PP/GC/PO/83 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the Belgian Regent, 11 March 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 wish you joy of the reform. You have done it gallantly. It will give you incaculable power against France and increase your authority with all other nations. I have sent you the decree of Congress, Feb[ruary] 24th 1831, which I think will enable you to answer satisfactoryily any questions that may be put before the reply to my note to the Minister for F[oreign] Affairs shall be received. I have, I hope, not done wrong in altering the form of the demands for information from that which is adopted in your despatch ! I thought it, judging from what I see and know here, not necessary to moot in words the question of the Duc de Nemours, in the first instance, but to leave it to this gov[ernme]nt to define perspicuously, and explain to the Brit[is]h gov[ernmen]t the title and nature and character of the office of regent. It is, I think, better not to suppose it possible [f.1v] that the Regent can be a locum tenens for the Duc. The throne is declared, by the decree, vacant, consequently it cannot be possessed by the Duc. If the definition and explanation of the title, etc., of regent, given by this gov[ernme]nt, shall be unsatisfactory, I conclude the delay which I may have occasioned will not signify, as I can immediately on that occurrence make the more catagorical demands contained in your despatch. My last letter will, I hope, have shewn you that I am on good terms with the Regent. I dined with him two days ago, and we had a good deal of conversation, rather unfit to be repeated to chaste ears, but very amicable. We might have been taken for the elders talking of Susannah ! I have reason to hope Maestrict is now free, as stated in the last communication from Van de Weyer, though not quite truly so there. I have no doubt [f.2r] Gen[era]l Beliard told them to do the thing well; besides which, they have been informed that Mellinet, the commander of their volunteers, was in communication with the Dutch, and they are glad to remove him and his corps from the places they occupied in the vicinage of Brabant. I have not thought it right to send Abercrombie to verify the state of things, because I believe the intention of the gov[ernme]nt, now, is to execute their promises and they might take offence at my doing so. I shall be able to learn, probably today, from some officers arrived from the places in question, how things are as to the canal Guillaume, which the Regent himself told me, he was most anxious to have opened, and then to obtain a free passage through Maestrict up and down the Meuse. In a word, to settle everything amicably with Holland with respect to trade. He said, `We must at last come to that, for our mutual interest, and it is better to do so at once'. He proceeded to say emphatically, and speaking of affairs generally, that it was necessary everything sh[oul]d be immediately settled; [f.2v] that he could not remain \ long / where he was, meaning his office of regent, without the sacrifice of everything dear to himself, that he must retire to his farm; that he must retire with his only possession, honor; that he \ should / lose that if all were not concluded within two months. As this took place in the drawing room and almost in the hearing of the company, I answered by complimentary observations on his character and sentiments. I wish now to ask instructions for my future conduct, that is to know distinctly what you desire to have demanded, or obtained, from the Regent ? You have, I perceive, taken into consideration the nature of his oath. It appears to me it must be altered by Congress, before he will be able to concur in the protocoles as to limits, and perhaps it might be most useful towards the conversation of that body to the true faith, if gentle coercion were used, by \ the / taking possession of the Duchy of Luxemburg by the troops of the Confederation. I suppose that France consents. It is, [f.3r] I might perhaps say, necessary to make Congress feel its own impotence. It has the bravery of a child in a passion and requires to have its hands held. I confess myself to be puzzled by the conduct of this gov[ernme]nt. I hope by frequenting the Regent to see my way more clearly ere [MS "eer"] long. It is evident that he and his ministers stand upon very different ground. If he be in fact what everybody says he is, free from the ambition of power, he can, as he said himself, retire with comfort and security to his farm. His ministers are highly ambitious, very needy, and, in their own opinion, subject to great peril if the revolutionary spirit, or rather, action, be permitted to fail here. They are therefore inclined to promote war, and to force France into it. Their acts are sufficient evidence of this, but there are symptoms, as I before told you, of vacillation in some of them and even some indications of submission to the protocoles. Let me know what I shall do. [f.3v] I will here repeat some part of the substance of a conversation I had with Bresson, as it may throw some light upon the views of France. He was making a sort of excuse to me for his conduct, and said his position had been a cruel one. He had two masters to serve, the Conference and his own gov[ernme]nt, that had a particular interest in Belgium which they would not part with, that Belg[iu]m was not only in itself of immense importance to France, but the French considered the change that had taken place