Sir Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister 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, Anthony Eden was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. He served in the Great War, winning a Military Cross for rescuing a wounded officer.
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.
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 Prime Minister’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. 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 Clement Attlee’s Labour government, and then returned to government in 1951 as Churchill’s Foreign Secretary once again. These were 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 Prime Minister from 1955, he still sought to control the Foreign Office and other departments – a tendency much criticised and the source of accusations of vanity. 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 Prime Minister, and then two days later as MP. He was created Earl of Avon in 1961.
Jim 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.