Henry Ponsonby, a former soldier in the Crimean war, was an assistant to the Prince Consort and married Mary Bulteel, Queen Victoria's lady-in-waiting, in 1861. Nine years later he was appointed the Queen's private secretary. They were more radical than most of the royal family and other courtiers, and their presence was a counterweight to the crown's traditional conservatism.
They could always see the funny side of court life, and never overestimated the Queen and her family as individuals. They believed that if the royal family had real determination and strong convictions, they might be a danger to the State. Mary was involved in several feminist causes of the day, especially women's education, and expanding opportunities for working women. She admired the French Communists who seized power after the Franco-Prussian war, and supported early trade unionism and industrial action.
That such a couple could spend so long at the heart of Queen Victoria's court is significant. Though the royal family did not share the Ponsonbys' views, they respected them, and they thought that the presence of two such independent thinkers was good for the monarchy. Sadly Henry wore himself out in the course of duty, and died after a stroke in 1895. Mary survived him for over twenty years and died in 1916.
This report prepared by John Van der Kiste