Anthony Eden, the son of Sir William Eden, the High Sheriff of Durham, was born at Windlestone Hall, near Bishop Auckland, on 12th June, 1897. Eden, like his father and grandfather, was educated at Eton. He hoped to go to Sandhurst before joining the British Army, but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.
With the outbreak of the First World War the British Army reduced its entry standards, and Eden was able to obtain a commission in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. Soon after Lieutenant Eden arrived in France in June 1916, he heard that his sixteen year old brother, Nicholas Eden, had been killed when the Indefatigable had been sunk at the Battle of Jutland.
Eden served on the Western Front and won the Military Cross at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. After one attack at at Delville Wood, Eden's he battalion suffered 394 casualties, of whom 127 were killed. Nearly all the junior officers were either dead or badly wounded and as a result Eden was promoted to adjutant. By the time the war ended, Eden had reached the rank of major.
After the war Eden was undecided about whether to stay in the army. He eventually selected a career in politics and in the 1923 General Election won Warwick & Leamington for the Conservative Party. Three years later he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Austin Chamberlain at the Foreign Office. A post he held until the government lost power at the 1929 General Election.
In the National Government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931, Eden became Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1931-34). When Stanley Baldwin became prime minister in 1935 he appointed Eden as his Foreign Secretary. Henry (Chips) Channon commented: "He has had a meteoric rise, young Anthony. I knew him well at Oxford, where he was mild, aesthetic, handsome, cultivated and interested in the East - now at thirty-eight he is Foreign Secretary. There is hardly a parallel in our history. I wish him luck; I like him; but I have never had an exaggerated opinion of his brilliance, though his appearance is magnificent."
Eden disagreed with Neville Chamberlain about the way to deal with fascism. Duff Cooper reported in his autobiography, Old Men Forget (1953): "I had been glad when Eden had become Foreign Secretary and I had always given him my support in Cabinet when he needed it. I believed that he was fundamentally right on all the main problems of foreign policy, that he fully understood how serious was the German menace and how hopeless the policy of appeasement. Not being, however, a member of the Foreign Policy Committee, I was ignorant of how deep the cleavage of opinion between him and the Prime Minister had become. It is much to his credit that he abstained from all lobbying of opinion and sought to gain no adherents either in the Cabinet or the House of Commons."
Eden eventually resigned from the government on the issue of appeasement. In a speech given in the House of Commons on 21st February, 1938, he argued: "I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that tmper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world."
Winston Churchill, the leader of the Conservative Party opposition to appeasement in parliament, argued: "The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved."
Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, supported Eden in his action against the government. He accused Neville Chamberlain of "an abject surrender to the dictators" and that "the Government, instead of trying to deal with the causes of war, had always been trying in a feeble way to play off one dictator against another. That is a policy which sooner or later leads to war."
Eden later admitted: "My action had gained support in the Liberal and Labour Parties as well as in my own, and I had some encouragement to form a new party in opposition to Mr. Chamberlain's foreign policy. I considered this once or twice during the next few months, only to reject it as not being practical politics. Within the Conservative Party, I, and those who shared my views, were a minority of about thirty Members of Parliament out of nearly four hundred. Our number might be expected to grow if events proved us right, but the more complete the break, the more reluctant would the newly converted be to join us."
On the outbreak of the Second World War Eden was seen to have been right about his criticisms of Neville Chamberlain and his government. In December 1939 he declared that Adolf Hitler was the symptom of what faced Britain: "Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph there will be no future for civilization."
Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and on 4th April 1940 became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Later that month the German Army invaded and occupied Norway. The loss of Norway was a considerable setback for Chamberlain and his policies for dealing with Nazi Germany. On 8th May the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign and this turned into a vote of censure. At the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and a further 60 abstained. Chamberlain now decided to resign and on 10th May, 1940, George VI appointed Winston Churchill as prime minister. Later that day the German Army began its Western Offensive and invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Two days later German forces entered France.
Churchill now appointed as Foreign Secretary. One of his first actions was to create the Home Guard. On 14th May, 1940, he announced: "We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance doubly sure." Eden later reported: "I had expected the response to this appeal to be prompt. In fact it was overwhelming, the first recruit arriving within four minutes of the end of the broadcast. It was quite impossible to deal with the number of volunteers who flocked to join, still less to provide them with weapons. But this was only a beginning and the answer which mattered had already been given."
The following month Eden had the responsibility of telling that nation about the retreat from Dunkirk: Our duty in this country is plain. We must make good our losses and we must win this war. To do that we must profit by the lessons of this battle. Brave hearts alone cannot stand up against steel. We need more planes, more tanks, more guns. The people of this country must work as never before. We must show the same qualities, the same discipline, and the same self-sacrifice at home as the British Expeditionary Force have shown in the field. The nation honours with proud reverence those who fell that their comrades might win through. The innumerable actions, the countless deeds of valour of the last week, cannot all be recorded now. Each will have its place in history. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, who gave their lives to help theirs is an immortal memory. Their spirit must be our banner, their sacrifice our spur."
