Clarissa Eden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Countess of Avon
Anne Clarissa Spencer-Churchill

(1920-06-28)28 June 1920
Kensington, London, England
Died15 November 2021(2021-11-15) (aged 101)
London, England
Known forFormer spouse of the prime minister of the United Kingdom (1955–1957)
(m. 1952; died 1977)
RelativesSpencer-Churchill family

Anne Clarissa Eden, Countess of Avon (née Spencer-Churchill; 28 June 1920 – 15 November 2021) was an English memoirist and centenarian. She was the wife of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon, who served as British prime minister from 1955 to 1957. She married Eden in 1952, becoming Lady Eden in 1954 when he was made a Knight of the Garter, before becoming Countess of Avon in 1961 on her husband's being created an Earl. She was also the niece of Winston Churchill. In 2007, at 87 she released her memoir subtitled From Churchill to Eden.

Following the death of Lady Wilson of Rievaulx in June 2018, Lady Avon was the oldest living spouse of a British prime minister until her own death in November 2021.[1] She turned 100 on 28 June 2020[2] and was the second spouse of a British prime minister to become a centenarian, after Lady Wilson. She outlived five British prime ministers' spouses who came after her; Lady Dorothy Macmillan (1900–1966), Elizabeth Douglas-Home (1909–1990), Mary Wilson (1916–2018), Audrey Callaghan (1915–2005) and Denis Thatcher (1915–2003).

Early life[edit]

Spencer-Churchill was born in 1920, the daughter of Major Jack Spencer-Churchill (1880–1947) and Lady Gwendoline ("Goonie") Bertie (1885–1941), a daughter of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, who had been married in 1908. Spencer-Churchill's elder brothers were Johnnie (1909–1992), an artist, and Henry Winston (1913–2002), known as Peregrine.[3]

Clarissa Spencer-Churchill was born at her parents' house in the Cromwell Road, Kensington, London. She was educated at Kensington Preparatory School and then at Downham School, Hatfield Heath, a "fashionable boarding school ... orientated to horses",[4] which she disliked and left early without any formal qualifications.[5] Seventy years later she said she had also felt the need to get away from home—"I just wanted to get out from under the whole thing of being loved too much".[6]

Paris, Tuscany and London (1937–1939)[edit]

In 1937 Spencer-Churchill studied art in Paris.[7] Her mother had asked the British Ambassador, Sir George Clerk, to keep a watchful eye on her, an unintended consequence of this being that she was taken under the wing of an Embassy press secretary who, with his wife, introduced her to a round of café society parties.[6] Among the friends she made in Paris were writers Fitzroy Maclean and Marthe Bibesco. Together with two female contemporaries, she made a visit to the Folies Bergère, an unusual destination for 16-year-old girls, where the singer Josephine Baker, clad only in a circlet of bananas, became the first naked female body she had ever seen.[4][page needed]

In the summer of 1937, Spencer-Churchill accompanied Julian Asquith (grandson of the Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith) and his mother, Katharine, on a tour, mainly by third class rail, across the Apennines in the Tuscany region of Italy.[4][page needed] Among other artistic treasures, she saw for the first time the fifteenth century frescos by Piero della Francesca at Arezzo, one of which, "The Queen of Sheba Adoring the Holy Wood" (c.1452), she nominated in 2010 as her favourite painting: "in an age of violence he went on painting clearly and calmly".[8]

When Spencer-Churchill returned to London she enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art. Around this time she displayed her individualism by acquiring a specially tailored trouser suit along the lines of those associated with the actress Marlene Dietrich[4][page needed] after the latter's appearance in the film, Morocco (1930). 1938 was the future Lady Avon's "coming out" year and she was regarded as "one of the more notable débutantes"[9] in a "vintage year for beautiful girls",[10] but, having mixed with older and more sophisticated people in Paris, she seems to have disdained the circuit—since described by Anne de Courcy as "more or less naive seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds suddenly flung into a round of gaities"[11]—and was never presented at Court. Another débutante of 1938, Deborah Mitford, later Duchess of Devonshire, recalled Clarissa Spencer-Churchill as exhibiting "more than a whiff of Garbo in a dress by Maggy Rouff of Paris".[10][12]

Among those with whom Eden danced at that year's Liberal Ball was the future double agent Donald Maclean, who complained that she was too smart to be "a proper Liberal girl like the Bonham-Carters or the Asquiths".[13] She also knew Guy Burgess, who fled to Russia in 1951 when he and Maclean were about to be unmasked as traitors. A 2015 biography of Burgess, a homosexual, contained claims that, encouraged by his Soviet "handlers", he had contemplated marriage to Clarissa. However, the latter, then aged 95, denied that they had been close. She described Burgess as "courteous, amusing, nice and good company", but said that he had been "standoffish" towards her and did not wish any friendship to develop.[14]

In 1939 Eden spent another four months in Paris and in August of that year travelled to Romania as guest of the novelist Elizabeth Bibesco and her husband Antoine (Elizabeth's mother, Margot Asquith, having been left distraught at the conclusion of her daughter's visit to her in London earlier in the year[15]). Clarissa only just managed to return to England—on one of the last flights out of Bucharest—before the start of the Second World War.[4][page needed]

The Second World War: Oxford and the Foreign Office[edit]

In 1940, encouraged by economist Roy Harrod, Clarissa went to Oxford to study philosophy, although not as an undergraduate because of her lack of qualifications. While there she became associated with, among other leading academics, Isaiah Berlin and Maurice Bowra.[7] Lady Antonia Fraser, whose father, later Lord Longford, was a Fellow of Christ Church, has described her as having been "the don's delight".[6] For a short while she was tutored by A. J. Ayer, a future Wykeham Professor of Logic known for his libidinous lifestyle,[16] although his womanising was not apparently extended to her.[4][page needed][17]

When Clarissa moved back to London, she decoded ciphers in the Communications Department of the Foreign Office, where her future husband was the Secretary of State from 1940 to 1945. One of her colleagues was Anthony Nutting, who in 1956 resigned from Eden's government because of his opposition to the Suez operation. For a time the future Lady Avon lived in a roof-top room at the Dorchester Hotel, which she obtained at a cut-price rate because of its vulnerability to bombing[4][page needed] (although the building was a modern, steel-framed structure with extensive underground accommodation that was considered relatively safe during air raids[18]).


After the war Clarissa Spencer-Churchill worked at London Films for the producer Sir Alexander Korda, who she thought made "terrible mistakes without really knowing what has happened",[19] and as a reviewer for the fashion magazine Vogue. She met the actor Orson Welles, who became a dining companion, on the set of the film The Third Man (1949), and escorted actress Paulette Goddard, who played Mrs Cheverley in Korda's production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1947), on a "rather wild trip" to Brussels.[6] During the latter excursion Goddard expressed a wish to attend a pornographic show, but, although Korda's representatives made arrangements for this, she shied away when she and Clarissa, having climbed "a flight of shabby stairs", were greeted by two men in black suits.[4][page needed]

Clarissa Spencer-Churchill also worked for the short-lived monthly magazine Contact, established by George (later Lord) Weidenfeld and edited by Philip Toynbee. Weidenfeld was keen to expand into book publishing and Contact, which appeared with a hard cover, offered a means of circumventing post-war paper quotas.[4][page needed][20] Among those Clarissa persuaded to contribute to the magazine was the cookery writer Elizabeth David, whose recipes became very influential in the 1950s. Through Weidenfeld she also became a close friend of Marcus Sieff, later Chairman of the retailer Marks and Spencer.[4][page needed]

As a result of this eclectic early career, she widened her circle of friends and contacts beyond those in society and politics with whom she already had close connections. As one of Anthony Eden's biographers put it, she was "equally at home in the worlds of Hatfield and Fitzrovia",[21] while a reviewer of her memoir wrote that "few lives can have touched so many social worlds, or graced them so elegantly".[22] Even so, Lady Avon did not impress everyone: after the future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher met her at a Conservative Party ball in 1954, she wrote dismissively to her sister, "Mrs Anthony Eden received us. Really she is a most colourless personality".[23]

A Memoir (2007)[edit]

