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  (Robert) Anthony Eden (1897–1977), by Philippe Halsman, 1955 (Robert) Anthony Eden (1897–1977), by Philippe Halsman, 1955
Eden, (Robert) Anthony, first earl of Avon (1897–1977), prime minister, was born at Windlestone Hall, Ferryhill, co. Durham, on 12 June 1897. He was the third of the four sons, and the fourth of the five surviving children, of of the first creation (1672) and fifth baronet of the second (1776), whose estates in co. Durham and Northumberland extended to some 8000 acres marching with each other. Speculation that Eden could actually have been the son of George Wyndham, the Victorian statesman and man of letters, to whom he bore a striking physical resemblance, is inaccurate, as Wyndham was in South Africa at the time of Eden's conception. Eden's mother was Sybil Frances (1867–1945), daughter of , a great-niece of the second Earl Grey, prime minister from 1830 to 1834, and a kinsman of one of her son's predecessors as foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. Alec Douglas-Home, prime minister (1963–4), was also a distant collateral through the Grey line. Eden thus had both landowning and political threads in his lineage, though his upbringing in Durham gave him an insight into domestic issues that placed him firmly in the tory paternalist ‘one nation’ tradition.

Early years and education

Eden was a sensitive child, who had a somewhat lonely upbringing at Windlestone Hall. His father was an irascible and distant figure, though Eden's aesthetic sensibility, not to mention his sometimes short temper, was inherited from his father, who was an amateur painter of renown and a noted collector of art. From his mother, a renowned society beauty, not over-cautious in financial matters, he inherited charm and his handsome bearing. His closest relationships within the family circle, however, were with his elder sister, Marjorie, ten years his senior, who was a protective shield against the unpredictable whims of his sometimes eccentric parents, and with his younger brother, Nicholas, three years his junior, to whom he was devoted. A vivid portrait of life at Windlestone is contained in the memoir Tribulations of a Baronet (1933), written by his second brother, Sir Timothy Eden. Eden learned French and German at an early age, and was later able to converse fluently with his political counterparts in private; however, he never negotiated in a foreign language but always through an interpreter, thereby avoiding the embarrassment and ambiguity suffered by some twentieth-century prime ministers who had an exaggerated confidence in their linguistic abilities.

Eden's education was the traditional one of the landed class. After private tuition at Windlestone, in April 1907 he joined his brother Timothy as a boarder at Sandroyd School in Cobham, an established nursery for Eton College. Even as a young boy he followed keenly the consequences of Lloyd George's ‘people's budget’ of 1909, women's suffrage (which he supported), and the growing home-rule crisis in Ireland. He entered Eton College in the Lent half of 1911. To the surprise of his father, for whom religion was a closed book, he won the Brinckman divinity prize, though his main enthusiasms were for languages and modern history. His sporting interests centred on the river and on individual sports such as fives, at which he also proved proficient. He was rowing on the Thames when he heard of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo in June 1914. The shadow of war hung over his last year at Eton, as each Sunday the lists of the latest casualties, many known personally to him, were read out in chapel, including his eldest brother, John, killed in France with the 12th lancers on 17 October 1914. His second brother, Timothy, in Germany when war broke out, was imprisoned for two years in a prison camp outside Berlin. For Eden, already an enthusiastic and accomplished Shakespearian, the saying that sorrows come not as single spies was never more evident than when he heard of the death of his father, after a long illness, on 20 February 1915.

Military service in the First World War

On leaving Eton, Eden enlisted with the 21st battalion, the yeoman rifles, of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, on 29 September 1915. He saw active service for the first time at Ploegsteert Wood in May 1916. Shortly after arriving in France, Eden heard the devastating news that his youngest brother, Nicholas, a midshipman on HMS Indefatigable, had been killed at the age of sixteen at the battle of Jutland. He experienced some of the most bitter fighting in the trenches of the western front. In June 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for his selfless rescue of his wounded sergeant under fire at Ploegsteert. His last posting was in the British lines at La Fère on the River Oise in March 1918 at the time of the Ludendorff spring offensive. On 26 May 1918 he was promoted brigade major in the 198th infantry brigade, at the age of twenty the youngest in the British army.

Eden's upbringing and gentlemanly reticence meant that he rarely referred to his formative experiences during the First World War, but its effects were profound, convincing him in the 1930s that a resolution and steadfastness in the face of the dictators was the policy best able to prevent the tragedy of a further world war. Only with the publication of his memoir Another World, 1897–1917 in 1976, the year before his death, did many first fully realize the intensity of these formative experiences for him, though even then he stressed the camaraderie in adversity as an enduring theme.

Oxford and political apprenticeship

After demobilization with the rank of captain on 13 June 1919, the day after his twenty-second birthday, Eden returned to Windlestone to contemplate his future career. Even the beauties of the park were not inseparable from his memories of the war, and he wondered if he ‘could ever again see them free from the memory of those other shell-torn trees and ravaged fields with their torn wire and heaped and silent bodies’ (Avon MSS, AP 7/25/19). He had no prospect of inheriting either the baronetcy or, after his mother's litigious dealings with moneylenders, what little money remained, and until the publication of his memoirs in the 1960s finance was a continuing concern. One aristocratic lady to whom he was attracted even declined interest in him because he was not an eldest son with prospects.

Eden's first thought on demobilization had been to seek a diplomatic career, but he feared this would be a slow-track world, ‘forever handing round teacups in Teheran’ (Eden, Memoirs, 1.4). Nevertheless, he felt that a knowledge of Eastern languages would be invaluable in any future political career, and in the autumn of 1919 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, to read oriental languages, specializing in Persian and Arabic. He obtained first-class honours in 1922. The Middle East was thereafter one of his main areas of interest. Unusually for a putative politician Eden took no interest in the Oxford Union, but along with Lord David Cecil and Henry (Chips) Channon founded the Uffizi Society in November 1920. As president Eden invited many of the leading artistic figures of the day, such as Augustus John and Roger Fry, to speak. Eden's own scholarly paper for the Uffizi on Cezanne, privately printed, was long remembered for its far-sighted appreciation of the artist's innovations. In 1921, while on vacation in Munich, Eden bought a Constable for £200, the beginning of a lifelong enthusiasm for collecting. He also made shrewd purchases of paintings by Degas, Braque, and Picasso, as ‘an amateur of the arts, who if circumstances had been different might have been a painter’ (D. Sutton, ‘A statesman's collection’, Apollo, June 1969).

At the general election of November 1922 Eden stood in the Conservative interest in the Labour stronghold of Spennymoor in his home county—a valuable, if forlorn, apprenticeship. Eden's opportunity to enter parliament came the following year at Warwick and Leamington, a seat he was to retain for the next thirty-four years. Lord Willoughby de Broke, the local Conservative Association chairman and a veteran of the House of Lords crisis of 1911, recommended Eden to his executive committee because of Eden's knowledge of unemployment questions from his earlier campaign in Spennymoor. The election attracted wide attention owing to the unconventional socialist candidature of Frances, countess of Warwick, mother-in-law of Eden's sister, Marjorie, who toured the constituency in a carriage drawn by four milk-white steeds, and was mistaken by many voters as an advertisement for The Garden of Allah at the Leamington Playhouse. Initially a by-election, the contest at Warwick and Leamington was subsumed into the general election of 6 December 1923 after the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, had sought an unexpected, and unsuccessful, mandate for his protectionist policy. Eden won a majority of over 5000.

On the afternoon of 5 November 1923, during a lull in the campaign, Eden married Beatrice Helen Beckett (1905–1957), also related to Frances, countess of Warwick, and daughter of Sir Gervase Beckett, baronet (created 1921). They were to have three sons, Simon (b. 1924), Robert (b. 1928), who survived for only fifteen minutes, and Nicholas (b. 1930), named in memory of Eden's younger brother.

Eden's father-in-law, a prominent banker and chairman of the Yorkshire Post, a Conservative newspaper of influence in the north of England, was to be of inestimable value to Eden in his early political career. Through Beckett he gained a source of supplementary income and a forum, as a contributor to the Yorkshire Post, of articles, many on foreign policy, following his empire tour of 1925. Eden's first book, Places in the Sun (1926), with an admiring preface from Stanley Baldwin, was a collection of these articles for the Yorkshire Post. For his part, Eden always remembered Baldwin's advice to him as young back-bencher—never to underestimate the Labour Party opposite. ‘You may have had better educational advantages, do not presume upon that, they know more about unemployment insurance than you’ (Eden, Memoirs, 1.5). He was also influenced in his early years in parliament by the Conservative MP Noel Skelton, who emphasized the importance of ‘a property-owning democracy’.

Eden's own assertive maiden speech in the House of Commons on 19 February 1924, in support of Sir Samuel Hoare, stressed the importance of strong air defences and was critical of Labour pacifism. With the return of a Conservative government in October 1924, he became an unpaid parliamentary private secretary to Godfrey Locker Lampson, under-secretary at the Home Office. But his interests were increasingly on defence and foreign policy, and in July 1926 Eden was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Sir Austen Chamberlain, the foreign secretary, then at the height of his reputation after the Locarno treaty of 1925. This decisive promotion conditioned much of Eden's later thinking, and he learned at first hand from Sir Austen Chamberlain how the Foreign Office operated. Like his mentor, Eden believed that the best way to keep the peace in Europe was to remain on good terms with France, at a time when many in the Conservative Party were impatient of such views, favouring rapprochement with Germany. With Chamberlain's illness and absence in 1928 Eden achieved unexpected autonomy and was widely regarded as a potential foreign secretary.

