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.
Eden was born at Windlestone Hall, County Durham, on 12 June 1897. He was born into a very conservative family of landed gentry. He was a younger son of Sir william Eden, 7th and 5th Baronet, a former colonel and local magistrate from an old titled family. Sir william, an eccentric and often foul-tempered man, was a talented watercolourist and collector of Impressionists.
Eden was educated at two independent schools. The first was Sandroyd School in Cobham from 1907 to 1910, where he excelled in languages. He then started at Eton College in January 1911. There he won a Divinity prize and excelled at cricket, rugby and rowing, winning House colours in the last.
During the Great War, Eden's older brother, Lieutenant John Eden, was killed in action on 17 October 1914, at the age of 26, while serving with the 12th (Prince of Wales's Royal) Lancers. He is buried in Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Belgium. His uncle Robin was later shot down and captured whilst serving with the Royal Flying Corps.
Eden's father had died on 20 February 1915. As a younger son, he had inherited capital of £7,675 and in 1922 he had a private income of £706 after tax (approximately £375,000 and £35,000 at 2014 prices).
One summer night in 1916, near Ploegsteert, Eden had to lead a small raid into an enemy trench to kill or capture enemy Soldiers, so as to identify the enemy units opposite. He and his men were pinned down in No Man's Land under enemy fire, his sergeant seriously wounded in the leg. Eden sent one man back to British lines to fetch another man and a stretcher, then he and three others carried the wounded sergeant back with, as he later put it in his memoirs, a "chilly feeling down our spines", unsure whether the Germans had not seen them in the dark or were chivalrously declining to fire. He omitted to mention that he had been awarded the Military Cross (MC) for the incident, something of which he had made little mention in his political career. On 18 September 1916, after the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (part of the Battle of the Somme), he wrote to his mother "I have seen things lately that I am not likely to forget". On 3 October, he was appointed an adjutant, with the rank of temporary lieutenant for the duration of that appointment. At the age of just 19, he was the youngest adjutant on the Western Front.
Eden's MC was gazetted in the 1917 Birthday Honours list. His battalion fought at Messines Ridge in June 1917. On 1 July 1917, Eden was confirmed as a temporary lieutenant, relinquishing his appointment as adjutant three days later. His battalion fought in the first few days of Third Battle of Ypres (31 July – 4 August). Between 20 and 23 September 1917 his battalion spent a few days on coastal defence on the Franco-Belgian border.
In March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive, he was stationed near La Fere on the Oise, opposite Adolf Hitler, as he learned at a conference in 1935. At one point, when brigade HQ was bombed by German aircraft, his companion told him "There now, you have had your first taste of the next war." On 26 May 1918 he was appointed brigade major of the 198th Infantry Brigade, part of the 66th Division. At the age of twenty, Eden was the youngest brigade major in the British Army.
Eden had dabbled in the study of Turkish with a family friend. After the war, he studied Oriental Languages (Persian and Arabic) at Christ Church, Oxford, starting in October 1919. Persian was his main, and Arabic his secondary, language. He studied under Richard Paset Dewhurst and David Samuel Margoliouth.
In July 1920, whilst still an undergraduate, Eden was recalled to military Service as a lieutenant in the 6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. In the spring of 1921, once again as a temporary captain, he commanded local defence forces at Spennymoor as serious industrial unrest seemed possible. He again relinquished his commission on 8 July. He graduated from Oxford in June 1922 with a Double First. He continued to serve as an officer in the Territorial Army until May 1923.
Captain Eden, as he was still known, was selected to contest Spennymoor, as a Conservative. At first he had hoped to win (with some Liberal support as the Conservatives were still supporting Lloyd George's coalition government) but by the time of the November 1922 general election it was clear that the surge in the Labour vote made this unlikely. His main sponsor was the Marquess of Londonderry, a local coalowner. The seat went from Liberal to Labour.
On 5 November 1923, shortly before his election to Parliament, he married Beatrice Beckett, then aged only 18. They had three sons: Simon Gascoigne (1924–1945), Robert, who died fifteen minutes after being born in October 1928, and Nicholas (1930–1985).
