The Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Ponsonby in 1934
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
13 March – 25 August 1931
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byClement Attlee
Succeeded byThe Marquess of Lothian
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
In office
Preceded byThe Earl Russell
Succeeded byJohn Allen Parkinson
Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Brightside
In office
15 November 1922 – 1930
Preceded byTudor Walters
Succeeded byFred Marshall
Member of Parliament
for Sheffield Brightside
In office
1908 – 25 November 1918
Preceded byHenry Campbell-Bannerman
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Born16 February 1871
Died23 March 1946(1946-03-23) (aged 75)
(m. 1898)
Children2 (Elizabeth and Matthew)
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford

Arthur Augustus William Harry Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede (16 February 1871 – 23 March 1946), was a British politician, writer, and social activist. He was the son of Sir Henry Ponsonby, Private Secretary to Queen Victoria, and Mary Elizabeth Bulteel, daughter of John Crocker Bulteel. He was also the great-grandson of The 3rd Earl of Bessborough, The 3rd Earl of Bathurst and The 2nd Earl Grey. The 1st Baron Sysonby was his elder brother.

Ponsonby is often quoted as the author of the dictum "When war is declared, truth is the first casualty", published in his book Falsehood in War-time, Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War (1928). However, he uses this phrase in quotation marks as an epigram at the start of the book and does not present it as his own words. Its likely origin is the almost identical line spoken in 1917 by the United States Senator Hiram Johnson: "The first casualty when war comes is truth".[1]

Education and early career

Ponsonby was a Page of Honour to Queen Victoria from 1882 to 1887. From an Anglo-Irish family, he was educated at Eton College. While at Eton, Ponsonby was whipped for organising a steeplechase in his dormitory.[2]

Ponsonby studied at Balliol College, Oxford, before joining the Diplomatic Service and taking assignments in Constantinople and Copenhagen.


At the 1906 general election, Ponsonby stood unsuccessfully as Liberal candidate for Taunton. He was elected as Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs at a by-election of 1908, succeeding former Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who had died a few weeks earlier.

In Parliament, Ponsonby opposed the British involvement in the First World War and, with George Cadbury, Ramsay MacDonald, E. D. Morel, Arnold Rowntree, and Charles Trevelyan, he was a member of the Union of Democratic Control, which became a prominent antiwar organisation in Britain.

Queen Victoria and her page, Arthur Ponsonby

Ponsonby was defeated at the 1918 general election in which he stood as an "Independent Democrat" in the new Dunfermline Burghs constituency.[3] He then joined the Labour Party and returned to the House of Commons at the 1922 general election as member for the Brightside division of Sheffield.[3]

In 1924, Ramsay MacDonald appointed Ponsonby as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and he later served as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and then as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in 1929.

The International Council of the War Resisters' International (WRI), meeting in Broederschapshuis (The Brotherhood House), Bilthoven, Netherlands in July 1938, during the Spanish Civil War. Ponsonby is pictured standing far right in the photograph. Click on the image for further details of people in the photograph.

In 1930, Ponsonby was raised to the peerage as a hereditary baron, taking the title Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede from his home at Shulbrede Priory in Sussex. He served as leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords from 1931 until 1935, resigning because he was opposed to the party's support for sanctions against Italy for its invasion of Abyssinia.

In 1927–1928, Ponsonby ran a significant Peace Letter campaign against British preparations for a new war, and from 1936 he was an active member of the Peace Pledge Union, contributing regularly to Peace News.

Ponsonby opposed the initiative of Lord Charnwood and Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, to ask his Majesty's Government to react against the genocidal Holodomor policies of the Soviet Government.[4][5]

From 1935 to 1937, he was Chair of the International Council of the War Resisters' International.


In May 1940, Ponsonby resigned from the Labour Party, opposing its decision to join the new coalition government of Winston Churchill.

He wrote a biography of his father which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1942: Henry Ponsonby, Queen Victoria's Private Secretary: His Life and Letters.


Ponsonby died on 23 March 1946 and was succeeded by his son Matthew Henry Hubert Ponsonby.

Personal life and family

On 12 April 1898, he married Dorothea Parry, daughter of Hubert Parry and Elizabeth Maude Herbert (1851–1933), a daughter of Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea. They had a daughter, Elizabeth (1900–1940), who during the 1920s became well known as a leading figure of the Bright Young People,[6] and a son, Matthew (1904–1976), who became the 2nd Baron.


Coat of arms of Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Out of a ducal coronet Azure three arrows, point downwards, one in pale and two in saltire, entwined at the intersection by a snake proper.
Gules a chevron between three combs Argent
Pro Rege Lege Grege (For The King, The Law, And The People)[7]


See also


  1. ^ Hiram Johnson in U. S. Senate, 1918, quoted in The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, by Ralph Keyes, Macmillan, p. 228, 2006, ISBN 0-312-34004-4
  2. ^ "LORDS AMENDMENT (HL Deb vol 85 cc697-707)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 7 July 1932.
  3. ^ a b Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918–1949 (3rd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-06-X.
  4. ^ In the Parliament, in The Times dated 26 July 1934
  5. ^ "Russia, vol 93 cc1097-117". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Hansard 1803–2005 Lords Sitting. 25 July 1934. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  6. ^ D. J. Taylor, Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age (2007).
  7. ^ Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage. 2000.
  8. ^ Forman, Henry James (20 January 1929). "That Immortal Plodder, Mr. Samuel Pepys; Arthur Ponsonby Writes an Excellent Short Biography of the Great Diarist". The New York Times.