William Brabazon, later First Baron Ponsonby
black and red chalk, 1795

WILLIAM PONSONBY, 1st Viscount Duncannon, of the fort of Duncannon, Co Wexford, so cr 28 Feb 1722/3, as also earlier 11 Sept 1721 BARON BESSBOROUGH, of Bessborough, Co Kilkenny (both I), PC (I 1715); b 1659; educ Trin Coll Dublin; MP Co Kilkenny 1692-93, 1695-99 and 1703-21; m Mary (d 26 May 1713), dau of Hon Randal Moore, of Ardee, Co Louth, s of 2nd Viscount Moore, and had, with other issue:

1a BRABAZON, 1st Earl

2a Henry, of Ashgrove, Maj-Gen; m Lady Frances Brabazon (d 4 Nov 1751), dau of 5th Earl of Meath (qv), and was ka Fontenoy 11 May 1745, leaving, with a dau (Juliana, m 1743 William Southwell):

1b Chambré Brabazon, of Ashgrove, MP; m 1st 28 Sept 1746 Elizabeth, dau and heir of Edward Clarke, and had issue:

1c Frances; m 28 July 1767 Gorges Lowther, of Kilrue, Co Meath

1b (cont.) Chambré Ponsonby m 2nd 23 Oct 1752 Louisa, dau of John Lyons of Belmont, Westmeath, Deputy Clerk Cncl and Dep Muster Master Gen, and by her had issue:

2c Sarah, of Plasnewydd, Llangollen; one of the two celebrated 'Ladies of Lllangollen'; d unm 8 Dec 1831

1b (cont.) Chambré Ponsonby m 3rd Mary (m 2nd Sir Robert Staples, Bt (qv)), dau of Sir William Barker, Bt, of Kilcooley, Co Tipperary, and d 20 Dec 1762, having by her had issue:

1c Chambré Brabazon PONSONBY-BARKER, of Kilcooley, b 12 June 1762, m 4 June 1791 Lady Henrietta Taylour (d 12 Jan 1838), dau of 1st Earl of Bective (see HEADFORT, M), and d 13 Dec 1834,

PONSONBY, JOHN (1713-1789), Irish politician, second son of Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st earl of Bessborough, was born on the 29th of March 1713. In 1739 he entered the Irish parliament and in 1744 he became first commissioner of the revenue; in 1746 he was appointed a privy councillor, and in 1756 Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Belonging to one of the great families, which at this time monopolized the government of Ireland, Ponsonby was one of the principal " undertakers," men who controlled the whole of the king's business in Ireland, and he retained the chief authority until the marquess Townshend became lord-lieutenant in 1767. Then followed a struggle for supremacy between the Ponsonby faction and the party dependent on Townshend, one result of this being that Ponsonby resigned the speakership in 1771. He died on the 12th of December 1789. His wife was Elizabeth, daughter of William Cavendish, 3rd duke of Devonshire, a connexion which was of great importance to the Ponsonbys.

Ponsonby's third son, George Ponsonby (1755-1817), Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was born on the 5th of March 1755 and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. A barrister, he became a member of the Irish parliament in 1776 and was chancellor of the Irish exchequer in 1782, afterwards taking a prominent part in the debates on the question of Roman Catholic relief, and leading the opposition to the union of the parliaments. After 1800 Ponsonby represented Wicklow and then Tavistock in the united parliament; in 1806 he was lore chancellor of Ireland, and from 1808 to 1817 he was the official leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. He left an only daughter when he died in London on the 8th of July 1817

George Ponsonby's elder brother, William Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby (1744-1806), was also a leading Whig politician, being a member of the Irish, and after 1800, in the British parliament. In 1806 shortly before his death he was created Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly. Three of his sons were men of note. The eldest was John (c. 1770-1855), who succeeded to the barony and was created a viscount in 1839 he was ambassador at Constantinople from 1832 to 1837 and at Vienna from 1846 to 1850. The second son was Major- General Sir William Ponsonby (1772-1815), who, after serving n the Peninsular War, was killed at the battle of Waterloo whilst leading a brigade of heavy cavalry. Another son was Richard Ponsonby (1772-1853), bishop of Derry.

Sir William Ponsonby's posthumous son William (1816-1861) became 3rd Baron Ponsonby on the death of his uncle John, Viscount Ponsonby; he died childless and was succeeded by his cousin William Brabazon Ponsonby (1807-1866), only son of the bishop of Derry, on whose death the barony of Ponsonby became extinct. Among other members of this family may be mentioned Major-General Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby (1783-1837), son of the 3rd earl of Bessborough, a soldier who distinguished himself at the battles of Talavera, Salamanca and Vittoria, in the Peninsular War, and was wounded at Waterloo; he was governor of Malta from 1826 to 1835. His eldest son, Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby (1825-1895), a soldier who served in the Crimea, is best remembered as private secretary to Queen Victoria from 1870 until a few months before his death.

The Rise of the Ponsonbys

IN THE ENTRANCE hall, a shrewd, efficient-looking man in Puritanical dress represents the founder of the family fortunes, Sir John Ponsonby. The eldest son of Henry Ponsonby of Haile, in Cumberland, he became Colonel of Horse under Cromwell, and went with the Protector to Ireland - this despite the family motto Pro rege, lege, grege (which during the Civil War was mistranslated as For the king read t he people}. Under the Act of Settlement, he was awarded Kildalton, Edmund Dalton's estate, confiscated for his part in the rebellion of 1641. Although Cromwell's period in Ireland is scarcely remarkable for sentiment, Sir John touchingly renamed his property Bessborough, in honour of his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Folliott of Ballyshannon.

