History and Tour

Sir Anthony Eden

Anthony Eden Born : 12 June 1897 in Bishop Auckland, Durham

First entered Parliament: 6 December 1923

Age he became PM : 57 years, 299 days

Maiden Speech: 19 February 1924 emphasising the preparedness against air attack

Total time as PM: One year, 279 days

Died: 14 January 1977 at Alvediston, Salisbury, Wiltshire


Prime Minister Eden urges UN action on Suez

Watch Prime Minister Anthony Eden urge UN action on Suez in 1956 at the height of the Suez canal crisis. You can watch more history videos here .

Facts and figures

Education: Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford

Family: Eden was the third son and fourth of five children. He was married twice, and had two sons

Interests: Art, tennis, farming


Promising heir

Sir Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as PM in April 1955. Having been a brilliant Foreign Secretary, he was seen as the natural and promising heir. However, his premiership was to last just two years, ending ignominiously with the Suez crisis.

The son of a Durham aristocrat, Eden was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He served in the Great War, winning a Military Cross for rescuing a wounded officer. Tall, slim and handsome, his political career began in 1923 when he was elected the Conservative member for Warwick & Leamington.

In Parliament he showed a keen interest in defence and foreign affairs, rising soon to become Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office in 1926, and later Under-Secretary in Ramsay MacDonald’s National government.

Eden spent much time in Geneva pursuing his interest in the League of Nations, and in 1935 he became the Minister for League of Nations Affairs in Stanley Baldwin’s third government. He was a passionate advocator of the Leagues principles, and proved himself an excellent diplomat and negotiator.

Dealing with the fascists

Very soon after, he rose to become Foreign Secretary at the age of just 38. During his first two years in the post, international affairs were dominated by aggressive fascist policies in Europe, which he tried to address through negotiation. Nevertheless, he later resigned in objection to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.

During World War Two Eden rejoined the government as (Commonwealth) Dominions Secretary, and in Churchill’s coalition he became Secretary of State for War, during which time he set up the Home Guard.

Churchill then reinstalled him at the head of the Foreign Office, reflecting the PM’s deep admiration for him. Churchill even recommended him to George VI as his successor should he himself be killed during the course of the war.

The Suez canal crisis has damaged Eden's reputation At this time Eden also took on the role of Leader of the House of Commons. From 1945-51 Eden was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition facing Attlee’s Labour government, and then returned to government in 1951 as Churchill’s Foreign Secretary once again.

These were immensely challenging times, with the Cold War at its peak and trouble in the Middle East. Over-work damaged Eden’s health, yet he continued to impress as a negotiator, and received the Garter for his services. He was regarded as the consummate peacemaker at a time of international tension.

As PM from 1955 he still sought to control the Foreign Office and other departments - a tendency much criticised - and the source of accusations of vanity.

Suez disaster

His decision to bomb Egyptian forces and to deploy troops following Egypt’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal led to UN intervention and deep controversy at home.

A strained Eden fell ill, and was persuaded to resign in January 1957 as PM, and then two days later as MP. He was created Earl of Avon in 1961.

James Callaghan had him brought home by the RAF when he fell ill in the United States, so that he could die in England, in January 1977.

The Suez crisis took a huge toll on his reputation - in a 2004 poll of 139 political science academics Eden was voted the least successful PM of the twentieth century.

Quote unquote

(On Suez) “I thought and think that failure to act would have brought the worst of consequences just as I think the world would have suffered less if Hitler had been resisted on the Rhine”

Did you know?

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.

First wife - Beatrice Beckett

Beatrice Beckett High-spirited and attractive, Beatrice was just 18 when she married the future PM. She had two sons but is said to have found the life of a politician lonely and her isolation increased as her husband moved up the political ranks.

She eventually moved to New York and remarried.

Second wife - Clarissa Spencer-Churchill

Clarissa Spencer-Churchill A great gardener, she was always to be found by the side of her husband who was 23 years her senior. The media attention after they became engaged was, she said, ‘like being in the path of a typhoon’. Her husband was PM for just 18 months but she took on her duties with style, even though politics was her natural habitat.

She was 57 when he died and for several months lives ‘in a daze’. Now in her eighties Clarissa, still living in London, continues to travel widely. She is known to regret that her husband’s career is seen through ‘the prism of Suez’ and believes that his achievements during four decades of huge global change should be more widely recognised.

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