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  General and Old World HistoryGreat BritainEngland20th Century

Anthony EdenSir Anthony Eden

Prime Minister, 1955-1957

Robert Anthony Eden was born at Windlestone Hall, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on June 12, 1897, into an aristocratic family. He briefly considered a military career but was turned down because of bad eyesight, so he entered Eton College instead. After World War I broke out the Army loosened its entry requirements and Eden was commissioned a Lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. He spent two years on the French front (1916-1918), rising to the rank of Major by the age of 20, and earning the military cross at the Battle of the Somme for rescuing a wounded officer. After the war, Eden entered Christ Church College, Oxford University, from which he graduated with a degree in oriental languages in 1922.

Early Political Career

Eden's political career began when he was elected as a Conservative member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, in 1923. Keenly interested in defense and foreign affairs, his first speech (in 1924) was on the subject of British air defenses. He served as Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1926 to 1929, and as Under-Secretary in Ramsay MacDonald's National Government from 1931 to 1934. A strong advocate for the League of Nations, he became Minister for League of Nations Affairs under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1935, in which capacity he proved himself an excellent diplomat and negotiator.

In 1935, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain elevated Eden to the position of Foreign Secretary. Despite being known for his skills as a negotiator, Eden resigned his office in 1938 when Chamberlain chose to negotiate with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. He rejoined Chamberlain's government as Secretary of (Commonwealth) Dominions Affairs in 1939.

When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he made Eden his Secretary of War, in which position he was responsible for establishment of the Home Guard. Eden next served as Foreign Secretary, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955, and as Deputy Leader of the Opposition between those two periods. As Foreign Secretary, Eden played a major part in establishment of a western European defense system. In 1951, he set events in motion that ultimately led to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi taking power in Iran. He was made a knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.

Prime Minister

Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister on April 6, 1955. In 1956, Britain and the United States withdrew their financial support from Egypt's Aswan High Dam project. In response, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced plans to nationalize the Suez Canal and to use its revenues to fund the dam. Concerned that Nasser's action could curtail oil shipments that relied on the Canal, Eden held a series of secret negotiations with France and Israel which culminated in a combined military assault on Egypt in October. Pressure from the United States forced the three nations to withdraw, and Egypt retained control of the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal incident seriously damaged Eden's reputation, and he resigned from office on January 9, 1957. He was succeeded by Harold Macmillan.

Later Life

Eden became Earl of Avon in 1961. He spent his later years writing his Memoirs (3 volumes, 1960-1965) and Another World (1976), an account of his war experiences. He died at Alvediston, Salisbury, Wiltshire, on January 14, 1977.

Family Life

Eden married Beatrice Beckett in 1923. The couple had two sons before divorcing in 1950. In 1953, he married Clarissa Spencer Churchill, niece of Winston Churchill.


World War I
Benito Mussolini
Winston Churchill
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Queen Elizabeth II
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Suez Canal
Harold Macmillan

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This page was last updated on September 26, 2016.

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