PP/GC/PO/65 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, reporting a conversation with Bresson about English and French support for prospective candidates for the Belgian throne, 15 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 Palmerston's letter of 12 February the previous night. He spoke to Van der Weyer that day about the protocols. Van der Weyer says he will present them to Congress. Ponsonby still has to discover whether or not Bresson will act with him in this. His conversation with Bresson that morning was interrupted before he had an opportunity of asking him the question, and he has now sent to ask about it. Bresson received despatches during the night from Paris which brought him Sebastiani's full approbation of all he has done in Belgium, and that day he has been looking for a house, in order to establish himself permanently in Brussels. The abridged version of Ponsonby's conversation with Bresson that morning is as follows: Bresson said that he had been directed by Sebastiani to tell Ponsonby that the British government had expressed its desire for Prince Charles of Naples [as Belgian sovereign] and that Ponsonby should cease to make any effort on behalf of the Prince of Orange. Bresson wished to know if Ponsonby was ready to co-operate with him in protecting and furthering the election of Prince Charles, saying that Sebastiani wanted them to act together. Ponsonby replied that, with due respect to Sebastiani, he could not believe that the British government could have said that they wanted to see an end to the efforts on their part and on Ponsonby's for the Prince of Orange, since it would be strange to want to end something which had never begun. Bresson observed that Ponsonby had stated that the wishes of the Conference were favorable to the Prince of Orange, and that Lord Palmerston and Lord Grey had said the same things in London to Van der Weyer. Ponsonby pointed out that Bresson knew that Ponsonby had told many people, including Bresson himself, that, in the opinion of the Conference, including Prince Talleyrand, the Prince of Orange provided the best chance of escape from the difficulties in Belgium, provided that the Belgians wished to elect him, which was expressed as a condition. Ponsonby believed that nothing could be fairer. For some time, everyone had known that France was opposed to the Prince of Orange, and since then, Ponsonby had not said a word about the wishes of France as stated by her ambassador. He had no authority to take any steps in favour of any prince, either Neapolitan or of the House of Nassau, although he was instructed to say, and had already said, "My government had no objection to Charles of Naples, and would of course consent to his election". Bresson asked whether Ponsonby had instructions to co-operate with him in procuring the election of Charles, to which Ponsonby replied he had none. He then asked Ponsonby whether he would write to the British government on the subject. Ponsonby agreed and observed that Van der Weyer had asserted that the Conference, with the exception of the Russian plenipotentiary, had decided to co-operate with France in presenting to Belgium the Neapolitan Prince, and excluding the Prince of Orange. Van der Weyer claimed this assertion was based on the public letter of the President, Surlet de Chokier. Ponsonby observed that the assertion differed totally from the meaning of the letter from Sebastiani, which Bresson had communicated to Ponsonby. Bresson agreed, but said it was "only an inaccuracy of these people". Ponsonby pointed out that this "inaccuracy" had formed the ground of action by the government and had applied to the Conference sentiments and language which had never been held. Ponsonby had already contradicted it loudly and would continue to do so, until he was instructed otherwise. Bresson claimed that Ponsonby had expressed an opinion of the Prince of Orange's chance of success and had therefore encouraged his party. Ponsonby replied that his business was to inform his government of the truth as far as he knew it, and that in his opinion the Prince's party was ten times stronger than any other. The [British government] did not give support to any Prince and did not intend to violate the principle of non-intervention by attempting to impose anybody on Belgium for sovereign. Bresson said that opposing the Prince of Orange was not a breach of non-intervention, because he had been excluded by the legal vote of Congress. Ponsonby replied that by the principles established in France, the legality of the exclusion was out of the question, as every people had a right to revolt against existing government and set up any other agreeable to their wants and wishes. If the Prince of Orange was chosen by the Belgians, his title to the crown would be as good as that of Louis Philippe, and on the same grounds. Bresson said France must exclude the Prince of Orange, because this would be a restoration. Ponsonby denied that it would be a restoration, because if chosen by the people, the Prince would hold his crown in virtue of that choice alone. Ponsonby did not believe the election of the Prince of Orange would lead to civil war or confusion, but on the contrary, it would contribute more to general tranquillity. Bresson said that the fortresses on the French frontiers would probably offer themselves to France, and France would then have either to accept or refuse them. Ponsonby is doubtful of this, and also of any opposition to the nomination of the Prince of Orange, unless France stirred them up. Ponsonby has made a very long report, but has not said half of what he has to say, but he cannot continue it at present. He will therefore add his own impressions, not daring to say convictions, that the French government will "exert every artifice, and all its strength perhaps, to obtain possession of this country by means of a chief or otherwise". Ponsonby told Bresson of reports that Charles