PP/GC/PO/90 Letter from Lord Ponsonby to Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, concerning rioting at Brussels, 29 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: [Transcript] "The riots here were committed by about one hundred men paid for the purpose by the chief members of the new association, after the Parisian fashion; the civic guard made no sort of opposition to this gang of plunderers during the first 24 hours (why I will hereafter explain) and they proceeded unchecked to destroy the property of certain men obnoxious to their instigators. One banker is said to have lost upwards of thirty thousand pounds. The object of the association was to make the world believe that there existed at Brussels a furious spirit amongst the people, of hostility against the P[rince] of Orange; and the newspapers will do their part to give currency to that idea. I have unfortunately mislaid the list containing the names of the chief plotters of this mischief, but amongst them were the editors of three or four of the gazettes most in circulation, L'INDEPENDANT, L'EMANCIPATION, LE BELGE, LE COURIER DE PAYS BAS. The Regent is too good a man to suffer the pillage to go on and he roused himself to put [f.1v] an end to it, which was at once done without the least difficulty. I am sorry, however, to see that he has made Charles de Rogier Minister of Police, for he was one of the instigators of the pillage. The details of all that concerns this business must be unintelligable to you and tiresome. I will therefore confine myself to the expression of my opinion of its effects. I think it has delayed the settlement of affairs here by internal means, but not destroyed or weakened the chances of the House of Orange. The same causes of discontent which occasion the desire for the P[rince] still exist, and must be augmented, namely public and private distress and misery. The military mouvement, which I told you of, failed by the vacillation of d'Hooghvorst, who, when the moment came, would not act. I confess my joy at it, for I apprehended very great danger, from its success, to the peace of the world, because I saw it was determined to punish those who had taken a strong part against the Orangists. Those men would have been called victims, and who knows what [f.2r] advantage the Jacobin party in France might not have taken of such a state of things ? The success, however, of the plot was indubitable and no resistance would have been offered here and little, I believe, in any part of the country. I know there is still afoot a vast conspiracy comprized of persons, not military, to bring about a settlement under the P[rince] of O[range]. It consists of those whose interest it is to re-establish strict commercial connections with Holland, particularly the people of Liege and all that country. These people only desire to have the military neuter. What will come of it, must be a matter of great doubt to one who has seen the proceedings of our world here. There has been a change in the ministry and Mons[ieu]r le Beau is now Minister for Foreign Affairs. The whole ministry is composed of Liegeois, but they are lawyers not merchants. Le Beau has only this moment notified to me his nomination. I shall see him this evening if I can, or tomorrow. I send the report respecting Maestrict in a despatch. I had a long conversation with the Regent upon that and other subjects. He adhered to his construction [f.2v] of the agreement for free communication, but agreed to leave the decision of its meaning to any military men. I did not like to suggest any mode of proceedings under these circumstances, without your orders. I was afraid of embarrassing you and felt that there was time enough to learn your pleasure, as Maestricht is in a better situation for defence than it has ever been since the commencement of the war, and as I see the French vessels are not ready to act. On this last subject I have to say that the Regent accidentally let fall something which leads me to be convinced that he believes the French do not intend to co-operate with you in the blockade. Allow me to beg that you will use what I say here with the greatest delicacy. My power of being useful to you by intercourse with the Regent depends upon his not being too much on his guard with me. I fear what you have said about Beliard will impede my action here, and not check his progress. He may deny as much as he pleases the facts alledged but they are true. [f.3r] I pressed the Regent on the subject of limits, and observed to him the folly, for so I called it, of having made them a part of the constitution and of binding down the sovereign by his oath to the maintenance of what the Congress by its own sole authority established as the territory of the Kingdom. He said there might be something done in that, and * hurried * he hurried to get a constitution from which he read the article * w * that treats of the executive power and gives authority to make treaties which, however, must be ratified by the legislature, but by which cessions of territory may be made. He said that in war any party might have the worst of it, and then the loser must yield to the winner; consequently that it might be competent for the executive to come to an arrangement about the limits without a violation of the oath. I replied, `But for that end you must have a war ?' `By my faith,' he said, `I do not see how it can otherwise be affected.' `It is fortunate,' I rejoined, `that the Congress still exists with its omnipotence, that [f.3v] it may be able to obviate the mischiefs of its own acts.' The Regent made no answer to my observation but proceeded to his usual topic of the unhappiness of his situation and his own personal horror of the trade of governor, and ended by saying he saw no mode of extrication from difficulties