- Problems with health. Eden had an ulcer, exacerbated by overwork, as early as the 1920s. His life was changed by a medical mishap: during an operation on 12 April 1953, to remove gallstones, his bile duct was damaged, leaving Eden susceptible to recurrent infections, biliary obstruction, and liver failure.
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On 26 July 1956, the anniversary of King Farouk's abdication in Manshiya Square in Alexandria, the Egyptian President Abdel Nasser announced in a passionate speech the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. Under the terms of the Suez Canal Base agreement, the last British troops had left Port Said on 13 June 1956, and it was the man who had negotiated that controversial agreement as Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, who was now Prime Minister and feeling under political pressure from within his Conservative Party. At the time that Nasser was telling the crowd with nationalistic fervour that In the past we were kept waiting in the offices of the British High Commissioner and the British Ambassador, Eden was hosting a dinner in 10 Downing Street for King Faisal of Iraq and his Prime Minister.
The decisions taken over the next three months ended with Eden being humiliatingly forced by his Cabinet to accept a ceasefire within 24h of launching a military operation with the French to secure the Suez Canal. The subsequent troop withdrawal came as a result of the financial pressure from the US Secretary to the Treasury, who refused to agree any financial support for the falling pound without such a commitment. The debacle had the most profound effect on British and French foreign policy. The French moved towards challenging US hegemony, the UK to rebuilding and relying on the special relationship. In the words of The Times obituary in 1977, Eden was the last Prime Minister to believe Britain was a great power and the first to confront a crisis which proved she was not.
One of the many fascinating questions of the Suez crisis is to what extent Eden's handling of the situation was influenced both by his past surgery and by the sedatives and stimulants that he was taking. In 2003, three notable additions were made to the literature on the subject of Eden's medical history, which throw new light on his condition. Robert Carr was as a young man a close friend and admirer of Anthony Eden, and someone whose judgement I respected when we were MPs together. Robert Carr served as Eden's Parliamentary Private Secretary and I have been much influenced by his comments:
It was a misfortune not just for the Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden, but for international diplomacy, that on 12 April 1953, what should have been a routine cholecystectomy in the London Clinic, went badly wrong. The operation was undertaken on the advice of his physician, Sir Horace Evans, because of previous episodes of jaundice, abdominal pain, and the presence of gallstones. An Australian Professor, Gabriel Kune, a specialist in hepatic biliary surgery, wrote in January 2003 that Sir Horace Evans had recommended three different surgeons to Eden, all with expertise in biliary tract surgery. However, Eden chose to be operated on by the 60-year-old Mr John Basil Hume, a general surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital, who in Eden's words had removed my appendix when I was younger, and Ill go to him.1
In November 2003, an excellent review article was published by an American surgeon, Dr John Braasch, on Anthony Eden's (Lord Avon) Biliary Tract Saga. He had operated on Eden in 1970, and had had personal communication with Richard Cattell, who had undertaken the third and fourth operations on Eden in America in June 1953 and again in April 1957. Both men were associated with the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts, and this surgical retrospection is the closest we will probably ever get to what exactly happened.2 Braasch very fairly quotes a minority opinion written by a retired London surgeon-knight to another US surgeon, claiming to be one of the few people who knew the facts, that while the ligature on the cystic duct had blown following the first operation (which was then evacuated in the second re-exploration operation on 29 April), Eden's common duct was not injured at all. When he left for America his biliary fistula had dried up, he was not jaundiced and he was perfectly well. The letter must have been passed on to Dr Cattell. Dick Cattell was not only arguably one of the great abdominal surgeons of the 20th century, but also a gentleman, and he did not respond to the several insulting remarks contained in the letter. Another source, Sir Christopher Booth, formerly Professor of Medicine at the Royal Post Graduate Medical School, London describes Eden's first operation as a schoolboy howler of surgery in which inadvertently [they] tied the bile duct as it comes out of the liver, resulting in the obstructive problems in the biliary tract.3
Professor Kune further believes that there was at some stage in the London operations an injury of the right branch of the hepatic artery. This he supposes because there was found to be a high injury of the common hepatic duct in very close proximity to the right hepatic artery, and more importantly, at two re-operations in Boston, there was also a localized stricture of the right hepatic duct well away from the original duct injury site. Also, at the 1970 re-operation, the right lobe of the liver was found to be abnormally small, which suggests to Kune that at the time of the bile duct injury the right hepatic artery was also inadvertently ligated: this relative ischaemia, since the liver has a second blood supply from the portal vein, led to the development of both the stricture and the liver lobe atrophy. There is no evidence, however, that Eden's liver metabolism was affected.
