Henry Ponsonby

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Sir Henry Ponsonby
'The Privy Purse'.
Ponsonby as caricatured by Théobald Chartran in Vanity Fair, March 1883
Private Secretary to the Sovereign
In office
Preceded bySir Charles Grey
Succeeded bySir Arthur Bigge
Personal details
Henry Frederick Ponsonby

(1825-12-10)10 December 1825
Corfu, United States of the Ionian Islands British Protectorate
Died21 November 1895(1895-11-21) (aged 69)
East Cowes, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
SpouseMary Elizabeth Bulteel
Children5, including Frederick and Arthur
Parent(s)Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby
Lady Emily Charlotte Bathurst

Major-General Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby GCB PC (10 December 1825 – 21 November 1895) was a British soldier and royal court official who served as Queen Victoria's Private Secretary.


Born in Corfu, he was the son of Major-General Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, an Anglo-Irish nobleman who was a senior commander in the British Army.

He entered the army on 27 December 1842 as an ensign in the 49th Regiment of Foot. Transferred to the Grenadier Guards, he became a lieutenant on 16 February 1844, captain on 18 July 1848, and major on 19 October 1849. From 1847 to 1858 he was aide-de-camp to Lord Clarendon and Lord St. Germans, successively lord-lieutenants of Ireland. He served through the Crimean campaigns of 1855–1856, becoming lieutenant-colonel on 31 Aug. 1855; for the action before Sebastopol he received a medal with clasp, the Turkish medal, and the Order of the Medjidie, 3rd Class. After the peace he was appointed equerry to Albert, Prince Consort, who greatly valued his services. On 2 August 1860 he became colonel, and in 1862, after the death of the prince, he was sent to Canada in command of a battalion of the Grenadier Guards which was stationed in the colony during the American Civil War. On 6 March 1868 he became a major-general.

He served as Keeper of the Privy Purse and Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. His appointment occurred on 8 April 1870, after the death of the previous Private Secretary, General Sir Charles Grey.

On 6 January 1895 he was paralysed by a stroke, leading to his retirement from office in May that year. He died on 21 November at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. He was buried there at St Mildred's Church, Whippingham, not far from Osborne House. In 1895 he received the Queen Victoria Version of the Royal Household Long and Faithful Service Medal for 25 years of service to the Royal Family (April 1870 - May 1895).


Mary Elizabeth Bulteel, Lady Ponsonby

On 30 April 1861, Ponsonby married Hon. Mary Elizabeth Bulteel, Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria and a daughter of John Crocker Bulteel (1793–1843) MP. The couple had five children:[1][2]

Lady Caroline Lamb (née Ponsonby), his father's sister, had been married to Lord Melbourne, who was prime minister to Queen Victoria during her first years on the throne.

Both Arthur and Mary Ponsonby contributed pseudonymously to magazines and newspapers of the day.[3]

Ponsonby embellished letters to his children at Eton with a series of illustrations in which he concealed the school's address. It was a family quirk continued by his son Arthur, and recently revived by descendant Harriet Russell. His letters bore addresses appearing as doodled signposts in snowstorms or as huge envelopes shouldered by tiny people.[4]


Ponsonby's son Arthur wrote a biography of him which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1942: Henry Ponsonby, Queen Victoria's Private Secretary: His Life from His Letters.[citation needed]

In the film Mrs. Brown, he was portrayed by Geoffrey Palmer. Judi Dench played Queen Victoria. In the film Victoria & Abdul, he was portrayed by Tim Pigott-Smith.[5]


  1. ^ Armorial Families, A Complete Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage, and a Directory of Some Gentlemen of Coat-armour, and Being the First Attempt to Show which Arms in Use at the Moment are Borne by Legal Authority, Part 1, A. C. Fox-Davies, 1895, p. 799
  2. ^ Lodge 1867, p. 62.
  3. ^ Ponsonby, p. 37.
  4. ^ "Return to sender: Artist puts Royal Mail to the test". The Independent. 8 October 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Victoria & Abdul". HistoryvsHollywood.com. Retrieved 29 July 2023.


Court offices
Preceded by Keeper of the Privy Purse
Succeeded by
Preceded by Private Secretary to the Sovereign
Succeeded by