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John Ponsonby Viscount Ponsonby (1770?-1855)

This article was written by George Clement Boase and was published in 1896

John Ponsonby, diplomatist, eldest son of William Brabazon Ponsonby, first baron Ponsonby, and brother of Sir William Ponsonby, was born about 1770. He was possibly the John Brabazon Ponsonby who was successively member for Tallagh, co. Waterford, in the Irish parliament of 1797, for Dungarvan, 1798-1800, and for Galway town, in the first parliament of the United Kingdom, 1801-2. On the death of his father on 5 November 1806 he succeeded him as second Baron Ponsonby, and for some time held an appointment in the Ionian Islands. On 28 February 1826 he went to Buenos Ayres as envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary, and removed to Rio Janiero in the same capacity on 12 February 1828.

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. 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 of the Belgians 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. Ponsonby was envoy at Naples from 8 June to 9 November 1832, ambassador at Constantinople from 27 November 1832 to 1841, and ambassador at Vienna from 10 Aug. 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 (Loftus, Diplomatic Reminiscences, 1892, i. 129-30). He was gazetted G.C.B. on 3 March 1834, and created Viscount Ponsonby of Imokilly, co. Cork, on 20 April 1839. He 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. The viscount married, on 13 January 1803, Elizabeth Frances Villiers, fifth daughter of George, fourth earl of Jersey. She died at 62 Chester Square, London, on 14 April 1866, having had no issue.

In 1970, Dr Norman Anick submitted his thesis The Embassy of Lord Ponsonby to Constantinople, 1833-1841at McGill University, Montreal. The preface reads:

The need of a study of Ponsonby's career at Constantinople during the crucial years of 1833 - 1841 is evident. He was the principal agent of British policy in Turkey between the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi and the Four Power Treaty of July, 1840. His person and influence are discussed in nearly all works dealing with Anglo-Turkish relations in this period, but the interpretations of his conduct are contradictory, and in all of these works Ponsonby appears merely as Lord Palmerston's agent, the man who quarreled with Urquhart or an ambassador among ambassadors.

This thesis is an effort to place Ponsonby in the center of the stage and provide an estimate of his personal influence during these years of crisis. The thesis should be of interest from three points of view: as providing a detailed study of the work of one of the architects of British policy in Turkey, as a study of an aspect of Anglo-Turklsh and Anglo-Russian relations, and for the 1ight it throws upon the Turco-Egyptian question and various incidents such as the Urquhart-Ponsonby quarrel, the "Vixen" incident and the Churchill Affair.


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