The fateful year of Eden's Prime Ministership, 1956, started with a lot of press criticism and a particularly hurtful article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 3 January, which perhaps as the Suez Crisis developed, made him determined to act forcefully. There is a favourite gesture with the Prime Minister. To emphasise a point he will clash one fist to smash the open palm of the other hand but the smash is seldom heard, said the article, and went on to say that people were waiting in vain for the smack of firm government. Also a few days later Rab Butler, then Leader of the House, said in an interview, My determination is to support the Prime Minister in all his difficulties and then unwisely assented, without any qualification to the Press Association reporter's loaded question, as to whether Eden was the best Prime Minister we have. It was a rather typical Butler equivocation but one which Eden never forgot.
On 6 February 1956, Eden wrote to his wife from Government House, Ottawa, I am well but was very tired yesterday, so stayed in bed all day. That was not the behaviour of a fit man. Lack of sleep and tiredness are too often underplayed when trying to assess the effect of people's health on their decision-making. Lord Moran in his diary entry for 21 July wrote: The political world is full of Eden's moods at No 10. There has been much written and said about Eden's behaviour and health over the next three months. Some of it is gossip, some mere speculation, some true. It is necessary to sift through all the evidence and try to form a judgement based on medical and political probabilities.
On 17 August, Eden wrote to Churchill, I am sorry to have been away on Monday, but I needed a few hours off. I am very fit now. He also said, Most important of all, the Americans seem very firmly lined up with us on internationalisation. But Eisenhower never hid from Eden his opposition to the use of force. Writing on 3 September: I must tell you frankly that American public opinion flatly rejects the use of force. I really do not see how a successful result could be achieved by forceable means There was a clear divergence of interest between Britain and the US throughout the crisis. Britain was not solely concerned with the safety of vessels going through the Suez Canal. Considerations of UK prestige were also of major importance, and the Government was not able to draw a clear distinction between the question of the Canal and that of Nasser's regime. This is the retrospective conclusion of Guy Millard, who wrote in 195711 a most detailed private history of this period. He felt that it was a mistake for Britain to try to solve the two problems simultaneously, and this was a criticism of British policy made by the Americans during the crisis. Nutting had had a quick conversation with Selwyn Lloyd before the Cabinet telling him what Eden was up to, and claims that Lloyd replied spontaneously: You are right, we must have nothing to do with the French plan. Nutting spoke to Lloyd again by telephone after his lunch with Eden, but found Lloyd was now in no mood to listen to his pleadings. The relatively inexperienced Foreign Secretary was not only acquiescing in the Challe Plan but saying that his agreement on six principles in New York with the Egyptian Foreign Minister would not be honoured by Nasser.