Glimpses of Clarissa Spencer-Churchill's life as a single woman, for example, in diaries and other reminiscences, are quite extensive. Although she had indicated to the former Labour Member of Parliament Woodrow Wyatt that no memoir of her own would appear until after her death,[24] a volume, edited by Cate Haste, was nevertheless published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2007,[4][page needed] and Phoenix brought out a paperback edition in 2008. In 2004 Haste had collaborated with Cherie Booth, wife of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, to produce a biographical chapter about Lady Avon as part of a wider study of Prime Ministerial spouses.[6] Clarissa Avon noted that after meeting Haste she realised that the latter's "enthusiasm and professionalism could make it happen".[4][page needed]

A photograph on the dust jacket of her memoir, depicting a young, pensive Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, cigarette in hand, conveyed an alluring and slightly Bohemian image. The book was generally well received by critics[25] and even generated an engaging "spoof" in the satirical magazine Private Eye ("In the early 1950s I married Anthony Eden, a politician of above average height, with a prominent moustache …"[26]). Historian Andrew Roberts described it as "the last great British autobiography of the pre-war and wartime era",[27] while art critic John McEwen remarked on its "witty and elegant restraint".[8]

Friends and acquaintances[edit]

Early admirers[edit]

Having lost both parents by her mid twenties, Clarissa Spencer-Churchill was comparatively independent for a young woman of her time. In later years she remarked to Woodrow Wyatt on "how much more restricted" girls were when she was young, while conceding that she herself had had her first affair at 17 with a "man who was quite well-known and … still alive [in 1986]".[28] She had many devoted admirers, an early "ardent suitor" being Sir Colville Barclay, briefly a diplomat and later a painter, who was stepson of Lord Vansittart, former permanent head of the Foreign Office.[29]

Lady Avon was quoted by Wyatt as having told him that she had resisted the amorous advances of Duff Cooper, wartime Information Minister and British Ambassador in Paris 1944–47, who, thirty years her senior, had also been a friend of her mother:[30] "I was the only woman who he never got more than a peck on the cheek from".[31] She informed Cooper in 1947, following a weekend in the country with Anthony Eden, at which the only other guest was the French Ambassador to Britain, that Eden "never stops trying to make love to her".[32] When Cooper was raised to the peerage (eventually choosing the title Viscount Norwich), he sought Clarissa's views as to a title—"Think, child, think ... Have you any suggestions? (not funny ones)"[33] – and she was the recipient of the last letter that he wrote (from White's club) shortly before his death at sea on New Year's Day, 1954.[33]

Other friends[edit]

Among the future Clarissa Avon's many other friends, a number of whom were some years older than she, were the novelists Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, and Nancy Mitford (whose sister Deborah wrote of an encounter with Lady Avon some 20 years after they had been débutantes together that she "found her rather alarming"[34]), painter Lucian Freud, and choreographer Frederick Ashton. When she was still in her teens James Pope-Hennessy modelled on her the character of Perdita in London Fabric (1939) and dedicated the book "To Clarissa".[4][page needed] Gerald, Lord Berners used her as the basis of a character in his novel Far From the Madding War (1941), while photographer Cecil Beaton, 16 years her senior, treated her as a special confidante and introduced her to the reclusive Swedish actress Greta Garbo.[35] The journalist and author Sofka Zinovieff has claimed that, after her grandmother, Jennifer Fry (of the Fry's chocolate family), separated in 1944 from her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy, who was Lord Berners' closest friend, Clarissa and Cecil Beaton amused themselves by riffling through underclothes and love letters that Jennifer had left in a drawer at Berners' country home, Faringdon House, in Oxfordshire.[36] A few years' later, while working at Contact, Clarissa became friends with the writer and journalist Alan Ross, who subsequently married Jennifer Fry.[4][page needed]

Lady Avon thought the writer and horticulturalist Vita Sackville-West (whose husband, the politician and diplomat Harold Nicolson was a friend of her mother) "an interesting romantic figure", but felt "dunched" by her "remote and rather superior" manner. Visiting her at Sissinghurst some years later, she "thought the less of her" for troubling to provide, evidently in a hurry, table napkins that were still damp.[4][page needed] Like Clarissa herself, many of her acquaintances frequented the bookshop Heywood Hill, next to the hairdresser Trumper's in Mayfair's Curzon Street, which, during the war was managed by Nancy Mitford and became a regular meeting place:[4][page needed] according to Mitford's sister, Diana, Lady Mosley, "its ground floor room didn't just look like a private club, it very nearly was one".[37]

Clarissa was a long-standing friend of Ann Fleming, wife of novelist Ian Fleming and lover of Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party from 1955 to 1963, who had previously been married to Viscount Rothermere. In 1952, she and composer and playwright Noël Coward became godparents to the Flemings' son Caspar,[38] who died of a drug overdose in 1975. In later years, as a widow, she was evidently close to the influential solicitor Lord Goodman.[39] Another long-standing social acquaintance was Labour Minister Roy (later Lord) Jenkins, also a friend of Ann Fleming. Jenkins's official biographer chose, as an example of the broadly-based groups Jenkins would entertain at his home at East Hendred, a small party assembled there in March 1994—Lady Avon, together with the architectural historian James Lees-Milne, Jenkins' publisher Roland Philipps, and their wives.[40]

Relationship with Anthony Eden[edit]

Clarissa Spencer-Churchill first met her future husband at Cranborne, Dorset (home of the future 5th Marquess of Salisbury) in 1936, when she was 16. He was already famous for his elegant attire and Homburg hat, and she was struck by Eden's unusual pinstriped tweed trousers.[41]

Winston Churchill and the wartime link[edit]

There was some further contact during the war, by virtue of the circles in which she and Eden both moved and through her uncle Winston, who became Prime Minister in May 1940. As an illustration of her occasional proximity to the centre of power, between meetings of the War Cabinet on 30 May 1940, when the Dunkirk evacuation was at its height, Clarissa was present when Churchill lunched with her parents and the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.[42] Lady Avon described this occasion as "a nightmare, with news of people's deaths coming in …".[43] After her mother's death in 1941, she stayed at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country home in Buckinghamshire.

R. A. Butler, then Minister of Education, recalled a dinner party in Eden's flat above the Foreign Office, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Attempting to defuse an argument between Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook about their respective motivation during the Abdication crisis of 1936, Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, just turned 21, proclaimed with patent improbability that she had three favourites, Edward VIII, Leopold III of Belgium and the aviator Charles Lindbergh.[44]

Marriage to Eden[edit]

A more defined relationship with Eden, who was a married man 23 years older than Clarissa, developed gradually after they had sat next to each other at a dinner party in about 1947. Eden had been monopolised for much of the meal by a woman on his other side and afterwards, in an undertone, invited Clarissa out to dinner.[45] In 1950 Eden was divorced from his first wife, Beatrice, née Beckett (1905–57). Although she was a Roman Catholic and her church was opposed to divorce, Clarissa Spencer-Churchill married Eden, who had become Foreign Secretary again in 1951, in a civil ceremony at Caxton Hall, London on 14 August 1952. This event drew large crowds, on a level with those earlier in the year for the wedding of film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding,[6] prompting Harold Macmillan, Minister of Housing, to note that "it's extraordinary how much 'glamour' he [Eden] still has and how popular he is".[46] The wedding reception was held at 10, Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, who at the time was Clarissa's uncle, Winston Churchill.

