PP/GC/PO/56 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, regarding Bresson, the French Joint Commissioner, and the election of a sovereign in the Belgian Congress, 3 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 sends a newspaper which reports the result of a very foolish attempt in support of the Prince of Orange made at Ghent. The failure of this attempt and the rain may lead the proposed movement at Brussels also to be cancelled. The proceedings of the Orange party at Antwerp may have decided the Prince's fate. If the details Palmerston has had of the state of things there are correct and the army does not change, there may be a favorable result for the Prince. It will probably seem to Palmerston that the accumulation of troops in and around Antwerp has been procured by the French party hoping to hold the city against any measures England might take to obtain possession of it. Ponsonby is expecting to hear of the election of the Duc de Nemours in half an hour. Bresson and de la Woestine have been at the Congress all day to assure every deputy that the King of the French would accept the nomination. Ponsonby has always believed France would "play us foul". Palmerston of course knows that Talleyrand is disavowed. There will now be an attempt to make it appear that France is justified in violating her engagements, due to the conduct of the English government in the case of the Duke of Leuchtenberg. Palmerston is already acquainted with Ponsonby's conduct up to a certain point. The previous day, he had "a sort of explanation" with Bresson, who solemnly protested that France would be faithful to her engagements if the English kept theirs, and called on Ponsonby to make an official declaration against the Duke of Leuchtenberg and to name some other Prince. Ponsonby expressed the sincere desire of his government to do whatever was agreeable to the King of France and, after discussing various ways of conciliating the differences between them, he promised to examine the question carefully and said he would do everything in his power to satisfy Bresson. Having considered his instructions from Palmerston, he then wrote a letter and note to Bresson, which he encloses. Bresson rejected the letter, saying that it would give rise to suspicion of a plot to favour the Prince of Orange, by excluding at the last minute the other two Princes, and would ensure the election of the Duc de Nemours. Ponsonby believes that that election had already been secured by the menaces of the French agents, and he thought it was "better to avoid giving any additional matter on which chicanery could find a support". Bresson's charge against the English is the failure to make a public, official declaration against the Duke of Leuchtenberg, and Ponsonby's replies to Lebeau's questions. Ponsonby was not ordered to make a declaration, and did not receive orders from Palmerston to do so, even when he had been made fully aware of the situation in Belgium, and Ponsonby could not act on his own authority. The same thing is to be said of the Neapolitan Prince. Ponsonby had no authority to propose him, but said, to Bresson and to others, that if Bresson proposed him, he would declare, on behalf of the English government, their readiness to accept him. Bresson did not give a reason for not proposing the Neapolitan. Ponsonby has strictly obeyed Palmerston's orders, and has made the greatest effort to express the feelings of the English government against the election of the Duke of Leuchtenberg, because he is disagreeable to the King of France, who has promised not to accept the crown for the Duc de Nemours. Ponsonby has spoken strongly against the election of Nemours on grounds quite apart from the desire to do what is agreeable to the King of the French. He has set before many deputies the origins of his nomination, the character of the party which supports him, and the folly of pressing the choice of a man who will not accept the crown, and who cannot keep it if he does. He has also put to them the madness of persevering, as the Congress has done, with the determination to elect one of two persons, either of whom, if chosen, would bring war to Belgium, destroy her independence and ruin her inhabitants. He even told some members, the friends of the Duke of Leuchtenberg, that in pursuing that line of conduct the Congress had made itself responsible for all the evils which must ensue, betrayed its duty to the people, and deserved to be punished as traitors to their country. Ponsonby called on them to take anybody rather than either of those Princes. He made his point with strong conviction, since he has felt the danger of the situation and believes the almost inevitable consequences of the measure will be the destruction of world peace. Unauthorised by the English government and without any Belgian authority to interfere, Ponsonby could not publicly propose to Congress the election of any particular person. "Was it not evident that by so doing, I should violate that principle, which it has been thought right to consecrate: non-intervention ?" Ponsonby is in Belgium in a double capacity, as the minister of the Conference, and does not have authority from that body to take the initiative in anything. Ponsonby hopes the French government is sincere. If it is, nothing that has been done by England should occasion ill will. It was not England, or English agents, who set up Leuchtenberg, but a French party. It is true this party is opposed to the King of the French, but it is still pro-French. It was Ponsonby's duty, when there was no other available alternative, to prefer the Duke of Leuchtenberg to the Duc de Nemours, but he spoke against the Duc de Nemours but never for Leuchtenberg. If Nemours is elected, it will be up to France to show whether she has been sincere or not. If Leuchtenberg is elected and France is sincere, there is no reason for her to go to war to dispossess Leuchtenberg of the crown, which France already knows he will not accept. The fate of Europe rests with France. "The world will not be deceived by flimsy pretexts upon which it is sought to ground the acceptance of an election procur'd, after all, by menaces, and voted by a Congress in opposition to the wishes of the people, as much as to their most obvious interests." Ponsonby is willing to believe in Bresson, even beyond what common sense tells him, but Bresson no longer denies that he has been canvassing for Nemours. He says Ponsonby has been doing the same for Leuchtenberg. Ponsonby claims he has done no more than say he would prefer the devil to the Duc de Nemours. Various facts mark French influence on the provisional government which encourage acts calculated to prepare power for the French in Belgium. Add to these the supplies sent to the fortresses, and Ponsonby cannot but have the strongest doubts of French faith. The intrigue may have been Soult's initially, but it is difficult to believe that the French government is not party to it. When he heard that day that certain members in Congress had used his name, Ponsonby wrote a note to the president of the diplomatic committee saying that no deputy had authority from him to make any declaration whatever to Congress. The reason for doing this was to take away from the French the means to justify their own treachery by asserting that Ponsonby had failed to support them against the Duke of Leuchtenberg. He believed the question of the election itself was settled and nothing he could say or do would affect it. "A French army within three days march of Brussels and plenty of money and promises, scattered amongst a timid and bare set of men, are too powerful means