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Smythe, Percy Clinton Sydney, sixth Viscount Strangfordlocked

(1780–1855)
  • G. Le G. Norgate
  • , revised by H. C. G. Matthew

Smythe, Percy Clinton Sydney, sixth Viscount Strangford (1780–1855), diplomatist, born in London on 31 August 1780, was the eldest son of Lionel Smythe, fifth Viscount Strangford (1753–1801), who entered the army and served in America, but in 1785 took holy orders, and in 1788 was presented to the living of Killrew, co. Meath. His mother, Maria Eliza, was the eldest daughter of Frederick Philipse of Philipsbourg, New York.

The family descended from Sir John Smith or Smythe of Ostenhanger, Kent, the elder brother of Sir Thomas Smith or Smythe (d. 1625). Sir John's son Sir Thomas Smythe was made a knight of the Bath in 1616, 'being a person of distinguished merit and opulent fortune'; and on 17 July 1628 he was created an Irish peer by the title of Viscount Strangford of Strangford, co. Down. He died on 30 June 1635, having married Lady Barbara, seventh daughter of Robert Sidney, first earl of Leicester.

Percy, the sixth viscount, graduated in 1800 at Trinity College, Dublin, where he won the gold medal. In 1802 he entered the diplomatic service as secretary of the legation at Lisbon. In the following year he published Poems from the Portuguese of Camoëns, with Remarks and Notes. Byron, in British Bards and Scotch Reviewers, accused the translator of teaching 'the Lusian bard to copy [Thomas] Moore', and described him as:

Hibernian Strangford, with thine eyes of blue,And boasted locks of red or auburn hue.

Strangford soon became persona grata at the Portuguese court. In 1806 he was named minister-plenipotentiary ad interim. He persuaded the prince regent of Portugal, on the advance of the French in November 1807, to leave Portugal for Brazil. Strangford arrived in Britain on 19 December, and drew up, at Canning's request, a connected account of the proceeding drawn from his own dispatches and published in the London Gazette on 22 December. In 1828 Napier, in the first volume of his History of the War in the Peninsula, maintained that the credit of the diplomatic negotiations really belonged to Sir William Sidney Smith, and made various charges against Strangford. The latter issued Observations in reply, which Sir Walter Scott and even the whig circles at Holland House thought satisfactory (Journal, 31 May 1828). Napier responded, and Strangford issued Further Observations. The Times (7 August 1828) accused him of utter want of truth. Strangford failed to obtain legal redress for some strong reflections made on him in the same connection by The Sun newspaper. Brougham appeared for the defendants at the trial (Napier, 6.222–3).

Strangford received the Order of the Bath, and was sworn of the privy council in March 1808. On 16 April he was appointed envoy-extraordinary to the Portuguese court in Brazil. He was made GCB on 2 January 1815, on his return from the mission. On 18 July 1817 he became ambassador to Sweden. The previous day, 17 July, he married Eleanor (Ellen; 1788–1826), youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Burke, bt, of Marble Hill, Galway, and widow of Nicholas Browne, of Mount Hazel, Galway. They had three sons and two daughters. Before leaving Stockholm, two years later, he induced the Swedish government to agree to the British proposals for an arrangement with Denmark, and discussed with them a new tariff highly advantageous to Britain.

On 7 August 1820 Strangford was appointed ambassador at Constantinople. Here he joined the Austrian minister in urging on the Porte the necessity of pursuing a more conciliatory line towards Russia, and of making concessions to its Christian subjects, then in open revolt both in Greece and the Danubian provinces. In the autumn of 1822 he went to Verona, and laid before the European congress the assurances he had obtained from the sultan. When, in December, Strangford returned to Constantinople, he was placed in sole charge of Russian affairs in Turkey. He obtained from the Porte the evacuation of the Danubian principalities, the conclusion of a treaty allowing Sardinian ships to enter the Bosphorus, and the removal of the recently made restrictions on Russian trade in the Black Sea. In return the tsar promised the resumption of diplomatic relations with Turkey. On 13 September 1824 Wellington wrote to Strangford congratulating him 'upon a result obtained by your rare abilities, firmness, and perseverance'. Greville, on the other hand, charged him with having exceeded his instructions while at Constantinople; but these, Strangford complained afterwards, had been scanty and he in fact did much to avoid war between Russia and Turkey (Temperley, 289). In October he left Turkey, and on 26 January 1825 he was given a United Kingdom peerage as Baron Penshurst of Penshurst, enabling him to sit in the House of Lords—apparently the conclusion of a notable career. But on his return he quarrelled with Canning, who suspected, rightly, that he had shown confidential papers to Metternich and Esterházy. Even so, he was sent as ambassador to St Petersburg in October 1825, although Canning refused to discuss his instructions with him. In trying on his own initiative to organize a collective démarche of the five powers at Constantinople he falsified an important dispatch to Canning and was caught out. Further, he showed a vital confidential document to the Austrian ambassador in St Petersburg. In the face of a humiliating rebuff from Canning, he applied for leave of absence. Sir Charles Webster comments: 'It is seldom that so brilliant a man has merited so stern a condemnation' (Temperley, 293). Lady Strangford died at St Petersburg on 26 May 1826.

