John Ponsonby Conroy was born in Caernarvonshire, Wales, on 21 October 1786 and was one of six children born to John Ponsonby Conroy, a barrister, and Margaret Wilson.
On 8 September 1803, Conroy was commissioned in the Royal Artillery as a Second lieutenant and was promoted to First lieutenant on 12 September. Two years later, Conroy enrolled in the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and was active during the Napoleonic Wars although he managed to avoid active combat. On 26 December 1808, Conroy married Elizabeth, the daughter of Colonel Benjamin Fisher, and this connection facilitated his promotion to Second captain in March 1811 and adjutant in the Corps of Artillery Drivers in March 1817.
It was his wife’s uncle, Dr. John Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, who managed to secure Conroy a job as equerry to Edward, Duke of Kent in 1817. It was Conroy who planned the Kents journey back to England for the birth of their only child, Alexandrina Victoria, on 24 May 1819. When the duke died a few months later, Conroy was named as his executor and quickly offered his services as comptroller to the widowed duchess. Conroy had tried to persuade the duke to name him as Victoria’s guardian, knowing the child was increasingly likely to ascend the throne one day, but he was denied.
Conroy formed a close relationship with the duchess, so much so there were rumours they were lovers, and he more or less controlled every aspect of her life for the next nineteen years. More worryingly, the duchess and Conroy devised the Kensington System, a set of strict rules designed to keep young Victoria a prisoner in her own home with the goal of making her completely dependent on them. The young princess was never allowed to be alone and was not allowed to mix with other children, apart from her older sister, Feodora of Leiningen, and Conroy’s daughter, Victoire. The Kensington System was a disaster though and it resulted in Queen Victoria growing to hate her mother and Conroy.
When Victoria became heiress presumptive in 1827, Conroy was made a Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Order and a Knight Bachelor by George IV after much persuasion on the part of Conroy who felt he deserved to be a higher rank since he was in Victoria’s household. The duchess and Conroy continued to keep Victoria isolated from the rest of the royal family but William, Duke of Clarence, was growing increasingly alarmed about the power Conroy wielded. When Clarence ascended the throne as William IV, he and his wife, Adelaide, attempted to gain custody of young Victoria to no avail as Conroy painted the court as an immoral place. In retaliation, William vowed to remain alive until his niece reached her majority since he knew the duchess would be named as her daughter’s regent.
With hopes of a regency dwindling, Conroy began to spread rumours Victoria was too weak-willed to govern by herself and a regency was a better prospect even is she had reached the age of eighteen. The isolation around Victoria heightened and attempts were made to separate her from Baroness Lehzen, her governess, who was her only defender. In 1935, Victoria became seriously ill with typhoid fever and Conroy tried to take advantage of the situation by having her sign a document appointing Conroy her personal secretary upon her accession, however he failed. When Victoria turned eighteen on 24 May 1837, Conroy renewed his efforts to be made her private secretary but the young princess dug in her heels and denied his request.
William IV died just a few weeks after Victoria’s eighteenth birthday and Conroy wasted no time in demanding a pension of £3,000 a year, the Grand Cross of the Bath, a peerage and a seat on the Privy Council. Lord Melbourne agreed to his demands to avoid a scandal and Conroy was also granted a baronetcy. However, Conroy wanted a peerage and continued to badger Victoria for the rest of his life but she refused on each occasion as she did not want him anywhere near her court.
As soon as Victoria became queen, she dismissed Conroy but she was powerless to remove him from her mother’s household so she allocated them apartments at Buckingham Palace far from her own. A short time into her reign, Victoria’s reputation was damaged when she believed the rumours Lady Flora Hastings, one of her mother’s ladies-in-waiting, was expecting Conroy’s child. An examination later revealed Lady Flora was suffering from a cancerous tumour of the liver which had caused abdominal swelling. Conroy took full advantage of the situation to blame Victoria for maligning an innocent woman’s reputation and once again questioning her ability to reign. It was the Duke of Wellington who finally managed to convince Conroy to leave the palace in 1839 and he took his family abroad for a while.
In 1842, Conroy settled in Arborfield Hall near Reading where he began to breed pigs and founded the Montgomery Regiment of Militia in 1849. Later, it was revealed Conroy had been given large sums of money from Princess Sophia, an unmarried aunt of Queen Victoria, which he used to support his family in a luxurious style. After Sophia’s death in 1848, her savings were significantly depleted and her surviving brothers demanded Conroy be made accountable but he reused to answer their questions. Further investigations into the accounts of the Duchess of Kent revealed no records had been kept after 1829 and there was no trace of the large amounts of money she had received from her brother and William IV. Conroy died on 2 March 1854 at Arborfield and the baronetcy was inherited by his eldest son, George.