Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smythe, Percy Clinton Sydney
SMYTHE, PERCY CLINTON SYDNEY, sixth Viscount Strangford and first Baron Penshurst (1780–1855), diplomatist, born in London on 31 Aug. 1780, was eldest son of Lionel, fifth viscount (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 eldest daughter of Frederick Philipse of Philipseburg, New York.
The family descended from Sir John Smith or Smythe of Ostenhanger (now Westenhanger), Kent, the elder brother of Sir Thomas Smith or Smythe (d. 1625) [q. v.] Sir Thomas Smythe, son of Sir John, was made a knight of the Bath in 1616, ‘being a person of distinguished merit and opulent fortune;’ and on 17 July 1628 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 [q. v.]
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’ (cf. Edinb. Rev. April 1805). Byron, in ‘British Bards and Scotch Reviewers,’ accused the translator of teaching ‘the Lusian bard to copy Moore,’ and described him as
Hibernian Strangford, with thine eyes of blue,
And boasted locks of red or auburn hue.
The ‘Poems’ were frequently reissued, the last edition in 1828, in which year a French version also appeared (Moore, Life of Byron, p. 39).
Strangford soon became a 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 England on 19 Dec., and drew up, by Canning's desire, a connected account of the proceeding drawn from his own despatches. It was published in the ‘London Gazette’ on 22 Dec. In 1828 Napier, in the first volume of his ‘Peninsular War,’ maintained that the credit of the diplomatic negotiations really belonged to Sir William Sidney Smith [q. v.], 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 (Scott, Journal, 31 May 1828; Moore, Diary, 21 May). Napier rejoined, and Strangford issued ‘Further Observations.’ 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, Peninsular War, 1851, vi. 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 G.C.B. on 2 Jan. 1815, on his return from the mission.
On 18 July 1817 he became ambassador to Sweden. Before leaving Stockholm, two years later, he induced the Swedish government to agree to the English proposals for an arrangement with Denmark, and discussed with them a new tariff highly advantageous to England. On 7 Aug. 1820 Strangford was appointed ambassador at Constantinople. Here he joined the Austrian minister in urging on the Porte the necessity of pursuing more conciliatory conduct 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 charged with the sole care 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 Sept. 1824 Wellington wrote to Strangford congratulating him ‘upon a result obtained by your rare abilities, firmness, and perseverance’ (Wellington Corresp. ii. 308, 309). Greville charged him with having exceeded his instructions while at Constantinople; but these, Strangford complained afterwards, were scanty (Journal of Reign of George IV, p. 140; cf. Wellington Corresp. iv. 167). In October he left Turkey. A year later Strangford went as ambassador to St. Petersburg at the special request of the tsar. He had been found rather too watchful an observer of Russian designs at Constantinople, and was transferred to St. Petersburg. He remained at St. Petersburg only a few months, during which he pressed the tsar to fulfil his promise of resuming relations with the Porte. After his return from Russia, in 1825, Strangford was created a peer of the United Kingdom with the title of Baron Penshurst of Penshurst in Kent. In a speech in the House of Lords on 7 June 1827 he stated that he had served under nine foreign secretaries (Parl. Debates, new ser. xvii. 1139). His diplomatic career closed with a special mission to Brazil in August 1828. For the remainder of his life he was an active tory peer, often taking part in debates on questions of foreign policy. On 29 Jan. 1828 he seconded the address (ib. xviii. 8–11). On 11 Aug. 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’ (ib. 3rd ser. v. 1170). He signed, as Penshurst, Lord Mansfield's protest against the Reform Bill (ib. xiii. 376), and corresponded with Wellington on that bill and on foreign affairs. On 28 Feb. 1828 he sent Wellington a memorial recommending an English guarantee of the Asiatic dominions of Turkey as the most likely measure to bring her to an accommodation (Wellington Corresp. iv. 286–7).
Strangford's taste for literature remained with him to the end. His intimate friends included Croker and Moore, and he was a frequent guest at 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 F.S.A. in February 1825, and was a director of the society 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, vol. ii.) ‘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 D.C.L. at Oxford on 10 June 1834, at the installation of Wellington as Chancellor. He was also a grandee of Portugal and a knight of the Hanoverian Order (G.C.H.).
Strangford died at his house in Harley Street, London, on 29 May 1855. He was buried at Ashford. An anonymous portrait belonged in 1867 to his second son (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 214). He married, on 17 June 1817, Ellen, youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Burke, bart., of Marble Hill, Galway, and widow of Nicholas Browne, esq. She died on 26 May 1826. Two of his sons, George [q. v.] and Percy [q. v.], succeeded in turn to his titles, and both are separately noticed.[Burke's Extinct Peerage, 1883; Foster's Peerage and Alumni Oxon.; Lodge's Genealogy of the Peerage; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland, iv. 274–80, contains serious genealogical errors. Also Pearman's Hist. of Ashford, pp. 45–7, 79–82; Gent. Mag. 1855, ii. 90, 114; Ann. Reg. (App. to Chron.) pp. 277–8; Moore's Memoirs, i. 125, iii. 138, 356, iv. 313, v. 188, 279, viii. 225; Stapleton's Political Life of Canning, chapters iv. and xii.; Castlereagh Corresp. xii. 127, 144, 153; Wellington Corresp. vols. ii. iii. iv. passim; Parl. Debates, 2nd and 3rd ser. passim. Brit. Mus. Cat.; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland; Croker Papers, iii. 128, 296–297, 343–4, 361, 399–400; S. Walpole's Hist. of England from 1815, iii. 89–92, iv. 40–1.]