PP/GC/PO/47 Letter to Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the Duke of Leuchtenberg and connections between Belgium and France, 23 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: [Transcript] "You have in your possession the faithful detail of all I have done, said, or thought since my arrival here, and you have most truly rebutted Sebastiani's allegations against. If it could be necessary to give you additional proofs, Mr Abercrombie has been acquainted with everything I did or even have thought of doing, and he can furnish them. Of Mons[ieu]r Bresson's conduct, if he be the source from whence Comte Sebastiani draws his information, I will only say that he proves himself to be a Frenchman. De Celles, whose character need not be stated, has, I have no doubt, been active in spreading all manner of falshoods respecting this country, and it is to his reports, possibly, that the change in the opinion of Louis Philippe (if change there be) is to be mainly attributed. [f.1v] De Celles has always been acting against the independence of his country. One of his old co- adjutors, now his enemy, Mon[sieu]r de Beau, told me that when Otto was proposed by de Celles and Bresson, the former said Otton is only intended as the means for uniting Belgium to France. It will be easy at the proper time to make him a French peer and marshal, and give him some money and get rid of him. To another person he said, "Otto is but a feather which the least wind from France will blow away". It may be difficult to say precisely who was the first to propose Otto, de Celles or Bresson. I was inclined to think Bresson had been led into it by de Celles, but the danger is quite clear and I will not determine whether he was the dupe or something else. Col[onel] ?Delavastime, a near relative of Comte de Celles, came here from Paris with renewed instructions to the friends of France enjoying the rejection of the Duc de Leuchtenburgh and, having consulted with Messrs de Rogier and Gendebien, he returned to Paris to propose to the King in their name to consent to the [f.2r] nomination of the Duc de Nemours to the sovereignty and to endeavour to obtain the agreement of England to his election by offering language that he shall abdicate when any other proper settlement can be made, and that England shall, as a security, garrison the city of Antwerp with her troops, the citadel to be destroyed and the town declared a free port. The Colonel is to return on the 26th with a reply to this fine proposal. Mon[sieu]r Bresson received a despatch from his gov[ernmen]t * of * \ with / which he did not acquaint me. It contained a strong declaration against the election of the D[uc] de Leuchtenburgh, and was communicated this morning to Congress, where it was received with the most violent clamor and disapprobation. I was not present, but I am told that many members spoke openly of the design of France to prevent every settlement of the affairs of Belgium likely to be permanent, with the intention of keeping the country in a state to render it an easy prey whenever France sh[oul]d be ready to sieze upon it. The anger in Congress \ was such [added in pencil, ?in another hand] / that an [f.2v] immediate election was with difficulty avoided. The election still remains fixed for the 28th, but it may be forced on sooner. I have done everything to defeat Leuchtenburgh. It might be in my power to carry his election. Mons[ieu]r Le Beau, the proposer of the Duc de L[euchtenburgh] called on me today to ask for information concerning the feelings of England upon the subject. He went into a long statement of the case. He said that the Duc was proposed in a spirit of hostility against France; that the party attached to the independence of Belgium brought him forward as a means for saving the country from France; that the clergy joined in the plan for the same reason; that Leuchtenburgh being elected against the will of France could expect no support but from the Belgians; that if war be inevitable; it must be the interest of England, Prussia, and Austria to have Belgium on their side rather [f.3r] than against them; that if Belgium be decreed as a barriere by the great powers against France, it will be their interest to encrease in due time her strength; that under Leuchtenb[u]r[gh], she will prove herself an ?effective barrier because she will, at the same time that she has mortally offended the French government by her choice, have also united the greatest parties amongst the people, in one interest adverse to France; that it is an error to believe the Bonaparte family would obtain in Belgium any power to prosecute ambitious projects; that he and his friends were ready to obtain a law prohibiting the presence of any member of that family in Belgium and to carry fully into effect the provision, in the constitution which renders all foreigners incapable of filling any offices civil or military, excepting professorships in [f.3v] universities, etc.; that he was confident the K[ing] of France will not dare to * make * undertake a war to dethrone the Duc de L[euchtenburgh] unless the British gov[ernme]nt shall concur in it; that sh[oul]d the attempt be made, the people of France would within eight days destroy the French ministry, and that Belgium would unite with the new gov[ernme]nt and throw herself and her fortresses into the arms of France, taking her chance for the result; that as to the Prince of Orange, he could not afford the means to the great powers of getting out of existing difficulties, because his restoration was opposed by all those who have taken part against his family and whose existence must be endangered and all the advantages they now engaged, be destroyed by his return; that rather than permit it, they would at once submit unconditionally to France. Mons[ieu]r le Beau, I must here observe, is [f.4r] a philosopher, as he calls himself, though by others called a Jacobin. I replied to complementing him upon the perspicacity of his statements and arguments, and admitted that it was a commonly rec[eiv]ed fact that every Frenchman coveted Belgium and would endeavour when time answered to sieze upon it; that, however, there were no grounds to suppose the existing French government entertained the design of carrying into effect any measures for that purpose; that I was unable to give an answer to his question: What would England do ? Beyond this, viz. that England was a party to the common engagement taken by the five great powers to concur in disapproving of the election to the sovereignty of Belgium of any prince or person who sh[oul]d be displeasing to any of the parties; that England would act in conformity with their engagement and in perfect good faith; that neither Engl[and] nor the Conference had interfered further than in conformity with the above stated [f.4v] agreement in the choice of a sovereign; that England, in common with the other powers, had been of opinion that the choice of Belgium of the P[rince] of Orange would afford the best means of a secure and advantageous settlement for Belgium; that I did not conceal that opinion, but it was no more than an opinion which everyone had a right to form and to express; that there was no intention anywhere of doing anything