Frederick Ponsonby, 1st Baron Sysonby

Lord Sysonby in 1935

Frederick Edward Grey Ponsonby, 1st Baron Sysonby GCB GCVO PC (16 September 1867 – 20 October 1935), was a British soldier and courtier.


Ponsonby was the second son of General Sir Henry Ponsonby and his wife the Hon. Mary Elizabeth (née Bulteel). A member of a junior branch of the Ponsonby family, he was the grandson of General Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby and the great-grandson of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough. Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was his younger brother.

His godparents were the Emperor Frederick III of Germany and Victoria, the Empress Frederick, which made him godbrother to Emperor Wilhelm II.

Military career

Ponsonby was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards as a second lieutenant on 11 February 1888, and promoted to lieutenant on 2 July 1892. He was promoted to captain on 15 February 1899, and served with the 3rd Battalion of his regiment in the Second Boer War. Wounded at the end of the war, he returned to the United Kingdom in April 1902.[1] He was later promoted to Major and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, and served in the First World War. He wrote the standard history: The Grenadier Guards in the Great War of 1914-1918. 3 vols. Published in 1920.


He also held several court positions, notably as Equerry-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria from 1894 to 1901, as Assistant Keeper of the Privy Purse and Assistant Private Secretary to Queen Victoria from 1897 to 1901 and to King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910; as Keeper of the Privy Purse for King George V from 1914 to 1935, and as Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle from 1928 to 1935. Already a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO), he was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in the 1921 New Year Honours.[2] In 1935 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Sysonby, of Wonersh in the County of Surrey.


Lord Sysonby married Victoria Lily, daughter of Colonel Edmund Hegan Kennard, on 17 May 1899, Lady Sysonby, the well-known cook book author. They had three children:

Lord Sysonby died in London in October 1935, aged 68, only four months after his elevation to the peerage, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.[3] He was succeeded in the barony by his surviving son Edward. Lady Sysonby died in 1955.

His autobiography Recollections of Three Reigns, edited and published posthumously in 1951, is full, frank and entertaining. Nancy Mitford wrote to Evelyn Waugh that there was "a shriek on every page".[4][5] He also edited Letters of the Empress Frederick (1928) and published Sidelights on Queen Victoria (1930).

The Ponsonby family

The Ponsonby family has played a leading role in British life for two centuries. His father was the Sir Henry Ponsonby - memorably played by Geoffrey Palmer in the film 'Mrs. Brown' - who was Private Secretary to Queen Victoria. His grandfather was badly wounded at the Battle of Waterloo, but survived to become General Sir Frederick Ponsonby. Lady Caroline, better known to history under her married name of Lady Caroline Lamb, was the wife of the future Prime Minister Lord Melbourne and lover of the poet Lord Byron. This lady was also a key figure in a film - played by Sarah Miles - in 1972. The father of the two siblings, Frederick's great-grandfather, was the 3rd Earl of Bessborough. The man wounded at Waterloo is not to be confused with another Ponsonby depicted on film, his kinsman General Sir William Ponsonby, whose death - possibly due to not risking his best horse in battle - at the hands of a group of lancers is an incident noted in the film 'Waterloo'. Frederick's daughter, Loelia, married the 2nd Duke of Westminster, before remarrying, after the Second World War, to become the alliterative Lady Loelia Lindsay.


  1. "The War - Invalids and others returning home". The Times (36755). London. 30 April 1902. p. 10.
  2. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32178. p. 8. 1 January 1921.
  3. The Complete Peerage, Volume XIII - Peerage Creations 1901-1938. St Catherine's Press. 1949. p. 549.
  4. William M. Kuhn, ‘Ponsonby, Frederick Edward Grey, first Baron Sysonby (1867–1935)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 14 July 2011.
  5. Charlotte Mosley (ed.), The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996), p. 254.


Court offices
Preceded by
Sir Fleetwood Edwards
Assistant Private Secretary to the Sovereign
1895 – 1914
Succeeded by
Sir Alexander Hardinge
Preceded by
Sir William Carington
Keeper of the Privy Purse
1914 – 1935
Succeeded by
The Lord Wigram
Preceded by
The Viscount Esher
Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle
1928 – 1935
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Sysonby
Succeeded by
Edward Ponsonby
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