Anthony Eden

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The Rt. Hon Anthony Eden
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Period in Office: 7 April 1955 - 9 January 1957
PM Predecessor: Winston Churchill
PM Successor: Harold Macmillan
Date of Birth: 12 June 1897
Place of Birth: Bishop Auckland, Durham
Political Party: Conservative
Retirement honour: Earldom of Avon

Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC (June 12 1897 - January 14, 1977), British politician, was Foreign Secretary during World War II and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1950s. He is remembered mainly for his role in the disastrous Suez Crisis of 1956. In a 2004 poll of 139 political science academics organised by MORI, Eden was voted the least successful British Prime Minister of the 20th Century.


Early career

Eden was born in Durham, where his family had been local landowners for many generations. His mother, Sybil Grey, was a member of the famous Grey family of Northumberland (see below). He studied at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in oriental languages. Following a military career during the First World War, during which he received a Military Cross, Eden entered politics in 1923 when he was elected Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, as a Conservative. In that year also he married Beatrice Beckett. They had two sons, but the marriage was not a success and broke up under the strain of Eden's political career.

Eden became Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office in 1926. In 1931 he was promoted to Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1934 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal and Minster for the League of Nations in Stanley Baldwin's Government. Like many of his generation who had served in the First World War, Eden was strongly anti-war and strove to work through the League of Nations to preserve European peace. He was however among the first to recognise that peace could not be maintained by appeasement of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. He privately opposed the policy of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, of trying to appease Italy during its invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. When Hoare resigned after the failure of the Hoare-Laval Pact, Eden succeeded him as Foreign Secretary.

At this stage in his career Eden was considered as something of a leader of fashion. He regularly wore a Homburg hat (similar to a bowler hat but with an upturned brim), which became forever known in Britain by his name.

Foreign Secretary

Eden became Foreign Secretary at a time when Britain was having to adjust its foreign policy to face the rise of the fascist powers. He supported the policy of non-interference in the Spanish Civil War, and supported Neville Chamberlain in his efforts to preserve peace through reasonable concessions to Germany. He did not protest when Britain and France failed to oppose Hitler's reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936. But in February 1938 he resigned because he could not accept Chamberlain's opening of negotiations with Italy. This made him an ally of Winston Churchill, then a rebel backbench Conservative MP and leading critic of appeasement. There was much speculation that Eden would become a rallying point for all the disparate opponents of Chamberlain, but instead he maintained a low profile, avoiding confrontation though he opposed the Munich Agreement. As a result Eden's position declined heavily amongst politicians, though he remained popular in the country at large.

In September 1939, on the outbreak of war, Eden returned to Chamberlain's government as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, but was not in the War Cabinet. As a result he was not considered a candidate for the Premiership when Chamberlain resigned after Germany invaded France in May 1940 and Churchill became Prime Minister. He appointed Eden Secretary of State for War. Later in 1940 he returned to the Foreign Office, and in this role became a member of the executive committee of the Political Warfare Executive in 1941. Although he was one of Churchill's closest confidents, his role in wartime was restricted because Churchill conducted the most important negotiations, with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, himself, but Eden served loyally as Churchill's lieutenant. Nevertheless he was in charge of handling much of the relations between Britain and de Gaulle during the last years of the war. In 1942 he was given the additional job of Leader of the House of Commons.

After the Labour Party won the 1945 elections, Eden went into opposition as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party. Many felt that Churchill should have retired and allowed Eden to become party leader, but Churchill refused to consider this and Eden was too loyal to press him. He was in any case depressed during this period by the break-up of his first marriage and the death of his eldest son, Simon Eden, in the last days of the war.

In 1951 the Conservatives returned to office and Eden became Foreign Secretary for a third time. Churchill was largely a figurehead in this government and Eden had effective control of British foreign policy for the first time, as the Cold War grew more intense. He dealt effectively with the various crises of the period, although Britain was no longer the world power it had been before the war. In 1950 he and Beatrice Eden were finally divorced and in 1952 he married Churchill's niece, Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, a marriage much more successful than his first had been. In 1953 Eden underwent a series of operations at Boston's Lahey Clinic to correct a minor gall bladder complaint. Unfortunately Eden's health never fully recovered; this was to undermine his subsequent career. In 1954 he was made a Knight of the Garter.

