such a brigand obtain authority. "I believe you may class the Congress as follows: a sufficient quantity of mere rogues, a large number of ignorant and foolish people, a majority of men anxious only to know what side is strongest, in order to attach themselves to it." De Celles says he will leave for Paris in two days' time. He has been named charge d'affaires there. Ponsonby will be pleased to get rid of him. He wishes Van der Weyer would return: he would be very useful in Brussels and he will lose all his influence if he stays away much longer. Ponsonby thought it was necessary to tell Bresson that an application had been made from France to provision Liege, Huy and Namur for fifteen days, which the provisional government had partly acted on, although Ponsonby knew it was not the demand of the French government, but probably of those who were the King's greatest enemies. Ponsonby said no more than this, and made Bresson promise not to try to find out the secret, although of course he will do so. Bresson told Ponsonby about Favier, and said Felix de Merode was his informant. The Commissioners sent in the protocol and the note that day. They had deferred doing this because of the debate and uncertainty about the deputation, which they thought would be affected by their information. Bresson informed de Celles that morning of the nature of the protocol, and of the return of his note. De Celles was "thunderstruck" and talked of "serious consequences". Ponsonby thinks the time for minding about such things is over, and he is pleased that Palmerston spoke out to these people. He expects a great fuss to be made in Congress about it, but believes the public opinion of Congress is very low. Fear of France is the over-riding factor in Belgium, and that must be opposed by showing confidence that France will not, and if need be, dare not, risk a war for Belgium, and that her government is strong enough to control La Fayette and his Jacobins. Ponsonby has spoken with discretion. He read to Bresson from Palmerston's letter "with a slight change and addition impressive of cordiality towards France" what he wrote about the increased power of England and the allies to support a war. He added that knowledge of the power of the allies would be useful to Louis Philippe, enabling him to keep down the popular feelings in France for war. Even the most heroic people would prefer to attack a weak rather than a strong enemy, and according to old Frederick of Prussia "it somehow or other turned out that le bon Dieu was generally for les gros battaillons", and the people might think twice about a contest with all of Europe. Ponsonby has not yet received the account of the fortresses. Sir Howard Douglas passed through Brussels the previous day. In his opinion, the King of Holland was aware of the necessity for supporting his son if he wished to keep Belgium for the House of Nassau. Ponsonby has written to Bagot to tell him that, in his opinion, the King had no chance, and to attempt his re- establishment under any possible modification would "ensure a convulsion" in Belgium. The chances of the Prince of Orange, on the other hand, are very fair, if he can avoid the suspicion of being a puppet of his father. Ponsonby suggested that obtaining the King's consent would be a possible advantage, although it should not be made known just yet, but an authorised avowal of it should be made ready for a suitable occasion, which could occur at any moment. Ponsonby read to Bresson the parts of Palmerston's letter of 12 [January] about the disavowal of any French desire for Belgium in Sebastiani's letter to Talleyrand, and also the list of the difficulties against the election of anybody except the Prince of Orange, "who was then become like his own Napoleon l'homme necessaire !!". Ponsonby asks Palmerston to indicate to Talleyrand that he is not dissatisfied with what Bresson did concerning Otto. Ponsonby believes he meant well, and only intended to introduce someone else in order to distract support away from the Duc de Nemours. Bresson is uncomfortable about this, and it is very important that he and Ponsonby should be the best of friends. Ponsonby does like him very much, and believes it was de Celles who had other views as to Otto, and made a "cat's paw" of Bresson. "But all that is over, and the finesse of the old school, of which de Celles is a true member, has proved weak and vain, against straitforward play." The protocol, which will gradually make people aware of their real position, together with the measure for the opening of the River Scheldt, will lead to universal gratitude towards the five powers. If the provisional government can also be defeated, this will provide the best possible background for the return of the Prince of Orange. It would be a great thing if he could bring Luxembourg with him, which will probably be a necessary consequence of his hereditary right. Ponsonby thinks that an offer, under almost any conditions, of opening the oriental trade to Belgium would be received with joy in due course, but it is not yet time for such discussions. It is generally believed that the first priority is to establish a leader and a government, and get rid of the provisional government. There is a serious shortage of food. The petition from Ghent in favour of the Prince of Orange was suppressed by the president of the Congress, although all the members had seen it. A deputation from Ghent has arrived at Brussels to ask why the petition was not presented, which was badly received by the government. The members of the deputation told the government that they did not care what the government thought fit to be done, and that they would send the petition to London regardless. The petition from Antwerp has many respectable signatures, and it is claimed there that the signatures are voluntary, and not obtained by fraud or force. Ponsonby gives the news, to be kept secret, that he has spoken to Joseph van Hooghvorst about the support of the civic guard for the Prince of Orange, and about his brother's views on this point. Van Hooghvorst claimed that his brother [Emmanuel, Baron van Hooghvorst] was entirely in support of the Prince, but that there was some difference of opinion amongst the leaders of the guard, and