In May 1929 Ramsay MacDonald formed a minority government, and Eden, on the left of his party and a supporter of Baldwin during his 1930 leadership difficulties, seized his opportunity in opposition to address the question of the future direction of Conservative philosophy. Eden dined weekly with a group of like-minded progressive tories, which included Noel Skelton, William Ormsby-Gore, Walter Elliot, W. S. Morrison, and Oliver Stanley. Eden, with his film-star looks, was already in the early 1930s the glass of fashion and the mould of form, cutting a dashing figure in his immaculate suits and Homburgs, soon known as the Eden hat. (Together with the duke of Wellington, he was thus one of only two British prime ministers to have given his name eponymously to an article of clothing or footwear.) His outward image, cultivated at this time in the popular press as the Beau Brummel of British politics (even his London residence was Beau Brummel's former house in Chesterfield Street), disguised a deeper seriousness, often denied by his critics in Westminster, who were envious of his swift ascent. His diligent work behind the scenes at Conservative associations, speaking on the need for the party in an age of mass enfranchisement (completed by Baldwin's government in 1928), to enable all workers to become capitalists through industrial co-partnership schemes, did not make the headlines. Eden consolidated his reputation as a coming man with speeches on defence and overseas policy, especially on League of Nations affairs.

National Government minister

The short-lived Labour government came to an end with the financial crisis of August 1931. When Ramsay MacDonald formed a national coalition government, both Baldwin and Austen Chamberlain pressed Eden's claims with the new foreign secretary, Rufus Isaacs, first marquess of Reading, and Eden was appointed under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office. As Reading was in the upper house, Eden was prominent as the Foreign Office's lone representative in the Commons, particularly over the Manchurian crisis in September. After the general election on 27 October 1931, Sir John Simon became foreign secretary. Eden's relationship with his new political master was complex, and soon one of disillusionment. As a relatively junior figure in the political hierarchy, Eden was exasperated by Simon's unwillingness to get to grips with the pragmatic details of international diplomacy, especially at the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva between 1932 and 1934. But this proved Eden's opportunity, and he swiftly became established as a respected British presence on the international scene. On 31 December 1933 Eden was promoted to the post of lord privy seal.

With the collapse of the disarmament conference in Geneva and Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations, Eden now became a roving ambassador for the Foreign Office, and in the next fourteen months was to become the first Western politician to meet Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. He derived different impressions of all three, regarding Mussolini and Stalin as the most sinister. At his meeting with Hitler, the two men found that they had been serving on opposite banks of the River Oise in 1918, and Hitler was more keen on military reminiscences than the ‘Memorandum on disarmament’ Eden had brought for discussion. Eden was wary of Hitler's easy charm, which the Führer turned on at will, but he made a more favourable impression than Mussolini, whom Eden regarded as a complete gangster with dreadful table manners to boot. In Moscow in March 1935, Eden was most struck by the intense cruelty of Stalin's face; at a time when many of his domestic political opponents had a rose-tinted view of Russia, Eden never forgot that he was dealing with a tyrannical state.

Following the assassination in October 1934 of King Alexander of Yugoslavia and the French foreign minister, Louis Barthou, Eden acted as a mediator for the League of Nations in the ensuing Balkan crisis. The acceptance of Eden's proposals, which prevented another ‘Sarajevo’, owed much to his patient diplomacy and added greatly to his international reputation. Owing to severe heart strain in April 1935, exacerbated by a turbulent flight home from Czechoslovakia, he was unable to attend the Anglo-French-Italian conference at Stresa that month. As a result Ramsay MacDonald, on the verge of retirement as prime minister, reluctantly headed the British delegation. Eden had little confidence in Simon's ability as foreign secretary to address the question either of Germany's expansionist aims or Mussolini's ambitions towards Emperor Haile Selassie's Abyssinia. Privately, he agreed with the former deputy cabinet secretary Thomas Jones that ‘MacDonald and Simon funked talking straight out to Mussolini because they wanted his support in Europe’ (T. Jones, A Diary with Letters, 1931–1950, 1954, 187).

In the National Government reshuffle in June 1935 following MacDonald's retirement, Eden entered the cabinet for the first time as minister for League of Nations affairs (without portfolio), an awkwardly worded title that overcame the law officers' objections about the minister without portfolio actually having a designated special responsibility. Sir Samuel Hoare, the secretary of state for India, had been appointed foreign secretary, and Eden was deeply pessimistic about these dyarchical arrangements. Hoare stated that there was no League of Nations department, yet Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne, one of Eden's closest friends, was appointed parliamentary under-secretary, and questions were submitted specifically to Eden in the House of Commons, a practice Hoare resisted. Further disagreements with Hoare followed over negotiations with Mussolini, after the invasion on 4 October 1935 of Abyssinia, a fellow member of the League of Nations.

First term as foreign secretary

In December 1935 public opinion brought about Hoare's resignation following the Hoare–Laval pact, which ceded substantial parts of Abyssinia to Mussolini. He was replaced as foreign secretary by Eden on 22 December 1935. Eden was not the automatic choice as Hoare's successor, and for a while Baldwin shrank from the decision. But after rejecting Eden's own suggestions of Sir Austen Chamberlain and Lord Halifax as possible replacements, Baldwin ended a bizarre conversation by saying ‘It looks as if it will have to be you’ (Eden, Memoirs, 1.316). With this far from ringing endorsement Eden assumed the high office with which his name was forever to be associated. He was the youngest foreign secretary since Lord Granville in 1851 and, apart from Sir Edward Grey, he was to be the longest serving foreign secretary of the twentieth century. At the age of thirty-eight, Eden was now the crown prince of the Conservative Party, though, as he was to observe, this was ‘a position not necessarily enviable in politics’ (Eden, Full Circle, 266).

Eden became foreign secretary at a critical time in international relations. Mussolini was established in Abyssinia, Hitler was shortly to tighten his grip on the demilitarized Rhineland, and in the Far East the Japanese planned further advances through China. All three countries were potential enemies of Great Britain and, although Eden did not regard Europe and the Far East as separate problems, he was more hopeful of Anglo-American co-operation against Japan than in conflicts nearer to home, a hope not fulfilled by the Brussels Conference of 1937 and the disregard shown by the Japanese government to the polite diplomatic appeals of Mr Cordell Hull.

Also on the agenda in Brussels was the Spanish Civil War, which had broken out in July 1936 and was to continue until March 1939. Eden agreed with the duke of Wellington that there was no European country in which foreigners could interfere with so little advantage as Spain, and his main aim, outlined in October 1936 at the Conservative Party conference in Llandudno, was one of non-intervention, but not indifference. His main concerns were to keep Italian intervention at bay and to maintain British freedom of commerce in the Mediterranean. He was helped in this aim by Leon Blum, the new French prime minister, who proposed a wider non-intervention agreement, with Anglo-French solidarity at its core. Eden described this policy in the House of Commons on 29 October 1936 as ‘an improvised safety-curtain’ (Hansard 5C, vol. 316, p. 51) and the best means of limiting the risks of war. But it came at the cost of any reconstruction of the Stresa front and a brake on Germany's expansionist plans. An earlier attempt by Eden to establish oil sanctions against Italy in February 1936 was opposed by Pierre Flandin, the new French foreign minister. To Flandin's confident assertion that sanctions would not work, Eden replied that it was difficult, in that case, to understand why Mussolini was so exercised about the prospect. When Hitler occupied the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland in March 1936 both dictators had achieved their immediate aims. In retrospect Eden considered this failure to treat the occupation as a casus belli a grave mistake, though at the time he had believed that it was in Britain's interest to conclude with Germany ‘as far reaching and enduring a settlement as possible whilst Herr Hitler is in the mood to do so’ (Eden, Memoirs, 1.345).

November 1936 saw the establishment of the Rome–Berlin axis, and the anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan to oppose international communism. Not all agreed with Eden that this posed the greatest threat to Russia. But when Italy joined the anti-Comintern pact a year later and left the League of Nations, Count Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, confided to his diary that the pact was ‘unmistakably anti-British’ (Count Ciano, Ciano's Diary, 1937–38, 1952, 27).

Eden's concerns at this time were not solely in the international arena. When he became foreign secretary Sir Warren Fisher, head of the home civil service, made it clear he wished ambassadorial appointments to be submitted through him to the prime minister. Eden flatly refused to comply, stating that his constitutional duties in this matter were to serve the monarch, not a civil servant. In the battle of wills, Eden eventually prevailed, but at the avoidable expense for a man of his temperament of much emotional energy. He was reassured when Baldwin told him that any cabinet of twenty members contained only one who wanted to be minister of labour, but that there would always be nineteen who thought they could be foreign secretary. Indeed five former foreign secretaries remained in parliament in 1935, and although one of them, Lord Reading, died in late December, Eden was initially conscious of the scrutiny of his predecessors.

Eden's diplomatic successes in 1936 reassured many who would have preferred a more senior figure in the Foreign Office. On 20 July his contribution at the Montreux convention, over the delicate question of the passage of warships through the Dardanelles, and in a manner acceptable to Turkey, improved relations between the two countries and had concomitant benefits for the allies during the early years of the Second World War. Even one of Eden's severest critics has written that the convention ‘constituted one of the most enduring and valuable, if generally underrated, of his achievements’ (Carlton, 97). The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of friendship and alliance, signed in the Locarno Room at the Foreign Office on 26 August 1936, was also important in the next decade. The international character of the Suez Canal was confirmed, the demands for Egyptian independence recognized, and British troops guaranteed a base in the Suez Canal Zone for twenty years. When the treaty was renegotiated in 1954, it proved the prelude to the Suez crisis two years later.

When Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister in May 1937, Eden initially welcomed the prospect of a more pro-active Downing Street involvement in foreign affairs, especially as Chamberlain shared his view that war with Germany could be avoided through rearmament and collective security backed by the League of Nations. ‘I entirely agree that we must make every effort to come to terms with Germany’, wrote Eden to Chamberlain on 31 January 1938 (TNA: PRO, PREM 1/276). Eden's popularity and prestige also served a useful purpose for Chamberlain in that it reinforced the isolation of Winston Churchill on the back benches. But Chamberlain's belief that Mussolini could be wooed as a friend of Britain, or that his friendship was even worth having, was regarded by Eden with profound mistrust, as was Chamberlain's increasing reliance at this time on his personal adviser, Sir Horace Wilson. Eden found that he no longer enjoyed the easy rapport that had existed with Baldwin, and an unhappy time ensued, with disagreements on Chamberlain's whole approach and attitude to the conduct of foreign policy. ‘I fear the difference between Anthony and me is more fundamental than he realises’, wrote Chamberlain. ‘At bottom he is really dead against making terms with the dictators’ (N. Chamberlain to H. Chamberlain, 15 Oct 1938, Neville Chamberlain papers, Birmingham University Library, NC 18/1/1073). As a result Chamberlain bypassed Eden, whom he saw as a hindrance to his wish for Anglo-Italian rapprochement, writing in his diary of a letter to Mussolini, after a private meeting with Count Grandi, the Italian ambassador in London, in July 1937, ‘I did not show my letter to the Foreign Secretary, for I had the feeling that he would object to it’ (K. Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain, 1946, 330).

