PP/GC/PO/72 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, reporting a conversation with Bresson concerning the choice of sovereign for Belgium, 21 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] "I forward a despatch copy of a note from the Comite for Foreign Affairs, and my reply [not present]. I confined myself within the limits of that reply to cut short controversy and to bring, if possible, the affair to an immediate issue. I propose, if I hear any more from thence in the same strain, to adhere to the same line of conduct, and if they send me strong assurances that the communications are free, then to require passports for Mr Abercrombie to proceed to the spot to ascertain the fact, before I report it to you. I am told there is great alarm occasioned by the report of an English squadron being off the coast. Allow me to say that the blockade of the Scheldt will not be at all sufficient to produce the effect you desire; it will be necessary to blockade Ostend and Nieuport. You cannot, I am sure, understand the character [f.1v] of such men as we have to deal with here. They are as ignorant of all things governors ought to know, as they are insolent and false and base. The people generally seem to be excellent, but the tribe of attornies and philosophers who rule is the worst click I have ever seen. All the inhabitants are removing their furniture from Antwerp and leaving the town. The preparations made for military resistance have created a panic (not unreasonable I fear). It is expected that the prov[isiona]l gov[ernmen]t is capable of attacking the citadel which w[oul]d force Gen[era]l Chassee, in his own defence, to destroy the town. The Fort du Nord, of which I have already spoken to you, has been made strong and furnish'd with heavy artillery. It commands the river so that, I am told, nothing can pass to Antwerp. All that has been said about Boom is therefore no longer applicable. I doubt if [f.2r] the P[rince] of O[range] could now venture to Antwerp, where before he was certain, I sh[oul]d think, of complete success; this however must depend entirely upon the disposition of the troops. If those lately avowed feel like those they have succeeded the thing is done. There seems to be hardly a thought given to the choice of the Neapolitan. I cannot foresee any settlement of affairs here, unless the great powers will agree to set forward some candidate agreeable to themselves. The situation of France at this moment may make the opportunity very favorable so far at least as Louis Philippe has power to act. I hear that Surlet de Chokier is likely to be elected L[i]eut[enant] du Royaume. If he shall be permitted to preserve the present ministers nothing will be gained by this measure. There is a report that there has been some movement at ?Courtrai in favor of the P[rince] of O[range]. [f.2v] I have no reason to credit it. Mons[ieu]r Bresson had a conversation with me this morn[in]g which I think necessary to report to you in great part. It was very long, and I fear you will find it very tiresome. However there are some things in it not a little curious. I mean particularly his concessions in reply to me. I consider this conversation so far perfectly confidential that it must not be used in anyway that can compromise B[resson]. That part which relates to Sebastiani's ideas of your instructions to me is of course of a public nature, so far as such things are public. He began by saying that Comte Sebastiani had informed him that the B[ritish] gov[ernmen]t had instructed me to co-operate with him, Mons[ieu]r B[resson], for procuring the election of P[rince] Charles of Naples and that the Comte had ordered him to act in strict union and cordiality with me, that he trusted, (Bresson, I mean) [f.3r] nothing that had passed when we were seperately acting for the objects of our respective governments had produced any personal feelings calculated at all to disturb our future union etc., etc. and that we sh[oul]d again be, as heretofore. After the proper reply to what applied to me individually, I said that my gover[nmen]t had never said more than that they would consent to the election of Prince Charles, if freely made by the Belgians, and that this consent had been given with the desire to do what might be agreeable to the King of the French; that my gover[nmen]t would never consent to see a French nominee upon the throne of Belgium nor anybody placed there by the interference of France. He interrupted me and asked what I called interference ? Did I call counsels, interference ? That my [f.3v] govern[men]t had given counsels in favor of the P[rince] of O[range]. I said I would not define interference, that when the facts occurred I sh[oul]d know how to judge of them, that what the Conference had done and what he called counsels was as much the work of Mons[ieu]r de Talleyrand as of anybody, but that the counsels were no more than the expression of an opinion that the P[rince] would be the best choice for the interests of all and therefore that it would be pleasing to the Conference if the Belgians thought proper to make it. I add that I had confined myself to the same language, that I was not authorized to change it, that I now used it to him, abstaining from saying that I used it in the name of P[rince] Talleyrand of whose present opinions I was uninformed. [f.4r] He said he could not then expect my co-operation with him for Charles. I said, `I have stated the intentions of my gov[ernme]nt'. He said, `Without concert we can produce no good'. I replied, `I am sincerely disposed to act in concert with you, but to enable England and France to act cordially together, it is necessary that France shall put an end to all pursuit of projects which