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Anthony Eden

Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC (12 June 1897 14 January 1977) was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957. He was also Foreign Secretary for three periods between 1935 and 1955, including during the Second World War. He is best known for his outspoken opposition to appeasement in the 1930s, his diplomatic leadership in the 1940s and 1950s, and the failure of his Middle East policy in 1956 that ended his premiership.

Eden's worldwide reputation as an opponent of appeasement, a "Man of Peace", and a skilled diplomat was overshadowed in the second year of his premiership 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.[1] Most historians argue that he made a series of blunders, especially not realizing the depth of opposition to military action by the US.[2] Most historians say that Eden completely dominated the British decision-making process in the Suez crisis. However, 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 say.

He is generally ranked among the least successful British Prime Ministers of the 20th century,[3][4] although two broadly sympathetic biographies (in 1986 and 2003) have gone some way to redressing the balance of opinion.[5] 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."[6]


Early life

Eden was born at Windlestone Hall, County Durham, England, into a very conservative landed gentry family. He was a younger son of Sir William Eden, baronet, from an old titled family. His mother, Sybil Frances Grey, was a member of the famous Grey family of Northumberland (see below). This was perhaps the meaning of Rab Butler's later gibe that Eden in later life a handsome but ill-tempered man was "half mad baronet, half beautiful woman".[7] 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.[8] He was also descended from Governor Sir Robert Eden, 1st Baronet, of Maryland and the Calvert Family of Maryland.

There was speculation for many years that Eden's 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.[9] His mother was rumoured to have had an affair with Wyndham.[7] Eden had an elder brother called John, who was killed in action in 1914[10] and a younger brother, Nicholas, who was killed when the battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable blew up and sank at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.[11]

Education and War service

The Uffizi Society Oxford, ca. 1920. First row standing: later Sir Henry Studholme (5th from left). Seated: Lord Balniel, later 28th Earl of Crawford (2nd from left); Ralph Dutton, later 8th Baron Sherborne (3rd from left); Anthony Eden, later Earl of Avon (4th from left); Lord David Cecil (5th from left). Eden was educated at two independent schools: at Sandroyd School[12] from 1907 1910, at the time based in Cobham in Surrey (and now the home of Reed's School), followed by Eton College, in Eton in Berkshire, where he won a Divinity prize and excelled at cricket, rugby and rowing, winning House colours in the latter.[13]

During the First World War, Eden served with the 21st (Yeoman Rifles) Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and reached the rank of captain. He received a Military Cross, and at the age of twenty-one became the youngest brigade-major in the British Army. At a conference in the early 1930s, he and Adolf Hitler observed that they had probably fought on opposite sides of the trenches in the Ypres sector.

After the war, he studied at Christ Church at the University of Oxford, where he graduated in Oriental Languages. He was fluent in French, German and Persian, and also spoke Russian and Arabic. His main leisure interest at the time was art, and he took no part in undergraduate politics.

Life and career

Like many aspirant politicians Captain Eden, as he was still known, first contested a seat where he had little chance of winning in the November 1922 general election, and was then elected Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington in the December 1923 general election, as a Conservative, at the age of twenty-six. Also in that year he married Beatrice Beckett. They had three sons, one of whom died in infancy, but the marriage was not a success and later broke up under the strain of a son missing in action during the latter half of the Second World War.

In the 1924 1929 Conservative Government, Eden was first Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson Hicks, and then in 1926 to the Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain. In 1931 he held his first ministerial office as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1934 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal and Minister for the League of Nations in Stanley Baldwin's Government.

Like many of his generation who had served in the First World War, Eden was strongly anti-war, and strove to work through the League of Nations to preserve European peace. His ruling National Government, led by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, failed to recognize the threat that an ascendant Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler posed, and proposed measures, in contravention of existing international agreements, that would allow Germany to rearm. In response to sharp criticism of this policy by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on 23 March 1933, he defended this appeasement policy toward Adolf Hitler's Germany by arguing that Britain needed to "secure for Europe that period of appeasement which is needed",[14] a speech that brought him a standing ovation in the House.[15] He later to 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 38)

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." He 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.[16]

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.[1] 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."[17]

Although Churchill claimed to have lost sleep the night of Eden's resignation (later recounted in his wartime memoirs The Gathering Storm, 1948), they were not allies and did not see eye to eye until Churchill became Prime Minister. 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 honor 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."[18]

Second World War (1939 45)