Objections from Eden did arise over Halifax's proposed visit to Berlin in November 1937 for talks with Goering. When Eden, who was ill at the time, learned that Halifax would in fact also be travelling on to Berchtesgaden to see Hitler, he felt this ‘pursuit’ of the Führer gave entirely the wrong signals. Halifax's visit went ahead, but the main political consequence of the episode was the replacement on 1 January 1938 of the increasingly anti-Germanic Sir Robert Vansittart as permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office by Sir Alexander Cadogan. In a curious sideways move Vansittart became chief diplomatic adviser to his majesty's government, and Chamberlain and Eden still seemed in outward accord. Eden's relationship with Cadogan over the next eighteen years was to be an important thread in his career. ‘I don't think any Secretary of State I served’, Cadogan later wrote of Eden, ‘excelled him in finesse, or as a negotiator, or in knowledge of foreign affairs’ (A. Cadogan, The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 1938–45, ed. D. Dilks, 1971, 345).

Resignation, February 1938

The seeds of Eden's eventual break with Chamberlain can be traced back to the Nyon Conference of September 1937 over the protection of Mediterranean shipping routes against piracy, a success that Chamberlain thought had been secured at the expense of Anglo-Italian relations. ‘Even if our relations with Italy could be much improved’, Eden argued in cabinet, ‘it would make very little, if any, difference to our military preparations’ (cabinet minutes, 8 Sept 1938, TNA: PRO, CAB 23/89). Chamberlain's personal diplomacy, and the ill-advised and unofficial interventions in Italy of his sister-in-law, Dame Ivy Chamberlain (Sir Austen's widow), who was received by Mussolini in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome and who had ‘talks’ with Count Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, in February 1938, placed Eden in what he described as ‘a most difficult position’ (Eden, Memoirs, 1.573). Although the prime minister apologized and promised to curb his sister-in-law's activities, he was privately delighted that progress was being made with Mussolini and Ciano.

The fundamental disagreements about the conduct of foreign policy came to a head over the Roosevelt initiative of 12 January 1938. While Eden was on holiday abroad, the president had sent Chamberlain secret details of a plan by his assistant secretary of state, Sumner Welles, to call an international conference in Washington, with a deadline of 17 January for acceptance of the invitation by Britain, so that the proposal could be presented as a fait accompli to smaller nations. Sir Ronald Lindsay, the British ambassador in Washington, recommended a quick acceptance, but Chamberlain would not commit the British government. Warned by Cadogan of these developments, Eden returned post-haste from the south of France and tried in vain to reverse Chamberlain's response. In a furious confrontation with Chamberlain, Eden pointed out that the choice was between Anglo-American co-operation or a dubious piecemeal settlement with an untrustworthy Mussolini over de jure recognition of the Italian position in Abyssinia. As with the earlier struggle with Warren Fisher, Eden prevailed, but it proved a hollow victory. Roosevelt's initiative lapsed after Eden had left the government, prompting speculation in some quarters that the president's hidden agenda had been support for Chamberlain in his difficulties with Eden. The issue of Mussolini's ‘volunteers’ in the Spanish Civil War, and Ciano's insistence that the British should go to Rome for talks on the issue, was the final straw that drove Eden to resignation on 20 February 1938, together with Cranborne and J. P. L. Thomas, his parliamentary private secretary. Cranborne and Thomas were to prove enduring pillars of support throughout the sometimes lonely phases of Eden's career. ‘Why should we go to Rome?’, wrote Thomas later of these dramatic events, outlining Eden's position.
We were not the debtors in this affair. We were the creditors. It was not we who had broken our word and damaged our reputation. It was Italy. If she wanted good relations with us, let her come to London. (MS cilc. coll. 61, Cilcennin papers)
Halifax succeeded Eden at the Foreign Office, a sign of Chamberlain's determination to control policy.

In a muted resignation speech, on 21 February 1938, Eden said ‘There are occasions when strong political convictions must override all other considerations’ (Hansard 5C, vol. 332, p. 42). His resignation has been compared to that of Lord Randolph Churchill, but the circumstances were quite different: Eden's aim was not to bring down the Chamberlain government or to manoeuvre himself into 10 Downing Street. The government had decided on a broad policy which he could not recommend to the House of Commons or the country, and he thus felt he had no option but to resign. The delicacy of the situation meant that he could not fully reveal the background to his decision, and this led to charges, from within the Conservative ranks as well as from the Labour Party, of wounded vanity or hidden ambition. The government whips' office even referred disparagingly to his followers after his resignation as the .

Reactions covered the whole gamut. Count Ciano was relieved that Eden had gone, ‘for an Eden Cabinet’, he wrote in his diary, ‘would have as its first aim the fight against the dictatorships—Mussolini's first’ (Count Ciano, Ciano's Diary, 1937–38, 1952, 78). In a famous passage in his war memoirs, published in 1948, by which time Eden was his deputy, Churchill wrote,
There seemed one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender, or wrong measurements and feeble impulses. He seemed at this moment to embody the life-hope of the British nation. … Now he was gone. (W. S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 1948, 257)
One consequence of this later romanticized picture was that it reinforced the tendency to see the pre-war appeasement debate in personal terms, the Municheers versus the Churchillians. Was one for ‘The Coroner’ (Neville Chamberlain) or against him? The issues were more complex than that, and not all who were sceptical of Chamberlain's strategy were in alliance with Chartwell. Eden disagreed with Churchill over the relative threats posed by Hitler and Mussolini, and in the immediate pre-war era they were not natural political allies. Eden was willing to admit his own mistakes, especially the appointment in April 1937 of Sir Nevile Henderson to the embassy in Berlin, the one occasion when he did not see the candidate personally before a new mission. For his part, Churchill was disappointed that Eden, despite his following among the ‘Glamour Boys’, was not more of a focus for criticism of the Chamberlain government, especially after the Munich agreement of September 1938. But there was a sense of constraint about Eden, who did not see what purpose would be served by such action. By his conciliatory speech in the Munich debate he left the door open for his eventual return to government.

Rehabilitation, 1938–1940

Eden's resignation brought him international recognition, but his first, and uncontroversial, speech was to his constituents in Warwick and Leamington. Chamberlain and Halifax thanked Eden and had no complaints when he visited America in December 1938, where he was treated more like visiting royalty and received at the White House by Roosevelt and Sumner Welles. As war became ever more inevitable during 1939, Eden (at the age of forty-two) joined the London rangers, a motor battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps. The news of the German–Soviet pact reached him while in camp with the King's Royal Rifle Corps at Beaulieu. On 29 August, Churchill and Eden were photographed walking to the House of Commons for the recall of parliament amid demands for their recall to high office. ‘If we are to have an inner War Cabinet’, ran the accompanying caption when the photograph was published, ‘it is difficult to see how either of them can be left out of it’ (The Tatler, 6 Sept 1939).

On 3 September, when war was declared, Eden accepted office in the National Government as dominions secretary. Churchill returned to the Admiralty, but unlike Eden as a member of the war cabinet. Although Eden was disappointed with the division of the spoils, he regarded it as his patriotic duty to serve. He dealt efficiently with a myriad of problems in his spell at the Dominions Office, not least the intractable question of Éire, still technically a dominion, which had declared itself to be neutral. In February 1940 Eden flew to Cairo and personally met Australian and New Zealand troops on their arrival at Suez. He always retained a special affection for New Zealand among Commonwealth countries. While in Egypt, Eden bore a message from George VI to the young King Farouk of Egypt. ‘Unhappily’, reported Eden to the king, ‘there is no Egyptian [Lord] Melbourne to guide and warn’, a warning of prophetic irony in the light of later events.

In May 1940 Chamberlain fell from power and was replaced by Churchill as prime minister. For the Municheers this was an unmitigated disaster. ‘The good clean tradition of English politics’, said R. A. Butler, ‘had been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history’ (J. Colville, The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955, 1985, 122). Churchill's arrival in Downing Street was to prove the turning point of Eden's career. As the new war secretary, Eden moved closer to the executive decision-making process, although still not a member of the war cabinet. However, he impinged on the public consciousness more than some of his nominally more senior colleagues. On 14 May he made a radio broadcast appealing for able-bodied men to join the Local Defence Volunteers, a cabinet initiative that became part of the folk memory of the war, through Robb Wilton's contemporary radio sketch, ‘The day I joined the Home Guard’. (Eden's broadcast was later used at the outset of the film version made in 1971 of the television comedy series Dad's Army.) On 25 May, Eden overruled General Sir Edmund Ironside in his wish to withdraw the British brigade from the defence of Calais. As a result of this decision, which Eden described as one of the most painful of the war, as it involved the fate of a battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, two German divisions were held up and the evacuation of the British expeditionary force from Dunkirk made possible. With the fall of France in June, Eden had the first of many battles of will with Churchill on the conduct of the war. He was opposed to the French prime minister's conclusion of a separate peace with Germany, and defended the positions of Sir John Dill, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Sir Archibald Wavell, commander-in-chief Middle East, whose quiet integrity he much admired, against Churchillian impatience that could have led to their premature replacements.

