|Intro||British Conservative politician, prime minister|
|A.K.A.||Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, Sir Anthony Eden|
|Birth||12 June 1897 (Durham)|
|Death||14 January 1977 (Alvediston)|
|Education||Christ Church, Eton College|
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC (12 June 1897 – 14 January 1977) was a British Conservative politician who served three periods as Foreign Secretary and then a relatively brief term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1955 to 1957.
Achieving rapid promotion as a young Member of Parliament, he was Foreign Secretary at the age of 38, before resigning in protest at Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy towards Mussolini's Italy. He again held that position for most of the Second World War, and a third time in the early 1950s. Having been Winston Churchill's deputy for almost 15 years, he succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1955, and a month later won a general election.
His worldwide reputation as an opponent of appeasement, a "Man of Peace", and a skilled diplomat was overshadowed in 1956 when the United States refused to support the Anglo-French military response to the Suez Crisis, which critics across party lines regarded as an historic setback for British foreign policy, signalling the end of British predominance in the Middle East. Most historians argue that he made a series of blunders, especially not realising the depth of U.S. opposition to military action. Two months after ordering an end to the Suez operation he resigned as Prime Minister on grounds of ill health, and because he was widely suspected of having misled the House of Commons over the degree of "collusion" with France and Israel.
He is generally ranked among the least successful British Prime Ministers of the 20th century, although two broadly sympathetic biographies (in 1986 and 2003) have gone some way to redressing the balance of opinion. D.R. Thorpe says the Suez Crisis "was a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his career."
Eden was born at Windlestone Hall, County Durham, England; his birth coincided almost exactly with the Diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. He was born into a very conservative family of landed gentry. He was a younger son of Sir William Eden, 7th and 5th Baronet, a former colonel and local magistrate from an old titled family. Sir William, an eccentric and often foul-tempered man, was a talented watercolourist and collector of Impressionists.
His mother, Sybil Frances Grey, was a member of the famous Grey family of Northumberland (see below). She had wanted to marry Francis Knollys, later an important Royal adviser. Although she was a popular figure locally, she had a strained relationship with her children, and her profligacy ruined the family fortunes. Eden’s older brother Tim had to sell Windlestone in 1936. Rab Butler would later quip that Eden—a handsome but ill-tempered man—was "half mad baronet, half beautiful woman".
Eden's great-grandfather was William Iremonger who commanded the 2nd Regiment of Foot during the Peninsular War, fighting under Wellington (as he became) at Vimiero. He was also descended from Governor Sir Robert Eden, 1st Baronet, of Maryland, the Calvert Family of Maryland, the Schaffalitzky de Muckadell family of Denmark, and Bie family of Norway. Eden was once amused to learn that one of his ancestors had, like Churchill’s ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, been the lover of Barbara Castlemaine.
There was speculation for many years that Eden's biological father was the politician and man of letters George Wyndham, but this is considered impossible as Wyndham was in South Africa at the time of Eden's conception. His mother was rumoured to have had an affair with Wyndham. Eden had an elder brother called John, who was killed in action in 1914 and a younger brother, Nicholas, who was killed when the battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable blew up and sank at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
Eden was educated at two independent schools. The first was Sandroyd School in Cobham from 1907 to 1910, where he swam poorly but excelled in languages. He then started at Eton College in January 1911. There he won a Divinity prize and excelled at cricket, rugby and rowing, winning House colours in the last.
He learned French and German on continental holidays and at one stage as a child spoke French better than English. Although he was fluent in French and German, and able to converse with the Chinese premier Chou En-lai in French at Geneva in 1954, out of a sense of professionalism he normally preferred to have diplomats present to translate at meetings, e.g. when he met Hitler in February 1934.
Although Eden later claimed to have had no interest in politics until the early 1920s, his teenage letters and diaries show him to have been obsessed with the subject. He was a strong, partisan Conservative, rejoicing in the defeat of Charles Masterman at a by-election (May 1913) and once astonishing his mother on a train journey by telling her the MP and the size of his majority for each constituency through which they passed. By 1914 he was a member of the Eton Society (“Pop”).
First World War
During the First World War, Eden's older brother John was killed on 17 October 1914 whilst serving with the 17th Lancers. His uncle Robin was later shot down and captured whilst serving with the RFC.
Eden served with the 21st (Yeoman Rifles) Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, a unit initially recruited mainly from County Durham country labourers, who were increasingly replaced by Londoners after losses at the Somme. He was commissioned a temporary second lieutenant on 2 November 1915 (antedated to 29 September 1915). His battalion transferred to France on 4 May 1916 as part of 41st Division. In 1916 Eden's younger brother Nicholas was killed at Jutland and his brother-in-law Lord Brooke wounded.
One summer night in 1916, near Ploegsteert, Eden had to lead a small raid into an enemy trench to kill or capture enemy soldiers, so as to identify the enemy units opposite. He and his men were pinned down in No Man’s Land under enemy fire, his sergeant seriously wounded in the leg. Eden sent one man back to British lines to fetch another man and a stretcher, then he and three others carried the wounded sergeant back with, as he later put it in his memoirs, a “chilly feeling down our spines”, unsure whether the Germans had not seen them in the dark or were chivalrously declining to fire. He omitted to mention that he had been awarded the Military Cross for the incident, something of which he had made little mention in his political career. On 18 September 1916, after the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (part of the Battle of the Somme), he wrote to his mother “I have seen things lately that I am not likely to forget”. On 3 October, he was appointed an adjutant, with the rank of temporary lieutenant for the duration of that appointment. At the age of 19, he was the youngest adjutant on the Western Front.
Eden's MC was gazetted in the 1917 Birthday Honours list. His battalion fought at Messines Ridge in June 1917. On 1 July 1917, Eden was confirmed as a temporary lieutenant, relinquishing his appointment as adjutant three days later. His battalion fought in the first few days of Third Ypres (31 July – 4 August). Between 20 and 23 September 1917 his battalion spent a few days on coastal defence on the Franco-Belgian border.
On 19 November, he was transferred to the General Staff as a GSO 3, with the temporary rank of captain. He served at Second Army HQ, missing out on service in Italy, as 41st Division was in Italy, after the disastrous Italian defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, between mid- November and 8 March 1918, returning to the Western Front as a major German offensive was clearly imminent, only for Eden’s former battalion to be disbanded to help alleviate the British Army’s manpower shortage. Although Lloyd George was one of the few politicians of whom Eden reported front-line soldiers speaking highly, he wrote to his sister (23 December 1917) in disgust at his “wait and see twaddle” in declining to extend conscription to Ireland.
In March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive, he was stationed near La Fere on the Oise, opposite Adolf Hitler, as he learned at a conference in 1935. At one point, when brigade HQ was bombed by German aircraft, his companion told him “There now, you have had your first taste of the next war.” On 26 May 1918 he was appointed brigade major of the 198th Infantry Brigade. At the age of twenty-one, he was the youngest brigade-major in the British Army.
He considered standing for Parliament at the end of the war, but the general election was called too early for this to be possible. After the Armistice, he spent the winter of 1918–19 in the Ardennes with his brigade and on 28 March 1919 he transferred to be brigade major of 99th Infantry Brigade. Eden contemplated applying for a regular commission, but they were very hard to come by with the Army contracting so rapidly. He initially shrugged off his mother’s suggestion of studying at Oxford. He also rejected the thought of becoming a barrister; his preferred career alternatives at this stage were standing for Parliament for Bishop Auckland, the Civil Service in East Africa, or the Foreign Office. He was demobilised on 13 June 1919. He retained the rank of captain.
