Anthony Eden

British soldier, diplomat and politician (1897–1977)

Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC (12 June 189714 January 1977) was a British Conservative politician who served three periods as Foreign Secretary and then a relatively brief term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1955 to 1957.

Our quarrel is not with Egypt, still less with the Arab world. It is with Colonel Nasser.



  • The Under-Secretary quoted an old military maxim, and I will quote one which is that "Attack is the best possible form of defence." [HON. MEMBERS "No, no!"] I expected hon. Members opposite would be a little surprised at that doctrine. I was not suggesting that we should drop our bombs on other countries, but simply that we should have the means at our disposal to answer any attack by an attack. It is a natural temptation to hon. Members opposite, some of whose views on defence were fairly well known during the years of the War, to adopt the attitude of that very useful animal the terrier, and roll on their backs and wave their paws in the air with a pathetic expression.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (19 February 1924)


  • My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping attacked the Government for basing its whole foreign policy upon disarmament. But that is a policy to which we are all parties—to which every signatory, every upholder, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, is a party... It is a responsibility which we shouldered when the League of Nations began its life. The right hon. Gentleman said: "Your Disarmament Conference is not making much progress it is making things worse, and not better. Why do you not go back to the old practice? Why do you not do as we did before the War—carry on this work by conference and conciliation between embassies through diplomatic channels?" I will give him the answer. The pre-War experiment was not particularly successful. The pre-War experiment was followed by 1914. We do not want to repeat 1914 and, to avoid that repetition, it is surely worth giving this new method a trial... My right hon. Friend warned us not to press France to disarmament. [Mr. Churchill: Unduly.] He was rather an advocate, I think, of an armed France and a disarmed Germany. It is, of course, arguable that the maintenance of such a balance, if it could be called a balance, might continue for a period of years, short or long, but is there anyone who sincerely believes that it is possible to provide a basis for a reconstruction of Europe—to ensure the peace of Europe over any long period of time upon such a foundation as that?
    • Speech in the House of Commons (23 March 1933)
  • I am sure that this policy of non-intervention is the only one which the Government of this country at this moment should pursue, and that it has the support of the great mass of the people of this country who, deeply as they deplore—and they do deplore—the causes of this strife in Spain, believe it to be the first duty of their Government to limit that strife to the great but unhappy country where it now takes place.
  • Supposing that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland is right when he tells us that General Franco must not be allowed to win. If that is the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I repeat that it is no good talking about the opening of frontiers. If that is your view, you have to take action to ensure a certain result, and the only action which would be effective is actual intervention on our own part. Unless you are to do that it is no use speaking in such a threatening way.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 November 1937)
  • I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that temper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (21 February 1938) detailing his resignation from the government as Foreign Secretary
  • Mr. Greenwood, when moving the Amendment yesterday, told us that the war would shake many strongly held views. I fear that this war will do very much more than that. The war will bring about changes which may be fundamental and revolutionary in the economic and social life of this country. On that we are all agreed.
    • Speech to the House of Commons (6 December 1939)


  • Since the war began the Government have received countless inquiries from all over the Kingdom from men of all ages who are for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service, and who wish to do something for the defence of the country. Now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their service in order to make assurance doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the "Local Defence Volunteers".
    • Broadcast (14 May 1940), quoted in The Times (15 May 1940), p. 3. On 22 July the LDV was renamed the Home Guard.
  • Never had so much been surrendered by so many to so few.
  • Wolfe has said: "War is an option of difficulties."
    • Speech in the House of Commons (6 May 1941)
  • There can be only one peace which will be acceptable to the people of this country. That is a peace which takes every precaution in our power to see to it that neither Germany nor Japan has any avoidable opportunity of starting this business again.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (29 September 1944)
  • Many hon. Members, I know, have studied the relevant documents which have been issued about German activities immediately after the last war. They show—I do not think anybody can doubt it—a devastating indictment of the complete absence of German sincerity from the very beginning in fulfilling any of the disarmament stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles. I believe it to be a fact that over the whole range of the disarmament stipulations of that Treaty the German military authorities practised ingenious, universal, and, let us admit it, to a certain extent successful evasion and obstruction at all possible points.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (29 September 1944)
  • I thought that the essential factor we have to remember in deciding on our plans and policy for the future is that in the German character the unquestioned authority of the State is what counts for most. The average German is the instrument of the State to an extent which is incomprehensible to us. He belongs to the State, and the State does not belong to him. I see no signs of that in this country, and I believe that the authority we enjoy in the world to-day is precisely because we represent the complete antithesis of the German State conception. This acceptance of the State, since the days of the Prussians, has made Germans ready to aid any leader who wants to guide them into fields of aggression. With the German, the larger the State the more remote and the more majestic is the authority he is prepared to follow into battle or wherever he is led. Germans believe that it is the destiny of their race to be the dominating Power in Europe; that is far more important to them than either the freedom of the individual or the dignity of any particular man or woman. Unless we are seized of that we do not understand the foundation on which Nazi doctrine was so easily superimposed. It was acceptable to the average German because it expressed in aggressive forms the belief which the average German has had for 200 years or more.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 December 1944)
  • [T]here was one principle underlying their approach to all these problems—a principle upon which they stood in fundamental opposition to Socialism. The Conservative objective was a nation-wide property-owning democracy. Both parties believed in a form of capitalism, but whereas their opponents believed in State capitalism they believed in the widest measure of individual capitalism. Man should be master of his environment, and not its slave. That was what freedom meant. ... [W]e of the Conservative Party must maintain that the ownership of property is not a crime or a sin, but a reward, a right, and a responsibility that must be shared as equitably as possible among all our citizens.
    • Speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool (3 October 1946), quoted in The Times (4 October 1946), p. 2
  • At core Conservatism stands for the individual, his right to liberty, to justice, to respect for his own distinctive personality. It regards the family as the basic social unit—(cheers)—and the sanctity of family life as vital to the health of the State.
    • Speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton (2 October 1947), quoted in The Times (3 October 1947), p. 2
  • We are not a Party of unbridled, brutal capitalism, and never have been. Although we believe in personal responsibility and personal initiative in business, we are not the political children of the "laissez-faire" school. We opposed them decade after decade.
    • Speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton (2 October 1947), quoted in The Times (3 October 1947), p. 2. Also quoted in The New Conservatism (Conservative Political Centre, 1955), pp. 11-12