of Naples is to marry a French princess. Van der Weyer admitted it to Ponsonby, and de Celles wrote of it from Paris. Bresson did not deny it. Ponsonby said that he knew the British government were opposed to that arrangement and might still be so, and that he would take no part to help Charles until he knew what England would say to such a marriage. "The whole thing is, in my mind, a juggle." France seeks to gain time. She may, as Palmerston has hinted is possible, disavow Talleyrand or Talleyrand himself may have been playing a game with Palmerston. Ponsonby believes France is not prepared for war. As Palmerston will see from the newspaper that Ponsonby is sending to him [not present], two men have gone to Paris to work for democracy. Another, Jules Kindt, has gone, or is on the point of going, to London, sent by a club at Brussels called L'Union, which is in strict alliance with some kindred clubs in Paris. Ponsonby will tell Palmerston the next day or the day after, where this man is to be in London. If his papers could be seized by surprise, Palmerston may discover more than he expects to find, but perhaps it would be better to wait until the man has got some footing in London. Ponsonby has obtained, and encloses [not present] an account of O'Connell's connection with people in Belgium. Palmerston will observe in the facts of the Belgian revolution a very strong resemblance with the policy pursued in Ireland. The democratic party in Belgium is indefatigable, and Ponsonby would not be surprised if they make some progress, given the current misery of the people. Gendebien and Van der Weyer are said to be very alarmed for their personal safety. Ponsonby has just received the reply about Maastricht. He has not time to do more than skim over it at present, but it seems to him to be an attempt at evasion and to obtain the citadel of Antwerp. If the Prince of Orange were to go to Antwerp, he would instantly become master of the city, and merely by establishing himself there and doing nothing but hoisting the national colours, he would in a few weeks or days become the peaceable sovereign of Belgium, unless France interposes her direct power. Ponsonby's accounts from France, and all those in Belgium who have commercial relations with France, speak of a wish for change in the southern provinces, especially at Marseilles, in consequence of the general ruin the revolution has caused. The provisional government tried to get a military deputation to go to Paris, but could not manage it. Ponsonby hears constantly of the dissatisfaction of all classes of people, but the Congress is determined to go on and no proposal for its dissolution has yet been made. Two deputies were badly beaten that day by people in the pay of the police who took them for Orangists, although they were in fact the reverse. Ponsonby considers Bresson's continued mission at Brussels proof of a French policy to obtain possession of Belgium. If she does obtain it, Palmerston would certainly soon face a war for existence; this would bring immense disadvantage and cost many lives. Ponsonby thinks that there is already enough evidence of the true intentions of France to show her ambitious views in glaring colours, but he would be glad to see further evidence. Jules Kindt has gone to London in order to act against the British government. Ponsonby is anxious that he should not be misunderstood over this. He hopes he will soon be able to name Kindt's friends. Palmerston will remember that the [Belgian] government attempted to declare that Ponsonby was acting for the Prince of Orange, and knows the aim of Bresson's conversation with Ponsonby. Van der Weyer also told Ponsonby that several members of Congress had proposed questioning him about his support of the Orange party. "I replied the Congress had better first enquire if I will condescend to give an answer. He said he meant to say that questions would be put to the government by Congress. I replied it was indifferent to me what questions were asked government; that if this government thought fit to ask me any, I should know what to say. He said, `Oh, I believe nothing will be done'. I add I think it better for you not. The whole of this is a mere attempt by his party to save the Bresson people. I should at the same time be happy to have your instructions how to act, if anything should be said to me of the sort." The paper about O'Connell was given to Ponsonby by Monsieur Fort, the most celebrated advocate in Brussels. He has also promised a report on the state of public opinion. Ponsonby has been continually interrupted while writing the letter and since the messenger has to go at a certain hour, he has not got time to correct it or write another. "I hope you will excuse its dirty and slovenly appearance." 15 Feb 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 17 February 1831.
Three 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
Sylvain van der Weyer, member of the provisional government of Belgium, President of the Committee for Foreign Relations
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
London Conference on Belgian independence
Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, British Prime Minister
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
House of Nassau, Dutch royal family
Christoph Andreievich, Prince Lieven, Russian ambassador at London
Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier, President of the Belgian Congress
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Antoine Charles Fiacre, Comte de Wisher de Celles, Vice President of the committee for Foreign Relations of the provisional government of Belgium
Jules Kindt
Daniel O'Connell, Irish nationalist, Member of Parliament for County Waterford
Alexandre Gendebien, member of the central committee of the provisional government of Belgium
Maastricht, Netherlands
Antwerp, Belgium
Marseilles, France
M. Fort
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