PP/GC/PO/55 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the elections for sovereign in the Belgian Congress, 1 February 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 received the previous day Palmerston's letter of 29 January and protocols twelve and thirteen. He continued to hope until late that day that the movement against the Congress could be prevented, but he has heard that it will definitely take place the following day or the day after. It seems that the ringleaders are known and the police are searching for one of them, who is hidden near the city, so delay is considered dangerous. The plan is to turn out the Congress by force, declare the independence of the [Brabant] province and invite the other provinces to join it. Ponsonby thinks his informant is deeply implicated in the plot, and tried to persuade him of the unfortunate consequences of the plan. In the first place, it would be "playing the game of their adversaries", who intended to move to Liege, should the Congress be broken up by force, and assume the title and powers of the National Assembly there. It would also grant an instrument to the French, which might be used against the perpetrators of the movement. Furthermore, it would dissolve the national body politic and destroy the effect of the acknowledgement of the independence of Belgium, and with it France's obligations to the other great powers concerning Belgium. It would give a pretext to France and to the Walloon provinces to unite those provinces with France, with a strong semblance of legality. "..... if it was impossible to adopt the wiser policy of waiting for the operation of causes evidently rapidly advancing the interests of the Prince of Orange towards a complete triumph, it would be necessary to make the measures of force, adopted by his friends, innoxious to the integrity of the King and to the security of peace, for which so much labour had been employed. That for these purposes care ought to summon another immediately, assuming in the mean time, into the hands of the prevailing party, the authority of the whole state and exercising the right of general government, so as to avoid giving to others a title to any authority whatever." Ponsonby urged many such things and convinced the informant of the justice of his views, and he set off immediately to induce some influential people to reconsider. Besides these violent proceedings, which may be successful, the Orange party has the best chance of success. Ponsonby encloses a letter from a very trustworthy person which Palmerston will find extremely important. He will not mention his name at present, but will let Palmerston know later. A person known to Palmerston is to go to Antwerp the following day, intending to sort out the difficulty which has so far prevented the chief person mentioned in the letter from acting. Ponsonby does not know whether he will manage it. "The whole Belgian army is animated by a violent zeal against France." Nobody will hear of the Neapolitan Prince [as Belgian sovereign], but Ponsonby has persuaded a member [of Congress] to prepare a motion for the following day for the repeal of the act of decheance. It is hoped that he may get thirty or forty deputies to sign the motion before it is presented to the speaker. This is the only thing Ponsonby has been able to do by way of a diversion. "The task you have assigned me is, I fear, inexecutable. I am to resist Nemours at all risks, and I am to oppose Leuchtenberg, and no third candidate will be accepted and the Congress has to vote." Ponsonby is not satisfied with what Palmerston says about the sincerity of the French government, or of their professions. Palmerston's letter is dated 29 [January], but Bresson and La Woestine must have had later instructions from Paris. On the morning of 31 [January], they were still soliciting votes for the Duc de Nemours and affirming that he would accept the crown if chosen by the Congress. There is something very suspicious in these proceedings. Bresson says that he has only asked for votes for anybody except the Duke of Leuchtenberg, but there is no other candidate besides Nemours. When Bresson talked of Ponsonby's support of Leuchtenberg, it was said that Ponsonby asked only for the election of anyone other than Nemours and that he had not promised to recognise Leuchtenberg. Ponsonby has seen Leuchtenberg and hopes they are on as good terms as need be. He has not said anything to indicate his suspicion of Bresson. The source for Ponsonby's information on the numbers of French troops was the statement of de la Woestine. To add to the information about the provisioning of Liege, not one fortress towards the French frontiers has been victualled or in any way prepared. The speeches in the Congress made by Bresson's particular friends assume that Nemours will accept the crown. Ponsonby has agreed with Bresson to present the two protocols to the diplomatic committee the following day. Ponsonby is not sure if this is correct, after the protest made that day against the last protocol, but he thinks, as Palmerston seems to do, that it is no longer appropriate to value what is said or done in Congress as highly as the opinion created amongst the "sensible part" of the public. When the time comes, Ponsonby will reply to any remarks made about the Conference having come to a decision about the debt in the manner prescribed. He told Bresson he could not see any reason for the extreme measure of declaring war if Leuchtenberg were elected, since he would not accept the crown, as the French government knew. If he did accept, none of the other powers would support him against the wishes of the King of France, and therefore Leuchtenberg could not continue to be sovereign and no mischief could happen to France. "This declaration is a manifest breach of the principle of non-intervention, and affords a fine example of French consistency." Ponsonby knows O'Connel has been in touch, on the subject of Catholic power in Ireland, with Count Robiano, who is a "violent bigot" and is now governor of the city of Antwerp for the Belgian government. "This is not the first time that, to my knowledge, the intrigues of the priesthood have been managed through this country with Ireland." It is possible that something could be discovered on this subject, and Ponsonby has taken steps to try to obtain information. It is assumed that the election will be over on Thursday [3 February] and that Nemours will be chosen by a very small minority. Ponsonby is not so sure it will finish so soon, nor of the result. He will try his best to give another turn to affairs. "Your lordship must excuse the hasty manner of my letters. I have not time to breath hardly, as I have to converse twelve hours a day with deputies and others." Van der Weyer has taken a strong pro-French stance. 