Eden had dabbled in the study of Turkish with a family friend. After the war he studied Oriental Languages (Persian and Arabic) at Christ Church, Oxford, starting in October 1919. Persian was his main, and Arabic his secondary, language. He studied under Richard Paset Dewhurst and David Samuel Margoliouth.
At Oxford he took no part in student politics, and his main leisure interest at the time was art. Eden was in the Oxford University Dramatic Society and President of the Asiatic Society. Along with Lord David Cecil and R.E.Gathorne-Hardy he founded the Uffizi Society, of which he later became President. Possibly under the influence of his father he gave a paper on Cezanne, whose work was then not yet widely appreciated. Eden was already collecting paintings.
In July 1920, whilst still an undergraduate, he was recalled to military service as a lieutenant in the 6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. In the spring of 1921, once again as a temporary captain, he commanded local defence forces at Spennymoor as serious industrial unrest seemed possible. He again relinquished his commission on 8 July. He graduated from Oxford in June 1922 with a Double First. He continued to serve as an officer in the Territorial Army until May 1923.
Early political career, 1922–1931
Captain Eden, as he was still known, was selected to contest Spennymoor, as a Conservative. At first he had hoped to win (with some Liberal support as the Conservatives were still supporting Lloyd George's coalition government) but by the time of the November 1922 general election it was clear that the surge in the Labour vote made this unlikely. His main sponsor was the Marquess of Londonderry, a local coalowner. The seat went from Liberal to Labour.
Eden’s father had died on 20 February 1915. As a younger son, he had inherited capital of £7,675 and in 1922 he had a private income of £706 after tax (approximately £375,000 and £35,000 at 2014 prices).
Eden read the writings of Lord Curzon and was hoping to emulate him by entering politics with a view to specialising in foreign affairs. Eden married Beatrice Beckett in the autumn of 1923, and after a two-day honeymoon in Essex, he was selected to fight Warwick and Leamington for a by-election in November 1923. On 16 November 1923, during the by-election campaign, Parliament was dissolved for the December 1923 general election. He was elected to Parliament at the age of twenty-six.
The first Labour Government, under Ramsay MacDonald, took office in January 1924. Eden's maiden speech (19 February 1924) was a controversial attack on Labour's defence policy and was heckled, and thereafter he was careful to speak only after deep preparation. He later reprinted the speech in a collection called Foreign Affairs (1939) to give an impression that he had been a consistent advocate of air strength. Eden admired H.H. Asquith, then in his final year in the Commons, for his lucidity and brevity. On 1 April 1924 he spoke urging Anglo-Turkish friendship and ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne, which had been signed in July 1923.
The Conservatives returned to power at the 1924 General Election. In January 1925 Eden, disappointed not to have been offered a position, went on a tour of the Middle East, meeting Emir Feisal of Iraq. Feisal reminded him of the “Czar of Russia & (I) suspect that his fate may be similar” (a similar fate did indeed befall the Iraqi Royal Family in 1958). He inspected the oil refinery at Abadan, which he likened to “a Swansea on a small scale”.
He was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Godfrey Locker-Lampson, Under-Secretary at the Home Office (17 February 1925) (serving under Home Secretary William Joynson Hicks). In July 1925 he went on a second trip to Canada, Australia and India. He wrote articles for The Yorkshire Post (controlled by his father-in-law Sir Gervase Beckett) under the pseudonym “Backbencher”. In September 1925 he represented the Yorkshire Post at the Imperial Conference at Melbourne.
Eden continued to be PPS to Locker-Lampson when the latter was appointed Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office in December 1925. He distinguished himself with a speech on the Middle East (21 December 1925), calling for the readjustment of Iraqi frontiers in favour of Turkey, but also for a continued British mandate rather than “scuttle”. Eden ended his speech by calling for Anglo-Turkish friendship. On 23 March 1926 he spoke urging the League of Nations to admit Germany, which would happen the following year. In July 1926 he became PPS to the Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain.
Besides supplementing his parliamentary income (around £300 a year at that time) by writing and journalism, in 1926 he published a book about his travels, Places in the Sun, highly critical of the detrimental effect of socialism on Australia, and to which Stanley Baldwin wrote a foreword.
In November 1928, with Austen Chamberlain away on a voyage to recover his health, Eden had to speak for the government in a debate on a recent Anglo-French naval agreement, replying to Ramsay MacDonald (then Leader of the Opposition). According to Austen Chamberlain, he would have been promoted to his first ministerial job, Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, if the Conservatives had won the 1929 election.
The 1929 General Election was the only time Eden received less than 50% of the vote at Warwick. After the Conservative defeat he joined a progressive group of younger politicians consisting of Oliver Stanley, William Ormsby-Gore and the future Speaker W.S. “Shakes” Morrison. Another member was Noel Skelton, who before his death coined the phrase “property-owning democracy”, which Eden was later to popularise as a Conservative party aspiration. Eden advocated co-partnership in industry between managers and workers, whom he wanted to be given shares.
In opposition between 1929 and 1931 Eden worked as a City broker for Harry Lucas (a firm eventually absorbed into S. G. Warburg & Co.).
Foreign Affairs Minister, 1931–1935
In August 1931 Eden held his first ministerial office as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's National Government. Initially the office of Foreign Secretary was held by Lord Reading (in the House of Lords), although Sir John Simon held the job from November 1931.
Like many of his generation who had served in World War I, Eden was strongly anti-war, and strove to work through the League of Nations to preserve European peace. The government proposed measures, superseding the postwar Versailles Treaty, that would allow Germany to rearm (albeit replacing her small professional army with a short-service militia) and reduce French armaments. Winston Churchill criticised the policy sharply in the House of Commons on 23 March 1933, opposing "undue" French disarmament as this might require Britain to take action to enforce peace under the 1925 Locarno Treaty. Eden, replying for the government, dismissed Churchill's speech as exaggerated and unconstructive, commenting that land disarmament had yet to make the same progress as naval disarmament at the Washington and London treaties, and arguing that French disarmament was needed in order to "secure for Europe that period of appeasement which is needed". Eden's speech was met with approval by the House of Commons. Neville Chamberlain commented shortly afterwards: “That young man is coming along rapidly; not only can he make a good speech but he has a good head and what advice he gives is listened to by the Cabinet” Eden later wrote that in the early 1930s the word “appeasement” was still used in its correct sense (from the Oxford English Dictionary) of seeking to settle strife. Only later in the decade did it come to acquire a pejorative meaning of acceding to bullying demands.
In December 1933 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal, a position that was combined with the newly created office of Minister for League of Nations Affairs. While Lord Privy Seal, Eden was sworn of the Privy Council in the 1934 Birthday Honours. He entered the Cabinet for the first time in June 1935 when Stanley Baldwin formed his third administration. Eden later came to recognise that peace could not be maintained by appeasement of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. He privately opposed the policy of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, of trying to appease Italy during its invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. When Hoare resigned after the failure of the Hoare-Laval Pact, Eden succeeded him as Foreign Secretary. When Eden had his first audience with King George V, the King is said to have remarked, "No more coals to Newcastle, no more Hoares to Paris."
At this stage in his career, Eden was considered as something of a leader of fashion. He regularly wore a Homburg hat (similar to a trilby but more rigid), which became known in Britain as an "Anthony Eden".