Prime Minister

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Arms of Anthony Eden

In April 1955 Churchill finally retired, and Sir Anthony succeeded him as Prime Minister. Eden was a very popular figure, as a result of his long wartime service and also his famous good looks and charm. On taking office he immediately called a general election, at which the Conservatives were returned with an increased majority. But Sir Anthony had never held a domestic portfolio and had little experience in economic matters. He left these areas to his lieutenants such as Rab Butler, and concentrated largely on foreign policy, forming a close alliance with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.

This alliance proved illusory, however, when in 1956 Sir Anthony, in conjunction with France, tried to prevent Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, nationalising the Suez Canal, which had been owned since the 19th century by British and French shareholders in the Suez Canal Company. Sir Anthony, drawing on his experience in the 1930s, saw Nasser as another Mussolini. Sir Anthony considered the two men aggressive nationalist socialists determined to invade other countries. Others believed that Nasser was acting from legitimate patriotic concerns.

In October 1956, after months of negotiation and attempts at mediation had failed to dissuade Nasser, Britain and France, in conjunction with Israel, invaded Egypt and occupied the Suez Canal Zone. But Eisenhower immediately and strongly opposed the invasion. The U.S. President was an advocate of decolonisation, because it would liberate colonies, strengthen U.S. interests, and presumably make other Arab and African leaders more sympathetic to the United States. Eden had ignored Britain's financial dependence on the U.S. in the wake of World War II, and was forced to bow to American pressure to withdraw. The Suez Crisis is widely taken as marking the end of Britain (along with France) as a World power.

The Suez fiasco ruined Sir Anthony's reputation for statesmanship and led to a breakdown in his health. His Foreign Secretary, Harold Macmillan, despite having been one of the architects of Suez, manoeuvred Eden into resignation and succeeded him as Prime Minister in January 1957. He retained his personal popularity and was made Earl of Avon in 1961. In retirement he lived quietly in Wiltshire with his second wife, and published a highly acclaimed personal memoir, Another World, as well as several volumes of political memoirs. The Earl of Avon died in Salisbury in 1977.

From 1945-1973, Eden was Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, England.

Eden's surviving son, Nicholas Eden (1930-85), known as Viscount Eden until 1977, was also a politician and was a minister in the Thatcher government until his premature death from AIDS.

The Eden Government


  • December 1955 - Rab Butler succeeds Harry Crookshank as Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons. Harold Macmillan succeeds Butler as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Selwyn Lloyd succeeds Macmillan as Foreign Secretary. Sir Walter Monckton succeeds Lloyd as Minister of Defence. Iain Macleod succeeds Monckton as Minister of Labour and National Service. Lord Selkirk succeeds Lord Woolton as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Minister of Public Works, Patrick Buchan-Hepburn, enters the Cabinet. The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance leaves the Cabinet upon Peake's retirement.
  • October 1956: Sir Walter Monckton becomes Paymaster-General. Anthony Henry Head succeeds Monckton as Minister of Defence.

The Grey-Eden connection

                   Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey = Elizabeth Grey
                  |                                        |
         Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey             William Grey
           Prime Minister                                  = Maria Shireff
                                  Georgina Plowden = Sir William Grey
                             Sir William Eden = Sybil Grey
                                      Anthony Eden
                                     Prime Minister

Preceded by:
Stanley Baldwin
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by:
The Marquess of Londonderry
Preceded by:
Sir Samuel Hoare
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
The Viscount Halifax
Preceded by:
Sir Thomas Inskip
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
Succeeded by:
The Viscount Caldecote
Preceded by:
Oliver Stanley
War Secretary
Succeeded by:
David Margesson
Preceded by:
The Viscount Halifax
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
Ernest Bevin
Preceded by:
Sir Stafford Cripps
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by:
Herbert Morrison
Preceded by:
Herbert Morrison
Foreign Secretary
Succeeded by:
Harold Macmillan

Template:Succession box two to two Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Avon
Succeeded by:
Nicholas Eden

Template:End box

External links Eden he:אנתוני_אידן


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