The second son of his marriage, William, who inherited the Irish estates, was rather belatedly created Baron Bessborough in 1721 for defending Londonderry in the Whig cause against James II. His son, Brabazon, having married Elizabeth, widow of Lord Moore of Tullamore, 'of £2,000 a year estate and £10,000 in ready money', was created a British peer as Baron Ponsonby by George II.

Brabazon Ponsonby was advanced to the Irish earldom of Bessborough in 1739. We know that even before that date he had contemplated rebuilding the house at Bessborough, because Sir Edward Lovett Pearce wrote a memorial about its setting at some stage before his death in 1733. However, the house was not begun until 1744, and work there lasted until 1755, according to Thomas Creevey in a letter of 1828. The architect was a relation by marriage of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce - the gentleman amateur Francis Bindon who painted Dean Swift.

'The mansion of Bessborough', wrote J. M. Brewer in The Beauties of Ireland (1825), 'is a spacious structure of square proportions, composed of hewn stone, but the efforts of the architect were directed to amplitude, and the convenience of internal arrangement, rather than to beauty of exterior aspect. Viewed as an architectural object, its prevailing characteristic is that of massy respectability.' Creevey, only three years later, responded more enthusiastically: 'This is a charming place', he wrote to Miss Ord, 'I ought to say as to its position and surrounding scenery -magnificent.'

After the fire, the house was rebuilt in 1926-30. 'This house in which I spent so many happy days as a young man was destroyed by the rebels,' wrote Goodhart-Rendel in a note. 'Lord Bessborough in rebuilding it relied on my memory for the character of what new internal detail we were able to put in.' but the family never returned, and Bessborough was purchased by a religious order.

Of all the eighteenth and nineteenth century Ponsonbys, William, the second Earl and builder of Bessborough, is the one most fully and most engagingly present at Stansted. As a politician, he followed in the wake of his brother-in-law, the Duke of Devonshire, resigning as Postmaster-General when the latter was dismissed as Lord Chancellor. But at Stansted we see him as a connoisseur, a traveller and a member of the Society of Dilettanti, who was addicted to objects of 'Virtu', according to the Morning Herald of 6 August 1782. 'Lord Bessborough is here, who can never grow better or worse, or other than he is,' wrote the Hon. Mrs. Hervey in 1777; 'it is incredible what nonsense he talks.'

John Brabazon Ponsonby

John Brabazon Ponsonby was born in or about 1770, the eldest son of William Brabazon Ponsonby of Bishop's Court, County Kildare, by Louisa, daughter of 3rd Viscount Molesworth. The Ponsonbys were prominent in Irish politics and, after the Union, Ponsonby's father, uncle, 3 brothers and himself sat, at various times, on the opposition benches in the Commons at Westminster. Ponsonby, who had been a member of the Irish Parliament 1793-1800, evidently had little taste for politics and did not seek re-election in 1802. In January 1803 he married Lady Elizabeth Frances Villiers, youngest daughter of the 4th Earl of Jersey. His sister, Mary Elizabeth, had married Charles Grey, the future prime minister, in 1794 - a connexion which undoubtedly advanced Ponsonby's career in later years. In March 1806 his father was raised to the peerage as Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly but died in November that year. Inherited debts and his own, arising from habits of extravagance, eventually forced Ponsonby to leave England. He held some minor office in the Ionian Islands but his papers provide little evidence of his activities there or indeed of any aspect of his career before the 1820s by which time he had returned to England.

In July 1825 he wrote to George Canning, the Foreign Secretary, to seek employment. Canning appeared anxious to get Ponsonby out of the country which lends credence to the story that George IV wanted him beyond reach of his mistress Lady Conyngham, who had been attracted to Ponsonby, a particularly handsome man. Certainly by the end of the year Ponsonby was given his first major diplomatic posting - to South America.
His future career can be summarized as follows, the dates of his arrival and departure from his various missions being taken from British Diplomatic Representatives 1789-1852 (Camden Society, 3rd series, 50):

Brazil
Special mission. Arrived at Rio Janeiro shortly before 26 May 1826 and left 28 August 1826.
Rio de la Plata (Argentine Republic) Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. Arrived at Buenos Aires 16 September 1826 and left 31 July 1828.
Brazil
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. Arrived at Rio Janeiro about 20 August 1828 and departed about 28 June 1829.
Belgium
Joint Commissioner with Count Bresson of the Conference of London to the Provisional Government. Arrived in Brussels about 7 December 1830 and left 11 June 1831.
Sicily
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. Arrived in Naples shortly before 27 October 1832 and left 6 April 1833.
Turkey
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Arrived in Constantinople 1 May 1833 and left 10 October 1841.
Austria
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Arrived in Vienna on or before 1 November 1846 and left 31 May 1850. (On leave 20 April - 19 July 1849.)

Ponsonby was opinionated and headstrong, vain and with a reputation for indolence, though, when aroused, he could be indefatigible. He did not lack skill in diplomacy but several members of the British government and some of his fellow diplomats had little confidence in him. Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, though not blind to Ponsonby's shortcomings, praised his achievements and defended him against numerous attacks both at home and abroad. Ponsonby died in February 1855 aged 84 years.