Foreign Secretary and resignation (1935–1938)
Eden became Foreign Secretary at a time when Britain was having to adjust its foreign policy to face the rise of the fascist powers. He supported the policy of non-interference in the Spanish Civil War through conferences like the Nyon Conference and supported prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his efforts to preserve peace through reasonable concessions to Germany. The Italian-Ethiopian War was brewing, and Eden tried in vain to persuade Mussolini to submit the dispute to the League of Nations. The Italian dictator scoffed at Eden publicly as "the best dressed fool in Europe." Eden did not protest when Britain and France failed to oppose Hitler's reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936. When the French requested a meeting with a view to some kind of military action in response to Hitler's occupation, Eden in a statement firmly ruled out any military assistance to France.
His resignation in February 1938 was largely attributed to growing dissatisfaction with Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. That is, however, disputed by new research; it was not the question if there should be negotiations with Italy, but only when they should start and how far they should be carried. Similarly, he at no point registered his dissatisfaction with the appeasement policy directed towards Nazi Germany in his period as Foreign Secretary. He became a Conservative dissenter leading a group conservative whip David Margesson called the "Glamour Boys," and a leading anti-appeaser like Winston Churchill, who led a similar group called "The Old Guard."
Although Churchill claimed to have lost sleep the night of Eden's resignation, they were not allies and did not see eye-to-eye until Churchill became Prime Minister. Churchill maintained that and detailed how Eden resigned over Chamberlain's affront to Roosevelt, who had offered earlier in February to mediate the growing dispute in Europe. There was much speculation that Eden would become a rallying point for all the disparate opponents of Neville Chamberlain, but his position declined heavily amongst politicians as he maintained a low profile, avoiding confrontation, though he opposed the Munich Agreement and abstained in the vote on it in the House of Commons. However, he remained popular in the country at large, and in later years was often wrongly supposed to have resigned as Foreign Secretary in protest at the Munich Agreement.
In a 1967 interview, Eden explained his decision to resign: "It was not over protocol, Chamberlain's communicating with Mussolini without telling me. I never cared a goddamn, a tuppence about protocol. The reason for my resignation was that we had an agreement with Mussolini about the Mediterranean and Spain, which he was violating by sending troops to Spain, and Chamberlain wanted to have another agreement. I thought Mussolini should honour the first one before we negotiated for the second. I was trying to fight a delaying action for Britain, and I could not go along with Chamberlain's policy."
Second World War
During the last months of peace in 1939, Eden joined the Territorial Army with the rank of major, in the London Rangers motorized battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps and was at annual camp with them in Beaulieu, Hampshire when he heard news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
On the outbreak of war (3 September 1939) Eden, unlike most Territorials, did not mobilise for active service. Instead, he returned to Chamberlain's government as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, but was not in the War Cabinet. As a result, he was not a candidate for the Premiership when Chamberlain resigned in May 1940 after the Narvik Debate and Churchill became Prime Minister. Churchill appointed Eden Secretary of State for War.
At the end of 1940 Eden returned to the Foreign Office, and in this role became a member of the executive committee of the Political Warfare Executive in 1941. Although he was one of Churchill's closest confidants, his role in wartime was restricted because Churchill conducted the most important negotiations, with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, himself, but Eden served loyally as Churchill's lieutenant. In December 1941, he travelled by ship to Russia where he met with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and surveyed the battlefields upon which the Russians had successfully defended Moscow from the German Army attack in Operation Barbarossa.
Nevertheless, he was in charge of handling most of the relations between Britain and Free French leader de Gaulle during the last years of the war. Eden was often critical of the emphasis Churchill put on the Special Relationship with the United States and was often disappointed by American treatment of their British allies.
In 1942 Eden was given the additional role of Leader of the House of Commons. He was considered for various other major jobs during and after the war, including Commander-in-Chief Middle East in 1942 (this would have been a very unusual appointment as Eden was a civilian; General Harold Alexander was in fact appointed), Viceroy of India in 1943 (General Archibald Wavell was appointed to this job), or Secretary-General of the newly formed United Nations Organisation in 1945. In 1943 with the revelation of the Katyn Massacre Eden refused to help the Polish Government in Exile.
In early 1943 Eden blocked a request from the Bulgarian authorities to aid with deporting part of the Jewish population from newly acquired Bulgarian territories to British-controlled Palestine. After his refusal, some of those people were transported to concentration camps in Poland.
In 1944 Eden went to Moscow to negotiate with the Soviet Union at the Tolstoy Conference. Eden also opposed the Morgenthau Plan to deindustrialise Germany. After the Stalag Luft III murders, he vowed in the House of Commons to bring the perpetrators of the crime to "exemplary justice", leading to a successful manhunt after the war by the Royal Air Force Special Investigation Branch.
Eden's eldest son, Pilot Officer Simon Gascoigne Eden, went missing in action and was later declared deceased, while serving as a navigator with the RAF in Burma, in June 1945. There was a close bond between Eden and Simon, and Simon's death was a great personal shock to his father. Mrs. Eden reportedly reacted to her son's loss differently, and this led to a breakdown in the marriage. De Gaulle wrote him a personal letter of condolence in French.
In 1945 he was mentioned by Halvdan Koht among seven candidates who were qualified for the Nobel Prize in Peace. However, he did not explicitly nominate any of them. The person actually nominated was Cordell Hull.
In opposition (1945–1951)
After the Labour Party won the 1945 election, Eden went into opposition as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party. Many felt that Churchill should have retired and allowed Eden to become party leader, but Churchill refused to consider this. As early as the spring of 1946, Eden openly asked Churchill to retire in his favour. He was in any case depressed during this period by the break-up of his first marriage and the death of his eldest son. Churchill was in many ways only "part-time Leader of the Opposition", given his many journeys abroad and his literary work, and left the day-to-day work largely to Eden. Eden was largely regarded as lacking sense of party politics and contact with the common man. In these opposition years, however, he developed some knowledge about domestic affairs and created the idea of a "property-owning-democracy", which Margaret Thatcher's government attempted to achieve decades later. His domestic agenda is overall considered centre-left.
Return to government, 1951–1955
In 1951 the Conservatives returned to office and Eden became Foreign Secretary for a third time, though not "Deputy Prime Minister" (Churchill gave him this title in the first list of ministers submitted to the King, but the King forbade it on the grounds that this "office" is unknown to the Constitution). Churchill was largely a figurehead in this government, and Eden had effective control of British foreign policy for the second time, as the Empire declined and the Cold War grew more intense.
Eden’s biographer Richard Lamb said that Eden bullied Churchill into going back on commitments to European unity made in opposition. The truth appears to be more complex. Britain was still a world power, or at least trying to be, in 1945–55, with the concept of sovereignty not as discredited as on the continent. The USA encouraged moves towards European federalism as it wanted to withdraw US troops and get the Germans rearmed under supervision. Eden was less Atlanticist than Churchill and had little time for European federalism. He wanted firm alliances with France and other Western European powers to contain Germany. Half of British trade at that time was with the sterling area, and only a quarter with Western Europe. Despite later talk of "lost opportunities", even Macmillan, who had been an active member of the "European Movement" after the war, acknowledged in February 1952 that Britain’s relationship with the USA and the Commonwealth would prevent her from joining a federal Europe at that time. Eden was also irritated by Churchill's hankering for a summit meeting with the USSR, during the period in 1953 after Stalin's death and whilst Eden was seriously ill from a botched bile duct operation.
