PP/GC/PO/87 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning the Belgian Regent, 22 March 1831
Letter from John Ponsonby, second Baron Ponsonby, [British Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the government of Belgium], Brussels, to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston: Van der Weyer was delaying granting safe conduct for Abercrombie and White, so Ponsonby called on the Regent to speak about this and other points. He explained the manner in which the Conference understood the agreement for free communication with Maastricht and what free communication meant. The Regent said he was not persuaded that Ponsonby's interpretation was the same as that which would be admitted by military men and others conversant with the usages observed in suspensions of arms. Ponsonby argued the point with him for a long time, and mentioned the long delay in carrying any part of the stipulations into effect by the Belgians, after the Conference had made the King of Holland perform his part in them. The Regent excused himself for the delay, alleging the difficulty of getting the volunteers and the discordant elements of the provisional government to obey. He claimed he had immediately taken the most decisive measures to fulfil his engagements, and had fulfilled them according to his understanding of them. He said he would discuss this question and hoped to be able to show he was in the right. Ponsonby said that the Regent could lay aside any fear that Holland would collect an army or any force at Maastricht for an attack on Belgium, for it was certain the great powers would no more permit Holland to attack Belgium than allow Belgium to attack Holland. He replied that although he believed this, it was still his duty to prevent as far as he could the mustering of a means of injury to his country. Chokier promised to speak to Van der Weyer immediately and said he saw no difficulty to hinder the mission of Abercrombie and White. Ponsonby could get nothing more from him, and did not think it right to talk about force, and it would have been useless anyway. The Regent spoke with great frankness about the situation in Belgium, dwelling upon numerous ways in which it was in Britain's interests to favour Belgium. Ponsonby corroborated all he said, adding that England desired nothing more sincerely than to do so in every way possible, and wished to see his country free from the direct or indirect influence of France so as to be themselves exempt from danger and the necessity for remaining in a constant state of preparation for defence. "He rejoined, `It is always thus, one nation demands that another should be deprived of all influence, but with the salvo that there shall be no diminuation of her own.' I asked him what influence England desired or proposed to exercise ? He replied there were indirect modes of influence as strong as direct. He for his own part wished for the independence of Belgium and would do everything to procure and maintain it, but that it was the nature of man and a necessity for a country to seek for aid if ill used, that they must throw themselves into the arms of whoever would protect them. I said, `Of what is it you have to complain against England or any other power ? Is it that they refuse to give you possession of territories which belong to others ?' He entered, in reply, into the vexed question of title to those possessions, and I finished by saying the Conference had unanimously determined, and were resolved to uphold the rule they had adopted, that France was engaged by everything sacred and honorable to abide by the same policy, but that with or without France, Belgium would never be permitted to appropriate to herself the territories in question. He exclaimed, `What, will they not discuss our rights, will they decide against us unheard !' I said the matter had been discussed most assiduously. He observed, `But there may be error, the Conference decided about our debt and there is manifest error in that decision.' I said the Conference had not decided on that point. It had made propositions which it thought just and advantageous, but the subject remained open for discussion and arrangement according to the interest of the parties." Ponsonby also had a conversation with Van der Weyer, and said exactly the same things to him about the determination of the four powers about limits, even if France should break her engagements on that point. Van der Weyer grasped the opportunity to declare that everything said about the Belgian government leaning towards France was an error, and that Comte d'Aerschot had been instructed to make the same declaration in London to Palmerston. Van der Weyer said that he was unauthorised to act as to limits. The Congress had reserved for itself the absolute power to act on such matters, and he had to state the facts to Congress. Ponsonby suspects that the Belgians are beginning to repent of their conduct, and believe that France will not support them. Van der Weyer said he thought there was now no chance of war. The solution of all difficulties will be found at Paris, except those which the "mad and besotted" Congress may raise in Belgium. A change has been made in the ministry. The new ministers are Monsieur Sauvage and Monsieur Barthelemy. Ponsonby does not know Sauvage, but Barthelemy is the father-in-law of Monsieur Gendebien and belongs to the de Celles clique. Ponsonby has never seen things look as well as they now appear, so far as the government is concerned, but this is evidently the consequence of what has been done at Paris and