Eden's own diary entries are virtually non existent during the Suez crisis. One, on 21 August reads: Felt rather wretched after a poor night. Awoke 3 30am onwards with pain. Had to take pethidine in the end. Appropriately the doctors came. Kling was more optimistic than Horace. We are to try a slightly different regime. Agreed no final decision until a holiday has given me a chance to decide in good health. The final decision related to the possibility of another operation, the different regime to a change of drug treatment. Yet despite having had pethidine, Eden chaired a Cabinet meeting at noon and had other meetings in the afternoon before seeing his doctors again later that day. On 7 September he comments: After fair night. Sleep at least uninterrupted, but not long, 5 hours. On 12 September, there were two difficult days in the House. I was quite exhausted by the end of the debate. Anthony Nutting describes Eden shouting down the phone at him, What's all this nonsense about isolating Nasser or neutralising him as you call it? I want him destroyed, can't you understand? I want him removed and if you and the Foreign Office don't agree, then youd better come to the Cabinet and explain why.28 Whether this account is true or not, it was true that Eden wanted regime change, not just to control the Canal. Another example of Eden's irritability is described in an incident involving the Foreign Office lawyer who reported back to Eden on the research he had ordered into the legality of Nasser's action, saying that Nasser's action was indeed perfectly legal so long as he did not close the canal to shipping. Eden allegedly tore up the report in front of the lawyer and flung it in the lawyer's face.29 Since there was almost certainly a civil servant present on this occasion, it is stretching one's imagination that Eden behaved quite like this report, and one has to be very careful about assuming that stories such as these are true. To illustrate this, The Times on 29 November 2003 carried an interview with John le Carré by James Naughtie. Le Carré, who was a master at Eton during Suez, said that during the crisis Eden found time on several evenings to climb into the prime ministerial car to drive to Eton and consult his old housemaster about what to do. Two people who knew Eden's movements challenged whether he could have made such visits, and his biographer, Richard Thorpe, pointed out that his housemaster had died in February 1956. All received apologies from le Carré and a promise of retraction, but even this story may at some stage reappear as fact. Another example is an incident described in Leonard Mosley's book on Dulles,30 in which the widely respected military expert and historian, Captain R.H. Liddell Hart is reputed to have had a meeting with Eden in 10 Downing Street, during which Eden threw an inkwell at Liddell Hart. Yet this story is pure fiction, as Liddell Hart's wife and son confirm, since the men never actually met during the Suez Crisis. Guy Millard, Eden's junior Private Secretary in the Foreign Office during the Second World War who then served the Prime Minister within 10 Downing Street, was not only present at all his most important meetings on international affairs, but would see him late at night, early in the morning, read his notations on documents and listen in on many of his telephone conversations. A contemporaneous diary entry of 1 November 1956 on Eden's state of mind in October by a Foreign Office diplomat quotes Millard: Guy Millard says he is not mad, but merely exhausted.35
The Countess of Avon kindly allowed me access to the still closed Medical Records of her husband in Birmingham University Special Collections Archives, and there I found a letter Horace Evans wrote on 15 January 1957 to any doctor who might have to treat Eden while he visited New Zealand about his drug regime during the Suez crisis:
There is no doubt, therefore, that Eden was taking dextro-amphetamine, a stimulant which, combined with amylobarbitone, is contained in Drinamyl. This combination, also called Dexamyl in some countries, used to be referred to in Britain as purple hearts. We do not know how many a day Eden was taking, particularly after 5 October and until his doctors became deeply concerned about his health on 19 November. Amphetamines are stimulants that produce a feeling of energy and confidence. First synthesized in 1887 they were introduced into clinical practice in 1935, and then became very widely used in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1964, following a press outcry about their misuse, the unlawful possession of amphetamines was made an offence and doctors began to use them much less. Amphetamines act not only on the brain but also on the lungs, heart and other parts of the body, after releasing noradrenaline from binding sites. The effect depends upon the amounts used, but even moderate doses often produce insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, over-stimulation and overconfidence. Amphetamines do not create energy, they simply use it up. Prolonged use, even of a moderate dose, is invariably followed by fatigue, and the come down effect is also often accompanied by difficulty with sleeping. Another sequel described after amphetamine use is called the crash.15
His physician, Sir Horace Evans, writing after the Suez crisis, in his letter of 15 January 1957, explains the feverish attacks, certainly those with rigors, of which the most serious was that of 5 October 1956, as indicating a transient ascending infection of the liver ducts, which he treated with mild sulphur drugs.20 The fever on 5 October took place on a Friday afternoon while Eden was visiting his wife who was an in-patient at University College Hospital. He suddenly felt freezing cold and began to shake uncontrollably with a fever. On medical advice, he went to bed in a room close to his wife's and his temperature rose to 106°F, a very high reading for an adult. He was allowed to leave, it has been reported, much refreshed on Monday, 8 October. Most people were quite unaware of what had happened, including his colleagues. Eden carried on work, but as his official biographer noted, a sinister bell had been sounded. What is harder to unravel, apart from the cholangitis, is the contribution thereafter made by the sedatives and amphetamines that he was taking. Some have claimed that this high temperature could have been stimulated by taking amphetamines. A survey of the literature provides no convincing evidence for this.
