|Earldom of Bessborough|
|Creation date||6 October 1739|
|Monarch||King George II|
|Peerage||Peerage of Ireland|
|First holder||Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st Earl of Bessborough|
|Present holder||Myles Ponsonby, 12th Earl of Bessborough|
|Heir apparent||Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon|
|Remainder to||the 1st Earl's heirs male of the body lawfully begotten.|
|Subsidiary titles||Viscount Duncannon|
Baron Duncannon of Bessborough Baron Ponsonby of Sysonby
|Former seat(s)||Bishopscourt House|
|Arms||Gules, a chevron between three combs argent.|
Earl of Bessborough is a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created in 1739 for Brabazon Ponsonby, 2nd Viscount Duncannon, who had previously represented Newtownards and County Kildare in the Irish House of Commons. In 1749, he was given the additional title of Baron Ponsonby of Sysonby, in the County of Leicester, in the Peerage of Great Britain, which entitled him to a seat in the British House of Lords. The titles Viscount Duncannon, of the fort of Duncannon in the County of Wexford, and Baron Bessborough, of Bessborough, Piltown, in the County of Kilkenny, had been created in the Peerage of Ireland in 1723 and 1721 respectively for Lord Bessborough's father William Ponsonby, who had earlier represented County Kilkenny in the Irish House of Commons.
The first Earl was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Earl. He was a Whig politician and served as a Lord of the Treasury, a Lord of the Admiralty and as Joint Postmaster General. His son, the third Earl, represented Knaresborough in the House of Commons as a Whig and like his father served as a Lord of the Admiralty. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the fourth Earl. He was a prominent Whig politician and served as First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, as Home Secretary, as Lord Privy Seal and as First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1834, ten years before he succeeded his father, he was raised to the Peerage of the United Kingdom in his own right as Baron Duncannon, of Bessborough in County Kilkenny. His eldest son, the fifth Earl, was a Liberal politician and held office under Lord Russell and William Ewart Gladstone as Lord Steward of the Household. He was childless and was succeeded by his younger brother, the sixth Earl. He never married and on his death in 1906, the titles passed to his younger brother, the seventh Earl. He was a clergyman. His grandson, the ninth Earl, was a Conservative politician and also served as Governor General of Canada from 1931 to 1935. In 1937, he was created Earl of Bessborough in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. His son, the tenth Earl, sat on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords and served as Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education in 1964 and as Minister of State at the Ministry of Technology in 1970. He was later a member of the European Parliament. Lord Bessborough had one daughter but no sons, and on his death in 1993, the 1937 earldom became extinct. He was succeeded in the other titles by his first cousin, who became the eleventh Earl. He was the son of Major the Hon. Cyril Myles Brabazon Ponsonby, second son of the eighth Earl. As of 2017[update], the titles are held by his son, the twelfth Earl, who succeeded in 2002.
Several other members of the family have gained distinction. The Hon. John Ponsonby, second son of the first Earl, served as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and was the father of William Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby, and George Ponsonby, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Major-General the Hon. Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, second son of the third Earl, was the father of General Sir Henry Frederick Ponsonby, who was the father of Frederick Ponsonby, 1st Baron Sysonby, and Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede. The Hon. William Ponsonby, third son of the third Earl, was created Baron de Mauley in 1838 while Lady Caroline Ponsonby, only daughter of the third Earl, was the wife of Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, but is perhaps best remembered for her affair with Lord Byron. Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane, sixth son of the fourth Earl, was for many years Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Department and was admitted to the Privy Council in 1901.
The present family seat is Stansted Park, near Stoughton, West Sussex, acquired by the 9th Earl in 1924. Previous family seats include Bishopscourt House near Bishopscourt, County Kildare, and Parkstead House in Roehampton, London. The family's former main seat in Ireland was Bessborough House, built in the 1740s for the 1st Earl. Located near the village of Piltown in the south of County Kilkenny, the house was sold by the 9th Earl in the late 1930s. Bessborough House is now part of Kildalton Agricultural College.
The heir apparent is the present holder's son, Frederick Arthur William Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon (born 1974).
The heir apparent's heir apparent is his son, the Hon. William August Longfield Ponsonby (born 2008).
Male-line family tree
The baronies Ponsonby of Shulbrede and de Mauley are in the remainder for the earldom of Bessborough. The present holders – Frederick Ponsonby, 4th Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and Rupert Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley – are both fifth cousins of the 12th Earl of Bessborough (and of each other, both being descendants of younger sons of the 3rd Earl; see chart below).
It is however unlikely that any of them would inherit the earldom, as the 12th Earl has two sons and a grandson, as well as two younger halfbrothers, both of whom with male issue. There is also an unbroken line of male descendants from the fourth son of the 7th Earl.
Relationship with other Ponsonby families