Attitudes to the marriage[edit]

Until 2019 Eden was one of only two British Prime Ministers to have been divorced (although he was one of ten to have been married twice[47]). There was criticism of the marriage in the Church Times—"Mr. Eden's action this week shows how far the climate of public opinion in this matter has changed for the worse"[48]—and from some others in the Anglican church, including the Archbishop of Sydney, who drew parallels with Edward VIII's having given up the throne to marry an American divorcée. Harold Macmillan, among others, thought such comparisons unfair: "Miss Churchill cannot be compared with Mrs Simpson, who had had two husbands".[49][full citation needed] However, the marriage also drew the opprobrium of Evelyn Waugh,[50] a convert to Roman Catholicism after divorce from his first wife, who professed to have been in love with Clarissa Spencer-Churchill himself[4][page needed] and who, a few years earlier, had repeatedly berated the poet John Betjeman for his Anglo-Catholic beliefs.[51] Waugh enquired of Clarissa Eden, "Did you never think that you were contributing to the loneliness of Calvary by your desertion [of the faith]?"[4][page needed]

On the eve of the wedding, John Colville, a long-time private secretary of Winston Churchill, who in his younger days had been part of the same social "set" as Churchill's niece, recorded in his diary that Clarissa, who was staying at Churchill's home at Chartwell, Kent, was "very beautiful, but … still strange and bewildering". He added that Churchill "feels avuncular to his orphaned niece, gave her a cheque for £500 and told me that he thought she had a most unusual personality".[52] According to Lady Avon herself, Churchill's wife Clementine thought her "too independent and totally unsuitable",[4][page needed] while the marriage is said to have exacerbated the antagonism towards Eden of the Churchills' often wayward son Randolph, who, having initially defended his cousin to Evelyn Waugh, gave her "two years to knock him [Eden] into shape".[21] His subsequent attacks on Eden in the press culminated in a scathing biography, The Rise and Fall of Sir Anthony Eden (1959).

The issues relating to the Edens' marriage resurfaced in 1955, when Eden was prime minister. In that year Princess Margaret, sister of the Queen, announced that she had decided not to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend, a divorcé.[53] Although recently available evidence suggests that the Eden government was prepared to be reasonably accommodating towards such a marriage and that Margaret would have needed only to renounce her right of succession to the throne,[54] Townsend reflected in the 1970s that

Eden could not fail to sympathise with the Princess, all the more so that while his own second marriage had incurred no penalty, either for him or his wife, he had to warn the Princess that my second marriage – to her – would [mean] she would have to renounce her royal rights, functions and income.

— Peter Townsend (1978) Time and Chance

Married life[edit]

The Edens' marriage, which lasted until his death on 14 January 1977, was, by all accounts, an extremely happy one.[55]

The first five years of her marriage were dominated by Eden's political career and by the effects of a botched operation on his gall bladder in 1953, which caused lasting problems.[56] Eden's private secretary, Evelyn Shuckburgh, recalled Lady Eden's role in ensuring that the complaint that led to the operation had been diagnosed properly: "When Eden acquired a loving wife, Sir [Horace] Evans was called in ..."[57] Before then Eden had travelled with a tin box containing medicaments that ranged from aspirins to morphia injections.[58]

Historian Hugh Thomas noted that, though "non-political", Lady Avon was interested in foreign affairs, having written a Berlin diary for the literary magazine Horizon.[59] Lady Avon maintained many of her wider acquaintances. For example, Cecil Beaton and Greta Garbo visited 10 Downing Street at her invitation in October 1956. They drank vodka and ice and Beaton recorded Lady Avon's observation that her husband was kept awake by the sound of motor scooters,[60] which were growing in popularity among young people in the 1950s. Lady Avon is said to have murmured, "he can't keep away", as Eden, in Beaton's words, "gangled in like a colt" and proclaimed to Garbo that he had always wanted to meet her.[60]

Lady Avon miscarried in 1954[41] and there were no children. Her stepson, Nicholas, Eden's surviving son from his first marriage, who succeeded him as 2nd Earl of Avon, served as Under-Secretary of State for Energy in Margaret Thatcher's Government in the 1980s, but died of AIDS in 1985. At this point the earldom became extinct.

Eden's premiership[edit]

Churchill had told Lady Avon, following her honeymoon in 1952, that he wanted to give up the premiership.[61] However, it was not until 6 April 1955 that Eden succeeded him as Prime Minister, shortly afterward winning a general election in which the Conservative Party polled the largest percentage of the popular vote recorded by a party between 1945 and the present day.[when?][62] Colville noted that, at a dinner attended by the Queen to mark Churchill's retirement, the Duchess of Westminster had put her foot through Lady Avon's train, causing the monarch's consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, to remark, "that's torn it, in more than one sense".[63]

Eden's premiership lasted less than two years. For much of this period Eden was the subject of hostility from elements of the Conservative press, notably The Daily Telegraph,[64] the wife of whose chairman, Lady Pamela Berry (an ambitious and sometimes spiteful society hostess, described by the biographer of her father, Lord Birkenhead, as "the politician manquée of the second generation"[65]), was said by some to have had a "blood row" (Macmillan's phrase) with Lady Avon.[66] The latter's attempts to make up this puzzling rift were apparently shunned.[67]

Chatelaine at Downing Street and Chequers[edit]

As hostess at 10 Downing Street, Lady Avon oversaw the organisation of official receptions. She brought in new caterers, causing U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to lose a bet with a fellow dinner guest that he knew "exactly what every course is going to be".[41] Because the Edens' tenure was so short, Lady Avon's plans to return the fabric and furniture of the house to the styles of the 1730s, when it was built, were never realised.[6]

Lady Avon was not very fond of Chequers, though she did take a keen interest in the garden and grounds, introducing old fashioned roses and increasing the range of fruit trees. However, her successor, Lady Dorothy Macmillan, so keen a horticulturalist that she sometimes gardened at night, removed yellow and white flowers planted by Lady Avon and replaced them with roses of "normal colour".[68] One episode at Chequers attracted considerable publicity. In January 1956 Lady Avon politely requested the occupant of a farm worker's cottage on the estate to hang her washing where it could not be seen by visitors.[41] Although it seems that the washing may have been hung across a lime walk, beyond the boundary of the cottage garden itself,[69] the story was taken up by the Daily Mirror as an alleged example of Lady Avon's high-handedness. Coming shortly after attacks in the press on Eden's leadership, the timing was unfortunate.

In April 1956 Lady Avon hosted a dinner at Chequers for the visiting Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin. Khrushchev noted that Lady Avon's (sober) behaviour contradicted a briefing from the Soviet Embassy in London that she shared some of Winston Churchill's "traits in the matter of drinking". Over dinner (when, according to his hostess, he ate nothing[4][page needed] despite his reputation for eating and drinking greedily[70]), he responded rather bluntly to her question about the range of Soviet missiles that "they could easily reach your island and quite a bit farther".[71] The following morning Khrushchev mistook Lady Avon's room for Bulganin's but, having provoked a cry after almost walking in on her, beat a hasty retreat and did not identify himself. He confided later in Bulganin with whom he "had a good laugh over the incident".[72]

Suez Crisis[edit]

As the Suez Crisis reached its climax in 1956, the Labour Party opposed Anglo-French attacks on Egypt. On 1 November Lady Avon found herself sitting next to Dora Gaitskell, wife of the Labour leader, in the gallery of the House of Commons, whose sitting was suspended, due to uproar, for the first time since 1924. "Can you stand it?" she asked, to which, according to one version, the seasoned Mrs Gaitskell replied, "the boys must have their fun".[59] (An alternative version is that Mrs Gaitskell responded, "What I can't stand is the mounted police charging the crowds outside".[73]) Three days later Lady Avon attended, out of curiosity, an anti-Government "Law not War" demonstration in Trafalgar Square, but thought it politic to withdraw when she was recognised with friendly cheers.[74]

"The Suez Canal flowing through my drawing room"[edit]

In the humiliating aftermath of the Suez crisis in 1956, Lady Avon's most famous public remark to a group of Conservative women that, "in the past few weeks I have really felt as if the Suez Canal was flowing through my drawing room", was widely reported.[75] Lady Avon later described this observation as "silly, really idiotic",[6] though it remains probably the most quoted utterance of the whole crisis. One example of its durability was a journalist's observation some 54 years later, with reference to the Iraq War of 2003, that "if, as Clarissa Eden remarked, the Suez Canal ran through her drawing room, Iraq and the decisions that flowed from it still haunt [the] Labour [Party] and stir up antipathies and discomforts".[76] Another instance was in 2013 when options for airport expansion around London were being debated: The Times newspaper cited Lady Avon's words in 2011 in connection with a call by the outgoing Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus (later Lord) O'Donnell for Prime Ministerial spouses to receive greater support from public funds: "In a constitutional monarchy, the consort of the prime minister is not an official role … Yet, as the Countess of Avon so vividly pointed out, it can be impossible to keep public scrutiny at bay altogether".[77] In Lady Avon's view, both she and her husband "were quite naive about how the press works. Neither of us should have been, but we were."[78]