Despite the ending of the British Raj in India, British interest in the Middle East remained strong: Britain had treaty relations with Jordan and Iraq and was the protecting power for Kuwait and the Trucial States, the colonial power in Aden, and the occupying power in the Suez Canal. Many right-wing Conservative MPs, organised in the so-called Suez Group, sought to retain this imperial role, though economic pressures made maintenance of it increasingly difficult. Britain did seek to maintain its huge military base in the Suez Canal zone and, in the face of Egyptian resentment, further develop its alliance with Iraq, and the hope was that the Americans would assist Britain, possibly through finance. While the Americans did co-operate with the British in overthrowing the Mosaddegh government in Iran, after it had nationalised British oil interests, the Americans developed their own relations in the region, taking a positive view of the Egyptian Free Officers and developing friendly relations with Saudi Arabia. Britain was eventually forced to withdraw from the canal zone and the Baghdad Pact security treaty was not supported by the United States, leaving Eden vulnerable to the charge of having failed to maintain British prestige.
Eden had grave misgivings about American foreign policy under Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was concerned, as early as March 1953, at the escalating costs of defence and the increase of state power which this would bring. Eden was irked by Dulles's policy of "brinkmanship", or display of muscle, in relations with the Communist world. The success of the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China ranks as the outstanding achievement of his third term in the Foreign Office, although he was critical of the United States decision not to sign the accord. During the summer and fall of 1954, the Anglo-Egyptian agreement to withdraw all British forces from Egypt was also negotiated and ratified.
There were concerns that if the EDC was not ratified as they wanted, the US Republican Administration might withdraw into defending only the Western Hemisphere (although recent documentary evidence confirms that the US intended to withdraw troops from Europe anyway if the EDC was ratified). After the French Assembly rejected the EDC in September 1954, Eden tried to come up with a viable alternative. Between 11 and 17 September he visited every major West European capital, to negotiate West Germany becoming a sovereign state and entering the Brussels pact prior to entering NATO. Paul-Henri Spaak said he “saved the Atlantic alliance”.
In 1954 he was appointed to the Order of the Garter and became Sir Anthony Eden.
Prime Minister (1955–1957)
In April 1955 Churchill finally retired, and Eden succeeded him as Prime Minister. He was a very popular figure as a result of his long wartime service and his famous good looks and charm. His famous words "Peace comes first, always" added to his already substantial popularity.
On taking office, he immediately called a general election for 26 May 1955, at which he increased the Conservative majority from seventeen to sixty, an increase in majority that broke a ninety-year record for any UK government. The 1955 general election was the last in which the Conservatives won the majority share of the votes in Scotland. However, Eden had never held a domestic portfolio and had little experience in economic matters. He left these areas to his lieutenants such as Rab Butler, and concentrated largely on foreign policy, forming a close relationship with US President Dwight Eisenhower. Eden's attempts to maintain overall control of the Foreign Office drew widespread criticism.
Eden has the distinction of being the British prime minister to oversee the lowest unemployment figures of the post-World War II era, with unemployment standing at just over 215,000—barely one per cent of the workforce—in July 1955.
The alliance with the US proved not universal, however, when in July 1956 Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, unexpectedly nationalised (seized) the Suez Canal, following the withdrawal of Anglo-American funding for the Aswan Dam. Eden believed the nationalisation was in violation of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement that Nasser had signed with the British and French governments on 19 October 1954. This view was shared by Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and Liberal leader Jo Grimond. In 1956 the Suez Canal was of vital importance since over two-thirds of the oil supplies of Western Europe (60 million tons annually) passed through it, with 15,000 ships a year, one-third of them British; three-quarters of all Canal shipping belonged to NATO countries. Britain's total oil reserves at the time of the nationalisation were only enough for six weeks. The Soviet Union was certain to veto any sanctions against Nasser at the United Nations. Britain and a conference of other nations met in London following the nationalisation in an attempt to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means. However, the Eighteen Nations Proposals, including an offer of Egyptian representation on the board of the Suez Canal Company and a share of profits, were rejected by Nasser. Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would threaten to cut off oil supplies to Europe and, in conjunction with France, decided he should be removed from power.
Eden, drawing on his experience in the 1930s, saw Nasser as another Mussolini, considering the two men aggressive nationalist socialists determined to invade other countries. Others believed that Nasser was acting from legitimate patriotic concerns and the nationalisation was determined by the Foreign Office to be deliberately provocative but not illegal. The Attorney General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, was not asked for his opinion officially but made his view that the government's contemplated armed strike against Egypt would be unlawful known through the Lord Chancellor.
Anthony Nutting recalled that Eden told him, "What's all this nonsense about isolating Nasser or 'neutralising' him as you call it? I want him destroyed, can't you understand? I want him murdered, and if you and the Foreign Office don't agree, then you'd better come to the cabinet and explain why." When Nutting pointed out that they had no alternative government to replace Nasser, Eden apparently replied, "I don't give a damn if there's anarchy and chaos in Egypt." At a private meeting at Downing Street on 16 October 1956 Eden showed several ministers a plan, submitted two days earlier by the French. Israel would invade Egypt, Britain and France would give an ultimatum telling both sides to stop and, when one refused, send in forces to enforce the ultimatum, separate the two sides – and occupy the Canal and get rid of Nasser. When Nutting suggested the Americans should be consulted Eden replied, "I will not bring the Americans into this ... Dulles has done enough damage as it is. This has nothing to do with the Americans. We and the French must decide what to do and we alone." Eden openly admitted his view of the crisis was shaped by his experiences in the two world wars, writing, "We are all marked to some extent by the stamp of our generation, mine is that of the assassination in Sarajevo and all that flowed from it. It is impossible to read the record now and not feel that we had a responsibility for always being a lap behind ... Always a lap behind, a fatal lap."
There was no question of an immediate military response to the crisis – Cyprus had no deep-water harbours, which meant that Malta, several days' sailing from Egypt, would have to be the main concentration point for an invasion fleet if the Libyan government would not permit a land invasion from its territory. Eden initially considered using British forces in Libya to regain the Canal, but then decided this risked inflaming Arab opinion. Unlike the French prime minister Guy Mollet, who saw regaining the Canal as the primary objective, Eden believed the real need was to remove Nasser from office. He hoped that if the Egyptian army was swiftly and humiliatingly defeated by the Anglo-French forces the Egyptian people would rise up against Nasser. Eden told Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery that the overall aim of the mission was simply, "To knock Nasser off his perch." In the absence of a popular uprising Eden and Mollet would say that Egyptian forces were incapable of defending their country and therefore Anglo-French forces would have to return to guard the Suez Canal.
Eden believed that if Nasser were seen to get away with seizing the Canal then Egypt and other Arab countries might move closer to the Soviet Union. At that time, the Middle East accounted for 80–90 percent of Western Europe's oil supply. If Nasser were seen to get away with it, then other Middle East countries might be encouraged to nationalise their oil. The invasion, he contended at the time, and again in a 1967 interview, was aimed at maintaining the sanctity of international agreements and at preventing future unilateral denunciation of treaties. Eden was energetic during the crisis in using the media, including the BBC, to incite public opinion to support his views of the need to overthrow Nasser. In September 1956 a plan was drawn up to reduce the flow of water in the Nile by using dams in an attempt to damage Nasser's position. However, the plan was abandoned because it would take months to implement, and due to fears that it could affect other countries such as Uganda and Kenya.