The Conservatives returned to power at the 1924 General Election. In January 1925 Eden, disappointed not to have been offered a position, went on a tour of the Middle East, meeting Emir Feisal of Iraq. Feisal reminded him of the "Czar of Russia & (I) suspect that his fate may be similar" (a similar fate did indeed befall the Iraqi Royal Family in 1958). He inspected the oil refinery at Abadan, which he likened to "a Swansea on a small scale".
Eden continued to be PPS to Locker-Lampson when the latter was appointed Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office in December 1925. He distinguished himself with a speech on the Middle East (21 December 1925), calling for the readjustment of Iraqi frontiers in favour of Turkey, but also for a continued British mandate rather than "scuttle". Eden ended his speech by calling for Anglo-Turkish friendship. On 23 March 1926 he spoke urging the League of Nations to admit Germany, which would happen the following year. In July 1926 he became PPS to the Foreign Secretary Sir Austen Chamberlain.
Besides supplementing his parliamentary income (around £300 a year at that time) by writing and journalism, in 1926 he published a book about his travels, Places in the Sun, highly critical of the detrimental effect of socialism on Australia, and to which Stanley Baldwin wrote a foreword.
In November 1928, with Austen Chamberlain away on a voyage to recover his health, Eden had to speak for the government in a debate on a recent Anglo-French naval agreement, replying to Ramsay MacDonald (then Leader of the Opposition). According to Austen Chamberlain, he would have been promoted to his first ministerial job, Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, if the Conservatives had won the 1929 election.
In opposition between 1929 and 1931 Eden worked as a City broker for Harry Lucas (a firm eventually absorbed into S. G. Warburg & Co.).
At his death, Eden was the last surviving member of Churchill's War Cabinet. Eden's surviving son, Nicholas Eden, 2nd Earl of Avon (1930–1985), known as Viscount Eden from 1961 to 1977, was also a Politician and a minister in the Thatcher government until his premature death from AIDS at the age of 54.
In August 1931 Eden held his first ministerial office as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's National Government. Initially the office of Foreign Secretary was held by Lord Reading (in the House of Lords), although Sir John Simon held the job from November 1931.
In December 1933 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal, a position that was combined with the newly created office of Minister for League of Nations Affairs. While Lord Privy Seal, Eden was sworn of the Privy Council in the 1934 Birthday Honours. He entered the Cabinet for the first time in June 1935 when Stanley Baldwin formed his third administration. Eden later came to recognise that peace could not be maintained by appeasement of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. He privately opposed the policy of the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, of trying to appease Italy during its invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. When Hoare resigned after the failure of the Hoare-Laval Pact, Eden succeeded him as Foreign Secretary. When Eden had his first audience with King George V, the King is said to have remarked, "No more coals to Newcastle, no more Hoares to Paris."
Eden learned French and German on continental holidays and as a child is said to have spoken French better than English. Although Eden was able to converse with Hitler in German in February 1934 and with the Chinese premier Chou En-lai in French at Geneva in 1954, he preferred to have interpreters to translate at formal meetings out of a sense of professionalism.
Eden was notoriously "unclubbable" and offended Churchill by declining to join The Other Club. He also declined honorary membership in the Athenaeum. However, he maintained friendly relations with Opposition MPs; for Example, George Thomas received a kind two-page letter from Eden on learning that his stepfather had died. Eden was a Trustee of the National Gallery (in succession to MacDonald) between 1935 and 1949. He also had a deep knowledge of Persian poetry and of Shakespeare and would bond with anybody who could display similar knowledge.
Eden became Foreign Secretary at a time when Britain was having to adjust its foreign policy to face the rise of the fascist powers. He supported the policy of non-interference in the Spanish Civil War through conferences like the Nyon Conference and supported prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his efforts to preserve peace through reasonable concessions to Germany. The Italian-Ethiopian War was brewing, and Eden tried in vain to persuade Mussolini to submit the dispute to the League of Nations. The Italian dictator scoffed at Eden publicly as "the best dressed fool in Europe." Eden did not protest when Britain and France failed to oppose Hitler's reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936. When the French requested a meeting with a view to some kind of military action in response to Hitler's occupation, Eden in a statement firmly ruled out any military assistance to France.
His resignation in February 1938 was largely attributed to growing dissatisfaction with Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. That is, however, disputed by new research; it was not the question if there should be negotiations with Italy, but only when they should start and how far they should be carried. Similarly, he at no point registered his dissatisfaction with the appeasement policy directed towards Nazi Germany in his period as Foreign Secretary. He became a Conservative dissenter leading a group that conservative whip David Margesson called the "Glamour Boys,", and a leading anti-appeaser like Winston Churchill, who led a similar group, called "The Old Guard."