Strangford's diplomatic career closed in August 1828 with a special mission to Brazil, where he showed cunning and resource (Webster, 48). For the remainder of his life he was an active tory peer, often taking part in debates on questions of foreign policy. On 29 January 1828 he seconded the address. On 11 August 1831 he complained that the arrangements for the coronation of William IV had not been submitted to the privy council, but only to a selection from it, 'similar to that which our transatlantic brethren call a caucus' (Hansard 3, 5, 1831, 1170). He signed, as Penshurst, Lord Mansfield's protest against the Reform Bill, and corresponded with Wellington on that bill and on foreign affairs. On 28 February 1828 he sent Wellington a memorandum recommending a British guarantee of the Asiatic dominions of Turkey as the most likely measure to bring the latter to an accommodation.

Strangford retained a taste for literature throughout his life. His close friends included J. W. Croker and Thomas Moore, and he was a frequent guest at Samuel Rogers's table. In his later years he was a constant visitor to the British Museum and state paper office, and frequently contributed to the Gentleman's Magazine and to Notes and Queries. He was elected FRS and FSA in February 1825, and was a director of the Society of Arts and one of its vice-presidents from 1852 to 1854. In 1834 he published in Portuguese, French, and English the Letter of a Portuguese Nobleman on the Execution of Anne Boleyn, and in 1847 edited for the Camden Society (Camden Miscellany, 2) 'Household expenses of the Princess Elizabeth during her residence at Hatfield, October 1551–September 1552'. He also collected materials for a life of Endymion Porter. He was created DCL at Oxford University on 10 June 1834, at the installation of Wellington as Chancellor. He was also a grandee of Portugal and a GCH.

Two of his sons, George Smythe and Percy Smythe, succeeded in turn to his titles after his death at his house, 68 Harley Street, London, on 29 May 1855. He was buried at Ashford, Kent. Strangford was a gifted if unreliable diplomatist whose ambition and vanity, combined with his support for a ‘Holy Alliance’ and European intervention in Turkey, brought about the circumstances of his fall.

Sources

  • GM, 2nd ser., 44 (1855), 90, 114
  • H. Temperley, The foreign policy of Canning, 1822–1827 (1925)
  • C. K. Webster, The foreign policy of Castlereagh, 2 vols. (1925–31)
  • W. F. P. Napier, History of the war in the Peninsula and in the south of France, rev. edn, 6 vols. (1851)
  • The journal of Sir Walter Scott, ed. W. E. K. Anderson (1972)

Archives

  • BL, corresp. and papers
  • BL, corresp. with Lord Aberdeen, Add. MS 43081
  • BL, letters to Sir Robert Gordon, Add. MS 43213
  • BL, letters to Lord and Lady Holland, Add. MSS 51623, 51633
  • BL, letters to Sir George Rose, Add. MS 42794
  • BL, letters to Thomas Streatfield, Add. MSS 34103, 34105
  • BL, corresp. with duke of Wellington, Add. MSS 37291–37293
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Benjamin Disraeli
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Thomas Phillipps
  • CKS, letters to Lord Stanhope
  • Devon RO, letters to Henry Addington
  • Durham RO, corresp. with Lord Londonderry
  • U. Southampton L., corresp. with George Canning [copies]
  • U. Southampton L., corresp. with Lord Londonderry
  • U. Southampton L., corresp. with duke of Wellington
  • UCL, letters to Lord Brougham

Likenesses

  • Count D'Orsay, pencil drawing, 1841, Gov. Art Coll.
  • miniature, S. Antiquaries, Lond.
  • print, BM
  • stipple, BM
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
Gentleman's Magazine