On 25 September 1956, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan met informally with President Eisenhower at the White House; he misread Eisenhower's determination to avoid war and told Eden that the Americans would not in any way oppose the attempt to topple Nasser. Though Eden had known Eisenhower for years and had many direct contacts during the crisis, he also misread the situation. The Americans saw themselves as the champion of decolonization and refused to support any move that could be seen as imperialism or colonialism. Eisenhower felt the crisis had to be handled peacefully; he told Eden that American public opinion would not support a military solution. Eden and other leading British officials incorrectly believed Nasser's support for Palestinian terrorists against Israel, as well as his attempts to destabilise pro-western regimes in Iraq and other Arab states, would deter the US from intervening with the operation. Eisenhower specifically warned that the Americans, and the world, "would be outraged" unless all peaceful routes had been exhausted, and even then "the eventual price might become far too heavy". At the root of the problem was the fact that Eden felt that Britain was still an independent world power. His lack of sympathy for British integration into Europe, manifested in his scepticism about the fledgling European Economic Community (EEC), was another aspect of his belief in Britain's independent role in world affairs.
Israel invaded the Sinai peninsula at the end of October 1956. Britain and France moved in ostensibly to separate the two sides and bring peace, but in fact to regain control of the canal and overthrow Nasser. The United States immediately and strongly opposed the invasion. The United Nations denounced the invasion, the Soviets were bellicose, and only New Zealand, Australia, West Germany and South Africa spoke out for Britain's position.
The Suez Canal was of lesser economic importance to the USA, which acquired 15 percent of its oil through that route. Eisenhower wanted to broker international peace in "fragile" regions. He did not see Nasser as a serious threat to the West, but he was concerned that the Soviets, who were well known to want a permanent warm water base for their Black Sea fleet in the Mediterranean, might side with Egypt. Eisenhower feared a pro-Soviet backlash amongst the Arab nations if, as seemed likely, Egypt suffered an humiliating defeat at the hands of the British, French and Israelis.
Eden, who faced domestic pressure from his party to take action, as well as stopping the decline of British influence in the Middle East, had ignored Britain's financial dependence on the US in the wake of the Second World War, and had assumed the US would automatically endorse whatever action taken by its closest ally. At the 'Law not War' rally in Trafalgar Square on 4 November 1956, Eden was ridiculed by Aneurin Bevan: 'Sir Anthony Eden has been pretending that he is now invading Egypt to strengthen the United Nations. Every burglar of course could say the same thing; he could argue that he was entering the house to train the police. So, if Sir Anthony Eden is sincere in what he is saying, and he may be, then he is too stupid to be a prime minister'. Public opinion was mixed; some historians think that the majority of public opinion in the UK was on Eden's side. Eden was forced to bow to American diplomatic and financial pressure, and protests at home, by calling a ceasefire when Anglo-French forces had captured only 23 miles of the Canal. With the US threatening to withdraw financial support from sterling, the Cabinet divided and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan threatening to resign unless an immediate ceasefire was called, Eden was under immense pressure. He considered defying the calls until the commander on the ground told him it could take up to six days for the Anglo-French troops to secure the entire Canal zone. Therefore, a ceasefire was called at quarter past midnight on 7 November.
In his 1987 book Spycatcher Peter Wright said that, following the imposed ending to the military operation, Eden reactivated the assassination option for a second time. By this time virtually all MI6 agents in Egypt had been rounded up by Nasser, and a new operation, using renegade Egyptian officers, was drawn up. It failed principally because the cache of weapons which had been hidden on the outskirts of Cairo was found to be defective.
Suez damaged Eden's reputation for statesmanship, in many eyes, and led to a breakdown in his health. He went on vacation to Jamaica in November 1956, at a time when he was still determined to soldier on as Prime Minister. His health, however, did not improve, and during his absence from London his Chancellor Harold Macmillan and Rab Butler worked to manoeuvre him out of office. On the morning of the ceasefire Eisenhower agreed to meet with Eden to publicly resolve their differences, but this offer was later withdrawn after Secretary of State Dulles advised that it could inflame the Middle Eastern situation further.
The Observer newspaper accused Eden of lying to Parliament over the Suez Crisis, while MPs from all parties criticised his calling a ceasefire before the Canal was taken. Churchill, while publicly supportive of Eden's actions, privately criticised his successor for not seeing the military operation through to its conclusion. Eden easily survived a vote of confidence in the House of Commons on 8 November.
While Eden was on holiday in Jamaica, other members of the government discussed on 20 November how to counter charges that the UK and France had worked in collusion with Israel to seize the Canal, but decided there was very little evidence in the public domain.
On his return from Jamaica on 14 December, Eden still hoped to continue as Prime Minister. He had lost his traditional base of support on the Tory left and amongst moderate opinion nationally, but appears to have hoped to rebuild a new base of support amongst the Tory Right. However, his political position had eroded during his absence. He wished to make a statement attacking Nasser as a puppet of the Soviets, attacking the United Nations and speaking of the “lessons of the 1930s”, but was prevented from doing so by Macmillan, Butler and Lord Salisbury.
On his return to the House of Commons (17 December), he slipped into the Chamber largely unacknowledged by his own party. One Conservative MP rose to wave his Order Paper, only to have to sit down in embarrassment whilst Labour MPs laughed. On 18 December he addressed the 1922 committee (Conservative backbenchers), declaring “as long as I live, I shall never apologise for what we did”, but was unable to answer a question about the validity of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 (which he had in fact reaffirmed in April 1955, two days before becoming Prime Minister). In his final statement to the House of Commons as Prime Minister (20 December 1956) he performed well in a difficult debate, but told MPs that "there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt". Rothwell writes that the knowledge of his having misled the House of Commons on this way must have hung over him thereafter, as was the concern that the US Administration might demand that Britain pay reparations to Egypt. Papers released in January 1987 showed the entire Cabinet had been informed of the plan on 23 October 1956.
Eden suffered another fever at Chequers over Christmas, but was still talking of going on an official trip to the USSR in April 1957, wanting a full inquiry into the Crabb affair and badgering Lord Hailsham (First Lord of the Admiralty) about the £6m being spent on oil storage at Malta.
Eden resigned on 9 January 1957, after his doctors warned him his life was at stake if he continued in office. Charmley writes "Ill-health ... provide(d) a dignified reason for an action (i.e.. resignation) which would, in any event, have been necessary." Rothwell writes that “mystery persists” over exactly how Eden was persuaded to resign, although the limited evidence suggests that Butler, who was expected to succeed him as Prime Minister, was at the centre of the intrigue. Rothwell writes that Eden’s fevers were “nasty but brief and not life-threatening” and that there may have been “manipulation of medical evidence” to make Eden’s health seem “even worse” than it was. Macmillan wrote in his diary that “nature had provided a real health reason” when a “diplomatic illness” might otherwise have had to be invented. David Carlton (1981) even suggested that the Palace might have been involved, a suggestion discussed by Rothwell. As early as spring 1954 Eden had been indifferent to cultivating good relations with the new Queen. Eden is known to have favoured a Japanese or Scandinavian style monarchy (i.e. with no involvement in politics whatsoever) and in January 1956 he had insisted that Khrushchev and Bulganin spend only the minimum amount of time in talks with the Queen. Evidence also exists that the Palace were concerned at not being kept fully informed during the Suez Crisis. In the 1960s Clarissa Eden was observed to speak of the Queen “in an extremely hostile and belittling way”, and in an interview in 1976 Eden commented that he “would not claim she was pro-Suez”.