On 6 October 1940 Eden undertook an important mission to Cairo in which he assessed at first hand the situation in Egypt and north Africa. He believed that allied defence of Egypt was the paramount priority and resisted, albeit unsuccessfully, Churchill's determination to divert troops to Greece to counter Mussolini's offensive. From Cairo he went on to Palestine and Transjordan, before returning to London, where he informed Churchill of the secret plans for operation Compass in the western desert, launched on 9 December. The success of Eden's Middle East mission was the prelude to his return on 22 December to the post of foreign secretary.

Churchill's wartime foreign secretary

Churchill had long wanted Eden beside him as foreign secretary, not least because it would deliver ‘centrist’ support, but, even in 1940, had to wait for the propitious moment. With the retirement of Neville Chamberlain from the post of lord president of the council on 3 October, a few weeks before his death, Churchill had suggested to Halifax that he might assume the office of lord president, with Eden succeeding him at the Foreign Office. Not surprisingly, Halifax was unenthusiastic and the matter lapsed. On the unexpected death of Lord Lothian, the British ambassador in Washington, on 12 December, Churchill was not to be deflected a second time, and the eventual outcome of some tortuous negotiations was Halifax's reluctant acceptance of the Washington embassy. Eden now entered the war cabinet. Only Clement Attlee, the Labour Party leader, was to serve longer in the central councils of the war as one of Churchill's principal lieutenants. Looking back on their five years together, Attlee told Eden that their unique function had been to put a curb on Churchill's wilder schemes and, when necessary, to give him unpalatable advice. Eden's second term as foreign secretary (December 1940–July 1945) was arguably the most productive phase of his career, though the complex situation in the eastern Mediterranean in early 1941 proved an inauspicious beginning.

As at the Montreux Conference in 1936, Eden believed that Turkey was the key to the tangled web. His unresolved hope was to see Turkey in a triple alliance with Greece and Yugoslavia. In a reversal of his earlier position, he hoped to stiffen Turkish and Yugoslavian resistance to German expansion in the Balkans by a military presence in Greece, even though this would mean diverting some of Wavell's forces at Benghazi. As a member of the cabinet defence committee Eden was party to the decision on 10 February 1941 to send troops and materials to Greece, and went with Lieutenant-General Sir John Dill, with plenipotentiary powers, on a two-month mission to Cairo and Ankara. The failure of the subsequent Greek expedition was a grievous set-back, with ramifications in north Africa, where Rommel's Afrika Korps made rapid counter-offensives. Eden's discomfiture, when defending the decision to help Greece in a speech in the House of Commons on 6 May, gave private satisfaction to Chamberlain's dwindling band of supporters in parliament; though in the larger context, the time and energy expended by Hitler in invading Yugoslavia and Greece diverted his resources in the next crucial stage of an increasingly global conflict.

On 22 June 1941 Hitler invaded Russia. Eden, who was staying at Chequers when the news broke, fully backed Churchill's unilateral decision to treat the Russians as partners in the struggle against Hitler. Eden's experience of the Soviets went back to his pre-war talks with Stalin and Maysky in 1935. Eden assured the Russians of Britain's continued determination to resist Hitler, and on 12 July concluded an Anglo-Soviet agreement on mutual support, a prelude to his broader negotiations with Stalin in December. Eden began his journey to Moscow on 7 December 1941, the very day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the Americans into the war, in the company of Oliver Harvey, his former Foreign Office private secretary, whom he had reappointed to the post. For three years Harvey was to be a valued sounding board and support for Eden, accompanying him on three occasions to Moscow, on this first occasion with the Germans only 19 miles from the Russian capital.

Stalin was at his most intractable in these negotiations, demanding recognition of Soviet Russia's 1941 frontiers. Only when Eden pointed out that such concessions were not in his gift, but needed further consideration by the cabinet, the dominions, and the United States, now in common cause with the allies, did Stalin relent. Eden was keener for Stalin to extend Soviet efforts eastwards against the Japanese to relieve British forces in their desperate struggle. On his return to Britain he argued, albeit unsuccessfully, in cabinet on 1 January 1942 that Stalin, whom he believed to be more the heir of Peter the Great than Lenin, should be accommodated regarding the 1941 frontiers, apart from Poland.

Eden's attitude to the other great member of the alliance was more equivocal, and he agreed with Harold Macmillan that the great mistake in dealing with the Americans was to regard them as Anglo-Saxons. He was wary of the price the Americans might eventually exact from Britain for their help and support. As co-operation with Roosevelt was at the centre of Churchill's strategy, relations between the prime minister and his foreign secretary were more complex than has often been acknowledged. Both personalities had an element of the ‘prima donna’, and although there was a symbiotic basis to their alliance, the shadow of Churchill's presence lay over Eden for the rest of his career, not always to his benefit.

However much they may have disagreed, Eden remained loyal to his political chief (while others openly criticized him at the time of the fall of Tobruk) and did not plan, as has sometimes been suggested, to oust Churchill from the premiership in February 1942. Nevertheless Churchill, in reshuffling the government team that month, retained the Ministry of Defence, which Eden had wished to see devolved elsewhere, making Attlee deputy prime minister and Sir Stafford Cripps leader of the House of Commons. But this was for the immediate future. Churchill had told Eden on 30 September 1940 that he would be his eventual successor, a promise reiterated on 11 November 1941. On 16 June 1942 Churchill went further, formally recommending to George VI that, in the event of his death on his forthcoming journey to Washington, the king should summon Eden, ‘who is in my mind the outstanding Minister in the largest political party in the House of Commons and in the National Government’ (W. Churchill to George VI, 16 June 1942, Royal Archives, Windsor, RA PS GVI C 069/17). The tragedy of Eden's career was that he had to wait thirteen years for that opportunity.

On 22 November 1942 Eden was made leader of the House of Commons, an almost insupportable burden in addition to his duties in the war cabinet, on the defence committee, and in running the Foreign Office. Inevitably he was diverted from the central concerns of foreign policy, and did not attend the Casablanca Conference with Churchill and Roosevelt in January 1943. Later he attended the first Quebec Conference (August 1943), the first Cairo Conference (November 1943), Tehran (November 1943), the second Cairo Conference (December 1943), and the second Quebec Conference (September 1944). At this last conference he had a public disagreement with Churchill over the merits of the Morgenthau plan for the de-industrialization of post-war Germany.

Other disagreements with Churchill came over Anglo-French relations, in particular the question of de Gaulle's National Committee of Free France, to which Eden had given limited recognition in September 1941 (without diplomatic representation) as a focus for the Free French cause. Churchill's indifference was partly caused by his wish to follow Roosevelt, whose mistrust of de Gaulle knew no bounds. Controversies also followed over de Gaulle's broadcasts from London. It was not until June 1943 that the newly constituted French Committee of National Liberation was recognized as a government in waiting. Eden now believed that the best way to contain Germany was by building up France, as he believed that, although the Bear's manners were improving, it was not in Britain's interest to share the cage alone with the Soviets. Also, he was aiming to include France within a European counterbalance to American influence. Eden's support for France was not forgotten by de Gaulle, and after the war Eden was widely regarded as ‘the one British statesman for whom France had ever felt any tenderness’ (M. Bromberger and S. Bromberger, Secrets of Suez, 1957, 160).

In 1942 Eden took the lease on a seventeenth-century house at Binderton, near Chichester, which became a haven of repose for the next decade, and where he could indulge his enthusiasm for gardening and tennis. He loved to take walks in the neighbouring Sussex countryside and, as a connoisseur of good food and wine, kept a hospitable table for his many visitors from the political, military, and artistic worlds. When finance permitted, Eden, with a shrewd eye for a bargain, continued to build up his distinctive collection of modern paintings. He read widely, including French and Persian literature in the original, and eighteenth-century English novels, particularly Smollett. His favourite author, however, remained Shakespeare, and one of his after-dinner recreations was to have readings from the plays with his wife and sons. At Binderton he also found the time to reflect on the post-war settlements, and in December 1942 first raised the prospect of a new world organization to replace the discredited League of Nations. After discussions with Ernest Bevin, Eden was responsible for the white paper Proposals for the Reform of the Foreign Service (January 1943), which Bevin implemented when he succeeded Eden as foreign secretary after the war.

When Churchill suggested that Eden might become viceroy of India in April 1943, Eden was torn between his wish to finish the work of the war and the temptation to hold the greatest of imperial offices at a crucial time for the subcontinent. But doubts were raised. Oliver Harvey told Eden that his absence ‘would have catastrophic consequences on the future peace’ (22 April 1943, The War Diaries of Oliver Harvey, 1941–1945, ed. J. Harvey, 1978, 247). George VI was also unwilling to see his foreign secretary depart, not least because of his restraining influence on Churchill; and Baldwin, whom Eden consulted, rightly pointed out that no viceroy had ever returned to take up the premiership, though this was not Eden's primary consideration in declining the office.

Eden believed, with General James Wolfe, that ‘war is an option of difficulties’ (Hansard 5C, vol. 371, p. 733). Never was this more true than in the latter stages of the conflict. The war cabinet's decision in July 1944 to accede to Stalin's request for repatriation of captured Russian soldiers in German uniforms may, in the complex Realpolitik then obtaining, have saved Greece from being devoured in the communist maw, but it came at a fearful moral price. The famous ‘percentage agreement’ meeting in Moscow in October 1944 (codenamed Tolstoy) ordained the degree of influence Russia and Britain should have over the Balkan states, 90 per cent of Greece coming under the United Kingdom in accord with America. In complex negotiations with his Russian opposite number, Molotov, Eden haggled over the percentages for Bulgaria and Hungary. But Churchill's view, as expressed to his doctor, Lord Moran, was that ‘The Foreign Secretary could be obstinate, he must be told that there is only one course open to us—to make friends with Stalin’ (9 Oct 1944, Moran, Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival, 1940–1945, 1968, 215). By the time of the Yalta Conference (codenamed Argonaut) in January 1945, Britain, cast in the minor role of a Lepidus in the three-fold world dominated by Stalin and Roosevelt, could do little in the persons of Churchill and Eden as Poland, the country for which Britain went to war in September 1939, was abandoned to its fate. Despite the success of his personal initiative with Stalin on a future Soviet withdrawal from Iran, overall Eden took the gloomiest view of Russian behaviour at Yalta and was dismayed by evidence of Roosevelt's fading powers.

Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945. Churchill asked Eden to represent Great Britain at the funeral in Washington. Again the British were cast in a minor role. ‘No word of greeting or thanks from anyone’, recorded the countess of Athlone, the wife of the governor-general of Canada; ‘when one thinks Eden had flown the Atlantic to be present and show the sympathy of the British Gov: and also that of the King of England’ (countess of Athlone to Queen Mary, 16 April 1945, Royal Archives, Windsor Castle, RA GV/CC 53/1381). Eden was heartened by Truman's bearing and humility as the new president, and believed that he would prove a loyal collaborator. From Washington, Eden went on to the San Francisco Conference, the inaugural meeting of the United Nations, which began on 25 April and continued for two months, by which time the war in Europe was over and Britain was in the throes of its first general election for ten years.

The next weeks were to be the low point of Eden's life. In 15 June his mother died, and Eden, laid up with illness at Binderton, was unable to attend her funeral at Windlestone, and was confined to Sussex during the election campaign. Shortly before leaving for the Potsdam Conference, Eden heard that his eldest son, Simon, a pilot officer with the RAF in Burma, was missing. He specifically arranged that this news should not be made public in the press, as the general election campaign was under way and he did not wish to seek any sympathetic advantage. It was not for four weeks that the news of Simon's death was confirmed, on 20 July. Eden's bearing at the function and dinner that day at Sans Souci were long remembered by those present.

Simon's death was also the last act of Eden's increasingly fragile marriage. Beatrice had spent much of the latter part of the war in Paris and in 1946 left him to live in America. Her interest in politics had always been minimal and the burdens of war had taken a heavy toll. Their separation had an air of inevitability about it, and the marriage was dissolved in 1950. Divorce was, even in the immediate post-war era, a disqualifying social solecism for advancement in many professions, and Churchill discreetly protected Eden from the difficulties of his new situation, not least from the Church of England under the leadership of Geoffrey Fisher, when overt and implicit criticisms were made of him (foreshadowed in an article in 1952 in the Church Times) as the first divorced person to become prime minister.

Within a week of Simon's death the declaration of the election results (delayed for three weeks to allow counting of postal votes) confirmed a Labour landslide, a result not entirely unexpected to Eden. In marked contrast to Churchill, he had made a temperate contribution to the Conservatives' programme of election broadcasts, and he was in no doubt that the Conservatives would now have to adapt to the changed social climate. On leaving office he declined the offer of the Order of the Garter. Ernest Bevin, a figure Eden regarded as the best of Labour's men, became foreign secretary, and Eden fostered a bipartisan approach, particularly over Bevin's difficulties with the Labour Party's pro-Soviet lobby. Oliver Stanley, one of Eden's pre-war dining group, when the party was last in opposition, even praised Ernest Bevin for having shown ‘the importance of being … Anthony’ (N. Fisher, Harold Macmillan: a Biography, 1982, 127). Later, Eden's bust in the Foreign Office was placed at the foot of the grand staircase facing that of Ernest Bevin on the half-landing; two figures from very different traditions, they were united by their trust and belief in the indomitable spirit of the British people in adversity, which as fellow members of the war cabinet they had done so much to uphold and sustain.

Rebuilding the Conservatives in opposition

Apart from brief interludes, Eden had been in office for the greater part of two decades. The enforced spell of opposition gave him a much needed chance to recharge his political and personal batteries, although he was considered as a candidate for the post of first secretary-general of the United Nations until Russia, as one of the permanent members of the Security Council, opted for the Norwegian Trygve Lie, an oblique tribute to Eden's lack of compliance towards the Soviets. As Churchill's main political activity came in important overseas speeches, such as that on the ‘iron curtain’ at Fulton in March 1946, and in Strasbourg and Zürich on European concerns, Eden was, in effect, acting leader of the opposition for much of this period. Again, he did not see entirely eye to eye with Churchill on the cold war or the future integration of Europe. He was frankly impatient for the succession, and was not alone in the Conservative Party in thinking that Churchill should step aside.

At the first post-war Conservative conference at Blackpool in October 1946 Eden returned in a key-note speech to his first concern, that of domestic policy. He realized that this was the area in which the old-style Conservative Party was deficient, and he worked tirelessly in support of the efforts of the new party chairman, Lord Woolton, to modernize the party's finance, philosophy, and organization. Housing was one of the issues on which he concentrated. However, his most influential and educative contribution was on the need for the improvement of industrial relations, through share ownership, employee participation, and profit sharing, ideas which found expression in the party's Industrial Charter of 1947. He had worked with the young Reginald Maudling, a future chancellor of the exchequer, then in the Conservative Research Department, on reviving Noel Skelton's pre-war call for ‘a property-owning democracy’. The success of this initiative, which was to be the centrepiece of Eden's electoral programme in May 1955, led to Oliver Stanley's quip that the party, once Eton and Magdalen in its education, was now ‘Eden and Maudling’ in its philosophy. Eden later felt that his specific contributions to post-war Conservative renewal had been underestimated. When R. A. Butler was given credit in some quarters for the ‘property-owning democracy’, Eden, who had made it the subject of his 1946 conference speech, commented that ‘Rab of course had about as much to do with that quotation as he had with the battle of Agincourt’ (Lord Avon to Robert Carr, 11 April 1972, Avon papers, AP 33/6).

Bevin continued to consult Eden, notably over the proposed Marshall plan in June 1947 on American economic aid for Europe. Eden also gave Bevin every support over the Korean War from June 1950, important after the Labour government's majority had been reduced to eight seats at the general election of February 1950. However, on 26 June Eden led for the opposition—some Conservatives felt not forcefully enough—in a censure motion on the Labour government's hostility to the Schuman plan for combining the coal and steel industries of Germany and France, and eventually other nations (which under Labour was not to include Britain), into a supra-national ‘high authority’.

When Bevin, a dying man, was replaced as foreign secretary in March 1951 by Herbert Morrison, Eden's criticisms of the government's tepid response to Dr Mussadeq's nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's refineries at Abadan that April were uninhibited. In retrospect, the Abadan crisis can be seen as the first few preliminary notes of the last tragic movement of Eden's career. His stance was motivated by concern for Britain's economic interests through maintenance of Middle Eastern oil supplies, unlike some Conservatives, who saw the crisis as an opportunity to show personal vindictiveness towards Morrison. Eden's links with Morrison went back to the early 1940s in the national coalition (he felt a camaraderie towards most members of the old war cabinet), and he was later to regard Morrison's failure to win the Labour Party leadership in December 1955 as a national misfortune. When Attlee called a general election for 25 October 1951, Eden made history during the campaign by appearing in the first televised election broadcast in Britain, a carefully scripted exercise, pre-rehearsed with a deferential interviewer, Leslie Mitchell.

Return to the Foreign Office

The Conservatives won the election with a majority of seventeen seats. Like a man returning home, Eden became foreign secretary for the third time, and his private secretary, Evelyn Shuckburgh, recorded that when Eden made his first appearance at the United Nations in Paris in November, foreign ministers and diplomats crowded up to welcome him on every side, everyone ‘feeling that a new era had begun for Europe and for the cause of peace’ (E. Shuckburgh, Descent to Suez: Diaries, 1951–56, ed. J. Charmley, 1986, 13).

A new era was also about to begin for Eden in his private life. In August 1952 he married Clarissa Anne Spencer-Churchill (b. 1920), the daughter of Major John Strange Spencer-Churchill, and the niece of the prime minister. It proved a serenely happy marriage that brought Eden a calm contentment after his years of loneliness, and devoted care in his illnesses, both before and after his retirement. His first major illness in April 1953 nearly ended his life after a failed operation to remove gallstones, when his bile duct was accidentally cut. A life-saving operation in Boston in May 1953 largely rectified the earlier damage, but Eden, wary of Churchill's enthusiasm for summitry, spent much of the summer recuperating. If he had been in harness he could well have succeeded to the premiership in June after Churchill suffered a major stroke, but Churchill, who had taken over the Foreign Office in Eden's absence, made a remarkable recovery.

At the Margate Conference in October 1953 Eden spoke of his concept of foreign policy as Britain at the centre of the ‘three circles’ of the United States, the Commonwealth, and Europe. With East–West cold war relations at a critical stage, the problem facing Eden was how to maintain Britain's world role with the reduced economic resources then available, and at a time of changing political priorities in the international arena. America was increasingly concerned with keeping abreast of Russia, not least in the arms race; following India and Pakistan's independence in 1947, Commonwealth countries were now more willing to follow their own political and economic agendas (in 1951 Britain was excluded from the ANZUS treaty between America, Australia, and New Zealand); and the nascent Schuman plan was to have unforeseen repercussions for the idea of an integrated Europe.

In a speech at Columbia University on 11 January 1952 Eden said that for Britain to join such a European federation was ‘something which we know, in our bones, we cannot do’, and on the European question he was always concerned ‘that the British people should know where they are going before they wake up and find themselves where they do not want to be’ (earl of Avon to Viscount Chandos, 12 Oct 1962, Avon papers, AP 23/17/62A). Nevertheless, many of Eden's successes at this time came on European issues. He continued Labour's policy of association with, but not full membership of, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Defence Community (EDC), as he wanted no erosion of sovereign rights or Commonwealth links. In 1954, following French intransigency, he saved the EDC, and with it the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, from collapse virtually single-handedly. The settlement of the tortuous Trieste question in 1954 also owed much to his diplomatic skills through the rapport he established with Marshal Tito, for Eden the acceptable face of communism. The Austrian peace treaty was also signed in May 1955, shortly after Eden became prime minister, his skill in co-ordinating the efforts of the Western powers in Paris having done much to bring the Soviets to the negotiating table.