Quebec Conference]] in 1943. Potsdam Conference: The Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov, James F. Byrnes and Anthony Eden, July 1945. In September 1939, on the outbreak of war, Eden, who had briefly rejoined the army with the rank of major, 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 after Germany invaded France in May 1940 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.[1]

Nevertheless he was in charge of handling much of the relations between Britain and 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.[1]

In 1942 Eden was given the additional job 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.[19]

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.[19]

Eden's eldest son, Pilot Officer Simon Gascoigne Eden, went missing in action, later declared deceased, while serving as a navigator with the RAF in Burma, in June 1945.[20] There was a close bond between Anthony and Simon, and Simon's death was a great personal shock to his father, who nevertheless accepted it. Lady Eden reportedly reacted differently to her son's loss, 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 that were qualified for the Nobel Prize in Peace. However, he did not explicitly nominate any of them. The person actually nominated was Cordell Hull.[21]


Opposition (1945 51)

After the Labour Party won the 1945 elections, 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.[22] 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",[1] 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.[23] 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.[1]

Between 1946 and 1950, whilst separated from his wife, Eden conducted an open affair with Dorothy, Countess Beatty whilst she was married to David, Earl Beatty. [24]

Anthony Eden is the great-great-grandnephew of author Emily Eden and wrote an introduction to her 1860 novel The Semi-Attached Couple in 1947.[25]

Return to government (1951 55)

In 1951, the Conservatives returned to office and Eden became Foreign Secretary for a third time, as well as Deputy Prime Minister. Churchill was largely a figurehead in this government, and Eden had an effective control of British foreign policy for the first time, as the Empire declined and the Cold War grew more intense. He dealt effectively with the various crises of the period, although Britain was no longer the world power it had been before the war. The success of the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China ranks as his outstanding achievement of his third term in the Foreign Office.

Eden had grave misgivings about American foreign policy under Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was irked by Dulles's policy of "brinkmanship", or display of muscle, in relations with the Communist world. He was also critical of the United States decision not to sign the 1954 Geneva accord on Vietnam, of which he was an architect.

During the summer and fall of 1954, the Anglo-Egyptian agreement to withdraw all British forces from Egypt was also negotiated and ratified. In 1950 he and Beatrice Eden were finally divorced, and in 1952 he married Churchill's niece, Clarissa Spencer-Churchill (b. 1920), a nominal Roman Catholic who was fiercely criticised by Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh for marrying a divorced man. This second marriage was much more successful than his first had been. In 1954 he was made a Knight of the Garter and became Sir Anthony Eden.

Prime minister (1955 57)

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 27 May 1955, at which he increased the Conservative majority from seventeen to sixty, a majority which 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. But 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 U.S. 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 in July 1955 - barely 1% of the workforce.[26]

Suez (1956)

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. The nationalisation was in violation of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement that Nasser had signed with the British and French governments on 19 October 1954. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were certain to block any sanctions against Nasser at the United Nations. The UK and a conference of other nations met in London following the nationalisation in an attempt to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means. However, a series of eighteen 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 cut off oil supplies to Europe and, in conjunction with France, decided he should be removed from power.[27]

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 legal. The Attorney General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, was not asked for his opinion officially but made his views known through the Lord Chancellor that the government's contemplated armed strike against Egypt would be unlawful.[28]

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."[29] At a private meeting at Downing Street on 16 October 1956 Eden showed several ministers a plan, submitted two days earlier by French General Maurice Challe. 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."[30]

Eden initially considered using British forces in Libya to regain the Canal, but then decided this risked inflaming Arab opinion.[31] 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 then 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."[32] 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. Western Europe got 80-90% of their oil supplies from the Middle East. 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.[33] 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.[34]

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 like Uganda and Kenya.[35] On 25 September 1956 the Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan met 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.[36] In any case Eden had known Eisenhower for years and had many direct contacts during the crisis, but Eden also misread the situation. The Americans were basically hostile to British imperialism, seeing the U.S. as the champion of decolonization; Eisenhower repeatedly emphasized the crisis had to be handled peacefully. Eden and other top British officials, incorrectly believed there the "special relationship" meant the U.S. would always come to Britain's aid in a war, even when Eisenhower specifically warned him 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[37][38]

At the end of October 1956, Israel invaded and Britain and France, moved in ostensibly to bring peace but in fact to control the canal and overthrow Nasser. Eisenhower immediately and strongly opposed the invasion, and quickly forced Britain and France to retreat. The United Nations denounced the invasion; the Soviets were bellicose; only New Zealand and Australia spoke out for Britain's position.[39]