Although the media expected Butler would get the nod as Eden's successor, a survey of the Cabinet taken for the Queen showed Macmillan was the nearly unanimous choice, and he became Prime Minister on 10 January 1957. Shortly afterwards Eden and his wife left England for a holiday in New Zealand.
Suez in retrospect
AJP Taylor wrote in the 1970s: “Eden … destroyed (his reputation as a peacemaker) and led Great Britain to one of the greatest humiliations in her history … (he) seemed to take on a new personality. He acted impatiently and on impulse. Previously flexible he now relied on dogma, denouncing Nasser as a second Hitler. Though he claimed to be upholding international law, he in fact disregarded the United Nations Organisation which he had helped to create … The outcome was pathetic rather than tragic”.
Thorpe has summarised Eden's central role in the Suez Crisis of 1956:
Eden's policy had four main aims: first, to secure the Suez Canal; second and consequentially, to ensure continuity of oil supplies; third, to remove Nasser; and fourth, to keep the Russians out of the Middle East. The immediate consequence of the crisis was that the Suez Canal was blocked, oil supplies were interrupted, Nasser's position as the leader of Arab nationalism was strengthened, and the way was left open for Russian intrusion into the Middle East.
Michael Foot pushed for a special inquiry along the lines of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Attack on the Dardanelles in the First World War, although Harold Wilson (Labour Prime Minister 1964–70 and 1974–76) regarded the matter as a can of worms best left unopened. This talk ceased after the defeat of the Arab armies by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, after which Eden received a lot of fanmail telling him that he had been right, and his reputation, not least in Israel and the United States, soared. In 1986 Eden's official biographer Robert Rhodes James re-evaluated sympathetically Eden's stance over Suez and in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, James asked: "Who can now claim that Eden was wrong?". Such arguments turn mostly on whether, as a matter of policy, the Suez operation was fundamentally flawed or whether, as such "revisionists" thought, the lack of American support conveyed the impression that the West was divided and weak. Anthony Nutting, who resigned as a Foreign Office Minister over Suez, expressed the former view in 1967, the year of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, when he wrote that "we had sown the wind of bitterness and we were to reap the whirlwind of revenge and rebellion". Conversely, Jonathan Pearson argues in Sir Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis: Reluctant Gamble (2002) that Eden was more reluctant and less bellicose than most historians have judged. D. R. Thorpe, another of Eden's biographers, writes that Suez was "a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his careers"; he suggests that had the Suez venture succeeded, "there would almost certainly have been no Middle East war in 1967, and probably no Yom Kippur War in 1973 also".
Guy Millard, one of Eden's Private Secretaries, who thirty years later, in a radio interview, spoke publicly for the first time on the crisis, made an insider's judgement about Eden: "It was his mistake of course and a tragic and disastrous mistake for him. I think he overestimated the importance of Nasser, Egypt, the Canal, even of the Middle East itself." While British actions in 1956 are routinely described as "imperialistic", the motivation was in fact economic. Eden was a liberal supporter of nationalist ambitions, such as over Sudanese independence. His 1954 Suez Canal Base Agreement (withdrawing British troops from Suez in return for certain guarantees) was sold to the Conservative Party against Churchill's wishes.
Rothwell believes that Eden should have cancelled the Suez Invasion plans in mid-October, when the Anglo-French negotiations at the United Nations were making some headway, and that in 1956 the Arab countries threw away a chance to make peace with Israel on her existing borders.
Britain–France rejected plan for union
British Government cabinet papers from September 1956, during Eden's term as Prime Minister, have shown that French Prime Minister Guy Mollet approached the British Government suggesting the idea of an economic and political union between France and Great Britain. This was a similar offer, in reverse, to that made by Churchill (drawing on a plan devised by Leo Amery) in June 1940.
The offer by Guy Mollet was referred to by Sir John Colville, Churchill's former private secretary, in his collected diaries, The Fringes of Power (1985), his having gleaned the information in 1957 from Air Chief Marshal Sir William Dickson during an air flight (and, according to Colville, after several whiskies and soda). Mollet's request for Union with Britain was rejected by Eden, but the additional possibility of France joining the Commonwealth of Nations was considered, although similarly rejected. Colville noted, in respect of Suez, that Eden and his Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd "felt still more beholden to the French on account of this offer".
Eden resigned from the House of Commons in March 1957. He retained much of his personal popularity in Britain and soon regretted his retirement, and contemplated standing again. Several Conservative MPs were reportedly willing to give up their seats for him, although the party hierarchy were less keen. He finally gave up such hopes in late 1960 after an exhausting speaking tour of Yorkshire. Macmillan initially offered to recommend him for a viscountcy, which Eden assumed to be a calculated insult, and he was granted an earldom (which was then the traditional rank for a former Prime Minister) after reminding Macmillan that he had already been offered one by the Queen herself. He entered the House of Lords as Earl of Avon in 1961.
In retirement Eden lived in 'Rose Bower' by the banks of the River Ebble in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire. Starting in 1961 he bred a herd of sixty Herefordshire cattle (one of whom was called “Churchill”) until a further decline in his health forced him to sell them in 1975.
In July 1962 Eden made front page news by commenting that “Mr Selwyn Lloyd has been horribly treated” when the latter was dismissed as Chancellor in the reshuffle known as the “Night of the Long Knives”. In August 1962, at a dinner party, he had a “slanging match” with Nigel Birch, who as Secretary of State for Air had not wholeheartedly supported the Suez Invasion. In 1963 Eden initially favoured Hailsham for the Conservative leadership but then supported Home as a compromise candidate.
From 1945 to 1973, Eden was Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, England. In a television interview in 1966 he called on the United States to halt its bombing of North Vietnam to concentrate on developing a peace plan "that might conceivably be acceptable to Hanoi." The bombing of North Vietnam, he argued, would never settle the conflict in South Vietnam. "On the contrary," he declared, "bombing creates a sort of David and Goliath complex in any country that has to suffer—as we had to, and as I suspect the Germans had to, in the last war." Eden sat for extensive interviews for the famed multi-part Thames Television production, The World at War, which was first broadcast in 1973. He also featured frequently in Marcel Ophüls' 1969 documentary Le chagrin et la pitié, discussing the occupation of France in a wider geopolitical context. He spoke impeccable, if accented, French.
Eden's occasional articles and his early 1970s television appearance were an exception to an almost total retirement. He seldom appeared in public, unlike other former Prime Ministers, e.g. James Callaghan who commented frequently on current affairs. He was even accidentally omitted from a list of Conservative Prime Ministers by Margaret Thatcher when she became Conservative Leader in 1975, although she later went out of her way to establish relations with Eden and, later, his widow. In retirement he was highly critical of regimes such as Sukarno's Indonesia which confiscated assets belonging to their former colonial rulers, and appears to have reverted somewhat to the right-wing views which he had espoused in the 1920s.
In retirement Eden corresponded with Selwyn Lloyd, coordinating the release of information and with which writers they would agree to speak and when. Rumours that Britain had colluded with France and Israel appeared, albeit in garbled form, as early as 1957. By the 1970s they had agreed that Lloyd would only tell his version of the story after Eden’s death (in the event, Lloyd would outlive Eden by a year, struggling with terminal illness to complete his own memoirs).