there, to be one of the greatest gains desired from late events in France. I ask'd, how he could explain the conduct of P[rince] Talleyrand and of his gov[ernme]nt with respect to the protocoles, etc. He said, it was inexplicable but that France would not consent to a Nassau, which would \ be / a restoration in its nature. He said his old idea of Otto was the best combination. I observed that Otto with a French p[rince]ss, [f.4r] and a French cabinet and regency, was France, and that we must always resist such a settlement, that the P[rince] of Orange must, if necessary, be used against all attempts of the kind, though we had never as yet put him forward. He said the P[rince] of O[range] could only be a temporary arrangement. I replied it might be so, but that sooner or later something must be done decisive in its nature, that we could not leave it in the power of France to possess herself of the Scheldt and fortresses of Belgium and the means of attacking Holland at pleasure. What sh[oul]d you think of destroying the fortress on the side of France ? I ask'd this because I knew Gen[era]l Beliard had said that if the P[rince] of O[range] were restored by any means, France would immediately sieze upon the fortresses. Bresson replied it was my own original idea to destroy them and I proposed it to Talleyrand but never could get an answer from him on the subject. He said he thought war now unlikely; that the violent men at Paris could not force themselves into the administration; that Soult had shewn himself, on [f.4v] the question of Nemours, as cool as other ministers; that Lafayette was no longer thought of by anybody. He afterwards said, `The King is rapidly losing his popularity, his ministers are weak men, unfit for the times. Things look very ill for our present institutions. It is resolved to act with vigour against the mob. Beliard has told me la troupe [the mob] desires nothing better.' My conclusion from this contradictory language is that France \ will / intrigue, talk big, and do nothing as to Belgium when things come to the push, unless her situation shall be changed extremely for the better. In the mean time, I think, France is pushing on this government to the completion of the armistice in order to get Antwerp out of the hands of the Dutch, which, effected, may give an increased facility for ulterior operations in pursuit of her own ambitious projects at a better time. The Nassau party so far from diminishing, encreases, I am convinc'd, every hour in strength, but I find that instead of desiring the Prince as sovereign, it has become the common opinion that he sh[oul]d be made viceroy for his father, under the terms to [f.5r] which I referred in my last. The causes of this change are, the conviction that free commerce with Holland is necessary to this country and cannot otherwise be secured, and the opinion that the P[rince] William is not a man to establish matters on a permanent footing. Nobody seems to ask how things are to be established if the King shall be deprived of all share in the administration of Belgium, nor when the Prince shall succeed to his father's crown. I preach to all people I know, of any influence with this party, the necessity for prudence and temper and patience. It is evident, I think, that a little more time will throw the country into the arms of the old family, unless measures are taken to prevent it. If the French are willing and able to resist it by open force, it is for you to judge what ought to be done. Everybody is tired of the revolution. It was not the work of the nation, but of a gang of foreigners as actors, and the intrigues of priests and liberaux as directors, [f.5v] under the auspices of the propaganda of Paris. The connection of the priests and liberaux may be now said to be extinct, the former have found out that even a Nassau protestant is less dangerous to their power and religion, than the French, and the success of the St Simoniens in the University at Liege has confirmed their discovery. Every interest in Belgium is adverse now to France, excepting that of the school of ?monarcment, composed of desperate men, and \ of / fools who are still the dupes of modern politikal doctrines. The Congress consists mainly of such men, and the gov[ernme]nt almost exclusively of them. The exception, Mons[ieu]r de Gerlache, President of the Council, has, I have been told by his intimate friend, determined to break off all community with them. I have constantly said that the * [illegible] * protocoles relating to the debt were subject to modification after a hearing of both parties, but government have objected to that doctrine, asserting that the hearing of [f.6r] evidence does not vitiate the power of the court, and that it is to the jurisdiction they demur. I have put this in my own words, but it is the gist [MS "jit"] of their objection. I expect every day to have the statement respecting the debts to forward to you. I think it may be an important document. I have been promised a copy of a treaty which it is asserted has been signed at Paris between the King of France and the deputation, purporting to be an offensive and defensive treaty. There must be some great mistake made by the promiser, but it is very possible something well worth knowing may be in the paper he alludes to. It is one of the clerks of the office who has engaged to give my informant the piece in question. De Chokier said, where he denied yesterday, that there were now only two things possible, a republic or a