PP/GC/PO/63 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the Prince of Orange and Charles of Naples as candidates for the Belgian throne, 12 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: [Transcript] "Monsieur Bresson communicated to me today a letter from Comte Sebastiani containing the following paragraph: `Lord P. reconnaitra sans doubte, je le pense, que l'election de P[rince] d'Orange est maintenant plus impossible que jamais et que tout fait une loi d'y renoncer absolument a dont les representants des grandes puissances a Paris semblent etre persuades egalement * puisque ..... * \ puis ce que / ils paraissent etre d'accord avec nous sur l'idee de placer un autre prince sur le trone de la Belgique - Charles de Naples.' [Lord P. will recognise, I think, that the election of the Prince of Orange is now more impossible than ever and that everything points to the need to renounce him absolutely, about which the representatives of the great powers at Paris seem to be equally persuaded, since they seem to be in agreement with us on the idea to put another Prince on the throne of Belgium: Charles of Naples.] The letter contained the expression of the hope that I would sincerely (or some word nearly equivalent) co-operate with Monsieur Bresson in bringing about [f.1v] the election of Charles; and Monsieur Bresson asked what answer he should give to Comte Sebastiani. I replied that my answer was precisely that which was contained in the letter which Lord Granville had written to Sebastiani of which Monsieur B[resson] then shewd me a copy, and that I would communicate what he had told me to my government. I added that I did not comprehend perfectly the meaning of Sebastiani's expression, `que l'election de P[rince] d'Orange est plus impossible que jamais et que tout fait une loi d'y renoncer absolument,' that I did not know whether the sentence was intended to convey the idea that the election was to be opposed, or that it meant merely the enunciation of an opinion as to a fact; that for my part, I had very publickly avowed my opinion, that the P[rince] of O[range] afforded the best means whereby to escape from the difficulties we had * [illegible] * had to encounter; that I had freely said, the members of [f.2r] the Conference would have seen with pleasure the election fall upon the Prince and that beyond the expression of that sentiment ( \ a sentiment / to which Prince Talleyrand had concurr'd) neither my government nor the Conference had moved a single step; that my government had always desired to do everything in its power to arrange matters here so as to please the King of the French, and that he, Bresson, will know my private opinion; that it was the interest of us all to strengthen, rather than to weaken, the present French government. Monsieur Bresson informed me that he had asked to be recalled and expected an answer from Paris immediately. He is evidently extremely mortified and depressed by the failure of his attempts. The protocol which was refused by the President and members of the Comite for F[oreign] A[ffairs] has found its way into the newspapers. You may perhaps see, if you read the debates in Congress, that Monsieur Nothomb stated that he had sent a copy of it to the Belgian deputation at Paris. I thought myself justified in consequence to give a copy to one of the deputies of Congress, who shewd it to others and at last it found its way into the papers. Speaking of this protocole, [f.2v] Monsieur Bresson said, that if he had had to act, he should have kept it back, thinking it more respectful to the K[ing] of the French to do so, in consideration of the fact that a deputation from hence was actually at Paris to which the K[ing] ought to be left to give his own answer. I replied, first that my orders to deliver it were precise; next that the beginning of the protocole, which part alone ?directly concerned the King, was the work of the P[rince] de Talleyrand, the King's own ambassador, who I could not presume to imagine had done that which was disrespectful to his sovereign; that the protocole was signed, as manifested by its date, after it was known in London that the Belgian deputation was to be in Paris immediately. Consequently, I could not see in what way I had been in the smallest degree wanting in respect to the King of France in executing the instructions I had received from the Conference. With respect to the Neapolitan Prince, I told him I had already for several days past spoken of him [f.3r] to many persons as the Prince France would, as it were, propose, and to whose election England would not object, but everybody laughed at the idea of having him for King. He said he also was laughed at when he mentioned him. I have this moment received a copy of the letter from Monsieur Surlet de Chokier in which he speaks of the intentions of France or her opinions regarding the election of the P[rince] of Orange in a measure to convey to the world here a sense very different from that which is fairly to be drawn from Sebastiani's letter as it was communicated to me and cited above. The President, Surlet's, letter has given people here to understand that all the five powers will oppose