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Anthony Eden

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Anthony Eden

Anthony Eden became Prime Minister to follow on from his predecessor, Winston Churchill, and make Britain stronger on the global stage. However, he left the office humiliated, with his reputation permanently destroyed.

Let's explore his early political career and his policies as prime minister before discussing the Suez Canal Crisis and its impact on Eden's career. We will finish by analysing Eden's downfall and his legacy.

Anthony Eden Photo of Anthony Eden and Franklin D Roosevelt StudySmarterFranklin D Roosevelt and Anthony Eden at the Quebec Conference in 1943, Wikimedia Commons

Anthony Eden's biography

Anthony Eden was born on 12 June 1897. He was educated at Eton, and studied at Christchurch College, Oxford.

Like many others of his generation, Eden volunteered for service in the British Army and was assigned to the 21st Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC). Eden lost two of his brothers after they were killed in action during the war.

Anthony Eden in political office

1923Eden becomes the Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington at the age of 26.
1924The Conservative party wins the 1924 general election under Stanley Baldwin.
1925Eden becomes Parliamentary Private Secretary to Godfrey Locker-Lampson, under-secretary at the Home Office.
1926Eden becomes Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Austen Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Office.
1931Due to his positions in the Home and Foreign offices, Eden gains his first ministerial appointment as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs under Ramsay MacDonald’s coalition government. Eden strongly advocates against war and for the League of Nations.
1933Eden is appointed to Lord Privy Seal, a position combined in a newly created office of Minister for League of Nations Affairs.
1935Stanely Baldwin becomes Prime Minister again, and Eden is appointed to the cabinet as Foreign Secretary.
1938Eden resignes his position as Foreign Secretary during Neville Chamberlain's office as Prime Minister in protest against his policy in appeasing fascist Italy.
1939From 1939 to 1940, Eden served as Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.
1940Eden briefly served as Secretary of State for War.
1940Eden retook his position as Foreign Secretary.
1942Eden also became the Leader of the House of Commons.

Anthony Eden as Prime Minister

After the Labour Party's victory in the 1945 election, Eden became the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party.

In the Conservative Party’s return to power in 1951, Eden became Foreign Secretary again and Deputy prime minister under Winston Churchill.

After Churchill resigned in 1955, Eden became Prime Minister; he called a general election in May 1955 shortly after assuming office. The election increased the Conservative majority; they also broke a ninety-year record for any UK government, as the Conservatives obtained a majority of votes in Scotland.

Eden delegated many responsibilities to his senior ministers, such as Rab Butler, and focused on foreign policy, developing a close relationship with US President Dwight Eisenhower.

Anthony Eden's domestic policies

Eden had little experience of domestic or economic policy and preferred to focus his attention on foreign policy, so he delegated these responsibilities to other politicians like Rab Butler.

Britain was put in a difficult position at this time. It needed to maintain its position on the global stage, but the British economy was not equipped with the strength and resources needed. As a result, Britain missed out on some big developments in Europe. For example, Britain was not present at the 1955 Messina Conference, which aimed to create closer economic cooperation between European countries. Something like this might have helped Britain's economy!

Anthony Eden and the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956

Anthony Eden's involvement in the Suez Canal Crisis marked his leadership. It was his downfall as Prime Minister and destroyed his reputation as a statesman.

Firstly, what was the Suez Crisis?

  • The leader of Egypt, Gamal Abdal Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956, which was important to Britain's trade interests.
  • Britain, along with France and Israel, invaded Egypt.
  • The US, the United Nations, and the Soviet Union condemned this act of war.
  • The Suez Crisis was a disaster for Britain and ruined Eden's reputation.

Eden rushed into the Suez Canal Crisis as he felt he was an expert on foreign affairs, thanks to his experience in the foreign office. He also did not trust Nasser; he felt that he was too much like the European dictators of the 1930s. Eden was very aware of Churchill's shadow hanging over him on a more personal level. He felt pressure to make something of himself and follow on from Churchill's outstanding leadership.