Further afield major problems included the continuing Anglo-Iranian oil crisis; King Farouk's abrogation of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty that allowed British troops in the canal zone; the unresolved Korean War; and the threat to world peace over the growing conflict in Indo-China. With the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as United States president in November 1952, Eden's opposite number in Washington became John Foster Dulles, a man he regarded as ‘a preacher in a world of politics’ (Eden, Full Circle, 64), and with whom he was to have a complex and sometimes stormy relationship over the next five years. Dulles's help in overthrowing Mussadeq in August 1953, which temporarily solved the Iranian imbroglio, was not, however, an accurate clue to his future attitude to the Egyptian question, now endangered by terrorist attacks on British troops and punitive reprisals, after King Farouk's overthrow in July 1952 in a military coup, and the eventual rise to power of Colonel Nasser. After meeting Nasser in Cairo in 1953, Dulles believed that Egypt would not join any Western anti-Russian alliance until the British had withdrawn from the canal base. In June 1954 Churchill and Eden had talks in Washington at which the United States government gave a tacit understanding that through economic aid to Egypt they would provide an incentive for any agreement with Egypt to be made and kept on acceptable terms. The ensuing Suez Base agreement, signed in October 1954, preparing the way for a phased withdrawal of British troops, led to a considerable schism in the Conservative Party between those who believed that the nuclear age had made the base redundant, and the ‘Suez group’, led by Captain Charles Waterhouse, who thought it a dangerous sell-out. Churchill's private sympathies were with this latter group, and when asked to speak at a back-benchers' 1922 committee meeting that promised to be particularly critical of Eden's policy, replied ‘I'm not sure I'm on our side’ (Thorpe, 211).

At Eden's only meeting with Nasser (at the British embassy in Cairo in February 1955), Egyptian opposition to the recent Turco-Iraqi defence pact in the northern tier of Middle Eastern states was clear. But for Eden such an agreement was some compensation for the failure, because of Egyptian hostility, to establish a Middle East defence organization and a vital defensive pro-Western buffer alongside Russia's southern boundaries. On 5 April 1955, Eden's last day as foreign secretary, Britain, alone among the Western powers, formally joined the Baghdad pact, a move not reinforced by equivalent American action. Eden was greatly frustrated by Dulles's equivocations, after Washington's earlier enthusiasm for the unity of this defensive northern tier.

Eden made significant contributions to the North Korean armistice in 1953 and the arrangements for the exchange of prisoners. But his greatest achievement in these years, and indeed the diplomatic triumph of what became known as his annus mirabilis, came at the Geneva Conference of 1954 with the settlement of the Indo-China War, ‘the last example’, the historian of the conference has written, ‘of an independent British policy exercising significant influence in the resolution of a major international crisis’ (J. Cable, The Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indochina, 1986, 3). Eden was one of the joint chairmen and the key figure in this two-month conference, attended by the foreign ministers of France, America (Dulles initially, but for the majority of the time General Walter Bedell Smith, with whom Eden forged a productive relationship), Russia, and communist China. French involvement in Indo-China was ended, and a ceasefire line was established on the 17° N parallel latitude between North and South Vietnam. Following the Geneva Conference, Eden was a key figure in the establishment of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation on 8 September, providing for collective defence in a volatile area. Eden's prestige and authority were now at their height. Like his first mentor, Sir Austen Chamberlain on his return from Locarno, Eden accepted the Order of the Garter, which he had declined in 1945, the honour being conferred upon him by the queen at Windsor on 20 October 1954.

However, there was still no indication of when Churchill might retire. His eightieth birthday on 30 November 1954 was felt by many Conservatives to be a suitable moment, but not by the prime minister. By the spring of 1955 there was considerable underlying tension at cabinet meetings, graphically recorded in Harold Macmillan's diaries, about the failure of Churchill to hand on responsibility to Eden. An election was due by October 1956, and Eden, not unreasonably, wanted time to make his own impact on the electorate as the head of a new administration. But the situation in early 1955 was complex, and historical opinion is divided between those who believe that Churchill stayed on to allow Eden time to recover fully his former strength, something his achievements in 1954 had amply demonstrated, and those who felt he stayed on for exactly the opposite reason, rather as Attlee's delayed retirement later that same year dealt a grievous blow to Morrison's hopes of succeeding him as Labour leader. On 5 April 1955, amid a newspaper strike, Churchill finally relinquished power, and Eden became prime minister the next day. The crown prince had at last ascended the throne.

Premiership before Suez

Eden's long years as deputy leader had contributed to his irascibility, his inability at times to delegate, and his touchiness in the face of criticism, characteristics that were to become more apparent in Downing Street. His appearances at the dispatch box were marked more by formality than spontaneity. Nevertheless, Eden's premiership began in an atmosphere of goodwill and optimism, though the newspaper strike was soon to be followed by industrial unrest among the London busmen and dockworkers. Although the Conservatives had a lead of only 4 per cent in the opinion polls, Eden, after much soul-searching in the weeks before taking over, believed that he should take an early opportunity of seeking a fresh mandate from the electorate, and nine days after becoming prime minister he announced a general election for 26 May. As he had waited so long for his inheritance, this was an act of considerable political bravery, but the omens were good. The Labour Party in his Warwick and Leamington constituency even considered whether it would be ‘unpatriotic’ to field a candidate against him. Eden's decision was vindicated when the Conservatives, after a quiet campaign during which Eden emphasized the theme of the ‘property-owning democracy’, won by sixty seats, the first peacetime occasion on which an incumbent administration had increased its majority since 1900. For the last time in the century, the Conservatives won an absolute majority of the seats, and even more remarkably votes, in Scotland, where Eden had been greeted with enthusiasm, even while canvassing in the poorer parts of the great cities.

With such a decisive victory, Eden should arguably have rebuilt the cabinet in his own mould there and then. R. A. Butler, whose spring budget on 19 April with £135 million of tax reliefs had contributed to the Conservatives' electoral victory, was an exhausted man after nearly four years at the Treasury, and had also recently suffered the loss of his wife after a long and harrowing illness. Economic problems now crowded the domestic agenda. A major strike on the railways led Eden to declare a state of emergency. There was also concern over the effect the prolonged dock strike was having on the balance of payments deficit. Domestic inflation led to Butler imposing a July credit squeeze, but the pound, now in effect convertible, remained under pressure, and wages outstripped productivity. Eden, with misplaced kindness, shrank from replacing him as chancellor, and when Butler was forced to increase purchase tax, taking back most of the earlier reliefs, in the so-called ‘pots and pans’ Budget on 26 October, the damage to both the government and Butler's reputation for fiscal competence was grievous.

Eden's choice of Harold Macmillan to replace him as foreign secretary on 7 April also did not work out for the best. Macmillan, three and a half years older than Eden, had covert ambitions for the premiership, and their relationship over issues in Eden's acknowledged field of expertise was not an easy one. With hindsight, Eden felt he should have followed his first instinct to appoint Lord Salisbury, a preference set aside owing to Salisbury's membership of the upper house, not a consideration that was to inhibit Macmillan himself five years later when he appointed Lord Home to the post, or Margaret Thatcher in 1979 with the appointment of Lord Carrington. When the first reshuffle came belatedly in December 1955, Macmillan succeeded Butler at the Treasury, though significantly in his exchange of letters, and with doubtful constitutional propriety, Macmillan wanted it acknowledged that this should be seen as a step towards the premiership, not away from it. Butler became lord privy seal and leader of the House of Commons. The standing of the two main rivals for Eden's own position had subtly changed.

Selwyn Lloyd became the new foreign secretary. Eden had much admired Lloyd's work in opposition and had asked for him as minister of state at the Foreign Office in October 1951. Lloyd's ascent through the Conservative ranks had thereafter been swift, including a spell as secretary of state for defence. In the remaining thirteen months of Eden's premiership, Lloyd, together with Lord Home, who had replaced Lord Swinton as Commonwealth secretary, showed unswerving loyalty to his political chief, not something that could be said of all Eden's cabinet colleagues.

When Hugh Gaitskell became Labour leader in December, British politics moved into a new era. Press criticisms became less inhibited. To some extent, Churchill and Attlee had been above criticism, but both Eden and, eventually, Gaitskell were ‘fair game’ for a new breed of journalist, epitomized above all by Randolph Churchill, the former prime minister's son, whose vitriolic outbursts against his cousin's husband in the Evening Standard owed much to a deep-seated psychological feeling that he had been replaced as his father's favoured son by an outside political heir. Eden had a thin skin when it came to press criticism, and on 14 January 1956 responded in a speech at Bradford which fuelled the fire. William Clark, Eden's press secretary, was even instructed to put out a statement that the prime minister did not intend to resign.

Despite the industrial unrest in the early part of 1955, Eden's premiership was dominated by foreign affairs. On 10 June 1955, a fortnight after the election, the six countries of the European Coal and Steel Community met at the Messina Conference in Sicily, a crucial stage in the development of the European movement. For pro-Europeans, particularly in retrospect Macmillan, Britain's failure to accept an invitation to Messina was the great missed opportunity of the Eden government, the long-term effects of which were to be more significant than the ramifications of Suez, though Macmillan was in agreement with cabinet decisions at the time. Macmillan and Eden were also to be at odds in 1955 over Project Alpha, a complex redistributive land scheme for ending the Arab–Israeli deadlock, which eventually faltered, though Eden felt that both Macmillan and Evelyn Shuckburgh, now head of the Middle East department, had gone ahead of instructions on this and other matters relating to the Baghdad pact. In July 1955, at a five-day conference in Geneva on the future of Germany, Eden met for the first time the new Russian leaders, Bulganin and Khrushchov, who accepted Eden's invitation to visit Britain in the spring of 1956, a visit bedevilled by the episode of Commander Crabb, a frogman who disappeared while on espionage activities under Russian vessels in Portsmouth harbour. Eden's fury with MI6, the foreign intelligence agency, which had sanctioned the operation, knew no bounds, and he appointed Sir Dick White, head of MI5, the domestic counter-intelligence agency, as its new head. Embarrassing security matters had also been raised in November 1955 when, under protection of parliamentary privilege, Kim Philby had been named as the ‘third man’, who had tipped off Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess before their defection to Russia in 1951. Eden's first concern was to avoid any censure of Herbert Morrison, foreign secretary in 1951, but in the debate he also made it clear that he would not head a government that assumed that a man was guilty before he had been so proven in a court of law. At a time when McCarthyism had only recently been discredited by a senate motion of censure in America, Eden's stance received widespread cross-party support.