that his brother had to make it appear that he had yielded to constraint in supporting the Prince of Orange. He could not yet show his own feelings. Ponsonby asked whether Baron Hooghvorst would help with the guard if there was a strong movement at Ghent in support of the Prince and the government tried to put it down by force. Would he permit a civil contest to take place ? The reply was that he would not, although it might be necessary "to permit some of the hot-headed persons of the guard to go for Ghent, but they should be taken care of on the road". Ponsonby was assured that there would be no civil war in this case. Hooghvorst added that he thought strong demonstrations at Ghent and Antwerp were very essential to the Prince's cause, and that he could answer for his brother. Ponsonby has not taken any steps about the Prince's proclamation, although he could get it printed at Brussels. However, it will not do to have a translation of it made from the English version Palmerston has sent, since that translation might differ from the original. It is of immense importance that what Ponsonby said about the army is addressed. He thinks the proclamation should be more precise and more specific in terms. People in Belgium distrust Nassau sincerity. The old King is accused of having broken his promises, particularly in religious matters, which the Prince speaks strongly about. Something very specific is required. The constitution has not yet been framed, and there will be "ample means of weeding that dunghill" after the Prince is elected. His election proclaims a principle which the philosophers attach great importance to, "the most perhaps after that of being themselves in places of honor and profit". An encounter between the armies is expected. The Belgians have been very badly treated near Maastricht, although they claim brilliant victories. "Lying is no sin amongst political philosophers on the continent." Perhaps the best policy in Belgium was that of Joseph II, to destroy the fortresses. Ponsonby has heard that it would be sensible to demolish all the fortresses except those on the flanks of any invading French army, such as Ostend, which could be very strong, ?Sluis, Maastricht, Luxembourg and perhaps Namur. The fortresses would enable the French to maintain themselves in Belgium against immense armies. The French will always be able to take them because Belgium will be unable to support the expense of so many large fortresses. This may be a good reason to demolish them, and fortunately they are so badly constructed that time alone will do for them, given long enough. Ostend and Maastricht would open the door for England and Germany to attack an invading French army. Ponsonby does not have an opinion on this, but since Palmerston has mentioned the fortresses, he thought he should mention these matters. Van der Weyer should be sent back [from London]: nothing can be achieved without him; he could be conciliated towards the Prince of Orange; he is poor, but ambitious, and has enough sense to have learned by now the true position of his country. His thirst for liberty has been appeased, he has enough security for it now. He will be concerned that Belgium is too small to remain independent, but even if she were made twice or three times as large, she would still be too small and too weak to resist France. She will always have to depend on foreign aid, but small as she is, she is large enough to be free and can always be sure of being protected. It would be good for the Prince to gain Van der Weyer now, and perhaps an even better thing for the future. There is nobody in Brussels who has as much tact as Van der Weyer. Deputations from Ghent and Antwerp are going to London with the petitions. 14 Jan 1831 It is noted on the docket that the letter was received on 16 January 1831. Palmerston's letter of 12 January, to which Ponsonby alludes, is numbered PP/GC/PO/621.
Six papers, tied with green ribbon
All images are copyright. Please contact Archives@soton.ac.uk if you wish to reproduce this material
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; fortress question
General David Henrik Chasse, Baron Chasse, Dutch governor of Antwerp and commander of the city garrison
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
General Charles Nicholas, Baron Fabvier, alias Favier, formerly in the service of Greece
Antoine Charles Fiacre, Comte de Wisher de Celles, Vice President of the Committee for Foreign Relations of the provisional government of Belgium
Sylvain van der Weyer, representative of the provisional government of Belgium at London
Charles Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Liege, Huy, Namur, Ghent, Antwerp, Ostend; ?Sluis or Sluys, Belgium
Louis Philippe, King of the French
General Charles Nicholas, Baron Fabvier, alias Favier
Felix, Comte de Merode, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Protocol nine of the London Conference of 9 January 1831, dealing with complaints about the blockade of the river Scheldt and the Belgian troops besieging Maastricht, and declaring that both must cease before 20 January
Marie Jean Paul Roch Yves Gilbert Motier, Marquis de la Fayette, member of the French Chamber of Deputies, commander of the Parisian national guard
Frederick II, King of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, deceased
Lieutenant General Sir Howard Douglas, third Baronet
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
House of Nassau, Dutch royal family
Sir Charles Bagot, British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at The Hague
Francois Horace Bastien, Comte Sebastiani, French minister for Foreign Affairs
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
Prince Otto, alias Otho, of Bavaria, later Otto I, or Otho I, King of Greece
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Joseph Marie Jean van der Linden, Baron van Hooghvorst, or Hoogvorst, member of the Belgian Congress
Emmanuel Constantin Ghislain van der Linden, Baron van Hooghvorst, or Hoogvorst, commander in chief of the burgher guard in Brussels, and member of the provisional government of Belgium
Maastricht, or Maestricht, Netherlands
Joseph II, deceased, formerly Holy Roman Emperor
Facebook Twitter Stumbleupon Delicious Digg RSS