that surrounded him; that France and England must settle the matter, that he would acquiese in everything they thought fit to order. I said, `What in the settlement of the limits ?' He said, `The weak must bend to the strong'; that he would appeal to the sense of justice, etc., of the world, against spoliation of his country. I told him I would no more argue with him the question of justice on which we could not agree, but would assert that no injustice would be done his country. `You are wrong,' he said, `but perhaps we may escape. There is a power in justice of great efficacy sometimes in the eye of heaven. You remember Lucan, "Victrix causa," etc.' [f.4r] I said yes, no doubt heaven loved justice, but Cato's case proved the truth, in some cases at least, of old Frederick of Prussia's remark that le bon Dieu was commonly in favor of the gros battaillons. I think this will give you the idea of a man totally unable to see his way, and perhaps unfit to act any part in difficult times. He is a good man I am sure, and an amicable one too, and one who will have courage to resist what he thinks actually wrong, and in so far, he is of great value at present when the internal peace of this country depends upon moderation in its government, and when a large party is endeavouring to force it into extremes, equally foolish and wicked. The Regent made an excuse for his proclamation to the Duchy of L[uxembourg] and seemed to be sorry for having issued it. Having said enough of what has passed, I will enter into the subject of reports and expectations of the future. The new associations, whose proclamation you [f.4v] will see in the papers I send you, is supposed to be on the eve of assuming to itself the whole power of the state and to intend to declare a republic. War against Holland, a levy en masse, and to destroy the Orangeists. This may possibly be begun tonight. I am very far from saying the above is impossible. Tielemans, the intimate friend of de Potter, is the president of the association. He has made up his quarrels with Gendebien. Van de Weyer, who also had quarrelled with him, has now joined the association. These men have been disappointed by the French government. They may be looking for revenge as well as power by desperate means. They may be acting in concert with French gov[ernmen]t. I have heard a curious thing stated as a fact, too. I know nothing of its truth. Beliard is said to have changed at the house of a Mons[ieu]r Messaig, a sort of money broker, 150 Napoleons into pieces of 25 cents each day of the riots. There is at [f.5r] present a total dissolution of the powers of the government. There have been the most desperate projects entertained by all parties. I have alluded to those of the Orangists in the early part of my letter and of which I have no doubt. I have now stated what is expected of the other faction. I think it my duty to submit whether it may be fit to have a minister from you exposed to the insults that may be offered him, where such a situation of affairs exists ? I think I ought to have discretionary power to leave this if I think it right to do so. I trust also that if I do leave it, you will not censure me. I was informed from very good sources, amongst others, the Comte de Bethune and the younger Comte de Franguy and several more, that it was intended to attack me on Monday night. I remained here unmolested. [f.5v] I have no idea that I sh[oul]d be personally in danger but I question if I have a right to subject those who have sent me here to the insult of having their commissioner attacked by a hired and lawless mob. My open opposition to France may have made me obnoxious. Many people attribute to me the failure, for such it was, of the Nemours scheme. I nevertheless do not believe I shall be attacked. I enclose an account of the French military at Lisle etc." 29 Mar 1831 [Postscript] "I hope you will be as much satisfied with the report as it seems to me to deserve. The conversation which Monsieur White ?and I [f.6r] had with the ?..oilers I have not thought necessary to detail, but they shew clearly the extreme dissatisfaction of all the Belgians in those quarters with the state of their own affairs and also a violent enmity against the Dutch. The Hollanders were not a whit behind hand in feelings and expressions of hostility against their old fellow subjects." 29 Mar 1831 The letter is marked: "Private" and it is noted on the docket that it was received on 31 March 1831. The quote from Lucan is: "Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni".
Three papers
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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; riots
Belgium: newspapers; the press; journalism
William Frederick, Prince of Orange, later William II, King of Holland
Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier, Regent of Belgium
Charles Latour Rogier, ?Belgian Minister of Police
Emmanuel Constantin Ghislain van der Linden, Baron van Hooghvorst, or Hoogvorst, or Hooghworst, commander in chief of the burgher guard in Brussels
Liege, Belgium
Jean Louis Joseph Lebeau, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
Maastricht, or Maestrict, or Maestricht, Netherlands
General Auguste Daniel, Comte Belliard, French Joint Commissioner of the London Conference to the government of Belgium
Frederick II, King of Prussia, alias Frederick the Great, deceased
Jean Francois Tielemans, Belgian Minister for Home Affairs
Louis de Potter, Belgian republican
Alexandre Gendebien
Sylvain van der Weyer
M. Messaig of Brussels, money broker
Felix, Comte de Bethune
Comte de Frangny
Louis, Duc de Nemours, second son of Louis Philippe, King of the French
Lille, France
Captain Charles White, author and intelligence correspondent
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