Saturday, January 14, 2017

The 1st Earl of Avon

Anthony Eden 1st Earl of Avon, who stood firm with Churchill against appeasement of Hitler and remained the UK’s foreign secretary throughout the war, died 40 years ago today. His political career started young, and he did eventually become Prime Minister when Churchill finally retired, but he soon was forced to resign because of his handling of the Suez crisis. Biographers and historians make good use of his diaries, which cane found with the Avon Papers at the University of Birmingham, but I can find no trace of them ever having been published in their own right.

Eden was born in 1897 in County Durham, the son of a baronet. He was educated at Eton, and, after a distinguished military service record with the army in World War One, he studied studied oriental languages at Christ Church, Oxford. He stood for parliament in the 1922 general election as a Conservative candidate for the Spennymoor constituency, but failed to get elected. In 1923, he married Beatrice Helen Beckett and they had three children, though one died in infancy. After a brief honeymoon, he was selected to stand for Warwick and Leamington in the general election that December, and won, entering Parliament aged only 26.

In 1931, Ramsay MacDonald appointed Eden to his first ministerial post, under-secretary for foreign affairs in the National Government, and then, in 1933, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal (with special responsibility for international relations). Two years later, in 1935, he entered the cabinet, as foreign secretary, for the first time as part of Stanley Baldwin’s third administration. However, when Neville Chamberlain took over as Prime Minister after Baldwin’s resignation, Eden resigned (early 1938) in protest against Chamberlain’s appeasement policy towards Germany and Italy. With the outbreak of war, in 1939, Eden returned to Chamberlain’s government as secretary of state for dominion affairs, and when Churchill became Prime Minister he appointed Eden as secretary of state for war, then as foreign secretary. He remained one of Churchill’s closest confidants through the war (gaining the additional role of Leader of the House of Commons in 1942).

After the Labour Party won the 1945 election, Eden went into opposition as deputy leader of the Conservative Party. It it was not until 1951 that he returned to office as foreign secretary when the Conservatives, with Churchill still as leader, took power. In 1955, when Churchill finally retired, Eden took over as leader, called a general election, which the Conservatives won with an increased majority. Although a very popular figure, Eden lasted less than two years as Prime Minister: his handling of the Suez crisis in 1956 led to his resignation in the early days of 1957, and then from parliament a couple of months later. He was made an earl in 1961, entering the House of Lords as the 1st Earl of Avon. During his retirement, Eden traveled much, and wrote four volumes of memoirs, the last of which, Another World, was particularly well received. He died on 14 January 1977. Further information can be found at Wikipedia,, BBC, The British Empire, Spartacus Educational, or British Pathé.

Eden’s personal and political papers are held by the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, and are known as the Avon Papers. They include both political diaries and notebooks and personal diaries. As far as I can tell, however, Eden’s diaries have never been published in their own right. They have, though, been used and quoted by many biographers and historians, mostly rather briefly, for example in: Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897-1977 by D. R Thorpe (Chatto & Windus, 2003); Anthony Eden by Robert Rhodes James (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986); Searching for Security in a New Europe: The Diplomatic Career of Sir George Russell Clerk by Gerald J. Protheroe (Routledge, 2004) and Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy by Klaus Larres (Yale University Press, 2002).

David Dutton’s Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation by David Dutton (Arnold, 1997) includes many quotes from Eden’s diaries, some within the flow of the narrative, but many standing alone, and all of them carefully annotated with a date. Dutton does not, though, provide any overview of the diary material (which I’ve not been unable to find anywhere else either). Interestingly (at least with regard to the value of diaries to biographers), Dutton does make extensive use of diaries kept by many contemporaries of Eden; the following are specifically acknowledged: James Chuter Ede, Hugh Dalton, Robert Bruce Lockhart, Henry Channon, 27th Earl of Crawford, Richard Crossman, Alexander Cadogan, Pierson Dixon, Blanche Dugdale, 1st Earl of Halifax, Harold Macmillan, Oliver Harvey, Cuthbert Headlam, William Clark, Sir John Colville, Hugh Gaitskell, Lord Reith, Beatrice Webb, Maurice Hankey, 1st Baron Moran, Harold Nicolson, Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, and the 1st Earl of Woolton.

Here are several quotes from Eden’s diaries as found in Dutton’s book. (Square brackets inside the quotes are as used in Dutton’s book.)

27 August 1931
‘[Chamberlain] told me there was a chance I might go to F.O. That he had spoken strongly to Reading [the new Foreign Secretary] and that S.B. had agreed to his doing so. He hoped something would result but S.B. had given away so much to the Liberals it was impossible to say. He - S.B. - apparently greeted my name with more enthusiasm than any other. The F.O. in a national govt, with the S of S in the Upper House is higher than I hoped for and I do not expect that I shall get it.’

26 July 1932
‘He will not fight for his own policy. He expects the Cabinet to find his policy for him. That they will never do. They want to be told. The only result of present procedure is F.O. pushed into the background, which is not good either. . . . Poor Simon is no fighter. Nothing will make him one.’

28 October 1932
‘He has never fought for his own hand . . . The policy is as good as can be expected in the circumstances and it now remains for Simon to go for it. Anyway the ink wells at the F.O. are dry and if the Cabinet will not have it Simon should ask them to send someone else to Geneva.’

23 June 1933
‘Simon told me he could not take questions Monday, would I? ... It eventually transpired that there was a question on bombing that he did not want to answer because he could not express approval of government policy though he has urged me to often enough and has done little enough against it. Not very noble. He added: ‘I shall certainly feel ill again by then. Indeed I feel my illness creeping upon me already. It will certainly be bad on Monday.” Makes one wonder whether the whole thing is not a sham.’

26 March 1935
‘Only thing Hitler wants is Air Pact without limitation. Simon much inclined to bite at this, and to suggest separate conference on this. I had to protest and he gave up the idea. Total result of visit for European settlement very disappointing. Simon toys with idea of letting G. expand eastwards. I am strongly against it. Apart from its dishonesty it would be our turn next.

16 November 1936
‘Van came in and talked somewhat hysterically about this alliance being directed against us and not Russia. I fear that he is not balanced and is in such a continual state of nerves that he will end by making would-be aggressors think the more of us as a possible victim!’

5 January 1937
‘At least we have given nothing away to Italy. It remains to be seen whether what we have gained will prove of any material value. Time alone will show and nothing would be more foolish than openly to attempt to pull Mussolini away from Hitler.’

26 August 1943
‘G[ermany] and J[apan] had been the great restraints upon R[ussia]. We were committed to destroy both. R. would then be immensely powerful ... it might be that I should still see many years of war, perhaps all my life. I admitted that all this might be true but argued that only possible basis for a policy was to try to get on terms with Russia.’

6 June 1944
‘I was accused of trying to break up the government, of stirring up the press on the issue. He said that nothing would induce him to give way, that de Gaulle must go. F.D.R. and he would fight the world. I didn’t lose my temper and I think that I gave as good as I got. Anyway I didn’t budge an inch.’

January 1957
‘Americans would not have moved until all was lost. All through the Canal negotiations Dulles was twisting and wriggling and lying to do nothing.’ (John Foster Dulles:  Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State)

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