On the same day as his speech, he was informed in Wales by Anthony Nutting that the French Prime Minister Mollet had requested that Eden urgently see emissaries whom he wanted to send over from Paris. The French had been in close contact with Israel ever since Egypt's 1954 agreement with Britain. Israel felt the British troop withdrawal from Egypt had made them more vulnerable, while France feared Egyptian interference in their massive military and political challenge in Algeria. French arms sales to Israel were already stretching the balance of arms provision in the Tripartite Agreement which France had signed with the US and the UK. On the evening of 13 October after the Prime Minister had returned to Chequers from the Conference, Nutting told him on the telephone about the visit to London by Sir Gladwyn Jebb, our Ambassador in Paris. Jebb had revealed that the French had delivered 75 of the latest Mystere fighter aircraft to Israel without it being cleared with the UK and the Americans as part of the procedures of the Tripartite Agreement. Eden was suspicious, and asked Nutting whether the French were putting up the Israelis to attack Jordan, which was a major British anxiety at the time. Eden appeared not to have had any inkling that the French were already deep in collusion with the Israelis over Egypt. On Sunday 14 October, Eden held a crucial meeting in the afternoon with General Maurice Challe, a Deputy Chief of Staff of the French Air Force and the French acting Foreign Minister, Albert Gazier. Anthony Nutting had lunch with Eden first when they discussed with some hope the direct negotiations Selwyn Lloyd was having in New York with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. The Challe Plan contained the first indication of a conspiracy with Israel which was later to haunt Eden's conduct of the Suez crisis. It is cited by some as a sign of a slightly paranoid mental state that when his private secretary, Guy Millard, prepared to take a record, Eden said, There's no need to take notes, Guy. But in fairness to Eden, once a note had been taken, it would have been hard for the Private Secretary not to circulate it at the very least to the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office. He would have then circulated it to other senior diplomats and by telegram to the Foreign Secretary in New York. The circle of people in the know would have inexorably widened. It was wholly legitimate for Eden at this early stage to decide for himself who should be in the know.
Eden decided personally to tell Selwyn Lloyd what Challe had proposed and asked for Lloyd to be summoned to fly back to London, where he arrived on the morning of Tuesday 16 October. Eden authorized Nutting to talk only to two senior Foreign Office diplomats, and specifically excluded the Legal Adviser. Eden knew that the Attorney-General and the Foreign Office Legal Adviser would say that what he proposed to do could not be justified in international law. Instead he relied on advice from the Lord Chancellor, who was not constitutionally the Legal Adviser to the Cabinet or the Prime Minister, but who maintained that intervention could be legally justified.22 After Cabinet, Eden and Lloyd had lunch together before they both flew from Heathrow at 4.00pm to Paris for a meeting with the French Prime Minister, Guy Mollet and his Foreign Minister, Pineau.
It was a sign of how desperate Eden had become that he saw the Challe Plan as an opportunity to defeat Nasser, and was ready even to contemplate what the French were advocating. He swept his Foreign Secretary off to Paris within hours of landing from New York, without either man having had, as far as one can determine, any formal professional input from the Foreign Office, though Eden could rely on the Permanent Secretary, Kirkpatrick. This failure to consult was an action quite out of character. This was but one of many examples of how personalized and unstructured Eden's decision-making had become in 10 Downing Street. Even during the Second World War under Churchill, the machinery of the War Cabinet functioned and different Departments of State had their input.