In retirement Eden was particularly bitter that Eisenhower had initially indicated British and French troops should be allowed to remain around Port Said, only for the US ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr to press for an immediate withdrawal at the UN, thereby rendering the operation a complete failure. Eden felt the Eisenhower administration's unexpected opposition was hypocritical in light of the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état.
Eden published three volumes of political memoirs, in which he denied that there had been any collusion with France and Israel. Like Churchill, Eden relied heavily on the ghost-writing of young researchers, whose drafts he would sometimes toss angrily into the flowerbeds outside his study. One of them was the young David Dilks.
In his view, American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whom he particularly disliked, was responsible for the ill fate of the Suez adventure. In an October press conference, barely three weeks before the fighting began, Dulles had coupled the Suez Canal issue with colonialism, and his statement infuriated Eden and much of the UK as well. "The dispute over Nasser's seizure of the canal," wrote Eden, "had, of course, nothing to do with colonialism, but was concerned with international rights." He added that "if the United States had to defend her treaty rights in the Panama Canal, she would not regard such action as colonialism." His lack of candour further diminished his standing and a principal concern in his later years was trying to rebuild his reputation that was severely damaged by Suez, sometimes taking legal action to protect his viewpoint.
Eden faulted the United States for forcing him to withdraw, but he took credit for United Nations action in patrolling the Israeli-Egyptian borders. Eden said of the invasion, "Peace at any price has never averted war. We must not repeat the mistakes of the pre-war years, by behaving as though the enemies of peace and order are armed with only good intentions." Recalling the incident in a 1967 interview, he declared, "I am still unrepentant about Suez. People never look at what would have happened if we had done nothing. There is a parallel with the 1930s. If you allow people to break agreements with impunity, the appetite grows to feed on such things. I don't see what other we ought to have done. One cannot dodge. It is hard to act rather than dodge." In his 1967 interview (which he stipulated would not be used until after his death), Eden acknowledged secret dealings with the French and "intimations" of the Israeli attack. He insisted, however, that "the joint enterprise and the preparations for it were justified in the light of the wrongs it [the Anglo-French invasion] was designed to prevent." "I have no apologies to offer," Eden declared.
At the time of his retirement, Eden had been short of money, although he was paid a £100,000 advance for his memoirs by The Times, with any profit over this amount to be split between himself and the newspaper. By 1970 they had brought him £185,000 (around £3,000,000 at 2014 prices), leaving him a wealthy man for the first time in his life. Towards the end of his life, he published a highly acclaimed personal memoir of his early life, Another World (1976).
On 5 November 1923, shortly before his election to Parliament, he married Beatrice Beckett, then aged only 18. They had three sons: Simon (1924–1945), Robert, who died fifteen minutes after being born in October 1928, and Nicholas (1930–1985).
The marriage was not a success, with both parties apparently conducting affairs. By the mid-1930s his diaries seldom mention Beatrice. The marriage finally broke up under the strain of the loss of their son Simon, who was killed in action with the RAF in Burma in 1945. His plane was reported "missing in action" on 23 June and found on 16 July; Eden did not want the news to be public until after the election on 5 July, to avoid claims of "making political capital" from it.
Between 1946 and 1950, whilst separated from his wife, Eden conducted an open affair with Dorothy, Countess Beatty, the wife of David, Earl Beatty.
Eden was the great-great-grandnephew of author Emily Eden and in 1947 wrote an introduction to her novel The Semi-Attached Couple (1860).
In 1950, Eden and Beatrice were finally divorced, and in 1952, he married Churchill's niece Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, a nominal Roman Catholic who was fiercely criticised by Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh for marrying a divorced man. Eden's second marriage was much more successful than his first had been.
Problems with health
Eden had an ulcer, exacerbated by overwork, as early as the 1920s. His life was changed forever by a medical mishap: during an operation on 12 April 1953, to remove gallstones, his bile duct was damaged, leaving Eden susceptible to recurrent infections, biliary obstruction, and liver failure. He suffered from cholangitis, an abdominal infection which became so agonising that he was admitted to hospital in 1956 with a temperature reaching 106 °F (41 °C). He required major surgery on three occasions to alleviate the problem. Eden would almost certainly have become Prime Minister when Churchill suffered a severe stroke on 23 June 1953, had he not been recovering from corrective surgery in the United States on the same day.
He was also prescribed Benzedrine, the wonder drug of the 1950s. Regarded then as a harmless stimulant, it belongs to the family of drugs called amphetamines, and at that time they were prescribed and used in a very casual way. Among the side effects of Benzedrine are insomnia, restlessness, and mood swings, all of which Eden suffered during the Suez Crisis; indeed, earlier in his premiership he complained of being kept awake at night by the sound of motor scooters. Eden's drug use is now commonly agreed to have been a part of the reason for his bad judgment while Prime Minister. Eden was secretly hospitalised with a high fever, possibly as a result of his heavy medication, on 5–8 October 1956. He underwent further surgery at a New York hospital in April 1957.
In November 2006, private papers uncovered in the Eden family archives disclosed that Eden had been prescribed a powerful combination of amphetamines and barbiturates called drinamyl. Better known in post-war Britain as "purple hearts", the drug can impair judgement, cause paranoia, and even make the person taking them lose contact with reality. Drinamyl was banned in 1978.
Final illness and death
In December 1976, Eden felt well enough to travel with his wife to the United States to spend Christmas and New Year with Averell and Pamela Harriman, but after reaching the States his health rapidly deteriorated. Prime Minister James Callaghan arranged for an RAF plane that was already in America to divert to Miami, to fly Eden home.
Eden died from liver cancer in Salisbury on 14 January 1977, aged 79. He was survived by Clarissa.
He was buried in St Mary's churchyard at Alvediston, just three miles upstream from 'Rose Bower', at the source of the River Ebble. Eden's papers are housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.
At his death, Eden was the last surviving member of Churchill's War Cabinet. Eden's surviving son, Nicholas Eden (1930–1985), known as Viscount Eden from 1961 to 1977, was also a politician and a minister in the Thatcher government until his premature death from AIDS at the age of 54.
Styles of address
- 1897–1916: Mr. Anthony Eden
- 1916–1923: Mr. Anthony Eden MC
- 1923–1934: Mr. Anthony Eden MC MP
- 1934–1954: The Rt Hon. Anthony Eden MC MP
- 1954–1957: The Rt Hon. Sir Anthony Eden KG MC MP
- 1957–1961: The Rt Hon. Sir Anthony Eden KG MC
- 1961–1977: The Rt Hon. The Earl of Avon KG MC PC
Character, speaking style and assessments
Eden, who was well-mannered, well-groomed, and good-looking, always made a particularly cultured appearance. This gave him huge popular support throughout his political life, but some contemporaries felt he was merely a superficial person lacking any deeper convictions.
That view was enforced by his very pragmatic approach to politics. Sir Oswald Mosley, for example, said he never understood why Eden was so strongly pushed by the Tory party, as he felt that Eden's abilities were very much inferior to those of Harold Macmillan and Oliver Stanley. In 1947, Dick Crossman called Eden “that peculiarly British type, the idealist without conviction”.
US Secretary of State Dean Acheson regarded Eden as a quite old-fashioned amateur in politics typical of the British Establishment. In contrast, Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev commented that until his Suez adventure Eden had been "in the top world class".