But the Middle East was to prove the cauldron. Despite British withdrawal from the canal zone, Nasser waged a continuous propaganda war against Britain and pro-British countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq and Jordan. After the withdrawal, Cyprus had become for Britain the vital Mediterranean base, but its viability was threatened by the outbreak of EOKA terrorist activity over self-determination. Following an inconsequential London Conference in September 1955, Eden asked Sir John Harding to become governor of Cyprus, confident that Harding's experience in Malaya and Kenya would make him uniquely qualified to control the demand for union with Greece (enosis), under its leader, Archbishop Makarios, whom Eden had deported to the Seychelles.

On 27 September 1955 Nasser announced his $80 million Russian arms deal, handled through the Czechoslovak government. By this means the Soviets consolidated their infiltration into the Middle East, with obvious consequences for the stability of the Baghdad pact, which Eden sought to strengthen in December by trying to persuade King Hussein to bring Jordan into membership. Egyptian propaganda reprisals were swift. Jordan swiftly fell into chaos, and Hussein's own position was under threat. On 1 March 1956 King Hussein dismissed General Sir John Bagot Glubb (Glubb Pasha), the British commander of the Arab Legion, an action Eden was convinced was inspired by Nasser. Selwyn Lloyd, on a Middle East tour, was dining with Nasser when he heard news of Glubb's dismissal. To Lloyd's incredulity, Nasser congratulated Britain, in the person of its foreign secretary, for having arranged the dismissal of Glubb as a means of improving relations between Britain and Egypt. Lloyd telegrammed London with news that Nasser was not responsible, but for Eden the die was cast, and Nasser, in his mind, was the new Mussolini. The two men were now on an irrevocable collison course. The catalyst came with the American withdrawal on 19 July 1956 of the offer of financial help for the Aswan High Dam, a policy Dulles referred to as ‘withering on the vine’, as consequentially British aid would also lapse. On 26 July, in an impassioned speech in Alexandria, Nasser announced that he had nationalized the Suez Canal.

Suez crisis

The Suez crisis was for the generation of the 1950s what Munich had been for that of the 1930s, dividing families and crossing party lines. Conventional wisdom has it that there was a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ side in both crises, and that Eden was in the former category in the 1930s and the latter in the 1950s, but this is a simplified view of political and economic situations of overwhelming intractability. Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956 was above all an economic threat to Britain and France. In the days before North Sea oil, the canal was a vital conduit for western Europe, and Dulles's statement that ‘a way had to be found to make Nasser disgorge’ (Kyle, 160) was one fully shared by Eden and Guy Mollet, the French prime minister. ‘It is all very familiar’, said Gaitskell, the leader of the opposition in the Commons on 2 August. ‘It is exactly the same that we encountered from Mussolini and Hitler in those years before the war’ (Hansard 5C, vol. 557, p. 1613). This seeming unanimity, in a crisis that was to last over five months, was short-lived. Eden and Mollet were always convinced that as a last resort force would have to be used, with or without United Nations backing, to make Nasser ‘disgorge’, and this was the agreed cabinet line on 27 July 1956, at which an Egypt committee was established to formulate the plans for putting that policy into effect. Bipartisan support was not achieved, and a rebarbative element entered into the relationship between Eden and Gaitskell.

Three further complicating factors became apparent in the months ahead. Lord Mountbatten, first sea lord, whose responsibility it was to undertake the logistical preparations for seaborne operations to take the canal zone, was, in his own words, ‘violently against’ the operation (The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, 12 pt ITV television series, 1969), and he made these reservations known at Buckingham Palace. Second, the American government was increasingly preoccupied with preparations for the presidential election in November, what William Clark called ‘the quadrennial winter of the western world’ (William Clark papers, Bodl. Oxf., MS Eng. 4814). As a result, American priorities were never those of the British or French governments, and the abiding lesson of Suez, as regards the ‘special relationship’, was that tacit American support is not enough; a more formal understanding, as in the Falklands War of 1982, was to prove an essential constituent of any punitive military action. In this respect, Suez confirmed that Britain was no longer one of the ‘big three’ nations of Yalta or Potsdam. Third, Eden did not have the backing of a united cabinet, and leaks made their way to Archbishop Fisher at Lambeth Palace, who became a consistent critic of government policy in the House of Lords. The role of Macmillan, in particular, was to become increasingly shadowy, and the famous remark of Harold Wilson, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, that Macmillan was ‘first in, first out’ (A. Horne, Macmillan, 1894–1956: Volume one of the Official Biography, 1988, 441) by no means gives full expression to the complexities of Macmillan's role. As early as 16 November, Macmillan was describing himself to Winthrop Aldrich, the American ambassador in London, as ‘Eden's deputy’, and was clearly preparing the ground to be regarded as the only viable successor to the prime minister.

The chronology of the Suez crisis has about it the inexorable momentum of a Greek tragedy. The first London Conference of twenty-two countries, from 16 to 23 August, provided a formula (the eighteen nations proposals) for a new convention that gave Egypt a place on the board of a mixed operating company for the canal and increased revenues. The mission of Sir Robert Menzies, Australian prime minister, to Cairo (3–9 September) to seek Egyptian reaction to these proposals was effectively scuppered by Eisenhower's comment on 5 September that the United States was ‘determined to exhaust every feasible method of peaceful settlement’ (TNA: PRO, FO 371/119126/JE142111/1339), an undercutting of his position that Menzies remembered for the rest of his life. Dulles's suggestion for an alternative basis for negotiation, to counter Eden's wish to take the matter to the Security Council of the United Nations, was the creation of Suez Canal Users' Association (SCUA), which led to the second London Conference (19–21 September). In a news conference on 2 October, however, Dulles stated ‘There is talk about “the teeth” being pulled out of it [SCUA]. There were never “teeth” in it, if that means the use of force’ (Kyle, 273). For Eden this was the last straw, compounded by the Russian veto on the eighteen powers plan at the United Nations on 13 October. As the Conservative Party gathered for its annual conference at Llandudno, the crisis moved onto a new level.

On 14 October a French delegation outlined to Eden at Chequers what became known as ‘the plan’, whereby the Israelis were to be invited to launch an attack on Egypt across the Sinai peninsula, after which the French and British would intervene to separate the combatants and regain the canal. For Eden this was the casus belli for which he had been waiting, and in conditions of great secrecy Selwyn Lloyd met the French and Israelis at a villa at Sèvres, outside Paris, on 22 October. Eden made it clear to Lloyd before he went that any British involvement in such a plan must not be regarded as a response to a request from Israel. The Sèvres protocol was signed on 24 October, and its essentials presented to cabinet the following day. Reactions were mixed on both sides; some were extremely enthusiastic, others hesitant, but as the doubters included junior figures such as Derick Heathcoat Amory, who carried little political weight, the cabinet, including Macmillan and Butler, agreed to ‘the plan’. Accordingly, on 29 October Israeli forces entered Egypt, and British and French action to separate the combatants began. The next day, as arranged, Eden delivered his ultimatum, which was rejected by Egypt. On 5 November, the day before the American presidential election, British and French paratroopers landed at Port Said, and the next day the main amphibious forces succeeded in capturing 23 miles of the canal. Hostile reactions from the United States, the United Nations, and the Soviet Union, then engaged in its simultaneous invasion of Hungary, led within twenty-four hours to a humiliating ceasefire. The key factor in the decision was economic. Macmillan told the cabinet on 6 November, in terms which are now known to be disingenuous in their degree of pessimism, of the run on sterling reserves (he told the cabinet of £100 million lost reserves in the first week of November, when the true figure was £31.7 million) and American treasury pressures to end the hostilities. Faced with this information, Eden had no option but to call a halt. Churchill summed up the mood for many when he said of the Suez operation, ‘I would never have dared, and if I had dared, I would never have dared stop’ (M. Gilbert, Never Despair: Winston S. Churchill, 1945–1965, 1988, 1222).

Public opinion polls, though narrowly in favour of Eden's action, showed a divided Britain. The atmosphere in the House of Commons was so poisonous that the speaker had suspended the sitting on 1 November to allow tempers to cool. Two junior ministers, Edward Boyle and Anthony Nutting, minister of state, who had negotiated the final stages of the Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1954, later resigned. By this stage rumours of collusion were already circulating in the House of Commons, and when the session resumed the Conservative back-bench MP for the Wrekin, William Yates, asked directly about whether Britain had been engaged in an ‘international conspiracy’ (Hansard 5C, vol. 558, p. 1716).

Evasiveness over collusion was one of the persistent charges levelled at Eden in the years ahead, especially as his last statement in the House of Commons on 20 December was a denial of foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt. Such charges fail to acknowledge the Realpolitik of international diplomacy. Robert Blake wrote:
There must have been a great deal of suppressio veri principally of course in connection with the charge of ‘collusion’. No one of sense will regard such falsehoods in a particularly serious light. The motive was the honourable one of averting further trouble in the Middle East, and this was a serious consideration for many years after the event. (R. Blake, British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century, vol. 2: Churchill to Callaghan, ed. J. P. Mackintosh, 1978, 112–13)
On 19 November Downing Street announced that Eden was cancelling his engagements owing to ill health. Two days later it was announced that, on medical advice, Eden would be travelling to Jamaica to recuperate. The Edens stayed at Goldeneye, the remotely situated home of Ian Fleming, while back in Britain R. A. Butler was left in charge of the government, an arrangement that actually allowed Macmillan more scope to prepare his dispositions for the future. When Eden returned on 14 December it was to a dispirited party. Further medical opinion left him no option but to resign.