Eden was certainly not mad, nor drugged in a way that he could not conduct himself as Prime Minister, and his stamina was in many ways remarkable after his fever. What is at issue was whether his decision-making, his judgement, were functioning at the same levels of consistency, caution, courage and calculation in October 1956, as during his conduct of Foreign Policy over the previous two decades. For example, Eden deliberated carefully and consulted widely during his period of disillusionment with Chamberlain, which led up to his resignation in 1938. During the Second World War, on numerous occasions it is well documented how he provided stability to Churchill's decision-making. After 1951, when he returned to government as Foreign Secretary, Eden's foreign policy decisions were taken dispassionately and like the 1954 Suez Canal Agreement, explicable in the context of the time. Yet analysing the crucial month of October 1956, one sees an honourable and courageous man, borne down by illness and fatigue, weighing very difficult questions but then making too many decisions which were not in keeping with his past record. An historical analysis by Professor David Dutton, who wrote a book on Anthony Eden: A Life and Reputation, also concludes that it is difficult to understand why Eden believed that he would get away with the Franco/Israeli plan and conceal it from the United States, unless you believe that his judgement was not what it was at its peak. He also goes on to say that all the evidence is that he [Eden] was seriously ill by that stage In the beginning of October he was weak and tired and desperately in need of a rest and probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown36
Eden has written his own memoirs in which he refers to the Russian threat and relations with the US. The private and succinct explanation of the reasons for the initial military intervention and then its withdrawal that he gave to his former and still very trusted Private Secretary, Bob Pierson Dixon, gives a special insight. Dixon had flown up from the UN in New York to meet Eden at his request in Ottawa on 25 May 1957, and found Eden:
It can be justified that no hint of collusion was given to the House of Commons during the actual military operation, but it was Eden's attempt to send two diplomats back to Paris to gather up and to destroy all the copies of what was later called the Protocol of Sevres,43 a suburb of Paris, which was so bizarre. Selwyn Lloyd attended the initial meeting at Sevres, and the second Sevres meeting involved a senior diplomat, Patrick Dean, and Lloyd's Private secretary, Donald Logan. The French Prime Minister, Mollet, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion,44 attended having agreed to total and permanent secrecy. In democracies, Eden should have known there can be no question of perpetual secrecy. The French and the Israeli leaders afterwards resented the British Cabinet's decision to halt the advancing troops down the Canal and they had no guilty consciences about the military operation even after its failure. It was also a wholly unrealistic view of Eden's that any cover-up could be kept from American intelligence for much longer than a few weeks at best. Indeed, the CIA claimed to have known at the time. More realistic than Eden, Pineau told the US about the facts of their collusion while Eden was still pretending to the Americans that no collusion had taken place, compounding US anger. Eden's continued cover-up diminished his standing, and for Eden to say in the House of Commons on 20 December45 that there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt was to lie, something which he had never done in over 32 years as an MP and was totally out of character.
"The effect of Prime Minister Anthony Eden's illness on his decision-making during the Suez crisis". QJM: An International Journal of Medicine. 96 (6): 387–402. Archived from the original on 11 December 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2017. ^ D. R. Thorpe, Eden: The Life and Times of Anthony Eden First Earl of Avon, 1897–1977 (New York: Random ...
Sir Anthony Eden has resigned as prime minister of Britain due to ill health. A statement issued by Buckingham Palace at 1900 GMT today said that following a private audience with the Queen, Her...
A prime minister away for three weeks, and in his absence a cabinet forced to make hard decisions about the economy and the future direction of the country. It’s a scenario Downing Street plays down, but there is a precedent: in November 1956 at the height of the Suez crisis. A seriously ill Anthony Eden sought rest and recuperation in the Caribbean just as United Nations troops were ...
On 9 January, 1957, Sir Anthony Eden resigned as Prime Minister after less than two years in the job. He had made a complete mess of the Suez Crisis the year before, but he was also suffering from severe ill health IT was 60 years ago today in 1957 that Sir Anthony Eden resigned as Prime Minister after less than two years in the job.
- Martin Hannan
Apr 08, 2020 · Anthony Eden Churchill’s successor Anthony Eden battled with long term health problems, including depression, jaundice and the presence of gallstones, and resigned two years into his premiership in...
Rumours have circulated for decades that Eden, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957 and was suffering from a debilitating illness at the height of the crisis in 1956, was taking addictive,...
Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister in 1955. During the Suez Crisis of 1956, an overwrought Eden “lived on Benzedrine”. The drug undoubtedly impaired his judgement. Its effects may have contributed to Eden’s near-collapse, both physically and emotionally, and his resignation as premier the following year.