Recollections of Three Reigns

By Colin Welch; Frederick Ponsonby | Go to book overview

MEMOIR AND INTRODUCTION

AT the time of his death in October 1935, Lord Sysonby, longer and better known as Sir Frederick Ponsonby, had been Keeper of His Majesty's Privy Purse for twenty-one years. He had spent in all more than forty years in service at Court; his experience was unique, and his passing was comparable to that of an institution.

Born on September 16, 1867, he was a son of General Sir Henry Ponsonby, for many years Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. He was one of three brothers, one older and one younger than himself. They were and remained a devoted trio, despite political differences in later life. All three were to achieve distinction; the eldest, who survives his brothers, is now Major- General Sir John Ponsonby, and the youngest, Arthur, later became Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.

Frederick Ponsonby was educated at Eton. He received a commission in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, later transferring to the Grenadier Guards. He acted as aide-de-camp to the Viceroy of India in 1893-4, and then became Equerry, Assistant Keeper of the Privy Purse and Assistant Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. He served in the South African War in 1901-2.

Returning home after the end of hostilities, he occupied his former position at the Court till the death of King Edward VII, when he became Equerry and Assistant Private Secretary to his successor, King George V. He received the K.C.V.O. in 1910, the G.C.V.O. in 1921, and the G.C.B. in 1926. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1914.

On the outbreak of war in 1914, he was released from his Court duties and rejoined his regiment. After a short time spent as a permanent president of courts martial, he went to the front and was mentioned in despatches, an episode characteristically ignored in his recollections. In October 1914, he was recalled; the death of Sir William Carington created the vacancy as Keeper of the Privy Purse which he was to fill with great ability till his own death.

During and after the War his duties became increasingly onerous, especially when he was appointed Treasurer as well as Keeper of the Privy Purse in 1920. As the officer entrusted with all the money granted for the personal use of the King, he had to handle very considerable sums, including a large number of charitable contributions. He was also responsible, at the King's wish, for drastic reforms in the economy of the Royal Household.

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