In his memoirs Eden recalled that, on several occasions during the Suez crisis, he found time to sit in his wife's drawing room, whose décor he described as green. There he was able to enjoy two sanguines by André Derain and a bronze of a girl in her bath by Degas that Alexander Korda had given the Edens as a wedding present.[79]

Political influence[edit]

During this period there were some who thought they detected undue influence by Lady Avon over her husband. For example, Lady Jebb, wife of the British Ambassador in Paris, alluded in her diary to Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and referred to "Clarissa's war".[80] (It should be borne in mind, however, that her husband, Sir Gladwyn, a "figure of some grandeur, if not hauteur",[81] was furious at his exclusion from an Anglo-French summit in Paris two weeks before the Suez invasion.[82]) In December 1956 Walter Monckton, a member of Eden's Government who opposed the Suez invasion, apparently told a Labour Member of Parliament, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, that Lady Avon was a powerful force in politics, with great influence on her husband, and that "now she knows he [Monckton] opposed Anthony she won't have anything to do with him".[83] Monckton claimed, among other things, that, during a rail strike in 1955, Eden, by then Prime Minister, had, at his wife's urging, taken a tougher public stance in relation to the railwaymen than that advised by Monckton, as Minister of Labour, and senior civil servants[84] (although there is evidence that Churchill had also privately advocated to Eden the need for a strong line).[85]

In private correspondence just after Suez, the Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper derided Lady Avon's remark about the Suez Canal flowing through her drawing room and declared not only that the "vain and foolish" Eden was "wholly managed" by her, but that she herself would listen only to Cecil Beaton, whom he described (with reference to the Svengali of the last Russian Czarina Alexandra) as her "Rasputin".[86]

Protective influence[edit]

Less dramatically, there were suggestions that Eden's touchiness and over-sensitivity to criticism, characteristics frequently remarked upon by colleagues,[87] were exacerbated by Lady Avon (described by historian Barry Turner, without explanation, as "equally touchy"[88]). One of Eden's private secretaries claimed that "she had a habit of stirring up Anthony when he didn't need it".[89] However, Eden's biographer D. R. Thorpe concluded that such imputations arose from a misreading of the Edens' relationship, noting also that, during Suez, the only two people in whom Eden could confide without inhibition were his wife and the Queen.[21] Indeed, as historian Ben Pimlott put it, "if Lady Eden came to believe that the Suez Canal flowed through her drawing room, the Queen must have felt pretty damp as well".[90] David Dutton, another (not notably sympathetic) biographer of Eden, noted that "some observers believed that Clarissa was excessively protective and tended to exacerbate Eden's natural volatility" but also remarked on her devoted companionship and that "during the dark days of the Suez Crisis, [she] was at his side, supportive throughout".[91]

Eden himself paid tribute to his wife's adaptation of their domestic arrangements to meet the "unsteady requirements" of this period, noting that his digestion took less kindly to them.[79] There is some evidence also that, when he was Foreign Secretary, Lady Avon had influenced (or, at any rate endorsed) his patterns of work. A later Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, has observed that, though he worked hard, Eden did not keep office hours and often spent mornings working in bed. For example, on 29 December 1952, Eden wrote: "Raining and cold. Clarissa says that this is the right way to run the F[oreign].O[ffice]. Lie in bed, direct office by telephone and read Delacroix".[92]

Some of Lady Avon's friends may have concealed their true views about Suez. For example, Isaiah Berlin assured "dearest Clarissa" that Eden had acted with "great moral splendour", describing his stance as "very brave", "very patriotic" and "absolutely just",[93] while opining to another acquaintance that his policy had been "childish folly".[94] Lady Avon herself recalled that, though she sought to "bolster up" her husband and scanned the newspapers for anything that she thought he ought to know, she did not feel she "knew enough about what was going on to try and interfere in any way".[6] Even so, her knowledge of the inner workings of Government was such that she was able to record in her diary the precise stance, at a critical point of the Suez operation, of every member of the Cabinet:

[E]ach was asked in turn what they felt about going on. Selwyn [Lloyd], Alec Home, Harold [Macmillan], Alan [Lennox-Boyd], Anthony Head, Peter [Thorneycroft], [Sir David] Eccles, Duncan [Sandys], James Stuart, Gwilym [Lloyd George], and [Lord] Hailsham were for going on. [Lord] Kilmuir, [Derrick] Heathcoat Amory, [Iain] Macloed, Bobbety [Lord Salisbury], Patrick Buchan-Hepburn were for doing whatever Anthony wanted and Lord Selkirk was unintelligible.[95]

Aftermath of Suez[edit]


The damage caused by the Suez Crisis to the Prime Minister's already frail health persuaded the Edens to seek a month's rest cure at "Goldeneye", Ian Fleming's "plain, low roofed" bungalow[96] on the north coast of Jamaica. Lady Avon's concern for her husband's health appears to have been decisive in the choice of destination, but it was regarded by many, including Macmillan and the Government's Chief Whip, Edward Heath, as politically unwise.[97] In addition, although Goldeneye had a private beach and a large living room with glassless louvre windows that enabled "the moist tropical air [to] blow through",[98] Ian Fleming's close friend, the journalist Denis Hamilton, who visited Goldeneye around that time, recalled a "shack-like house" which Fleming "went around pretending [was] ... a great palace ... a miniature Ritz".[99] Its bedrooms have been described as "insignificant and small".[100] Ann Fleming warned Lady Avon about some of its primitive aspects and suggested that Torquay, a seaside resort in the south west of England, and a sun-lamp might have been preferable.[101] However, Lady Avon insisted that "Berkshire [Chequers] or somewhere instead" would not have been suitable: "I thought if we didn't go to Jamaica, he was going to drop down dead, literally".[102]

Installed in Jamaica after a good deal of secrecy and close liaison between Downing Street and Ian Fleming's secretary, Una Trueblood,[103] the Edens were temporary neighbours of Noël Coward who thought Goldeneye "perfectly ghastly"[104] and presented them – "poor dears" – with a basket of caviare, pâté de foie gras and champagne.[38] Coward also sent Frank Cooper's marmalade and Huntley and Palmer's biscuits, which, according to Lady Avon, "was not what we had been looking forward to".[4][page needed] As was sometimes the case when Fleming let Goldeneye, he asked his neighbour (and lover) Blanche Blackwell, a member of the influential Lindo family, to ensure that the Edens were properly looked after.[105] Indeed, it seems that Lady Avon's mentioning that Blackwell had been helpful at Goldeneye led Ann Fleming to suspect that her husband and Blackwell were having an affair.[106] The publicity that the Edens' sojourn attracted is credited by some with boosting Fleming's literary career, including sales of his early novels about James Bond, the first of which, Casino Royale, he had written at Goldeneye in 1952.[107] Lady Avon later recalled her "astonishment" (and Ann Fleming's "rueful embarrassment") at the success of the Bond books,[4][page needed] which continued after From Russia, with Love entered the best-seller lists in 1957.[108]

Eden's resignation[edit]

The Edens flew back to England just before Christmas 1956. A young witness of their departure from Kingston airport recalled Lady Eden looking "glacial" and her husband, pale.[109] Lady Avon noted that, on their return, "everyone [was] looking at us with thoughtful eyes".[110] Early in January 1957, the Edens stayed with the Queen at Sandringham, where Sir Anthony informed her of his intention to resign as Prime Minister.[111] Eden tendered his resignation formally at Buckingham Palace on 9 January. When Harold Macmillan was appointed his successor in preference to R. A. Butler, Lady Avon wrote to Butler (whom two years earlier she had described in her diary as "curiously unnatural"[112]) that she thought politics "a beastly profession ... and how greatly I admire your dignity and good humour".[113] (In 1952 she had told Duff Cooper that she thought modern politics something of a "farce".[33])