Eden met Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yalta. He later recalled: "Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets."
The Conservative Party was fully expected to win the 1945 General Election. Although Winston Churchill had officially accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In the 1945 General Election Churchill's attempts to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Attlee won a landslide victory. Eden's reputation in the party remained high and he was appointed as deputy leader of the opposition.
The 1951 General Election saw the return of a Conservative government and once more Eden became Foreign Secretary. Later that year, Mohammed Mossadeq, took power in Iran and nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain's largest overseas asset and the world's biggest oil-producer. Eden approved a SIS plot to overthrow Mussadeq. The following year MI6 agent George Young helped to organize protests demonstrations against the government in Iran. In August 1953 over 300 people died during a riot in Teheran. Mussadeq resigned and was replaced by the SIS candidate, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi.
Eden replaced Winston Churchill as prime minister in April, 1955. D. R. Thorne, the author of Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden, First Earl of Avon (2003) has argued: "The crown prince had at last ascended the throne. 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."
Eden 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 26th May. At the time the Conservative Party was only 4% ahead of the Labour Party. During the 1955 General Election Eden emphasized the theme of the "property-owning democracy", and won by sixty seats. It was the first-time since 1900 that an incumbent administration had increased its majority in the House of Commons. The Labour leader, Clement Attlee, retired and was replaced by the much younger, Hugh Gaitskell.
It has been argued that when Hugh Gaitskell became leader in December, 1955, "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." Eden found criticism difficult to take and William Clark, his press secretary, was kept very busy issuing statements defending his policies.
President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Gamal Abdel Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.
Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt. On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.
The historian, Daniel Williamson has argued: "Without economic sanctions or the threat of invasion, Nasser could hold onto the canal until Egyptian control became an accepted fact by the international community. Other forces that pushed Eden toward a military solution include political pressure from the French and from the right-wing of the Conservative party, as well as his own deteriorating health. French Premier Guy Mollet's Government was much more keen on a military solution to the crisis as this, more likely, would lead to the end of Nasser's regime and, presumably, his support for the Algerian rebellion. The French had secretly begun to negotiate for Israeli participation in an invasion of Egypt, an idea the Eden had rejected at the beginning of the crisis as potentially too damaging to Anglo-Arab relations. Israel refused to aid the French unless Paris could guarantee that Britain would also be a party to any attack on Egypt."
Walter Monckton, the Minister of Defence, diagreed with Eden's policy: I was in favour of the tough line which the Prime Minister took in July when Nasser announced the nationalisation of the canal and I must say that I was not fundamentally troubled by moral considerations throughout the period for which the crisis lasted. My anxieties began when I discovered the way in which it was proposed to carry out the enterprise. I did not like the idea of allying ourselves with the French and the Jews in an attack upon Egypt because I thought from such experience and knowledge as I had of the Middle East that such alliances with these two, and particularly with the Jews, were bound to bring us into conflict with Arab and Muslim feeling Secondly, and to an even greater extent. I disliked taking positive and warlike action against Egypt behind the back of the Americans and knowing that they would disapprove of our course of action I felt that the future of the free world depended principally upon the United States and that we should be dealing a mortal blow to confidence in our alliance with them if we deceived them in this matter."
Eden wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower for support: "In the light of our long friendship, I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a united front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.... I have never thought Nasser a Hitler, he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost before he was finally dealt with. The removal of Nasser and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives. You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with it this time because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I."
Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour Party, immediately attacked the military intervention by Britain, France, and Israel, calling it "an act of disastrous folly". Brian Brivati, the author of Hugh Gaitskell (1996) has pointed out that he argued that the government's policy had "compromised the three principles of bipartisan foreign policy: solidarity with the Commonwealth, the Anglo-American alliance, and adherence to the charter of the United Nations." When it became clear that Anthony Eden, had been lying to him in private, he reacted with characteristic passion and emotion, broadcasting a powerful attack on Eden on 4th November 1956.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.
On 20th December 1959 Eden made a statement in the House of Commons when he denied foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt. Robert Blake, the author British Prime Ministers in the Twentieth Century (1978) controversially argued: "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."
Gamal Abdel Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries in Europe. Eden, who had gone to stay in the home of Ian Fleming and Ann Fleming in Jamaica, came under increasing attack in the media. When Eden returned on 14th December it was to a dispirited party. On 9th January, 1957, Eden announced his resignation.
Cass Canfield, went to school with Eden. He wrote in his autobiography, Up and Down and Around (1971): "Anthony eventually became Prime Minister; he still appears rather languid in manner but, obviously, has great hidden reserves of energy and ambition. Eden's Waterloo came with Suez in 1956. He was very ill at the time and left England for Panama, where he wrote me in reply to a letter I'd sent him after the debacle. lie mentioned certain mistakes he'd made over the years but said he was sure he'd been right in this instance Suez! Maybe he was, in the long run."
Anthony Eden died on 14th January 1977.