the establishment of the P[rince] in Belgium. I have already had many visitors to demand from me an explanation of the intentions of England: whether England will oppose, will resist, will refuse to recognize the Prince if he should obtain the government of Belgium. I have replied that England was ready [f.3v] to agree to the election of the Neapolitan if he should be chosen by Belgium; that I had no instructions to say England was adverse to the choice of the Prince of Orange; that England had, in common with the other four powers, as represented in the Conference of London, been of opinion that the choice of the P[rince] of Orange for sovereign of Belgium offered the best means of arriving at a beneficial arrangement, that they would see him with pleasure chosen by Belgium, but that none of the powers had or would interfere in any way with the choice of the Belgians excepting in so far as that choice evidently menaced some of the great interests of those powers; that, since the time when I had begun to declare the sentiments of the great powers, as above expressed with relation to the P[rince] of Orange, it appeared that the French government had changed its opinion and was now adverse to the P[rince] of Orange, but that I had no ground for saying that the opinion either [f.4r] of England, or the other three great powers, had undergone any change in that respect; that I for my part did not give credit to any letter or assertion which stated the French King or his government to have declared that it would oppose, by any stronger means than by manifesting an opinion on the subject, the choice of P[rince] of Orange and still less could I believe that England and the other powers had consented to oppose the choice of the P[rince] or of anybody else by measures that amounted in fact to force and were evidently in violation of the principle of non-intervention, and attacks upon the independence of Belgium. I was told that Monsieur le Comte de Celles had written from Paris saying that England had promised to resist the election of the P[rince] of Orange and also to support the Neapolitan Prince and his marriage with a princess of France. I replied that I suspected the Comte de Celles was still occupied in deceiving his countrymen and that gave no [f.4v] credit to him, though part of what he said might be nearly true. I am informed the priests are not unlikely to be active for the Neapolitan Prince. I forgot to mention that de Celles has written to comfort his French friends here, saying that the choice of Neapolitan Prince is precisely the same thing as the choice of Nemours. It is very important, in my opinion, to destroy the belief entertained (as it seems from Lord Granville's letters) by the K[ing] of the F[rench] that Belgium desires a French prince, and is likely to be dissatisfied, nay, thrown into rebellion and anarchy, by the refusal of Nemours. The contrary is the truth. Nothing is less like sorrow than the expression here of feeling by the people on that refusal, and as to rebellion, it is likely enough, but it will be against the provisional government because they are universally believed to have betrayed Belgium to France. [f.5r] The provisional \ government / is in the greatest alarm. They know they cannot depend upon any support from the civic guard. The army is against them and chiefly for the P[rince] of O[range]. Their party in Congress (all bought by places) is diminishing daily and universal contempt is their lot. The Baron d'Hooghvorst, commander in chief of the civic guard, has this day resigned his situation as member of the provisional government, which will probably add to the consternation of Monsieur Van de Weyer and co. This gentleman talked big words to the brother of the General, saying he would put on his blouse and try what force could do, to which the other replied he would do as much and it would remain to be proved who was the strongest. My little Van [de Weyer] grew shorter and shorter, and cooler and cooler, and got away as fast as he could. Monsieur Le Beau has proposed to Congress to elect a L[i]eu[tenan]t of the Kingdom and he means to name le Prince de Ligne for that place. Le Beau seems [f.5v] to have two ends in view, one to overturn the present men, the other to exclude the P[rince] of O[range] who he fears, and perhaps he may have a third, viz to keep down republican measures. This last, however, is unnecessary for there are hardly to be found a dozen republicans in the country. I have had no answer to my note about Maestricht. The newspapers endeavour to hold me up as an instrument of the Orange party. I necessarily am detested by those who have been foiled in their attempt to make Belgium a French province. I may as well tell you what [MS "that"] I have thought it right to endeavour to do. I have in the first place procured information to be sent to the [f.6r] French newspapers respecting the true state of public opinion in Belgium, and explaining the intrigues by which Monsieur de Celles and others have endeavoured to deceive Louis Philippe and this government and the Prussian people in that subject, praising the good intentions, at the same time, of the King himself and of