Macmillan's biographer Alistair Horne noted that, of the various animosities that arose before and during Macmillan's premiership, it was the "loyal wives", among whom he counted Lady Avon and Lady Butler, who "tended most to keep [them] alive".[114] Although there is evidence of a long-standing and lasting rift between Eden and Macmillan,[115] Eden himself maintained "a friendly (if not conspicuously warm) relationship" with his successor,[114] often being used as a "sounding board" by Macmillan who occasionally lunched with the Edens at their home.[116] Lady Avon, on the other hand, was said to have been consistently vitriolic about Macmillan[114] and recalled to one of Eden's biographers that Churchill had found him too "viewy".[117] There is some evidence that, following Suez, Macmillan had briefed sections of the press that he himself intended to retire, whereas his true intention had been to displace Eden as Prime Minister,[118] and, as late as 2007, Lady Avon criticised his behaviour as Chancellor of the Exchequer during the crisis, claiming that he had been "too hasty" in using an American threat to withhold a loan from the International Monetary Fund as "an excuse to back down" from military action and had wept "crocodile tears" at Eden's resignation.[119]

Shortly after Eden's resignation, he and Lady Avon sailed to New Zealand for a further break. Their cabin steward, on what she described as "the hellship Rangitata",[41] was the future Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.[120] Half a century later Prescott recalled that, while kneeling down to clean the ship's brass, he had occasion to admire a pair of legs that turned out to be Lady Eden's—"You naturally look, don't you"—whereupon Sir Anthony tapped him on the head.[121] When they arrived in New Zealand, which was among the few countries publicly to have supported the Suez operation, the Edens received a rapturous "red carpet" reception.[4][page needed]

Eden's retirement and death[edit]

Eden had been told by doctors that his life might be in danger if he remained in office. However, he was to live for another twenty years. The Edens' home was at Alvediston Manor, Wiltshire, where he died on 14 January 1977 and is buried. The last entry in Eden's diary, dated 11 September 1976, had read; "exquisite small vase of crimson glory buds & mignonette from beloved C[larissa]".[122]

When Eden was taken mortally ill with liver cancer, he and Lady Avon had just spent their final Christmas together at Hobe Sound, Florida as guests of former New York Governor Averell Harriman, elder statesman of the Democratic Party, and his English-born wife Pamela. (Mrs Harriman was Lady Avon's exact contemporary, a débutante of 1938[123] who had also taken a room at the Dorchester during the Second World War.[4][page needed] She had previously been married to Lady Avon's cousin Randolph Churchill[124] and in the 1990s was President Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Paris, where she died in 1997.) The Edens were flown back to Britain in a Royal Air Force VC-10 that was diverted to Miami after Prime Minister James Callaghan had been alerted to his health situation by Pamela Harriman's son, Winston.[125]


After her husband's death, Lady Avon received many tributes to her devoted care in the later stages of his life. She moved to an apartment in London in the 1980s. She invited firstly Robert Rhodes James and later D. R. Thorpe to write official biographies of her husband (Winston Churchill's biographer, Martin Gilbert, having previously declined an invitation).[126] Published in 1986 and 2003 respectively, both offered a broadly sympathetic view of Eden's career and were generally well received by critics. Between them they did much to help restore Eden's reputation, which had taken such a battering during the final months of his premiership. In 2003 a research study by a Harvard clinician of Eden's medical condition and surgery during the 1950s was published in the U.S. with an acknowledgement of Lady Avon's interest and co-operation.[127]

Lady Avon remained in touch with many influential friends. For example, in the lead-up to the Falklands War of 1982, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, confided during a Cabinet meeting that the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had spoken to Lady Avon of the risk of a "socialist" regime being established in Argentina.[128] Lady Avon also attended various state occasions, as well as gatherings of former Prime Ministers and their families. In 1972 (while her husband was still alive) she described to Cecil Beaton the Duchess of Windsor's "very strange" and nervous demeanour—"Is this my seat?" "Is this my prayer book?" "What do I do now?"—at the funeral of her husband, the former king Edward VIII,[129] while thirty years later Tony Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell noted that, at a dinner at 10 Downing Street in 2002 to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, attended by five Prime Ministers and several relatives of deceased Prime Ministers:

Prince Philip was deep in conversation with T[ony] B[lair], the Countess of Avon, Macmillan's and Douglas-Home's families, and there was lots of reminiscing about life in Number 10.[130]

In 1994, 17 years after her husband's death, Lady Avon unveiled a bust of Eden at the Foreign Office. In 2013 she attended a memorial service for Sir Guy Millard (1917–2013), one of Eden's long-serving private secretaries and probably his last surviving close associate, having been with him and Churchill at wartime meetings with Roosevelt and Stalin and in Downing Street during the Suez Crisis.[131]

Lady Avon's longevity[edit]

Lady Avon was the youngest wife of an incumbent prime minister in the twentieth century. She was only 36 when her husband resigned, and was widowed at 56. She outlived five later Prime Ministerial spouses and witnessed the administrations of 13 subsequent prime ministers. By contrast, Lady Dorothy Macmillan was 57 when her husband succeeded Eden and 63 when he resigned, dying just three years later, her husband outliving her by 20 years.[132] As such Lady Avon enjoyed unusual longevity for a prime ministerial spouse, contributing, for example, to a television documentary by Cherie Blair in 2005 about prime ministers' wives[133] and to a three-part series the following year marking the 50th anniversary of Suez. In the latter, she recalled, among other things, Eden's disillusion with the lack of American support for British policy in 1956.[134] The critic A. A. Gill was among those who praised Lady Avon's erudite performance in the Blair documentary ("bright as a button"), while sensing that she appeared not entirely to approve of Cherie Blair.[135]

Lady Avon was 87 when her memoir appeared in 2007. A journalist who interviewed her and her editor, Cate Haste, observed that Lady Avon "seems slight and wan, as if painted in watercolour rather than oil", but described her as "vigorous and knowing" in conversation.[136] In April 2008 she and Haste appeared at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival,[137] the literature for this event observing that, although Lady Avon was perhaps best known for her lament about the Suez Canal flowing through her drawing room, "she was far more than a drawing-room consort".

Lady Avon died on 15 November 2021 at her home in London,[138] at the age of 101.[139][140] She was the second longest lived Prime Ministerial spouse after Mary Wilson, Baroness Wilson of Rievaulx, widow of Harold Wilson, who died in 2018, aged 102.

Popular culture[edit]

Lady Avon was played by Jennifer Daniel in Ian Curteis' 1979 drama for BBC television, Suez 1956. In 2012 she was portrayed by Abigail Cruttenden in Hugh Whitemore's play about the Suez crisis, A Marvellous Year for Plums, that opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre.[citation needed] In the first episode of the BBC's The Hour, also set in 1956, a television producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) was complimented by one of Eden's press officers for a feature about "Lady Eden at home".[141] In the Netflix drama series, The Crown, she was portrayed by Anna Madeley.


Coat of arms of Clarissa Eden
Clarissa Countess of Avon Achievement.png
The arms of Eden (Gules on a chevron between three garbs or, banded vert, as many escallops sable.) impaled with Spencer-Churchill (Quarterly: 1st and 4th, Sable a lion rampant Argent on a canton of the second a cross Gules (Churchill); 2nd and 3rd, quarterly Argent and Gules, in the second and third quarters a fret Or, overall on a bend Sable three escallops of the first (Spencer); in chief, on an escutcheon Argent a cross Gules surmounted by an inescutcheon Azure charged with three fleurs-de-lys Or.)
On the dexter side a leopard guardant Or resting the sinister hind paw on a garb Or banded Vert and on the sinister side a like leopard resting the dexter hind paw on a similar garb.