Eden was heavily influenced by Stanley Baldwin when he first entered Parliament. After earlier combative beginnings he cultivated a low-key speaking style which relied heavily on rational argument and consensus-building rather than rhetoric and party point-scoring, and which was often highly effective in the House of Commons. However, he was not always an effective public speaker, and his parliamentary performances sometimes disappointed many of his followers, e.g., after Eden's resignation from Chamberlain's government. Churchill once even commented on one of Eden's speeches that the latter had used every cliché except "God is love". This was deliberate: Eden often struck out original phrases from speech drafts and replaced them with clichés.
His inability to express himself clearly is often attributed to shyness and lack of self-confidence. Eden is known to have been much more direct in meeting with his secretaries and advisors than in Cabinet meetings and public speeches, and sometimes tended to become enraged and behave "like a child", only to regain his temper within a few minutes. Many who worked for him remarked that he was “two men”, one charming, erudite, and hard-working, the other petty and prone to temper tantrums during which he would insult his subordinates.
As Prime Minister, Eden was notorious for telephoning ministers and newspaper editors from 6am onwards. Rothwell writes that even before Suez, the telephone had become “a drug” and that “During the Suez Crisis Eden’s telephone mania exceeded all bounds”.
Eden was notoriously “unclubbable” and offended Churchill by declining to join The Other Club. He also declined honorary membership in the Athenaeum. However, he maintained friendly relations with Opposition MPs; for example, George Thomas received a kind two-page letter from Eden on learning that his stepfather had died. Eden was a Trustee of the National Gallery (in succession to MacDonald) between 1935 and 1949. He also had a deep knowledge of Persian poetry and of Shakespeare and would bond with anybody who could display similar knowledge.
Rothwell writes that although Eden was capable of acting with ruthlessness, e.g., over the repatriation of the Cossacks in 1945, his main concern was to avoid being seen as “an appeaser” (e.g., over the Soviet reluctance to accept a democratic Poland in October 1944), and like many people, he persuaded himself that his past actions were more consistent than they had in fact been.
Recent biographies put more emphasis on Eden's achievements in foreign policy and perceive him to have held deep convictions regarding world peace and security as well as a strong social conscience. Rhodes James applies to Eden Churchill’s famous verdict on Lord Curzon (in Great Contemporaries): “The morning had been golden; the noontime was bronze; and the evening lead. But all was solid, and each was polished until it shone after its fashion”.
Eden in popular culture
Eden appears as a character in James P. Hogan's science-fiction novel The Proteus Operation.
In Harry Turtledove's novel, The Big Switch, Eden appears as a member of a group of disgruntled MPs who are gathered together by Ronald Cartland after Britain allies with Germany in mid-1940.
In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series of alternate history science-fiction novels, Eden first appears as the representative of the United Kingdom at the peace talks with the alien Race in Cairo. As it does not have nuclear weapons at that point in the story, the United Kingdom is not fully recognised by the Race, but is also too powerful for them to fully discount. Eden attempts to secure full recognition of the United Kingdom by the Race, but fails. Atvar, the Race's commander, notes that Eden is highly competent but attempting to negotiate from a position of weakness. In the succeeding series, Colonization, Eden is Prime Minister in 1962, leading a government which cultivates close relations with the German Reich. When Germany and the Race go to war, Eden refuses to lend British military assistance to the Reich, though formally supports German efforts against the Race.
Eden is mentioned in a song by The Kinks, "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina", from the album Arthur (1969).
Eden appears as a character in the play Never So Good (2008)—portrayed as a hysterical, pill-addicted wreck, spying on members of his own Cabinet by ordering government chauffeurs to report on their comings and goings. He is shown being overwhelmed by the chaos of the Suez Crisis and eventually forced out of office by his Conservative Party colleagues, at the urging of the American government.
He also appeared in Peter Morgan's stage play The Audience (2013); in the premiere, he was played by Michael Elwyn). In the 2015 West End revival version, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas as the Queen, Eden is portrayed by Scottish actor David Robb. His scene in the play is a prediction of Eden's audience with the Queen the day before the invasion of Anglo-French forces in Egypt. The conversation that takes place features Eden attempting to feed selected information to the Queen rather than the whole facts about the Suez crisis and the Queen's reaction to the proposed invasion. In the play's 2015 rewrite, the Queen makes reference to Tony Blair, seen in a flashback, and his proposal to send troops to Iraq, likening it to the conversation she'd had with Eden 50 years previously about Suez.
As Secretary of State for War in 1940, Eden authorised the setting-up of the Local Defence Volunteers (soon renamed the Home Guard). In the film of the TV sitcom Dad's Army, the (fictional) Walmington-on-Sea platoon is formed in response to Eden's radio broadcast. The debonair Sergeant Wilson takes enormous pride in being often said to resemble Eden.
Eden is portrayed by Jeremy Northam in the Netflix television series The Crown.
In one episode of The Honeymooners, Ed Norton mentions that Anthony Eden would not have been able to join the Raccoon Lodge due to the Lodge's membership requirements.
The first season of the UK TV series The Hour revolves around the Suez Crisis and the effect of journalism and censorship on the public's perception of Eden and his government, as a metaphor for modern Western military involvement in the Middle East.
- Prime Minister: Sir Anthony Eden
- Lord Chancellor: Lord Kilmuir
- Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords: Lord Salisbury
- Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons: Harry Crookshank
- Chancellor of the Exchequer: R.A. Butler
- Foreign Secretary: Harold Macmillan
- Home Secretary: Gwilym Lloyd George
- Secretary of State for the Colonies: Alan Lennox-Boyd
- Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations: Lord Home
- President of the Board of Trade: Peter Thorneycroft
- Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Lord Woolton
- Minister of Education: Sir David Eccles
- Secretary of State for Scotland: James Stuart
- Minister of Agriculture: Derick Heathcoat Amory
- Minister of Labour and National Service: Sir Walter Turner Monckton
- Minister of Defence: Selwyn Lloyd
- Minister of Housing and Local Government: Duncan Sandys
- Minister of Pensions and National Insurance: Osbert Peake
- December 1955: Rab Butler succeeds Harry Crookshank as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons. Harold Macmillan succeeds Butler as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Selwyn Lloyd succeeds Macmillan as Foreign Secretary. Sir Walter Monckton succeeds Lloyd as Minister of Defence. Iain Macleod succeeds Monckton as Minister of Labour and National Service. Lord Selkirk succeeds Lord Woolton as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Minister of Works, Patrick Buchan-Hepburn, enters the Cabinet. The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance leaves the Cabinet upon Peake's retirement.
- October 1956: Sir Walter Monckton becomes Paymaster-General. Antony Henry Head succeeds Monckton as Minister of Defence.
Eden's initial cabinet is remarkable for the fact that 10 out of the original 18 members were Old Etonians: Eden, Salisbury, Crookshank, Macmillan, Home, Stuart, Thorneycroft, Heathcoat Amory, Sandys, and Peake were all educated at Eton.
|Ancestors of Anthony Eden|
- Another World. London. Doubleday, 1976. Covers early life.
- The Eden Memoirs: Facing the Dictators. London. Casell, 1962. Covers early career and first period as Foreign Secretary, to 1938.
- The Eden Memoirs: the Reckoning. London. Casell, 1965. Covers 1938–1945.
- The Eden Memoirs: Full Circle. London. Casell, 1960. Covers postwar career.