England would not permit to be carried into effect, so long as England possessed a man or a guinea to resist them'. That it was essential to England to have Belgium free from the controul of France and how could I feel entire confidence when I saw the conduct of the men who now form the executive gov[ernmen]t of this country and who were les ames damnees [MS "donnees"] of France and who, acting under orders received from [f.4v] France, had provisioned the fortresses of Belgium and left them without garrisons so as to be the certain and easy prey of France whenever it sh[oul]d be convenient to France to take them and well provided too for French purposes. He said, `If you object to a French nominee we may object to an English nominee, the P[rince] of O[range]'. I replied, `The P[rince] is not and cannot be the nominee of England. He has not been put forward by England. We have only to desire to see our own interests secured and we leave the choice of a sovereign to the unbiased voice of the Belgians. Will France consent to do so ? The people of Belgium [f.5r] do not desire to be connected with France and all their chief interest would be injured by the connection. The clergy, the aristocracy, the civilians, the army, the merchants, the shopkeepers, the mob, must all lose by it, independent of the sufferings necessarily attendant upon the war which the attempt to establish it would occasion. Nobody can say that the election of the Duc de Nemours was popular. The day of it was a day of mourning rather than of rejoicing.' He said, `A day rather of indifference or apathy'. I repeated, `Of mourning'. The population I said, born and bred close on the French frontiers, were French but the mass of the nation desired to be independent. He did not dispute the assertion. After some other things less [f.5v] worth repeating relating to our position and conduct here, he said, `I understand that you will not co-operate with me in bringing about the election of P[rince] Charles'. I replied, `We shall accept him if chosen by the unbiassed choice of the Belgians. I will not recommend him to their choice because we think it a bad choice.' `So do I too', was his reply. I observed, `You and I can do nothing here at present, not until our gove[rnme]nts shall have settled the question, or until accident shall have decided it. We have desired and shall desire to be instrumental to the strength and stability of the gover[nme]nt of the K[ing] of the French. You know my opinions also on that point.' He said, `The King's power is gone; it is all over with him.' He then turned suddenly towards me and said with tears in his eyes [f.6r] `Oh ! If you knew how I have been used ! If you knew how I am sacrificed and disabled from defending myself ! I am the victim. I must endure my fate and be ruined !' I confess, my dear Lord Palmerston, that the sight of his emotion deeply affected me, and that I gave credit to what he said. You know I have been slow to believe in his personal culpability, though myself the chief object of attack. I cannot help wishing that he may be saved and kept here. It may be wrong, perhaps, not to remove one who has had so much influence over the men of this govern[men]t, but I think that influence is rather the influence of the nation than of the man; it will be possessed by whoever shall succeed him and may be used by him with better effect for bad purposes. I will venture to ask your interposition in his favor and that he may remain my colleague. [f.6v] On this point I need not say how much delicacy demands that my request sh[oul]d be kept secret. I must not wound the man when I only wish to serve him. We talked a good deal of his actual situation with relation to the Conference, in fact he asked me to tell him what it was which probably he was unapprized of from the accidental miscarriage of P[rince] Talleyrand's letter of him of last courier. I read to him a part of the paragraph in your letter which expresses the cause of the omission of his name in the direction of the instructions of the Conference. I repeated to him all I had at * thime * time said to him to account for the first omission of his name, and to prevent his refusal to sign the note about Maestrict (all of which I have reported to you). He was very [f.7r] very sorry, I think, for his conduct but said he acted under an idea of duty as well as delicacy. He requested me to write an explanation, etc., to let the Conference know the nature of his conduct. I told him it would hardly become me to speak about the interest or proceedings of the French ministers, but that I would forward anything he would write on the subject. I have just received the note I enclose. You know his case, and again I will beg of you to aid him. France seems going faster to the devil than could have been expected. Everything nowadays goes at double quick time. We see what comes of yielding." 21 Feb 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 24 February 1831. The letter from Bresson, dated 22 February 1831, is numbered PP/GC/PO/73.
Four papers tied 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
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Baron Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
River Scheldt, Belgium
Ostend, or Ostende, or Oostende; Nieuport, or Nieuwport; Antwerp; Boom, Belgium
General David Henrik Chasse, Baron Chasse, alias Chassee, governor of Antwerp and commander of the garrison
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier, President of the Belgian Congress
Courtrai, Belgium
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
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe
Maastricht, Netherlands
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