On the outbreak of war (3 September 1939) Eden, unlike most Territorials, did not mobilise for active Service. Instead, he returned to Chamberlain's government as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, but was not in the War Cabinet. As a result, he was not a candidate for the Premiership when Chamberlain resigned in May 1940 after the Narvik Debate and Churchill became Prime Minister. Churchill appointed Eden Secretary of State for War.
At the end of 1940 Eden returned to the Foreign Office, and in this role became a member of the executive committee of the Political Warfare Executive in 1941. Although he was one of Churchill's closest confidants, his role in wartime was restricted because Churchill conducted the most important negotiations, with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, himself, but Eden served loyally as Churchill's lieutenant. In December 1941, he travelled by ship to Russia where he met the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and surveyed the battlefields upon which the Russians had successfully defended Moscow from the German Army attack in Operation Barbarossa.
In 1942 Eden was given the additional role of Leader of the House of Commons. He was considered for various other major jobs during and after the war, including Commander-in-Chief Middle East in 1942 (this would have been a very unusual appointment as Eden was a civilian; General Harold Alexander was in fact appointed), Viceroy of India in 1943 (General Archibald Wavell was appointed to this job), or Secretary-General of the newly formed United Nations Organisation in 1945. In 1943 with the revelation of the Katyn Massacre Eden refused to help the Polish Government in Exile.
In 1944 Eden went to Moscow to negotiate with the Soviet Union at the Tolstoy Conference. Eden also opposed the Morgenthau Plan to deindustrialise Germany. After the Stalag Luft III murders, he vowed in the House of Commons to bring the perpetrators of the crime to "exemplary justice", leading to a successful manhunt after the war by the Royal Air Force Special Investigation Branch.
Rothwell writes that although Eden was capable of acting with ruthlessness; for instance, over the repatriation of the Cossacks in 1945, his main concern was to avoid being seen as "an appeaser" or over the Soviet reluctance to accept a democratic Poland in October 1944. Like many people, Eden persuaded himself that his past actions were more consistent than they had in fact been.
Between 1946 and 1950, whilst separated from his wife, Eden conducted an open affair with Dorothy, Countess Beatty, the wife of David, Earl Beatty.
That view was enforced by his very pragmatic approach to politics. Sir Oswald Mosley, for Example, said he never understood why Eden was so strongly pushed by the Tory party, as he felt that Eden's abilities were very much inferior to those of Harold Macmillan and Oliver Stanley. In 1947, Dick Crossman called Eden "that peculiarly British type, the idealist without conviction".
He was also prescribed Benzedrine, the wonder drug of the 1950s. Regarded then as a harmless stimulant, it belongs to the family of drugs called amphetamines, and at that time they were prescribed and used in a very Casual way. Among the side effects of Benzedrine are insomnia, restlessness, and mood swings, all of which Eden suffered during the Suez Crisis; indeed, earlier in his premiership he complained of being kept awake at night by the sound of motor scooters. Eden's drug use is now commonly agreed to have been a part of the reason for his bad judgment while Prime Minister. The Thorpe biography, however, denied Eden's abuse of Benzedrine, stating that the allegations were "untrue, as is made clear by Eden's medical records at Birmingham University, not yet [at the time] available for research".
In 1951 the Conservatives returned to office and Eden became Foreign Secretary for a third time, though not "Deputy Prime Minister" (Churchill gave him this title in the first list of ministers submitted to the King, but the King forbade it on the grounds that this "office" is unknown to the Constitution). Churchill was largely a figurehead in this government, and Eden had effective control of British foreign policy for the second time, as the Empire declined and the Cold War grew more intense.
Eden had an ulcer, exacerbated by overwork, as early as the 1920s. His life was changed by a medical mishap: during an operation on 12 April 1953, to remove gallstones, his bile duct was damaged, leaving Eden susceptible to recurrent infections, biliary obstruction, and liver failure. The physician consulted at the time was the royal physician, Sir Horace Evans, 1st Baron Evans. Three Surgeons were recommended and Eden chose the one that had previously performed his appendectomy, John Basil Hume, surgeon from St Bartholomew's Hospital. Eden suffered from cholangitis, an abdominal infection which became so agonising that he was admitted to hospital in 1956 with a temperature reaching 106 °F (41 °C). He required major surgery on three or four occasions to alleviate the Problem.