Eisenhower did not see Nasser as a serious threat to the West, but he was concerned that the Soviets might side with Egypt. The United States acquired relatively little oil through the Suez Canal (about 15% of their national requirement in 1956) and the economic importance to America of the nationalisation of the canal was minimal. US investments in the Suez Canal Company was also negligible. Eisenhower wanted to be seen as a man who could broker peace at an international level in regions that could be described as fragile in terms of peace. Eisenhower feared a huge backlash amongst the Arab nations if Egypt suffered an humiliating defeat at the hands of the British, French and Israelis as seemed likely. He believed this would push Egypt and other Arab nations closer to the Soviets. It was well known that the USSR wanted a permanent warm water naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, which her Black Sea's fleet could use.

Eden, who faced domestic pressure from his party to take action, as well as stopping the decline of British influence in the Middle East,[1] had ignored Britain's financial dependence on the U.S. in the wake of the Second World War, and had overestimated US loyalty towards 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 in order to strengthen the United Nations. Every burglar of course could say the same thing, he could argue that he was entering the house in order 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'. However, modern historians agree that the majority of public opinion in the UK was on Eden's side.[40] 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 devalue 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. The Suez Crisis is widely taken as marking the end of Britain's status as a superpower, although in reality this had happened by the end of the Second World War.

Suez damaged, in many eyes, Eden's reputation for statesmanship 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.[41]

The Observer newspaper accused Eden of lying to parliament over the Suez Crisis, while right-wing Conservative MPs criticised his calling a ceasefire before the Canal was taken. Eden easily survived a vote of confidence in the House of Commons on 8 November.[41] While Eden was 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 in order to seize the Canal, but they decided there was very little evidence in the public domain.[42] In his final statement to the House of Commons as Prime Minister on 20 December 1956, Eden told MPs "there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt"; however, papers released in January 1987 showed the entire Cabinet had been informed of the plan on 23 October 1956.[31]

Thorpe has summarized 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. It was a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his career."[6]

1957 resignation

Eden resigned on 9 January 1957, after his doctors warned him his life was at stake if he continued in office.[43] Although the media expected Butler would get the nod, a survey of the Cabinet done for the Queen showed Macmillan was the nearly unanimous choice, and he became Prime Minister on 10 January 1957.[44] Shortly afterwards Eden and his wife left England for a holiday in New Zealand.

Eden retained much of his personal popularity in Britain, was created Earl of Avon in 1961, and entered the House of Lords. 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' tat and the 1954 Guatemalan coup d' tat.

In his 1987 book "Spycatcher" Peter Wright revealed that, following the imposed ending to the military operation, Eden reactivated the assassination option for a second time. By this time virtually all MI6 assets in Egypt had been rounded up by Nasser, and a new operation, using renegade Egyptian officers, was drawn up. However it failed principally because the cache of weapons which had been hidden on the outskirts of Cairo was found to be defective.[45]

Suez in retrospect

In 1986, Eden's official biographer Robert Rhodes James re-evaluated sympathetically Eden's stance over Suez[46] and in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, James asked: "Who can now claim that Eden was wrong?".[47] 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".[48] Conversely, D. R. Thorpe, another of Eden's biographers, 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".[49]

Guy Millard, Eden's Private Secretary, 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."[31] 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.[50]

Health issues

Eden s life was changed forever by a medical mishap: during an operation on 12 April 1953 to remove gallstones his bile duct was damaged, leaving him 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. 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 actually suffered during the Suez Crisis. His drug use is now commonly agreed to have been a part of the reason for the Prime Minister's ill judgment.[1] Eden was in fact 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 he had been prescribed a powerful combination of amphetamines and barbiturates called drinamyl. Better known in post-war Britain as "purple hearts", they can impair judgement, cause paranoia and even make the person taking them lose contact with reality. Drinamyl was banned in 1978.[51]

Rejected plan for union between Britain and France

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.[52] This was a similar offer, in reverse, to that made by Churchill (drawing on a plan devised by Leo Amery[53]) in June 1940.[54]

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).[55] 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".[55]

Retirement from politics

Eden soon retired and lived quietly with his second wife Clarissa, formerly Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, niece of Sir Winston, in 'Rose Bower' by the banks of the River Ebble in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire. He published a highly acclaimed personal memoir, Another World (1976), as well as several volumes of political memoirs, in which he, however, denied that there had been any collusion with France and Israel. 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."[56] This 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.[1] It was not until some years after his death that a more balanced view of Suez came to be advanced by some historians and other commentators in the light of subsequent events.