1 Feb 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 4 February 1831. Palmerston's letter of 29 January to which Ponsonby alludes is numbered PP/GC/PO/629. Enclosed is a letter from an unnamed informant to John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium]: [Transcript] [f.7r] "Shortly after my return to this city, I took an opportunity of seeing the Chief \ Military / here, with a view to sound him as well as for regularity['s] sake, to acquaint him of my intention to see the governor of the castle. Our conversation turned upon the proceedings in Congress; he ask'd my opinion in presence of his father in law the British ?Tar and his wife. I told him that I had every reason to fear that his country would soon become a province of France or be overcome by that nation in their pursuit of conquest. He avowed sincere regret and his sincere determination to oppose such views; without offering advice, I was told by the three present, that nothing [f.7v] deterred him from open avowal and putting himself at the head of the army for the cause of Prince William except the apprehension that in the event of a failure, however improbable, he would leave his family destitute, which was the more to be guarded against because he had already in consequence of the revolution lost a great deal by the decline in the value of landed property in this country. I ought to state that in this part of the conversation ?Mr[s] V. and I took the greater share. He only ascribed as to willingness, nay the necessity, and it was admitted by all that he had not only the whole of the army in this province under his control but that he was sure of directing those stationed at Namur, Louvain, Mons etc. This interview convinced me that he was ready to take a [f.8r] most active and valuable part in the business, provided a sum was secured to him, what he ?elected for his family. I also learnt from him that there * volunteer * were about 13,000 men principally regular troops in this province, that Gen[era]l N. was sent here as chief commander of all the troops, but that he still held the command of the province, that Gen[era]l K. was here with part of his artillery and volunteers and express'd himself openly last night in a coffeetto as a partizan and determined defender of Prince William's cause. I, after this interview, went to the governor of the castle where health was painted on the cheeks of everyone and the assurance given to me on this subject confirm what I told your lordship. [At this point, Ponsonby has added in the margin: "Viz. The healthiness of the citadel"] The ?old gaoler was aware of what was going on, he knew that the major (who incidentely went to Brussels the same day I did) was eagerly engaged in the cause. He assured me that with about 3,000 to 3,500 men which were under his command in the fort, he had nothing to fear [f.8v] even during a hard frost, as the ice is regularly broke, besides, the letting in and out of the water by the sluices effects the constant circulation thereof, the \ 9 / gunboats and a large armed steamboat affords a very effectual \ additional / force. He express'd his firm belief in the sincerity of the chief's professions and that by insuring to him his rank and a sum of money to his family he would be able to give a powerfull assistance by the whole of the army here while he (the governor) was of my opinion that he and his men, for fear of giving umbrage, should only remain lookers on and keep within the walls for fear of raising * the * any idea that his nation intended to reconquer. He felt alive at the idea that Prince William's sudden appearance here, onboard of a British steamer with the British and Belgic colours flying, surrounded or met by some determined friends, and the army here would at once carry the [f.9r] point and make success certain. He equally agreed with me in opinion that, should the French advance or active measures be determined upon by our governement, that a few vessels of war and 10,000 men would at once place this city, and the whole of this country, in a state of perfect security against all aggressions. After these interviews, I felt anxious to see the major also, who it appears only visited your city with a view to regulate matters with the committee. He, upon a hint given, called upon me this evening; he is a cool, determined man, perfectly devoted to the service. His report confirms what Mr W. stated to me, and which I reported to you, as to strength of the party and as far as regarded the \ pecuniary / means, he considered them still more \ effectual / than what I learnt when at B[russels]. The chief here he considered ready [f.9v] and devoted but, being a person rather in embarassing circumstances, required some pecuniary inducement to come at once forward. To manage this and to fixe at once the determination, it is intended by the Prince's party here to appoint within 3 or 4 days a meeting in the country; probably, however, the chief will require * sincere * security as to reward than promises on the part of the committee here. How could that be managed ? For my own part, I must decline to have anything directly to do with it. Was the major again to visit your city, had your lordship any objections to see him ? I might, without reference to any matter, give him a \ sealed / letter with a seal such as I have affixed to this. I shall be happy to hear from your lordship by return and be made acquainted should anything of importance have occured since I left. If it were possible, I should wish to have an exact copy of the protocoll of the 20th ins[tan]t or any paper containing the exact report thereof, as I doubt the exactness of what the COURIER DE PAYS BAS has produced. * Here * The merchants in this city appear alarmed that the free navigation of the Rhine and Meuse menti[oned in the] protocole only extend from the sea [.....]ture rivers and does not secure [.....] country the free navigation from the [.....] by the inland waters, viz. by ?Batz, [.....] up to Dordt, Rotterdam and Nymwegen into the Rhine, which I insist is secured to them free of duties. I should be glad if I had your lordship's opinion and authority on this important point." n.d. Jan 1831 Part of the final folio of the letter has been torn away by the removal of the seal.
Five papers
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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
Charles Ferdinand, Prince of Capua, brother of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Charles Anatole Alexis, Marquis de la Woestine
August Charles Eugene Napoleon, Duke of Leuchtenberg, Prince of Eichstadt
Liege, Antwerp, Namur, Louvain, Mons, Belgium
London Conference on Belgian independence
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Daniel O'Connell, alias O'Connel, Irish nationalist, Member of Parliament for County Waterford
Count Robiano, governor of the city of Antwerp for the Belgian government
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
The Netherlands; press; newspapers; journalism
River Rhine, Germany: communication, trade
River Meuse, alias Maas, France, Belgium, Netherlands: communication, trade
Rotterdam; Nymwegen, or Nijmegen; Dordt, or Dordrecht, Netherlands
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