restoration. I am very impatient to be free to talk to the Regent, which I cannot venture to do until I know precisely your objects. I [f.6v] forward, in a despatch, a proclamation from the Regent to the inhabitants of the Duchy of Luxemburgh. It is a most extraordinary and foolish production, unless it be considered as a part of the plan to bring on a war, with the expectation of drawing France into it by force. Two regiments have, I hear, been sent to the Duchy. Gen[era]l Beliard seems to be endeavouring to gain the good will of the officer of the troops in this town. He gave them a dinner yesterday when he disclaimed all idea of annexation of Belgium to France, but said the re-establishment of the Nassaus would be resisted by France as it would be giving an example dangerous to the security of the present King. I take this plea to be a mere, and not very dark, veil to hide the true designs of France, to impede all settlement of affairs. It may be that the French government [f.7r] will revert to P[rince] Leopold with a similar intention, for they may know how little chance there is of quieting this country effectually, unless the commercial necessities of it are satisfied by the trade with Holland and her colonies, which I presume Leopold will not be able to procure for it. The attempted loan at Paris has, I am told, failed, though at one time money was offered at 22 per cent. The correspondent of Rothschild told me that no money on any terms could be procured at Paris. This gov[ernmen]t have now no resource but to obtain an advance in the payment of the taxes. I hear people will not even pay what is due. There is a report that the P[rince] of Orange is about to appear at Ostend. I hope that is [f.7v] not true. The time is not yet come for it. We heard a good deal of the march of French troops and the arrival of artillery etc. at the frontiers of France. It is certain also that there is nothing necessary for the French to do more than to present themselves in order to possess all the fortresses of Belgium, excepting Antwerp, and I am told that Maestricht could not hold out at all against a regular attack, it is not half garrisoned. You will observe in the proclamation to Luxemburgh that allusion is made to France in the same sense as it was on the note you rejected. I have thought it best not to speak to the Regent on this or indeed any subject `till I hear from you in which tone I am to speak. I am not certain that I might not detatch him from his ministers, and direct his [f.8r] policy into another course. I am not certain he has not caught a little of the fever of ambition. Bresson observed to me the change in the man's manners since he became Regent. It is true in fact, though it probably may be only what he thinks necessary in his new station. I suspect Bresson may wish to give me an idea that the R[egent] is looking for the crown, and therefore no longer French. I neglected to mention in the early part of my letter what I believe I told you before, viz, that the decree by which the Regent is nominated was worded as it is expressly to put an end to the pretension of the Duc de Nemours. The word `vacant' was studiously selected. I think it better to tire your patience than to neglect telling you everything the concerns this country. I could easily be concise. I enclose an extract from a paper of which one of the late diplomatic committee and a present friend of the gov[ernme]nt is an editor. It is a long story but the object of it seems to be to run down Louis Philippe, and I suspect it to be * part * done in furtherance of the designs I have alluded to as being possible. 11 Mar 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 13 March 1831. Enclosed is a cutting from a Belgian newspaper, in French, with an article from a confidential correspondent concerning the French monarchy and the July Revolution. n.d. [Mar 1831]
Five papers, on one of which is pasted a newspaper cutting, 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, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier, Regent of Belgium
Maastricht, Netherlands
General Auguste Daniel, Comte Belliard, later French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
General Francois Aime Mellinet, French commander of the troops at Maastricht
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Baron Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
River Meuse, alias Maas, France, Belgium, Netherlands
Charles Joseph Bresson, later Comte Bresson, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
London Conference on Belgian independence
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Prince de Benevent, French ambassador at London
House of Nassau, Dutch royal family
Prince Otto, alias Otho, of Bavaria, later Otto I, or Otho I, King of Greece
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
River Scheldt, Belgium
Marshal Nicholas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duc de Dalmatie, French Minister of War
Marie Jean Paul Roch Yves Gilbert Motier, Marquis de la Fayette, or Lafayette, member of the French Chamber of Deputies, commander of the Parisian national guard
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
Liege; Ostend, or Oostende; Antwerp, Belgium
Etienne Constantin, Baron de Gerlache, President of the Belgian Congress
Luxemburgh, alias Luxembourg or Luxemburg
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Rothschild, banker
Louis Philippe, King of the French
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