  1. ^ Kettle, Martin (8 June 2018). "'Acerbic and firm': Mary Wilson remembered fondly after death at 102". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2021. Wilson's death makes the exclusive club of past or present prime ministerial consorts more exclusive than ever. Now there are just six of them. The oldest member is Clarissa Eden, widow of Anthony, who turns 98 this month.
  2. ^ Vickers, Hugo (30 June 2020). "The Countess of Avon at 100". International Churchill Society. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  3. ^ See genealogical table of the Churchills in David Cannadine (1994) Aspects of Aristocracy
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Eden, Clarissa (2007). Haste, Cate (ed.). A Memoir: From Churchill to Eden. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85193-6.
  5. ^ Cherie Booth & Cate (2004) The Goldfish Bowl: Married to the Prime Minister 1955–1997
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl
  7. ^ a b See D. R. Thorpe (2003) Eden
  8. ^ a b Country Life, 8 September 2010
  9. ^ Lewis Broad (1955) Sir Anthony Eden: The Chronicles of a Career
  10. ^ a b Deborah Devonshire (2010) Wait For Me!
  11. ^ Anne de Courcy (1989) 1939: The Last Season
  12. ^ Another who did the season in 1938 was Sarah (Sally) Norton, daughter of the 6th Lord Grantley. She had learnt fluent German in Munich, but "despite her eighteen-inch waist and perfect legs" was still single when war broke out in 1939. Jean Trumpington (2014) Coming Up Trumps. On VE Day in 1945 Norton met the future 3rd Viscount Astor and was engaged to him within a week (Daily Telegraph obituary of Sarah Baring, 13 February 2013).
  13. ^ Clarissa Eden (ed Cate Haste, 2007) A Memoir: From Churchill to Eden. Lady Avon later reflected that it turned out Maclean "wasn't a proper Liberal boy either" (ibid).
  14. ^ Richard Brooks in Sunday Times, 13 September 2015 (reporting publication of Andrew Lownie, The Lives of Guy Burgess).
  15. ^ Daphne Bennett (1984) Margot: A Life of the Countess of Oxford and Asquith. Due to the war, mother and daughter never met again and died within four months of each other in 1945. Elizabeth's daughter, Priscilla (1920–2004), to whom Margot Asquith dedicated her second volume of memoirs in 1933 (Margot Oxford, More Memories)—"one of the loves of my life"—escaped Romania by hitch-hiking to Lebanon. She too never saw her mother nor her grandmother again (Independent obituary of Priscilla Bibesco, 27 November 2004).
  16. ^ See, for example, Gully Wells (Ayer's stepdaughter) in Sunday Times News Review, 5 June 2011
  17. ^ Just after the war an Oxford don remarked to Paul Johnson, then an undergraduate, "That's Ayer. Might have been a great philosopher. Ruined by sex." (Michael Barber, 'Freddie Ayer (in flagrante)', The Oldie, January 2015 at page 37.
  18. ^ John Carey in Sunday Times Culture, 30 October 2011 (reviewing Matthew Sweet (2011) West End Front). Lady Diana Cooper, who, with her husband Duff Cooper, also had an upper room at the Dorchester, wrote to her son in Canada that "the All Clear wouldn't go and the wakefulness was supported by the watcher on the Dorchester roof walking up and down so very near my head. It kept me aware of how little covering there was above us" (letter to John Julius Cooper, 5 September 1940: Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her Son John Julius Norwich 1939–1952 (ed. John Julius Norwich, 2013)).
  19. ^ Quoted anonymously by Cecil Beaton in letter to Greta Garbo, 28 February 1948: see Hugo Vickers (1994) Loving Garbo
  20. ^ Jeremy Lewis, 'The man who dared publish Lolita', The Oldie, October 2015, page 28
  21. ^ a b c D. R. Thorpe (2003) Eden
  22. ^ Ed Smith, The Times, 15 December 2007
  23. ^ Charles Moore (2013) Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography – Volume One: Not for Turning. In fact, it might have been said of both women that (as Moore wrote of Thatcher's period at the Bar in the 1950s), "Without the slightest hint of impropriety, she … sought and enjoyed the company of clever, older men."[original research?] Thatcher was leader of the Conservative Party when Anthony Eden died in 1977, and Lady Avon had corresponded with her about her husband's declining health: Clarissa Eden, From Churchill to Eden.
  24. ^ Woodrow Wyatt, diary, 14 August 1986: Journals of Woodrow Wyatt, ed. Sarah Curtis (1998)
  25. ^ See, for example, Jeremey Lewis in The Oldie, March 2008: "highly entertaining" and "crammed with good things"; more generally, The Oldie Review of Books, Spring 2008.
  26. ^ Private Eye, 7 March 2008
  27. ^ Review in the London Evening Standard, quoted in The Oldie Review of Books, Spring 2008.
  28. ^ Wyatt, diary, 15 January 1986
  29. ^ John Colville, The Fringes of Power – 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939–1955 (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985), diary entries for 17 June 1940 and 4 August 1941
  30. ^ See Duff Cooper (1954) Old Men Forget. Cooper and his wife Lady Diana had, like Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, taken a room at the Dorchester Hotel in the early years of the Second World War.
  31. ^ Wyatt, diary, 7 April 1986. This appears to derive from Cooper's own observation to Lady Avon that she was the only woman he had loved from whom he had sought no more: see Clarissa Eden (2007) A Memoir: From Churchill to Eden. According to historian Hugo Vickers, Pinna Cruger (1896–1950), wife of a millionaire haberdasher, Bertram Cruger, and possibly mistress, for a time, of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, "backed off Duff Cooper when she detected that he was happily married" (quoted by Valentine Low in The Times, 7 December 2013). Bertram Cruger was an admirer of Cooper's wife Diana, the two having met in New York City: editorial footnote in The Duff Cooper Diaries 1915–1951, ed John Julius Norwich (2005), page 197.
  32. ^ Duff Cooper, diary, 24 November 1947: The Duff Cooper Diaries 1915–1951, ed John Julius Norwich (2005). John Charmley (1986) Duff Cooper quotes this reference to Eden, but protects Lady Avon's identity, noting that "the name is given in Duff's diary". In 1983, when Conservative Party chairman Cecil Parkinson informed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that he had been having an affair with his secretary, her initial reaction was said to have been, "What's the problem? They tell me Anthony Eden jumped into bed with every good-looking woman he ever met" (Jonathan Aitken (2013) Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality).
  33. ^ a b c John Charmley (1986) Duff Cooper
  34. ^ Letter from Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, to Nancy Mitford, 27 May 1959
  35. ^ See Hugh Vickers (1994) Loving Garbo
  36. ^ Sara Wheeler reviewing Sofka Zinovieff (2014) The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me in the Times Saturday Review, 11 October 2014, page 15. Lady Avon herself recalled that, when she first spotted Heber-Percy wandering round the grounds of Faringdon and asked who he was, Lord Berners described him as his 'agent' (Memoirs, op.cit.), although in fact they were lovers.
  37. ^ Laura Thompson (2003) Life in a Cold Climate. Heywood Hill, which bore the name of its owner, opened in 1936. Nancy Mitford originally worked as an assistant there, but took over the running of it when Hill was called up for war service.
  38. ^ a b John Pearson (1966) The Life of Ian Fleming
  39. ^ Wyatt, diary, 16 March 1987; Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl. Goodman was a major figure in the British artistic establishment. Kenneth Tynan described him in 1972 as "the antibody of our time ... [N]ever [holding] elective office, he has wielded more power than anyone in the country, except the Prime Minister during the past decade": Diary, 21 April 1972 (The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan (ed. John Lahr), 2001).
  40. ^ John Campbell (2014) Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life.
  41. ^ a b c d e Robert Rhodes James (1986) Anthony Eden
  42. ^ Martin Gilbert (1983) Finest Hour: Winston S. Churchill 1939–1941
  43. ^ Clarissa Eden (2007) A Memoir, which gives the date of the lunch as 31 May 1940. According to Gilbert (op. cit), Churchill was in France on 31 May: see also Julian Thompson (2008) Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory, who describes 31 May, when Churchill attended the Supreme War Council in Paris, as "the day on which there was so much top-level discussion and dissent among the French and British".
  44. ^ Lord Butler (1971) The Art of the Possible