more unless the agreement sh[oul]d be violated by some of the parties, but if Belgium on any account whatever sh[oul]d become united to or dependent upon France, a universal war would be the inevitable and immediate consequence; that I had no instruction authorizing me to do more than report to my gov[ernme]nt what I heard and that I would communicate what he has so ably [f.5r] stated respecting his views of the situation of his country and its effects upon the rest of Europe; that if the election of Leuchten[burg]h took place, Belgium must be prepared to encounter the extreme displeasure of France, and also the suspicion that it may have been brought about by the agency of that French party which is at the same time endeavouring to overthrow the existing order of things in France, that is the ultra democratic party; that it was for him to judge what would be the conduct of the other powers if their suspicion sh[oul]d take something of a stronger character. I asked him if the election could not be deferred beyond the 28th. He said it was impossible; that as to the choice of Leuchtenburgh being the measure of the French party, it was a mistake, it was purely the work of the independent Belgian party. [f.5v] I have now to say that I am told there is a tolerable chance that Leuch[tenburgh] may not be chosen. The proposal of the Duc has undoubtedly been a severe blow to the interests of the P[rince] of Orange. I am still, however, of opinion that his party is extremely strong. I know that de Celles has been writing letter after letter from Paris directing his friends here to attack the Orange party at all risks and expressing his alarm at its progress. He is well informed of what is doing here. Does de Celles deceive the French gov[ernme]nt or are they his accomplices when they say to you the P[rince] of O[range] has no chance here ? Sebastiani at least has obviously hazarded an assertion respecting Aachen which gives occasion to doubt his sincerity. [f.6r] There are at the moment petitions signing in Brussels for the Prince. I hear that Ghent and Antwerp are as strongly as ever for him. I also hear that a rising in his favor is likely and in corroboration I will mention in strict confidence that I have just heard from the Baron Joseph d'Hooghvorst. He told me that a respectable man had desired him to influence his brother, the Commander in Chief, to prevent the civil guard firing upon the people, adding that if a shot was fired, the General's life sh[oul]d pay for it. Mons[ieu]r Joseph replied that he sh[oul]d never ?bear any attack upon his brother, but that care sh[oul]d be taken that the guard sh[oul]d not fire unless attempt were made to deprive them of their arms, but if that was attempted, the most vigourous measures would be adopted. The man said there sh[oul]d be no such attempt. The Baron asked when the movement was likely to take place. He declined [f.6v] telling him but promised to apprize him of it previous to the day. In the course of conversation, the Baron told me he meditated resigning his seat if the Duc de L[euchtenburgh] sh[oul]d be chosen and that perhaps more than 20 deputies would take the same step. I objected to it as diminishing the sound party in Congress. He said it was intended to be follow[e]d up by decisive measures, that he would accompany his resignation with a declaration to the people of his motives which sh[oul]d expose then his opinion of the prov[isiona]l gov[ernmen]t and Congress, that the resignation would produce an election in Brussels and be the occasion for some popular movement against the gov[ernmen]t and Congress, that he was certain the P[rince] of O[range] could not be restored whilst the present Congress was sitting and the provisional gov[ernme]nt existed. He observed that Ghent was nearly unanimously for the Prince and the whole number of the deputies were * against him * [f.7r] his most bitter enemies, that the same thing may be said of other places and that a new Congress would probably truly represent public opinion. It has been urged that the Prince sh[oul]d declare that he would leave his son at liberty to chuse his religion in order to conciliate the clergy who may be now adverse to him and to please the people generally. I hope you will immediately send me instructions how to act if the Duc de L[euchtenburgh] shall be elected. I hear M[onsieu]r Bresson intends to leave Brussels instantly. I shall wait for your orders. The more I hear of what has passed at Paris, and see what has been doing here, the more I suspect the designs of the French. It seems as if the King might be either bullied or seduced into war. No proposition has yet been made [f.7v] for a federative republic. The gov[ernme]nt will certainly not send at the moment instructions to Van der Weyer about the debt. They will do nothing before the election and I think I may venture to postpone the execution of your orders till then. I will send the official accounts of the hindrance to the fishing, etc. I have already stated my opinions about the P[rince] of O[range] coming to Antwerp. It would have been fortunate, I think, if he could have appeared before * [illegible] * this nomination of Leuchtenburgh but perhaps the influence of that measure upon the prospects of the Prince may be much overated, and I still think it is well worth while to make a trial of some active means in pursuit of the crown. At the same time I hesitate to give advice at [f.8r] this point, and wish to wait for some more positive knowledge than I now have. Comte d'Aerschot told me that the volunteers had obeyed the order for their retreat from before Maastricht. I have been obliged to pass the night in writing this. I hope you will excuse it and me too for wanting eyes and strength to read it over." 23 Jan 1831 The letter is marked: "Private". It is noted on the docket that the letter was received on 26 January 1831. Several words and phrases have been underlined for emphasis; the paragraph referring to Comte d'Aerschot has been marked with a large pencil cross.
Four papers, tied with a 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
Francois Horace Bastien, Comte Sebastiani, French Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Earl Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
Antoine Charles Fiacre, Comte de Wisher de Celles, Vice President of the Committee for Foreign Relations of the provisional government of Belgium
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, alias le Beau
Prince Otto, alias Otho, of Bavaria, later Otto I, or Otho I, King of Greece
Charles Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Colonel Delavastime
August Charles Eugene Napoleon, Duke of Leuchtenberg, or Leuchtenburgh
Charles Latour Rogier, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Alexandre Gendebien, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Antwerp, Ghent, Belgium
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
Aachen, or Aix la Chapelle, Prussia, later Germany
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
Philippe Jean Michel, Comte d'Arschot Schoonhoven, alias Aerschot, Vice President of the diplomatic committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Facebook Twitter Stumbleupon Delicious Digg RSS