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 prewar 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."[33] 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.[18]

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 Oph ls' 1969 documentary Le chagrin et la piti , discussing the occupation of France in a wider geopolitical context. He spoke impeccable, if accented, French.[57] 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."[18]

Illness and death

On a trip to the United States in 1976 1977 to spend Christmas and New Year with Averell and Pamela Harriman, his health rapidly deteriorated. At his family's request, James Callaghan arranged for an RAF plane that was already in America to divert to Miami to fly him home. The Earl of Avon died from liver cancer in Salisbury on 14 January 1977, at the age of 79. Born in the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, he thus died in the year of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. He was survived by Clarissa.[58]

Anthony Eden was buried in St Mary's churchyard[59] 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.[60]

Eden's surviving son, Nicholas Eden (1930 1985), known as Viscount Eden until 1977, was also a politician and a minister in the Thatcher government until his premature death from AIDS at the age of 54.

Character and speaking style

Anthony Eden always made a particularly cultured appearance, well-mannered and good-looking. This gave him huge popular support throughout his political life, but some contemporaries felt that 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 that he never understood why Eden was so strongly pushed by the Tory party, while he felt that Eden's abilities were very much inferior to those of Harold Macmillan and Oliver Stanley.[61] Also, US Secretary of State Dean Acheson regarded him as a quite old-fashioned amateur in politics typical of the British Establishment.[1] However, 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.[5]

Eden was for all his abilities not a very effective public speaker. Too often in his career, for instance in the late 1930s, following his resignation from Chamberlain's government, his parliamentary performances disappointed many of his followers. Churchill once even commented on an Eden speech that the latter had used every clich except "God is love".[23] 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, sometimes tending to become enraged and behaving "like a child",[62] only to regain his temper within a few minutes.[1]

Eden in popular culture

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 mentioned by Ed Norton on The Honeymooners saying that because of the residency requirements that Anthony Eden could never be a member of The Racoon Lodge.

Eden is also mentioned in a song by The Kinks, "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" from the 1969 album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).

Eden is mentioned in the 1993 film The Remains of the Day when Anthony Hopkins s character mentions that Eden has also been a guest at Darlington Hall.

Eden appears as a character in the 2008 play Never So Good 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.

Eden appears as a character in James P. Hogan's science-fiction novel The Proteus Operation.

Antifolk band The Atomic Penguins released a free album download, titled 'Touch My Chin, Anthony Eden'.

The first season of the UK TV series The Hour revolves around the Suez Crisis and the effect of journalism and censorship on public perception of Eden and his government as a metaphor for modern Western military involvement in the Middle East.

The Eden Government

  • 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 Public 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.


Partial bibliography

  • 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.


Further reading

  • Dutton, David. Anthony Eden: a life and reputation (1997)
  • Hathaway, Robert M. "Suez, the perfect failure," Political Science Quarterly, Summer 1994, 109#2 pp 361 66 in JSTOR
  • Henderson, John T. "Leadership Personality and War: The Cases of Richard Nixon and Anthony Eden," Political Science Dec 1976, 28#2 pp 141 164,
  • James, Robert Rhodes. "Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis," History Today, Nov 1986, 36#11 pp 8 15
  • James, Robert Rhodes. Anthony Eden: A Biography (1986), detailed scholarly biography
  • Rothwell, V. Anthony Eden: a political biography, 1931 1957 (1992)
  • Ruane, Kevin. "SEATO, MEDO, and the Baghdad Pact: Anthony Eden, British Foreign Policy and the Collective Defense of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, 1952 1955," Diplomacy & Statecraft, March 2005, 16#1, pp 169 199
  • Ruane, Kevin, and James Ellison. "Managing the Americans: Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and the Pursuit of 'Power-by-Proxy' in the 1950s," Contemporary British History, Autumn 2004, 18#3, pp 147 167
  • Thorpe, D. R. "Eden, (Robert) Anthony, first earl of Avon (1897 1977)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) online
  • Thorpe, D.R. Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon, 1897 1977. London: Chatto and Windus, 2003 ISBN 0-7126-6505-6). detailed scholarly biography

Primary sources

  • Eden, Anthony. The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Eden KG, PC, MC: Full Circle. (3 volumes) London: Cassell, 1960, 1962, 1965.

External links

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