The alliance with the US proved not universal, however, when in July 1956 Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, unexpectedly nationalised (seized) the Suez Canal, following the withdrawal of Anglo-American funding for the Aswan Dam, Eden believed the nationalisation was in violation of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement that Nasser had signed with the British and French governments on 19 October 1954. This view was shared by Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and Liberal leader Jo Grimond. In 1956 the Suez Canal was of vital importance since over two-thirds of the oil supplies of Western Europe (60 million tons annually) passed through it, with 15,000 ships a year, one-third of them British; three-quarters of all Canal shipping belonged to NATO countries. Britain's total oil reserve at the time of the nationalisation was enough for only six weeks. The Soviet Union was certain to veto any sanctions against Nasser at the United Nations. Britain and a conference of other nations met in London following the nationalisation in an attempt to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means. However, the Eighteen Nations Proposals, including an offer of Egyptian representation on the board of the Suez Canal Company and a share of profits, were rejected by Nasser. Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would threaten to cut off oil supplies to Europe and, in conjunction with France, decided he should be removed from power.
On taking office, he immediately called a general election for 26 May 1955, at which he increased the Conservative majority from seventeen to sixty, an increase in majority that broke a ninety-year record for any UK government. The 1955 general election was the last in which the Conservatives won the majority share of the votes in Scotland. However, Eden had never held a domestic portfolio and had little experience in economic matters. He left these areas to his lieutenants such as Rab Butler, and concentrated largely on foreign policy, forming a close relationship with US President Dwight Eisenhower. Eden's attempts to maintain overall control of the Foreign Office drew widespread criticism.
British Government cabinet papers from September 1956, during Eden's term as Prime Minister, have shown that French Prime Minister Guy Mollet approached the British Government suggesting the idea of an economic and political union between France and Great Britain. This was a similar offer, in reverse, to that made by Churchill (drawing on a plan devised by Leo Amery) in June 1940.
The resignation document written by Eden for release to the Cabinet on 9 January 1957 admitted his dependence on stimulants but not that they affected his judgement during the Suez crisis in the autumn of 1956. "... I have been obliged to increase the drugs [taken after the "bad abdominal operations"] considerably and also increase the stimulants necessary to counteract the drugs. This has finally had an adverse effect on my precarious inside," he wrote. However, in his book The Suez Affair (1966), Historian Hugh Thomas, quoted by David Owen, CH, PC, FRCP, claimed that Eden had revealed to a colleague that he was "practically living on Benzedrine" at the time.
In retirement Eden lived in 'Rose Bower' by the banks of the River Ebble in Broad Chalke, Wiltshire. Starting in 1961 he bred a herd of sixty Herefordshire cattle (one of whom was called "Churchill") until a further decline in his health forced him to sell them in 1975.
In July 1962 Eden made front-page news by commenting that "Mr Selwyn Lloyd has been horribly treated" when the latter was dismissed as Chancellor in the reshuffle known as the "Night of the Long Knives". In August 1962, at a dinner party, he had a "slanging match" with Nigel Birch, who as Secretary of State for Air had not wholeheartedly supported the Suez Invasion. In 1963 Eden initially favoured Hailsham for the Conservative leadership but then supported Home as a compromise candidate.
Michael Foot pushed for a special inquiry along the lines of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Attack on the Dardanelles in the First World War, although Harold Wilson (Labour Prime Minister 1964–70 and 1974–76) regarded the matter as a can of worms best left unopened. This talk ceased after the defeat of the Arab armies by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967, after which Eden received a lot of fanmail telling him that he had been right, and his reputation, not least in Israel and the United States, soared. In 1986 Eden's official biographer Robert Rhodes James re-evaluated sympathetically Eden's stance over Suez and in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, James asked: "Who can now claim that Eden was wrong?". Such arguments turn mostly on whether, as a matter of policy, the Suez operation was fundamentally flawed or whether, as such "revisionists" thought, the lack of American support conveyed the impression that the West was divided and weak. Anthony Nutting, who resigned as a Foreign Office Minister over Suez, expressed the former view in 1967, the year of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, when he wrote that "we had sown the wind of bitterness and we were to reap the whirlwind of revenge and rebellion". Conversely, Jonathan Pearson argues in Sir Anthony Eden and the Suez Crisis: Reluctant Gamble (2002) that Eden was more reluctant and less bellicose than most historians have judged. D. R. Thorpe, another of Eden's biographers, writes that Suez was "a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his careers"; he suggests that had the Suez venture succeeded, "there would almost certainly have been no Middle East war in 1967, and probably no Yom Kippur War in 1973 also".