his government, and shewing also the necessity for a change of men here, if it be wish'd to preserve general peace [MS "peacce"], which they have already placed in extreme danger by their intrigues and are sure at last to destroy if continued in possession of the executive authority in Belgium. I cannot say strongly enough to you how convinced I am that those men of whom I speak will produce war or the greatest mischief, if they are suffered to hold their places. They are desperate men in fortune and in character. They keep office solely through the total want of energy and habits of slavish submission which prevail in this country and the exercise of their means of bribery, by which they gain a set of adherents who vociferate in their favor, and obtain little nets of [f.6v] vagabonds who are sent to menace the editors of the newspapers with the destruction of their houses if they dare to oppose the ruling power. The government is as far as it has power, a government of terror. Happily, the government is almost as weak as it is despicable. I hope you will approve of * the ..... * my abstaining from sending the protocole to the President. Its publication in the way it got out to the world produced all the effect you could have desire[d] from it and did a great deal of good. It was necessary to support our friends here who opposed the designs of the French party and they desired the measure. I think I even now say the French party is as low as the fears entertained of French power will permit it to fall, and that England is as high in general esteem as can be desired. I have already said enough of the situation of the Orange party. I expect every hour to hear of some movement at Antwerp. I feel convinced, if it be made there by the troops, that it [f.7r] will be followed here almost unanimously and I disbelieve very much that anything like civil war will be its consequence. This people is anything but a fighting generation. The Walloon towns, if excited by France, may take some steps, and offer to unite themselves to that country, but surely if F[rance] has refused the crown, she may well refuse to accept of stolen goods. The sole risk, as I consider the thing, is, that some mobs may come from the French frontier towns to those cities, but I well know a French mob of Jacobins will instantly do acts to render the presence of such friends intolerable and they may be sent off with ease and general consent. Unless the King of the French be really deceived by lying de Celles and others, the French government can have no honest motive for the [f.7v] exclusion of the Prince of Orange or attempting to keep him out forcibly. Charles de Naples and a French p[rince]ss are the same as Nemours." [Postscript]: "The letter of Monsieur Surlet de Chokier is to be found in the enclosed newspaper [not present] and there are also some other things in it you may like to see. I beg you will always bear in mind that everything I say respecting the success of the P[rince] of O[range] is to be construed with a continued regard on your part to the undeniable cowardice of the various parties, including Orangists, of this country. That which would be certain, if contemplated only, as it possesses elements of force, may be quite the reverse when depending upon the deeds of men such as we have here. [f.8r] Pray send me precise instruction as to what I am to do and say about the Neapolitan and about the P[rince] of O[range], and particularly in the contemplation of the success of attempt of any movement in his favor." 12 Feb 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 16 February 1831.
Four papers, tied together with blue ribbon
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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 Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
Francois Horace Bastien, Comte Sebastiani, French Minister for Foreign Affairs
Charles Ferdinand, Prince of Capua, brother of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
Granville Leveson Gower, first Viscount Granville, later first Earl Granville, British ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary at Paris
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
London Conference on Belgian independence
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Jean Baptiste Nothomb, member of the Committee for Foreign Relations of the provisional government of Belgium
Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier, President of the Belgian Congress
Antoine Charles Fiacre, Comte de Wisher de Celles, Vice President of the Committee for Foreign Relations of the provisional government of Belgium
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Emmanuel Constantin Ghislain van der Linden, Baron van Hooghvorst, or Hoogvorst, commander in chief of the burgher guard in Brussels
Sylvain van der Weyer, member of the provisional government of Belgium, President of the Committee for Foreign Relations
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau
Eugene Lamoral, Prince de Ligne, Prince d'Amblise et d'Epinoy
Maastricht, Netherlands
Belgium: newspapers; the press
Antwerp, Belgium
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