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Posts Tagged ‘John Ponsonby 1st Viscount Ponsonby’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Ponsonby 1st Baron Ponsonby
15 September 1744 – 5 November 1806

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William Brabazon Ponsonby

William Ponsonby 1st Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly was the grandson of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He represented Cork City between 1764 and 1776 and thereafter Bandonbridge between 1776 and 1783. He was the leader of a powerful family grouping of between ten and fourteen MPs, the second largest in the Irish House of Commons. During the regency crisis of 1788–9 he gave his support to the Prince of Wales in opposition to William Pitt the Younger. As a consequence he was dismissed from the Post Office. Thereafter he permanently aligned himself with Charles James Fox and together with his brother George gathered together the various small groups of Irish whigs into a unified opposition. As with their English counterparts, their ultimate objective was to re-establish the influence of the landowning classes at the expense of the crown. Ponsonby became committed to the cause of Catholic Emancipation, as a means of securing a loyal population at a time of radical agitation and potential foreign invasion.

Pitt’s coalition with the Portland whigs in July 1794 and Earl FitzWilliam’s consequent appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland gave Ponsonby and his allies an opportunity to regain office. He was on the brink of becoming Irish secretary of state and had sat on the Treasury bench. In 1795, however, he appears to have persuaded FitzWilliam to dismiss John Beresford from his post as first commissioner of the revenue on the grounds of alleged corruption, apparently in revenge for earlier political dealings. The subsequent political crisis led in 1795 to FitzWilliam’s swift removal from office, Beresford’s re-instatement, and to Ponsonby’s humiliating return to opposition.

Ponsonby was a leading opponent of the union between Ireland and Great Britain. In 1783, he stood for Newtownards and Kilkenny County. He chose the latter constituency and sat for it from 1783 until the Act of Union came into force in 1801. He became then part of the Foxite Whig opposition in the Westminster House of Commons, voting against the Addington and Pitt ministries and in favour of the Prince of Wales and Catholic Emancipation. His influence was declining, however, and by 1803 effective leadership of the Irish whigs had passed to his brother George.

By the time Fox regained office in 1806 as member of Grenville’s Ministry of All the Talents, Ponsonby’s health was poor, with the result that his wife urgently pressed his claims for a peerage, arguing that it was merited by his opposition to the Regency Bill and the Union, and by his staunch support for the Foxite whigs at Westminster. As a consequence he was raised swiftly to the peerage of the United Kingdom on 13 March 1806. He was gazetted as ‘Baron Ponsonby, of Imokilly in the County of Cork’, although other sources generally refer to him as ‘Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly’. He died in Seymour Street, London, on 5 November 1806, and was buried in Ireland.

At a personal level Edmund Burke described Ponsonby in a letter to Lord Charlemont as “a manly, decided character, with … a clear and vigorous understanding.” He was as interested in sport as he was in politics and was said to have kept ‘the best hunting establishment in Ireland’ at Bishopscourt, his seat in County Kildare, where it was also reported that he lived ‘in the most hospitable and princely style’ (GEC, Peerage). In addition, he was easily irritated, especially if his status and pretensions went unacknowledged. Thus, although he took a leading part in creating a whig opposition in Ireland in the 1790s, he overplayed his hand under FitzWilliam, and his effectiveness was thereafter limited.

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Louisa, Baroness Ponsonby of Imokilly

In 1769 Ponsonby married Louisa Molesworth (1749–1824), 4th daughter of the 3rd Viscount Molesworth, and his second wife, Mary Usher. They had five sons, three of whom were men of note: the eldest John Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Ponsonby of Imokilly was a diplomat; the second, Hon. Sir William Ponsonby, a major-general in the army, was killed at The Battle of Waterloo; the third, Richard Ponsonby, became bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora in 1828, Derry in 1831 and Derry and Raphoe in 1834. Their only daughter Mary was married to the Prime Minister, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. Ponsonby’s descendants include Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Prince William of Wales.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Ponsonby 1st Viscount Ponsonby
1770 – 22 February 1855

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John Ponsonby

John Ponsonby 1st Viscount Ponsonby, was the eldest son of the 1st Baron Ponsonby, and brother of Sir William Ponsonby, was born about 1770. He served as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Irish House of Commons for Tallow between 1793 and 1797. Elected in 1798 for both Banagher and Dungarvan, he elected to sit for the latter from 1798 to the Act of Union in 1800/01. He then represented Galway Borough in the United Kingdom House of Commons until 1802.

On the death of his father on 5 November 1806, he succeeded him as Baron Ponsonby, and for some time held an appointment in the Ionian Islands. On 28 February 1826 he went to Buenos Aires as envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary until 1828 and moved then to Rio de Janeiro in the same capacity. An exceptionally handsome man, he was sent, it was reported, to South America by George Canning to please George IV, who was envious of the attention paid him by Lady Conyngham.

Once there he greatly fostered the creation of a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil to the benefit of British commerce: Uruguay. In 1830, he was entrusted with a special mission to Belgium on 1 December 1830, in connection with the candidature of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg to the throne, and remained in Brussels until Leopold was elected king on 4 June 1831. His dealings with this matter were adversely criticised in ‘The Guet-à-Pens Diplomacy, or Lord Ponsonby at Brussels, …’ London, 1831. But Lord Grey eulogised him in the House of Lords on 25 June 1831.

Thus, as a diplomat, he was sent twice by the British Empire to promote the instauration of buffer states to protect its interests, Uruguay and Belgium, both of which survive to this very day, still deeply similar to their bigger neighbours. In addition to this, Ponsonby was envoy to Naples from 8 June to 9 November 1832, ambassador at Constantinople from 27 November 1832 to 1841, and ambassador at Vienna from 10 August 1846 to 31 May 1850.

Through Lord Grey, who had married his sister Mary Elizabeth, he had great influence, but his conduct as an ambassador sometimes occasioned embarrassment to the ministry. He was, however, a keen diplomatist of the old school, a shrewd observer, and a man of large views and strong will. He was gazetted G.C.B. on 3 March 1834, and created Viscount Ponsonby, of Imokilly in the County of Cork on 20 April 1839.

The viscount had married, on 13 January 1803, Elizabeth Frances Villiers, fifth daughter of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Jersey. She died at 62 Chester Square, London, on 14 April 1866, having had no issue. Ponsonby published ‘Private Letters on the Eastern Question, written at the date thereon,’ Brighton, 1854, and died at Brighton on 21 February 1855. The viscounty thereupon lapsed, but the barony devolved on his nephew William, son of Sir William Ponsonby.

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