  45. ^ Robert Rhodes James (1986) Anthony Eden; Cherie Booth and Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl. Rhodes James dated this episode to 1947, but Booth and Haste's similar account referred to a dinner party in 1946 hosted by Emerald Cunard
  46. ^ Harold Macmillan, diary, 13–15 August 1952: The Macmillan Diaries: The Cabinet Years 1950–1957, ed. Peter Catterall (2003)
  47. ^ Ben Schott, The Times, 27 June 2007. At July 2019 No British Prime Minister had been married more than twice.
  48. ^ Quoted in Lewis Broad (1955) Sir Anthony Eden
  49. ^ ibid.
  50. ^ D. R. Thorpe (2003) Eden; Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl
  51. ^ A. N. Wilson (2006) Betjeman. Lady Avon's brother John had once been engaged to Betjeman's wife, then Penelope Chetwode, daughter of Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode: see Clarissa Eden (2007) A Memoir. According to Wilson, Penelope's love for John Churchill had "waned".
  52. ^ John Colville, diary, 11 August 1952: Colville (1985) The Fringes of Power, Volume II
  53. ^ Statement, 31 October 1955
  54. ^ The Queen (part 1), Channel 4, 29 November 2009. Princess Margaret was then third in line of succession after The Duke of Cornwall and The Princess Anne and so, in itself, renouncing her right of succession would have been largely a technicality.
  55. ^ See, for example, David Cannadine, New York Review of Books, vol. xxxiv, 22 October 1987
  56. ^ See generally Braasch, John W. (2003). "Anthony Eden's (Lord Avon) Biliary Tract Saga". Ann. Surg. 238 (5): 772–775. doi:10.1097/01.sla.0000094443.60313.da. PMC 1356158. PMID 14578742.
  57. ^ Quoted in Barry Turner (2006) Suez 1956. The extract in Turner refers to "Harold Evans", but this must be a mistake for Horace Evans, the royal physician.
  58. ^ Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, quoted in Barry Turner (2006) Suez 1956
  59. ^ a b Hugh Thomas, The Suez Affair (Pelican, 1970)
  60. ^ a b Cecil Beaton, diary quoted in Hugo Vickers (1994) Loving Garbo
  61. ^ Alan Clark (1998) The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State 1922–1997
  62. ^ In terms of actual numbers, the largest popular vote for a party was in 1992 when over 14 million people voted Conservative (leaving John Major with an overall majority of only 21 seats): Peter Snowdon (2010) Back from the Brink
  63. ^ John Colville (1985) The Fringes of Power, Volume II
  64. ^ For example, Donald McLachlan, The Daily Telegraph, 3 January 1956
  65. ^ John Campbell (1983) F. E. Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead. According to a more recent historian, Lady Pamela was "an able, ambitious woman who slaked her frustration at being denied formal responsibilities and power by outrushes of political malice": Richard Davenport-Hines (2013) An English Affair.
  66. ^ Pamela Berry was another of Lady Avon's acquaintances who had taken accommodation at the Dorchester Hotel during the Second World War: see Darling Monster: The Letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her Son John Julius Norwich 1939–1952 (op.cit.).
  67. ^ Harold Macmillan, diary 26 July 1956; D. R. Thorpe (2003) Eden. It is worth noting that, in 1962, Nancy Mitford, who had once been very close to Lady Pamela, wrote to Evelyn Waugh that "she is spoilt … her faults are getting worse and she doesn't mellow" (Laura Thompson (2003) Life in a Cold Climate). In the same year, Waugh observed that "Pam joins Randolph [Churchill] among the legion of the damned" after she had apparently betrayed a confidence in the columns of The Daily Telegraph [ibid]. Lady Pamela died in 1982, but there have been suggestions that, in 1988, a Telegraph obituary of Beryl Maudling, widow of Reginald Maudling, Eden's Minister of Supply and Chancellor of the Exchequer under Macmillan, was "unnecessarily spiteful" because, as Maudling's biographer put it, of "some personal matter connected with the Maudlings' relationship with the Berry family": Lewis Baston (2004) Reggie, footnote 5 to chapter 27.
  68. ^ Alistair Horne (1989) Macmillan: Volume II 1957–1986. Even so, Lady Dorothy, who, like Lady Avon, did not like Chequers much, complained to her daughter-in-law that "they would never let me plant anything ... they want me to plant pansies" ("and she didn't like pansies": Viscountess Macmillan of Ovenden, quoted in Booth & Haste, op.cit.)
  69. ^ Ann Fleming, diary 13 January 1956: The Letters of Ann Fleming, ed. Mark Amory (1985)
  70. ^ Macmillan's view, quoted in D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac. Macmillan regarded such greed as an indication of Khruschev's inner character, rather as Anthony Eden had taken a similar view of Benito Mussolini's objectionable table manners in the 1930s (Thorpe, ibid.)
  71. ^ Khrushchev Remembers (into. Edward Crankshaw, 1971). Khrushchev noted that Lady Avon "bit her tongue" at this answer, which he admitted was "a bit rude".
  72. ^ Khrushchev Remembers (1971)
  73. ^ Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl. Lady Avon's own memoir of 2007 appears to confirm this version.
  74. ^ Cherie Booth and Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl; Dominic Sandbrook (2005) Never Had It So Good
  75. ^ Speech at Gateshead, 20 November 1956; Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), 71:19
  76. ^ Anne McElvoy in London Evening Standard, 29 September 2010
  77. ^ The Times, leading article, 17 December 2011
  78. ^ Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2007
  79. ^ a b The Memoirs of Sir Anthony Eden: Full Circle (1960)
  80. ^ The Diaries of Cynthia Gladwyn, ed Miles Jebb (1995)
  81. ^ D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan, page 472, note 35
  82. ^ See Turner (2006) Suez 1956; Thorpe (2010) Supermac. Thorpe referred to Jebb's further sidelining at the disastrous Paris summit of 1960 during which Macmillan, having rejected official advice, visited Khrushchev at the Soviet Embassy with only two of his private secretaries in attendance.
  83. ^ Tony Benn, diary, 15 December 1956: Benn (1994) Years of Hope: Diaries, Papers and Letters 1949–1962
  84. ^ Benn, op. cit.; David Kynaston (2009) Family Britain 1951–57
  85. ^ Andrew Roberts (1994) Eminent Churchillians
  86. ^ Hugh Trevor-Roper, Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson (ed Richard Davenport-Hines, 2005)
  87. ^ For example, Anthony Nutting (1967) No End of a Lesson; Lord Butler (1971) The Art of the Possible; Lord Boyle in Alan Thompson (1971) The Day Before Yesterday; W. F. Deedes (2004) Brief Lives
  88. ^ Barry Turner (2006) Suez 1956
  89. ^ Sir Philip de Zulueta, quoted in Alistair Horne (1988) Macmillan, Volume I: 1894–1956
  90. ^ Ben Pimlott (1996) The Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth II
  91. ^ David Dutton (1997) Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation. Whatever effect Lady Avon had on Eden's temperament, it has been far from uncommon for Prime Ministerial behaviour to be influenced by protective spouses. Despite strong evidence of Sarah Brown's calming influence on her husband, Gordon Brown, who was Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, it has been suggested that "her intense love and protection ... made her deeply angry when he was under attack, and this could heighten his paranoia about those who were seeking to do him down": Anthony Seldon & Guy Lodge (2010) Brown at 10. It is clear also that, at various stages before and during the Falklands War of 1982, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher received from her husband, Denis, the sort of moral support that it was difficult for others to provide: Charles Moore (2013) Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography – Volume One: Not for Turning; Jonathan Aitken (2013) Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality.
  92. ^ Douglas Hurd (2010) Choose Your Weapons: The British Foreign Secretary. Such working methods were by no means unique: Churchill frequently worked in bed and often slept in the afternoon. Monday, 29 December 1952 was the first working day after Christmas and that Eden's (and his wife's) remarks may, to an extent, have been tongue-in-cheek.
  93. ^ Isaiah Berlin (ed Henry Hardy & Jennifer Holmes, 2009) Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960; David Kynaston (2009) Family Britain 1951–1957
  94. ^ Isaiah Berlin (ed Hardy & Holmes, 2009) Enlightening: Letters 1946–1960: see Sunday Times Culture, 7 June 2009. Berlin seems to have had a reputation for saying one thing to one person and something different to another: see Jeremy Lewis in The Oldie, February 2016, at page 37.
  95. ^ Referring to a meeting of the Cabinet on 4 November 1956: see Thorpe, Eden; Peter Hennessy (2006) Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties
  96. ^ Nicholas Rankin (2011) Ian Fleming's Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII
  97. ^ Edward Heath (1998) The Course of My Life
  98. ^ Rankin, op.cit.
  99. ^ Quoted in Antiques Trade Gazette, 29 September 2012. Hamilton appears to have visited Fleming in Jamaica while he was writing From Russia, with Love, which was published in 1957.
  100. ^ Matthew Parker (2014) Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica
  101. ^ The Letters of Ann Fleming, ed Mark Amory (1985)
  102. ^ Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl. As regards Chequers, Eden's own wariness about its effect on his health was long-standing. In November 1942, at a delicate point in the Second World War, he confided to his diary: "I don't know why it is that Chequers never suits me. Cold still heavy ... and Rossdale's [his doctor's] cocaine makes me feel giddy" (quoted in Andrew Roberts (2008) Masters and Commanders). The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, whom the Edens entertained at Chequers in 1956, noted "an unpleasant odour and a sticky film all over everything inside the house" due to the burning of anthracite in iron stoves: Khruschev Remembers (1971).
  103. ^ Mark Edmonds, quoting Una Trueblood, in Sunday Times, 4 October 2012. Despite Lady Avon's close friendship with Ann Fleming, it appears that, because of the need for secrecy, the initial approach to Ian Fleming was made by a senior Government minister, Alan Lennox-Boyd, who gave the impression that he himself wanted Goldeneye for a holiday: Richard Davenport-Hines (2013) An English Affair. Una Trueblood was probably the model for Mary Trueblood, a glamorous MI6 secretary in Fleming's Dr. No (1958).
  104. ^ Quoted in Rankin, op.cit. Coward thought Goldenye looked like a medical centre and referred to it as "Goldeneye, nose and throat" (John Ure in Country Life, 10 September 2014). Coward recalled the contrast between the lifestyle of James Bond in Fleming's books and that at Goldeneye. He claimed that he used to cross himself before eating there because the food was so "abominable" – "his guests remembered all those delicious meals had put into his books": The Wit of Noel Coward (compiled by Dick Richards, 1968).
  105. ^ Miranda Seymour in Sunday Times Review, 7 October 2012; Matthew Parker (2014) Goldeneye – Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica. Blanche Blackwell (1912–2017), who Ann Fleming described as "my husband's Jamaican wife" (John Ure in Country Life, 10 September 2014), has often been cited as the inspiration for the character of Pussy Galore in Fleming's novel Goldfinger. She died at the age of 104. Her son Chris founded Island Records.
  106. ^ The Times obituary of Blanche Backwell, 12 August 2017
  107. ^ David Cannadine (2002) In Churchill's Shadow refers to "a sojourn that did nothing for Eden's reputation but a great deal for Fleming's". Another factor in the success of the Bond books, a few years later, was the enthusiastic endorsement of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert: see Klaus Dodds in History Today, October 2012 at p 51; Ben McIntyre in Times Saturday Review, 29 September 2012. Allen Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was also a fan, exchanging copies of Bond novels with John Kennedy and adding his own comments in the margins: see Alex von Tunzelmann (2011) Red Heat. The first Bond film (Dr. No) did not appear until 1962.
  108. ^ Cannadine, op.cit. Rankin (op.cit.) has speculated that "the cultural snobbery of his wife, Ann, and her friends" may have told Fleming that "there was something suspect in the thriller genre ... that it was not the 99.99 per cent pure gold of proper literature".
  109. ^ Susanna Johnson, The Oldie, October 2016, page 18. Twenty-year old Johnson, then Susanna Chancellor, had won a competition in the Daily Mirror newspaper about "how to solve the Suez crisis", the prize for which was a holiday in Jamaica to coincide with the Edens' sojourn.
  110. ^ Diary, 14 December 1956, quoted in D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan
  111. ^ Ben Pimlott (1996) The Queen
  112. ^ Diary, 26 January 1955: Clarissa Eden (2007) A Memoir: From Churchill to Eden
  113. ^ Butler (1971) The Art of the Possible. Writing to Eden on 10 January 1956 to say "goodbye with all my affection to you and to Clarissa", the future Prime Minister Lord Home observed that "politics is in some ways a nasty profession ..." (quoted in D. R. Thorpe (1996) Alec Douglas-Home).
  114. ^ a b c Alistair Horne (1989) Macmillan: Volume II 1957–1986
  115. ^ See, for example, D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan, citing Martin Gilbert's research for his biographical study of Churchill
  116. ^ D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan
  117. ^ D. R. Thorpe (2010) Supermac. Thorpe produced biographies of both Eden and Macmillan.
  118. ^ Davenport-Hines, op.cit.
  119. ^ Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2007. Vice-President Richard Nixon was evidently the source of Eisenhower's regrets: see editorial note in Clarissa Eden (2007) A Memoir: From Churchill to Eden. According to Jonathan Aitken, Macmillan advised Margaret Thatcher in 1982 to exclude the Chancellor of the Exchequer from her Falklands War Cabinet to avoid Treasury influence on decision making: Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality, op.cit.
  120. ^ Dominic Sandbrook (2005) Never Had It So Good
  121. ^ Atticus, Sunday Times, 21 January 2007. According to one account, Prescott felt himself patronised by Eden during the voyage and retaliated by contriving "accidentally" to spill hot soup over Eden's crotch: Jerry Hayes (2014) An Unexpected MP.
  122. ^ Quoted in Robert Rhodes James (1986) Anthony Eden
  123. ^ Deborah Devonshire (2010) Wait For Me! The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, also a débutante in 1938, recalled Pamela Digby (as she then was) as "rather fat, fast and the butt of many tears" (ibid.)
  124. ^ Max Hastings (2009) Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940–45
  125. ^ Robert Rhodes James (1986) Eden; D. R. Thorpe (2003) Eden
  126. ^ Daily Telegraph obituary of Sir Martin Gilbert, 4 February 2015
  127. ^ Braasch, John W. (November 2003). "Anthony Eden's (Lord Avon) Biliary Tract Saga". Ann. Surg. 238 (5): 772–775. doi:10.1097/01.sla.0000094443.60313.da. PMC 1356158. PMID 14578742.
  128. ^ Charles Moore (2013) Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography – Volume One: Not for Turning. Kissinger was presumably referring to a possible consequence of Britain's evicting Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands, which they had invaded in April 1982, or of a political and economic backlash against American interests if the US publicly supported Britain.
  129. ^ Beaton diary, 5 June 1972, quoted in Philip Ziegler (1990) King Edward VIII. Anthony Eden had been Foreign Secretary throughout Edward VIII's short reign. Lady Avon also commented to Beaton on Elizabeth II's "motherly and nannie like tenderness" towards the Duchess at the funeral.
  130. ^ Alastair Campbell (2007) The Blair Years, diary entry, 29 April 2002. Invitations to a comparable luncheon to mark Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 were restricted to (surviving) Prime Ministers and their spouses.
  131. ^ James Hughes-Onslow in The Oldie, September 2013
  132. ^ Booth & Haste, op.cit.
  133. ^ Married to the Prime Minister (Channel 4), 6 December 2005, based on Cherie Booth & Cate Haste (2004) The Goldfish Bowl
  134. ^ Suez: A Very British Crisis (BBC TV), 31 October 2006
  135. ^ Review in Sunday Times Culture, 11 December 2005
  136. ^ Nigel Farndale, The Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2007. Farndale wondered whether Lady Avon's appearance was "a trick of the light", noting that it was an overcast morning and there was no electric lighting.
  137. ^ Sunday Times Culture, 16 March 2008
  138. ^ Cowell, Alan (16 November 2021). "Clarissa Eden, British Countess and Political Influencer, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 November 2021.
  139. ^ [Telegraph Obituaries] (15 November 2021). "The Countess of Avon, intellectual and independent-minded widow of the prime minister Anthony Eden and niece of Winston Churchill – obituary". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 15 November 2021.
  140. ^ Haste, Cate (16 November 2021). "Clarissa Eden obituary". The Guardian (published 16 November 2021). Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  141. ^ Episode broadcast on 19 July 2011. In the same scene Ms Rowley enquired after the health of "Prime Minister Eden", an improbable mode of expression in Britain.

External links[edit]