Eden faulted the United States for forcing him to withdraw, but he took credit for United Nations action in patrolling the Israeli-Egyptian borders. Eden said of the invasion, "Peace at any price has never averted war. We must not repeat the mistakes of the pre-war years, by behaving as though the enemies of peace and order are armed with only good intentions." Recalling the incident in a 1967 interview, he declared, "I am still unrepentant about Suez. People never look at what would have happened if we had done nothing. There is a parallel with the 1930s. If you allow people to break agreements with impunity, the appetite grows to feed on such things. I don't see what other we ought to have done. One cannot dodge. It is hard to act rather than dodge." In his 1967 interview (which he stipulated would not be used until after his death), Eden acknowledged secret dealings with the French and "intimations" of the Israeli attack. He insisted, however, that "the joint enterprise and the preparations for it were justified in the light of the wrongs it [the Anglo-French invasion] was designed to prevent." "I have no apologies to offer," Eden declared.
At the time of his retirement, Eden had been short of money, although he was paid a £100,000 advance for his memoirs by The Times, with any profit over this amount to be split between himself and the newspaper. By 1970, they had brought him £185,000 (around £3,000,000 at 2014 prices), leaving him a wealthy man for the first time in his life. Towards the end of his life, he published a personal memoir of his early life, Another World (1976).
In December 1976, Eden felt well enough to travel with his wife to the United States to spend Christmas and New Year with Averell and Pamela Harriman, but after reaching the States his health rapidly deteriorated. Prime Minister James Callaghan arranged for an RAF plane that was already in America to divert to Miami, to fly Eden home.
Eden died from liver cancer in Salisbury on 14 January 1977, aged 79. He was survived by Clarissa.
The offer by Guy Mollet was referred to by Sir John Colville, Churchill's former private secretary, in his collected diaries, The Fringes of Power (1985), his having gleaned the information in 1957 from Air Chief Marshal Sir william Dickson during an air FLIGHT (and, according to Colville, after several whiskies and soda). Mollet's request for Union with Britain was rejected by Eden, but the additional possibility of France joining the Commonwealth of Nations was considered, although similarly rejected. Colville noted, in respect of Suez, that Eden and his Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd "felt still more beholden to the French on account of this offer".
Eden is generally ranked among the least successful British prime ministers of the 20th century, although two broadly sympathetic biographies (in 1986 and 2003) have gone some way to redressing the balance of opinion. Biographer D. R. Thorpe described the Suez Crisis as "a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his career."
In his 1987 book Spycatcher Peter Wright said that, following the imposed ending to the military operation, Eden reactivated the assassination option for a second time. By this time virtually all MI6 agents in Egypt had been rounded up by Nasser, and a new operation, using renegade Egyptian officers, was drawn up. It failed principally because the cache of weapons which had been hidden on the outskirts of Cairo was found to be defective.
Eden believed that if Nasser were seen to get away with seizing the Canal then Egypt and other Arab countries might move closer to the Soviet Union. At that time, the Middle East accounted for 80–90 percent of Western Europe's oil supply. If Nasser were seen to get away with it, then other Middle East countries might be encouraged to nationalise their oil. The invasion, he contended at the time, and again in a 1967 interview, was aimed at maintaining the sanctity of international agreements and at preventing Future unilateral denunciation of treaties. Eden was energetic during the crisis in using the media, including the BBC, to incite public opinion to support his views of the need to overthrow Nasser. In September 1956 a plan was drawn up to reduce the flow of water in the Nile by using dams in an attempt to damage Nasser's position. However, the plan was abandoned because it would take months to implement, and due to fears that it could affect other countries such as Uganda and Kenya.
Eden has the distinction of being the British prime minister to oversee the lowest unemployment figures of the post-World War II era, with unemployment standing at just over 215,000—barely one per cent of the workforce—in July 1955.