Eden resigned as prime minister on 9 January 1957. In a farewell audience, he gave no formal advice to the queen as to his successor, whom he assumed would inevitably be Macmillan, but on 11 January, in a dictated note for his biographer, he recorded that the queen had given him the opportunity during the audience ‘to signify that my own debt to Mr Butler while I have been Prime Minister was very real’ (Eden, note of 11 Jan 1957, Avon papers, AP 20/33/12A). On the night that Macmillan became prime minister, Butler received (in the words of his official biographer) ‘a very touching letter from Clarissa Eden which, without being explicit, managed to convey the impression that the choice made by the Palace owed nothing to any recommendation offered by the outgoing Prime Minister’ (A. Howard, Rab: the Life of R. A. Butler, 1987, 248n.). Eden declined the queen's gracious offer of an earldom, as in 1945 he had declined the offer of the Garter from her father, George VI. He resigned his seat at Warwick and Leamington, and on 18 January sailed with his wife to New Zealand, which he had first visited in 1925 at the outset of his parliamentary career.

Selwyn Lloyd recorded of Suez that ‘whatever was done then, was done in what was genuinely believed to be the national interest’ (Selwyn Lloyd papers, SELO 237 (3)). Unfortunately, this did not guarantee a successful outcome. 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. ‘Men's evil manners live in brass’, wrote Shakespeare; ‘their virtues we write in water’ (Henry VIII, IV.ii, 45–6). So, for too long, it was to prove with Eden.

Nutting was to claim (in 1967) that Suez had given Britain ‘No end of a lesson’. But few were agreed as to what that lesson might be. The final dispatch of Sir Charles Keightley, commander-in-chief of the allied forces, gives a better clue than most:
The one overriding lesson of the Suez operations is that world opinion is now an absolute principle of war and must be treated as such. However successful the pure military options may be they will fail in their object unless national, Commonwealth and Western world opinion is sufficiently on our side. (TNA: PRO, AIR 8/1940)

Retirement, honours, and reputation

Eden lived for twenty years, almost to the day, after leaving Downing Street. His first priority on returning from convalescence in New Zealand was to prepare his memoirs, which appeared in three volumes between 1960 and 1965. A talented team of researchers helped him work through his voluminous Foreign Office archives over the years in his various homes in Wiltshire. Brendan Bracken was foremost among those who advised him as to the commercial aspects of this venture, and a lucrative publishing deal with the Times Publishing Company Ltd removed the financial uncertainties of his earlier years.

Eden was a fierce defender of his reputation in retirement and could prove litigious towards unwary historians. His memoirs, skilfully documented, show his preoccupations over foreign policy at a time when domestic policy was becoming increasingly important as Britain's place in the world order diminished. At the insistence of his publishers, Eden wrote the volume on his premiership, Full Circle (1960), first. The disadvantage of this was that his account of Suez, in particular, was superseded by fuller accounts in due course. Facing the Dictators (1962) and The Reckoning (1965) have stood the test of time as essential sources for an understanding of the politics of the 1930s and 1940s. In the last year of his life Eden published Another World, 1897–1917, the story of his youth, which has taken its place as one of the classic accounts of the First World War.

On 26 July 1961, the fifth anniversary of Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, Eden took his seat in the House of Lords as the first earl of Avon. Although he spoke from time to time, his influence in the days of the Macmillan hegemony was much reduced. However, when Macmillan sacked seven cabinet members in the ‘night of the long knives’ in July 1962, including Selwyn Lloyd, then chancellor of the exchequer, Eden went out of his way at a Young Conservative rally at Leamington Spa on 26 July to say that he felt that his former foreign secretary had been ‘harshly treated’.

Many honours came Eden's way. He had honorary degrees from thirteen universities and was elected an honorary student (fellow) of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1941. From 1945 to 1973 he was an unusually active chancellor of Birmingham University, where his extensive private archive now resides in the Avon Room in the university library. He was an honorary bencher of the Middle Temple (1952), and an honorary member of the Salters' Company (1946) and of the Fishmongers' Company (1955). He was an elder of Trinity House (1953) and an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1955). Eden was a trustee of the National Gallery from 1935 to 1949. He was an honorary colonel of the Queen's Westminster King's Royal Rifle Corps (1952–60) and of the Queen's Royal Rifles (1960–62). He was an honorary commodore of 500 (County Kent) squadron RAF (1943–57). From 1958 to 1966 he was an enthusiastic president of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and a loyal supporter of the company's productions in Stratford and London, returning in old age to the English poet who meant most to him and whose insights into human nature he so admired.

An abiding interest and enthusiasm for Eden in his retirement was his pedigree herd of Hereford cattle, one of which, Avon Priam, won first prize at the Royal Highland Show. Over a period of six years he travelled to warmer climes in the winter months, owning successively homes in Bequia and Barbados in the West Indies, and it was in December 1976, while staying with Averell Harriman at Hobe Sound in Florida, that he fell seriously ill. The prime minister, James Callaghan, arranged that he should be flown home to Wiltshire in an RAF plane. Eden died at his home at Alvediston Manor, Alvediston, Wiltshire, on 14 January 1977, and was buried three days later in the churchyard at St Mary's Church, Alvediston. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded as second earl of Avon by his son, Nicholas, who died in 1985, when the title became extinct.

Eden's standing has been more than usually prone to the swings of modish fashion. Perhaps overpraised in his pre-war days, not least by the gilded pen of Winston Churchill, he was unfairly treated at the time of his spell as the unluckiest of twentieth-century prime ministers. Since Eden's death a more sober perspective has been evident. The fascination of his career remains undimmed, and an unusually large number of biographies and studies has appeared over the years. Until Suez, Eden was always more highly regarded by those outside his own party than in it; for a time the obloquy after Suez crossed party lines. His critics felt that Eden had lived too much under the shadow of his past attitudes, and that in drawing a false analogy between Hitler and Nasser had attempted to solve the Suez crisis by tactics mistakenly influenced by his earlier experience of Munich. But a quarter of a century after his death, Eden was increasingly recognized as a serious and patriotic figure who worked under the most appalling pressure for nearly three decades at the front line of British and world politics.

D. R. Thorpe


U. Birm., Avon MSS · A. Eden, earl of Avon, The Eden memoirs, 3 vols. (1960–65) · Earl of Avon [R. A. Eden], Another world, 1897–1917 (1976) · D. R. Thorpe, Eden: the life and times of Anthony Eden, first earl of Avon, 1897–1977 (2003) · R. R. James, Anthony Eden (1986) · D. Carlton, Anthony Eden: a biography (1981) · D. Dutton, Anthony Eden: a life and reputation (1997) · V. Rothwell, Anthony Eden: a political biography, 1931–1957 (1992) · K. Kyle, Suez (1991) · CAC Cam., Selwyn Lloyd papers · D. R. Thorpe, Selwyn Lloyd (1989) · R. Lamb, The failure of the Eden government (1987) · J. Ramsden, The age of Churchill and Eden, 1940–1957 (1995) · priv. coll., countess of Avon papers · CAC Cam., Churchill papers · Bodl. Oxf., MSS Stockton · Hatfield House, fifth marquess of Salisbury papers · Carmarthenshire RO, Cilcennin (J. P. L. Thomas) papers


U. Birm., corresp. and papers · Warks. CRO, letters from the front |  BL, corresp. with Lord Cecil, Add. MS 51083 · BL, corresp. with P. V. Emrys Evans, Add. MS 58242 · BL, corresp. with Lord Keyes · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Clement Attlee · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Arthur Mann · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Monckton · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Gilbert Murray · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Simon · Bodl. Oxf., Stockton Papers · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Woolton · Bodl. RH, corresp. with Sir R. R. Welensky and some papers · Borth. Inst., corresp. with Lord Halifax · CAC Cam., corresp. with Patrick Buchan-Hepburn · CAC Cam., Churchill papers · CAC Cam., corresp. with Duff Cooper · CAC Cam., corresp. with Sir Henry Page Croft · CAC Cam., corresp. with Lord Halifax [copies] · CAC Cam., Selwyn Lloyd MSS · CAC Cam., corresp. with Oliver Lyttelton · CAC Cam., corresp. with Sir Eric Phipps · CAC Cam., corresp. with Sir Edward Spears · CAC Cam., corresp. of him and his wife with Lady Spencer-Churchill · CAC Cam., corresp. with Baron Strang · CUL, corresp. with Sir Samuel Hoare · Cumbria AS, Carlisle, letters to Lord Howard of Penrith · Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, fifth marquess of Salisbury MSS · King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., corresp. with Sir B. H. Liddell Hart · NA Scot., corresp. with Lord Lothian · NL Wales, corresp. with Desmond Donnelly · Nuffield Oxf., corresp. with Lord Cherwell · Parl. Arch., corresp. with Lord Beaverbrook · Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark · TNA: PRO, Foreign Office papers, FO 800/750–851  



BFINA, Twentieth century, 27 Dec 1964 · BFINA, Suez, BBC2, 23 Oct 1996 · BFINA, Alan Clark's history of the tory party, BBC2, 21 Sept 1997 · BFINA, Reputations, BBC2, 6 June 2000 · BFINA, current affairs footage · BFINA, news footage · BFINA, party political footage · BFINA, propaganda film footage (ministry of information)




BL NSA, ‘Case history: Sir Anthony Eden’, BBC Radio 4, 1998, H10 110/1 · BL NSA, ‘Dining with … Anthony’, B4 764/03 · BL NSA, documentary recordings · BL NSA, news recordings · IWM SA, ‘Personalities of the twentieth century’, 21 Feb 1938, 3539 · IWM SA, oral history interviews · IWM SA, recorded talk


E. Kapp, lithographic chalk drawing, 1935, NPG · W. Stoneman, three photographs, 1942–50, NPG · P. Halsman, photograph, 1955, NPG [see illus.] · W. Coldstream, oils, 1961, Christ Church Oxf. · D. Hill, drawing, c.1965, NPG · R. Noakes, bust, 1994, Gov. Art Coll. · C. Beaton, photograph, NPG · D. Levine, ink caricature, NPG · D. Low, three pencil caricatures, NPG · M. Yevonde, photograph, NPG

Wealth at death  

£92,900: probate, 17 March 1977, CGPLA Eng. & Wales