The Suez Canal Crisis was a disaster; Eden managed to anger the UN, the USSR, the Americans and the British people all at once. His successor, Harold MacMillan, had to clear up most of the mess from the crisis.

Eden resigned within weeks of the Suez Canal Crisis. The official reason was ill-health; although that certainly was a factor, the real reason was that Eden knew he could not continue as Prime Minister after this.

How did the Suez Canal Crisis cause Anthony Eden's downfall?

Suez ruined Eden's reputation as a statesman and caused his health to deteriorate. In November 1956, he took a holiday to Jamaica to improve his health but still tried to keep his job as Prime Minister. His health did not improve, and his Chancellor Harold Macmillan and Rab Butler attempted to force him out of the office while he was away.

Eden intended to keep his job as prime minister when he returned from Jamaica on 14 December. He had lost his customary base of support on the Conservative left and among moderates.

During his absence, his political standing weakened. He wanted to make a statement criticising Nasser as a Soviet collaborator and the United Nations, which many ministers quickly objected to. Eden resigned in January 1957 after doctors advised him that his life would be jeopardised if he stayed in office.

Historians described Eden during the crisis as having destroyed his reputation as a peacemaker and led Britain to one of the most humiliating defeats of the 20th Century. It appeared as if he had developed a new personality; he acted rashly and hurriedly. Additionally, although he purported to uphold international law, he ignored the United Nations, which Britain had helped establish.

The Prime Minister sprawled on the front bench, head thrown back and mouth agape. His eyes, inflamed with sleeplessness, stared into vacancies beyond the roof except when they switched with meaningless intensity to the face of the clock, probed it for a few seconds, then rose again in vacancy. His hands twitched at his horn-rimmed spectacles or mopped themselves in a handkerchief, but were never still. The face was grey except where black-ringed caverns surrounded the dying embers of his eyes.

-Anthony Eden, described by a Labour MP

Anthony Eden's successor

Harold Macmillan succeeded Anthony Eden. Mcmillan had been his Foreign Secretary in 1955 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1955 to 1957. Macmillan became Prime Minister on 10 January 1957 and worked to improve US–Britain relations after Eden's failure regarding the Suez Crisis and other international relations.

Anthony Eden - Key Takeaways

  • Anthony Eden was a British Conservative politician and prime minister of Britain from 1955 to 1957, one of the shortest terms ever by a prime minister.

  • He had lots of political experience in foreign affairs, which was the focus of his leadership.

  • He felt an enormous amount of pressure to carry on from the legacy of Winston Churchill. His ill health also marred his leadership.

  • He is best known for his poor handling of the Suez Canal Crisis, which destroyed his reputation and angered the UN, the US, the USSR, and the British people.

  • Eden resigned in 1957, just a few weeks after the Suez Crisis. Harold MacMillan, who had been the Chancellor under Eden, replaced him.

Frequently Asked Questions about Anthony Eden

Eden died of liver cancer in 1977 at the age of 79.

Two years, from 1955 to 1957.

Eden resigned partly due to his ill health and partly due to his handling of the Suez Canal Crisis, which had destroyed his political reputation.

Harold MacMillan

Yes, he had a lot of experience in the foreign office.

Final Anthony Eden Quiz


When did Anthony Eden become Prime Minister?

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Who did Anthony Eden succeed as Prime Minister?

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Winston Churchill

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Which crisis marked Eden's leadership?

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The Suez Canal Crisis

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Which department did Eden serve in before becoming Prime Minister?

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The Foreign Office

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Who did Eden delegate economic affairs to?

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Rab Butler

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Who was the leader of Egypt that Eden didn't like?

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Colonel Nasser

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Why did Eden resign?

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Ill health and his destroyed reputation from the Suez Crisis

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Who succeeded Eden?

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Harold MacMillan

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Who did Eden anger with his handling of the Suez Crisis?

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The UN, the US, the USSR and the British public

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When did Anthony Eden become the Leader of the House of Commons?

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