dependent upon the continued success there of Palmerston's efforts and the stability of the King's power versus Lafayette and company. Ponsonby is fond of the Regent, and believes he is honest but mistaken. Nothing Ponsonby says persuades him that the Diet will always act in Luxembourg. The Regent talks of his recollections of forty years previously, when he says it required two years to put a single regiment in motion. The oath, which Ponsonby mentioned before, involving the renunciation of the Nassaus, has not been publicly tendered. So many important people have declared their intention to refuse it, that Ponsonby thinks it will not be pushed. The members of the Tribunal de Commerce, consisting of eight of the first merchants, formally declared they would not take it. Rodenbach, the great enemy of the Prince of Orange, talks of establishing an association like that just started at Paris, in Brussels. Many soldiers are arriving from France with their arms, and in full uniform. Some say they are deserters, others that they are in Belgium to support the ministry in its French policy. If they are there for any reason, it is to support the ministry against the Prince of Orange, although "it was possibly with the other view when they thought the game could be played". Ponsonby has tried his utmost to prevent the proposed movement of the Orangists. He does not see how things can be settled in Belgium without the Prince of Orange, although they may not be be well settled even with him. Without the success of the Orange Party, however, there cannot be any hope for a permanent escape from French domination because of the untrustworthy nature of France and the uncertainty of the situation in Belgium. The Regent spoke to Ponsonby that day about the state of the country. Ponsonby said he considered it most perilous. The Regent did not seem to want to enter into any particulars about the danger. He asked why England and France could not agree. A French prince and an English princess, or an English prince and a French princess might form the bond to unite the interests of the two countries. It is said that Congress is to be called together immediately, but it will take eight days for them to gather at Brussels. Ponsonby thinks the movement [in support of the Prince of Orange] has been delayed already by the illness of a chief person concerned in its direction. The talk now is for the first week in April. It cannot be doubted that it is intended and that these are means to ensure certain and easy success; nevertheless Ponsonby doubts the success of everything where the Prince of Orange is concerned. Ponsonby has heard nothing from Belliard since he could have received news of Palmerston's remonstrances at Paris. Belliard is closely connected with "that old intriguer", de Celles, whom Ponsonby hears has resigned his seat in Congress. Ponsonby will probably meet Belliard on Thursday [24 March] at dinner with the Regent. He is informed that there is despair in Brussels at the turn things have taken in Paris, and the Belgians can find no comfort except in producing the speedy and certain downfall of the ministry and a declaration of a war of principle. Ponsonby asks Palmerston to spare him the decision about paying Mr White. He believes White would be offended by anything he says on the subject, and he is totally unacquainted with the usual practice in such cases. White would be very useful if Palmerston wanted to have information of what is going on in Poland, where the newspapers say Palmerston talks of sending somebody. White speaks German as well as English, and a little Russian. He is clever, and studies military movements, and has predicted to Ponsonby all that has so far taken place in Poland. "I mention this because I thought you may not easily find such a man if you should want one. I hardly know him and take no particular interest in him." "Two or three months of peace may do wonders, particularly if they are employed by the French government in binding by a strong spell the devil they conjured up to do their work." Ponsonby is very anxious to know what Palmerston thinks of reform in the Lords, and whether it might be necessary to attend there in a committee. 22 Mar 1831 The letter is marked: "Private". It is noted on the cover that the letter was received on 24 March 1831.
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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
Ralph Abercrombie, later second Baron Dunfermline, secretary to the British mission at Brussels
Captain Charles White, author and intelligence correspondent
London Conference on Belgian independence
Maastricht, Netherlands
William I, King of the Netherlands, later King of Holland
Philippe Jean Michel, Comte d'Arschot Schoonhoven, alias Aerschot, Belgian representative at London
E.de Sauvage, incoming Belgian Minister for Home Affairs
Antoine Barthelemy, Belgian Minister for Justice
Alexandre Gendebien, formerly member of the provisional government of Belgium
Antoine Charles Fiacre, Comte de Wisher de Celles, formerly member of the provisional government of Belgium
Louis Philippe, King of the French
Marie Jean Paul Roch Yves Gilbert Motier, Marquis de la Fayette, alias Lafayette, member of the French Chamber of Deputies and commander of the Parisian national guard
House of Nassau, Dutch Royal family
Pierre Alexandre [?] Rodenbach, member of the Belgian Congress
General Auguste Daniel, Comte Belliard, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the provisional government of Belgium
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