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Poyntz, Stephen (bap. 1685, d. 1750), diplomatist and courtier, was born in Cornhill, London, and baptized in November 1685, the second son of William Poyntz, an upholsterer, and his second wife, Jane, the daughter of Stephen Monteage, a merchant of London and Buckingham. He was educated at Eton College and at King's College, Cambridge (1703–6). He served as a diplomat only between 1724 and 1730, yet his correspondence shows both judgement and ability and he enjoyed connections and respect without ever having great employments. Poyntz entered diplomacy through his early connection with Lord Townshend, first as tutor to Townshend's sons, from 1709, and then as his patron's private secretary. In 1712 he wrote, anonymously, a very long, informed, and closely reasoned book, The Barrier-Treaty Vindicated, strongly advocating strategic defence against France, popery, and the Pretender. In July 1716 he was made commissary to James, first Earl Stanhope, then secretary of state, while remaining in correspondence with Horace Walpole and Townshend. After the fall of John Carteret in April 1724, Townshend had the direction of British foreign policy, and employed Poyntz to avert Russian attempts to control Sweden. In July of that year the post of envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Sweden was given to Poyntz, who complained: ‘The variety of cares which this disagreeable employment brings upon me putts me almost beside myself’ (Weston MSS, 1).

During his exile in Stockholm Poyntz endured the usual deprivations of the expatriate, badgering his correspondents for news and books. The diplomat Thomas Robinson arranged a shipment of wine for him, professing a high value for his acquaintance. From November 1725 he spent eighteen months defending the reputation of Admiral Sir John Norris against a calumny by the new Russian envoy in Sweden, Count Golowitz, ‘a most noted Jacobite’ (BL, Add. MS 28156, fol. 143). The charge related to 1719, when the navy of Peter the Great of Russia was terrorizing the Swedish coast near Stockholm, and Norris's squadron lay at Copenhagen. There was Swedish discontent that the British navy had failed to prevent the raids, and Golowitz fostered this with the story that the tsar had bribed Norris with money and jewels to stay in port. Poyntz was ordered by George I to clear Norris's honour, conduct, and reputation. He appears to have had considerable success in managing the affair, which even came before the Swedish senate in February 1726, a battle in the war between Britain and Russia to win hearts and minds in Sweden. Immersing himself in Swedish concerns, and spending British government money freely to secure support, Poyntz gained the approval of both Townshend and George I. Poyntz's mission was over in June 1727 and he was already awaiting recall when he heard of the death of George I. In July 1727 he arranged to set out for London, in a frigate provided by a grateful Norris, who had finally arrived in Sweden. Poyntz declared himself ‘at present able to form no guess what my lott is to be’ (BL, Add. MS 28156, fol. 227), and in the event he was retained at Stockholm until the end of September.

In June 1728 Poyntz was sent as one of the plenipotentiaries to the Congress of Soissons, which lasted until July 1729, though the more significant discussions were taking place with Cardinal Fleury in Paris. He never presented formal credentials to the French court. None the less, along with his fellow commissioner William Stanhope, he claimed to be out of pocket by several thousand pounds on the ‘Vast Expence we have been at in order to make the same Appearance here as the Ministers of other Powers’ (Newcastle MSS, BL, Add. MS 32757, fol. 516). Poyntz showed himself to be adept in the detailed etiquette and protocol of the conference. He was also successful in promoting the two chief British interests of the negotiations after the formal business at Soissons was over. One was to get the French to demolish the fortifications of Dunkirk, as promised in the 1717 treaty of the triple alliance, and the other, following the November 1729 treaty of Seville, was to support Spain against Austria in Italy, if necessary by attacking Austria there. A delighted duke of Newcastle congratulated Poyntz on securing ‘so expeditiously and seasonably’ a French order to demolish the Dunkirk fortifications, a tactical triumph in Westminster politics. ‘You cannot imagine’, Newcastle told him, ‘what a Victory it has given us over our Enemies, and how their Batteries, which were with some Skill and Success, raised against us, have now turned upon themselves’ (Newcastle MSS, BL, Add. MS 32766, fol. 50). Stanhope, now first Earl Harrington, was persuaded by regard for Poyntz to rejoin him in Soissons in February, and together they canvassed an attack upon the Austrian forces in Sicily, with the approval of George II. On 9 June 1730 Harrington left for England, replaced by Walpole, with whom Poyntz braved the browbeatings of Germain-Louis de Chauvelin, the anti-British foreign minister.