  • If you drive a nation to adopt procedures which run counter to its instincts, you weaken and may destroy the motive force of its action...You will realise that I am speaking of the frequent suggestion that the United Kingdom should join a federation on the continent of Europe. This is something which we know, in our bones, we cannot do...For Britain's story and her interests lie far beyond the continent of Europe. Our thoughts move across the seas to the many communities in which our people play their part, in every corner of the world. These are our family ties. That is our life: without it we should be no more than some millions of people living in an island off the coast of Europe, in which nobody wants to take any particular interest.
    • Speech to the Columbia University, New York (January 1952), quoted in Anthony Eden, Full Circle (1960), pp. 36-7
  • Our quarrel is not with Egypt, still less with the Arab world. It is with Colonel Nasser. He has shown that he is not a man who can be trusted to keep an agreement. Now he has torn up all his country's promises to the Suez Canal Company and has even gone back on his own statements.
    • Broadcast (8 August 1956), quoted in "Oil route 'a matter of life and death'", The Times (9 August 1956), p. 6
  • We cannot agree that an act of plunder which threatens the livelihood of many nations should be allowed to succeed. And we must make sure that the life of the great trading nations of the world cannot in the future be strangled at any moment by some interruption to the free passage of the Canal.
    • Conclusion of broadcast (8 August 1956), quoted in Anthony Gorst and Lewis Johnman, The Suez Crisis (2013), p. 70
  • There is now doubt in our minds that Nasser, whether he likes it or not, is now effectively in Russian hands, just as Mussolini was in Hitler's. It would be as ineffective to show weakness to Nasser now in order to placate him as it was to show weakness to Mussolini.
    • Letter to President Eisenhower (1 October 1956), quoted in Scott Lucas, Britain and Suez (1996), p. 69
  • All my life, I've been a man of peace, working for peace, striving for peace, negotiating for peace. I've been a League of Nations man and a United Nations man and I'm still the same man with the same convictions, the same devotion to peace. I couldn't be other even if I wished. But I'm utterly convinced that the action we have taken is right.
    • BBC television broadcast (3 November 1956), quoted in Keith Kyle, Suez (2011), p. 425
  • If we had allowed things to drift, everything would have gone from bad to worse. Nasser would have become a kind of Moslem Mussolini, and our friends in Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran would gradually have been brought down. His efforts would have spread westwards, and Libya and North Africa would have been brought under his control.
    • Letter to Eisenhower (5 November 1956), quoted in Peter G. Boyle (ed.), The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence, 1955-1957 (2006), p. 183
  • [It] has had the effect of making us the 49th state [of America].
    • On Harold Macmillan's government policies; letter to Lord Salisbury (28 December 1957), quoted in John Charmley, Churchill's Grand Alliance (1995), p. 354.


  • Although [in 1937] we might still hope to prevent the divisions of Europe into Fascist and anti-Fascist camps, our real affinities and interests, strategic as well as political, lay with France, a fact which some of my colleagues were most reluctant to realise.
    • Anthony Eden, The Eden Memoirs: Facing the Dictators (1962), pp. 486-487


  • Il serait impertinent pour un pays n’ayant pas subi l’occupation de porter un jugement sur un autre l’ayant subi.
    • It would be impertinent for a country that did not suffer occupation to carry a judgment on another one that suffered one.
    • On the occupation of France, in an interview in the film Le chagrin et la pitié, 1971.

Quotes about EdenEdit

  • Anthony's father was a mad baronet and his mother a very beautiful woman. That's Anthony—half mad baronet, half beautiful woman.
    • Rab Butler, quoted in Patrick Cosgrave, R. A. Butler (1981), p. 12
  • I don't think any Secretary of State I served excelled him in finesse, or as a negotiator, or in knowledge of foreign affairs.
  • Eden’s brief premiership was already in trouble before the fiasco of Suez brought it to an end. Despite winning his own mandate in the summer of 1955, Eden was in several respects unfit to be Prime Minister. He was insecure, hypersensitive, and prone to bursts of temper; his health – both psychological and physical (following a botched bile duct operation) was poor; and he had no experience of home affairs or knowledge of Whitehall beyond the Foreign Office.
    • John Campbell, Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown (2010), p. 263
  • There seemed one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender, of wrong measurements and feeble impulses. ... He seemed to me at this moment to embody the life-hope of the British nation, the grand old British race that had done so much for men, and had yet some more to give. Now he was gone.
    • Winston Churchill on Eden's resignation as Foreign Secretary, The Second World War, Volume One: The Gathering Storm [1948] (1950), p. 217
  • I still feel much happier with Eden as Foreign Secretary than I should with Brailsford, and so, I expect, do you.
  • I never saw a better dressed fool.
    • Benito Mussolini in spring 1935. Quoted in Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley (2000), p. 271
  • Eden ha[s] put his country in a position where she sustained the greatest diplomatic reverse since Bismarck in similar circumstances had called Palmerston's bluff in the matter of Schleswig-Holstein...Further damage was done when Russia proved by her action in Spain, that she was not a good European as Mr. Eden had assured the world was the case.

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