Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG (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 in 1956.
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.
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 acquiescence in Germany's annexation of Austria. This made him an ally of Winston Churchill, then a rebel backbench Conservative MP and leading critic of appeasement.
In September 1939, on the outbreak of war, Eden returned to Chamberlain's government as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. Chamberlain resigned when 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 Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, himself, but Eden served loyally as Churchill's lieutenant. In 1942 he was given the additional job of Leader of the House of Commons.
After the British 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 April 1955 Churchill finally retired, and Eden 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 Eden had never held a domestic portfolio and had little experience in economic matters. He left these areas to his lieutenants such as R. A. "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 Eden, 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. Eden, drawing on his experience in the 1930s, saw Nasser as another Mussolini, failing to understand the real strength of Egyptian nationalism which Nasser represented.
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 area. But Eisenhower immediately and strongly opposed the invasion, opposing British and French colonialism and also fearing that it would inflame Arab opinion against the west. 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 as a world power.
The Suez fiasco ruined Eden'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, manoeuvered 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. Eden died in Salisbury in 1977.
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
Anthony Eden: Prime Minister
Viscount Kilmuir: Lord Chancellor
Lord Salisbury: Lord President of the Council
Henry Frederick Comfort Crookshank: Lord Privy Seal
Richard Austen Butler: Chancellor of the Exchequer
Harold Macmillan: Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Gwilym Lloyd George: Secretary of State for the Home Department
Alan Lennox-Boyd: Secretary of State for the Colonies
Lord Home: Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
Peter Thorneycroft: President of the Board of Trade
Lord Woolton: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Sir David Eccles: Minister of Education
James Stuart: Secretary of State for Scotland
Derick Heathcoat Amory: Minister of Agriculture
Sir Walter Turner Monckton: Minister of Labour and National Service
Selwyn Lloyd: Minister of Defence
Duncan Sandys: Minister of Housing and Local Government
Osbert Peake: Minister of Pensions and National Insurance
December 1955 - R. A. Butler succeeds Henry F.C. Crookshank as Lord Privy Seal. 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