After his return to England in August 1730, Poyntz was not employed again in formal diplomacy. At midsummer 1731, when the household of the ten-year-old duke of Cumberland was established, Poyntz was made its governor and steward, beginning a long and close connection. As late as May 1745, on the sensitive issue of reinforcements for the army of the duke in Flanders, the draft instructions were sent for approval to the king and also to Poyntz. His governorship put him on friendly terms with Queen Caroline, and in February 1733 he married a maid of honour to the queen, Anna Maria Mordaunt (d. 1771), the daughter of Brigadier-General Lewis Mordaunt. She was a beauty, who inspired Samuel Croxall's poem ‘The Fair Circassian’, dedicated to her in extravagant terms. Poyntz's rooms in St James's gave the couple the benefit of society and preserved their intimacy with the crown. Two sons, including were born in the first two years of marriage, both of whom had royal godparents, which meant that noble ladies and gentlemen had to be found to act as proxies at the actual ceremony. After the second birth, Poyntz jokingly wrote: ‘I have threatened Mrs. P. to have no more children if there must be all this stately fuss about making them Christians’ (Stephen Poyntz to Thomas Townshend, 8 July 1735, James Marshall and Marie Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University). In 1734, when the king was not in full agreement with his ministers over the current war, Poyntz was employed to carry private messages between George II and Caroline and the Austrian envoy Count Kinsky. In 1735 he was sworn of the privy council and given the lucrative post of receiver-general and cashier of excise. Poyntz was a frequent visitor to Bath on account of his own bad health and his wife's recurrent bouts of the stone. He was keen to retire from the city: ‘A very good house and Garden, with gravell wood and water and a small Estate of £200 or £300 a year about, if within 30 miles of London, would I think make the remainder of my days happy, as well as help to prolong them’ (Stephen Poyntz to Thomas Townshend, 4 Feb 1736, James Marshall and Marie Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University). He was baulked in his attempt to purchase Tetcham, by competition from the duke and duchess of Cleveland, but soon after purchased his estate at Midgham, near Newbury. A daughter, Margaret, was born in 1737 [see ]. In November 1740 Mrs Poyntz was delivered of their fifth child, a third son, and Poyntz, then in his mid-fifties, commented: ‘my own age and infirmity admonish me to look on this as almost a posthumous child’ (ibid., Stephen Poyntz to Thomas Townshend, 23 Nov 1740).

Walpole, reporting his death, ten years later, said that Poyntz was:
ruined in his circumstances by a devout brother, whom he trusted, and by a simple wife, who had a devotion of marrying dozens of her poor cousins at his expense … Mr. Poyntz was called a very great man, but few knew anything of his talents, for he was timorous to childishness. The duke has done greatly for his family and secured his places for his children, and sends his two sons abroad, allowing them £800 a year. (Walpole, 20.208)
A more positive panegyric was pronounced by a friend who had great obligations to Poyntz: ‘he was endowed with every Quality, and adorn'd with every Virtue, that could render the Patriot esteemed, the Parent respected, the Friend beloved, and the whole Man, in every Station of Life, truly amiable’ (Epistle to Poyntz, 5). Poyntz certainly remained to the end of his life an ardent patriot. In 1747 he celebrated the news, sent to him by an agent of the duke of Newcastle, of Vice-Admiral George Anson's victory off Cape Finisterre: ‘I have spread the News this morning, and have sett the Bells ringing Six Miles round me’ (Newcastle MSS, BL, Add. MS 32711, fol. 69). In 1748 he sent reports of disaffection in the Scottish lowlands and other political information to Lord Hardwicke, despite what he referred to in November as ‘my late affliction’ (BL, Add. MS 35590, fols. 56, 194). He died at his home, Midgham, on 17 December 1750.

Philip Woodfine

Sources  

J. Maclean, Historical and genealogical memoir of the family of Poyntz (1886) · BL, Newcastle MSS, Add. MSS 32686–32769 · letters to Sir John Norris, BL, Add. MS 28156, fols. 143, 227 · Yale U., Weston papers · John, Lord Hervey, Some materials towards memoirs of the reign of King George II, ed. R. Sedgwick, 3 vols. (1931) · An epistle to the late Right Honourable Stephen Poyntz, Esq: occasion'd by the compleat victory obtain'd by the duke over the rebels, written in the year 1746, and now first published (1751) · Burney, Hist. mus., vol. 4 · D. B. Horn, ed., British diplomatic representatives, 1689–1789, CS, 3rd ser., 46 (1932) · schedule of his estate, 1751, BL, Add. MS 25086 · BL, Add. MS 35590, fols. 56, 194 · Walpole, Corr.

Archives  

BL, corresp. and papers |  BL, corresp. with duke of Newcastle etc., Add. MSS 32686–32769 · BL, letters to Sir John Norris, Add. MS 28156 · BL, letters to Sir Thomas Robinson, Add. MS 23780 · BL, corresp. with Lord Townshend, Add. MSS 48981–48982 · Yale U., Lewis Walpole Library, letters to Edward Weston · Yale U., Beinecke L., Osborn MSS, letters to Thomas Townshend


Likenesses  

J. Faber junior, mezzotint, 1732 (after J. Fayram), BM, NPG · attrib. J. B. van Loo?, oils, 1732, Althorp House, Northamptonshire · J. Faber, mezzotint (after portrait by J. B. Van Loo (attrib.), 1732), BM, NPG

Wealth at death  

properties and loan transactions: schedule of estate, BL, Add. MS 25086