to be combatted by reason or the dictates of common sense. Nothing but the vehemence of party spirit could have produced an effectual resistance, and it has done more than I could have expected as it is." He has just received the account of the election: Nemours, 97; Leuchtenberg, 74; Archduke Charles, 21; making a total of 192. The town is quiet. Ponsonby presumes nobody will dare now to act for the Prince until it is known whether or not France accepts the crown for the Duc de Nemours. "I have a belief you will have a new series of frauds attempted upon you to lead you into compromise." The success of the Orange party, which was easily possible, could have prevented this state of things. The business was badly managed and Ponsonby thinks it is now all over for the Prince. Maastricht has been prevented from receiving provisions. It will fall soon if it is attacked, as it will be, by the French. He encloses a letter from Comte Sebastiani to Bresson which he thinks proves he was correct to resist the attempt to take steps without direct authority from the Conference. Bresson had received his instruction and objected to the communication of the protocol [number twelve] of 27 January. He hopes he will receive orders from Palmerston immediately. He presumes he should not to leave Brussels before they arrive. 3 Feb 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 6 February 1831. Enclosed are: (i) a letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], to Charles Joseph Bresson, [French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium]: he has considered the subject of their conversation carefully and anxiously, and has decided that he is not authorised to do more than he has done, of which Mr Abercrombie will give details. Application was made to the French government concerning the choice of a prince, and what the French government has done has been mainly in consequence of that application. When it was proposed in Congress to entrust that application to London, the proposition was refused. Bresson will see that it is impossible for Ponsonby to make a public demand to the Congress of the sort Bresson desires, without giving grounds for the charge of violating the principle of non-intervention and wounding, to some extent, the dignity of the English government. Nobody can have more at heart than Ponsonby the continuation of friendly relations between the French and English governments. Bresson knows Ponsonby's opinion that the strength and prosperity of the government of the King of the French is in England's interest and his conviction that the nomination of the Duke of Leuchtenberg came from a source hostile to the government of the King of the French. Bresson must believe that Ponsonby sincerely wishes to be able to acquiesce entirely in his desires. Bresson has said that much of the support given to the Duke of Leuchtenberg has been caused by letters drawn up from Ponsonby's answers to certain deputies about the probability of war, from which the members of Congress have been persuaded, in a way Ponsonby does not entirely understand, to believe that England is not sincere in her wish to see the Duke of Leuchtenberg defeated. Ponsonby hopes that a precise and formal, although not official, letter, may be as much use against the Duke as his replies have been used in support of the Duke. He has sent to Bresson a letter which he is willing to have shown to anybody Bresson pleases, but which is not intended publicly for Congress. 2 Feb 1831 (ii) Draft letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], to the Congress at Brussels: since the Congress has nearly finished its efforts to elect a sovereign of Belgium, and has evidently confined its choice to one of two persons, it is necessary to state clearly the consequences of the election of either one of them. If the Duc de Nemours is chosen, the King of the French will be forced to refuse the crown for his son, for, in his wisdom and of his own accord, he has solemnly declared and promised to other kings and states that, in order to maintain peace for France and Europe, he will not permit a measure to take place which would produce an immediate and general war. If the other Prince is chosen, the French Secretary of State has already indicated in an official letter that the French King will consider that choice an act of hostility against himself. The King of the French has every right to object to the election by the Congress of a Belgian sovereign who may be disadvantageous to France, and the British government will be the first to acknowledge that right. It follows that whichever prince the Congress chooses, it must involve Belgium in a war which may extend to the other nations of Europe. 3 Feb 1831 It is noted on the docket that the letter was to be shown privately to members of the Congress, but was never in fact sent. (iii) Letter, in French, from Charles Joseph Bresson, [Joint French Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium], Brussels, to John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby: he has explained to Mr Abercrombie the reasons why he thinks the letter which Ponsonby has shown him would not have the effect that Ponsonby expects, but that, on the contrary, it would be a powerful weapon against his views. Since Ponsonby would not be able to make an official declaration to the Congress, it would be preferable to keep things as they are and to entrust the administration of peace to the wisdom of the two governments. 3 Feb 1831 (iv) Edition of the newspaper, L'EMANCIPATION, printed in French, reporting on the events in Congress on 2 February for the election of a sovereign for Belgium. A phrase from the French newspaper NATIONAL is marked: France needs her frontier of the Rhine and consequently the friendship of the Belgian people. 4 Feb 1831 (v) Printed letter, in French, from Comte Sebastiani, [French Minister for Foreign Affairs], Paris, to Charles Joseph Bresson [French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium]: if, as Sebastiani hopes, Bresson has not already communicated the protocol of 27 January to the Belgian government, he should prevent such a communication taking place, because the government of the [French] King has in no way adhered to its arrangements. In the question of the debts, as in the question of the fixing of the extent and limits of the Belgian and Dutch territories, the French have always understood that the co-operation and free consent of the two states were necessary. The London Conference is a mediating body ["mediation"], and the intention of the [French] King's government is for it never to lose this character. 1 Feb 1831
Eight 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
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
Ghent, Antwerp, Belgium
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Charles Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Charles Anatole Alexis, Marquis de la Woestine
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
August Charles Eugene Napoleon, Duke of Leuchtenberg, Prince of Eichstadt
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau
Charles Ferdinand, Prince of Capua, brother of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies
London Conference on Belgian independence
Marshal Nicholas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duc de Dalmatie, French Minister of War
Prince Karl of Bavaria
Francois Horace Bastien, Comte Sebastiani, French Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Baron Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
Belgium: the press; newspapers
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