As a young man, Anthony Eden attended the prestigious Eton College and distinguished himself in combat during World War I. He went on to study languages at Oxford, a pursuit that prepared him for a position as Great Britain’s foreign secretary, a post he would occupy three times. In 1923, Eden was elected for the Conservative Party to a seat in Parliament that he would hold until retiring from politics in 1957.
Eden first became foreign secretary in December 1935 under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. At the time, Eden was just 38 years old and the youngest British foreign secretary in nearly a century. When Neville Chamberlain replaced Baldwin in 1937, Eden kept the position and in initially supported reasonable concessions toward aggressive countries. But on February 20, 1938, he resigned his post, at least in part due to his disagreement with Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement toward fascist nations like Germany and Italy. The move benefitted his career; when Chamberlain’s strategy failed to prevent war, Winston Churchill became Great Britain’s leader in May 1940. By December, Churchill had reappointed Eden as foreign secretary.
Eden travelled extensively during the war years and was present at most of the Allied conferences. Although Eden and Churchill had disagreements, Eden provided Churchill with indispensable support and was widely viewed as the man who would become prime minister should anything happen to Churchill. After the July 1945 general election ousted Churchill from office, Eden became the deputy leader of the opposition in Parliament. In 1951, when Churchill was reelected, Eden became foreign secretary once more, as well as deputy prime minister. His patience and loyalty paid off: when Churchill resigned on April 6, 1955, Eden succeeded him as prime minister.
Unfortunately for Eden, his brief term was fraught with difficulties, particularly the Suez Crisis in 1956, in which Israeli forces, followed by combined British-French forces, attacked Egypt after that country’s president, Gamal Abdel Nammer, nationalized the Suez Canal. Receiving no support from the United States and drawing the ire of the United Nations , the operation was disastrous. It was a humiliating demonstration of how far the once-mighty Great Britain had fallen. Eden resigned on January 9, 1957, his earlier political successes eclipsed by the Suez debacle. Although he suffered from ill health and cancer, he lived another 20 years before dying on January 14, 1977.