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The Right Honourable
 The Earl of Halifax 
KG OM GCSI GCMG GCIE PC


In office
3 April 1926 – 18 April 1931
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by The Earl of Reading
Succeeded by Lord Goschen

In office
7 June 1935 – 22 November 1935
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by The Viscount Hailsham
Succeeded by Duff Cooper

In office
21 February 1938 – 22 December 1940
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Winston Churchill
Preceded by Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Anthony Eden

In office
1940 – 1946
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Clement Attlee
Preceded by The Marquess of Lothian
Succeeded by The Lord Inverchapel

In office
22 November 1935 – 21 February 1938
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by The Marquess of Londonderry
Succeeded by The Earl Stanhope
In office
3 October 1940 – 22 December 1940
Monarch George VI
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by The Viscount Caldecote
Succeeded by The Lord Lloyd

In office
28 May 1937 – 9 March 1938
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Preceded by Ramsay MacDonald
Succeeded by The Viscount Hailsham

In office
1935 – 1937
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by The Marquess of Londonderry
Succeeded by The Earl De La Warr

In office
1933 – 1960
Preceded by The Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Succeeded by Harold Macmillan

Born 16 April 1881(1881-04-16)
Powderham Castle, Devon, England
Died 23 December 1959 (aged 78)
Garroby Hall, Yorkshire, England
Nationality British
Religion Anglo-Catholic

Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC (16 April 1881–23 December 1959), known as The Lord Irwin from 1925 until 1934 and as The Viscount Halifax from 1934 until 1944, was one of the most senior British Conservative politicians of the 1930s, during which he held several senior ministerial posts, most notably as Foreign Secretary from 1938 to 1940. As such he is often regarded as one of the architects of the policy appeasement prior to World War II. During the war, he served as British Ambassador in Washington.

Contents

Early career

He was born into a rather sickly West Country family: Halifax's three older brothers all died in infancy leaving him the heir to his father's viscountcy. Halifax himself was born with a withered left arm with no hand, a disability that in no way affected his riding, hunting or shooting. He was nicknamed the "Holy Fox" by Winston Churchill in reference to these pursuits, his title and also his religiosity, for like his father he was a devout Anglo-Catholic.

He was son of the 2nd Viscount Halifax. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, subsequently becoming a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and served as Member of Parliament for Ripon from 1910 to 1925 when he was elevated to the peerage. He saw some active service in World War I as a major in the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons but remained mostly behind the lines, being moved to a desk job in 1917. In 1918 he wrote in cooperation with George Ambrose Lloyd (later The Lord Lloyd) "The Great Opportunity" aiming to set an agenda for a revived Conservative Party separate from the Lloyd George coalition.

Turned down by South Africa for the post of Governor General (the country was holding out for a cabinet minister or member of the royal family) and snubbed by Winston Churchill on his assumption of the post of Under-Secretary for the Colonies—on one occasion he stormed into Churchill's office and told him that he "expected to be treated like a gentleman"—a balked Wood voted for the downfall of Lloyd George's government and became President of the Board of Education under Andrew Bonar Law in 1922. He held this position (in which he was neither interested nor particularly effective) until 1924 when he was apparently equally undistinguished as Minister for Agriculture under Stanley Baldwin. His career had seemingly become bogged down.

Viceroy of India

Wood was Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931. In 1925 he had been proposed at the suggestion of King George V, no doubt mindful of his immediate family background (his grandfather had been Secretary of State for India) and immaculate pedigree. Created Baron Irwin, he arrived in Bombay on 1 April 1926 hoping to improve Anglo-Indian relations and calm interfaith tensions in the country.

Irwin's rule was marked by a period of great political turmoil. The exclusion of Indians from the Simon Commission examining the country's readiness for self-government provoked serious violence, and Irwin was forced into concessions which were poorly received—in London as excessive, and in India as half-hearted. Incidents included: the protests against the Simon Commission Report; the Nehru Report; the All-Parties Conference; the Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah's 14 points; the Civil Disobedience Movement launched by the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi; and the Round Table Conferences.

Irwin had all the Congress leaders put behind bars; and then had opened negotiations with Gandhi. Criticism of Irwin was largely unfair, but he had made an error and the consequences were serious and unrest grew. Irwin's attempts to mediate with Indian leaders were stymied by London's refusal to make concessions, or clarify the position on dominion status.

With little room for manoeuvre, Irwin resorted to repression using his emergency powers to arrest Gandhi, ban public gatherings and crush rebellious opposition, leading to the death of Lala Lajpat Rai and the revenge attack of Bhagat Singh. Gandhi's detention, however, only made matters worse. Irwin ultimately opted to negotiate, signing the Delhi Pact in January 1931 which ended civil disobedience and the boycott of British goods in exchange for a Round Table Conference which represented all interests. The fortnight-long discussions resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, after which the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended.

The agreement between Gandhi and Irwin was signed on March 5, 1931. The salient points were:

  • The Congress would discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement.
  • The Congress would participate in the Round Table Conference.
  • The Government would withdraw all ordinances issued to curb the Congress.
  • The Government would withdraw all prosecutions relating to offences not involving violence.
  • The Government would release all persons serving sentences of imprisonment for their activities in the civil disobedience movement.

It was also agreed that Gandhi would join the Second Round Table Conference as the sole representative of the Congress.

On March 20, 1931, Lord Irwin paid tribute to Gandhi's honesty, sincerity and patriotism at a dinner given by ruling princes. A month following the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Lord Irwin retired and left India. On Irwin's return to England in April 1931, the situation was calm, but within a year the conference collapsed and Gandhi was again arrested.

Despite the mixed outcomes Halifax was overall a successful Viceroy; he had charted a clear and balanced course, and had not lost the confidence of his home government. He had demonstrated toughness and independence. His successful term as Viceroy ensured that he returned to British politics with significant prestige.

Halifax and foreign policy

The same year Irwin turned down the position of Foreign Secretary in favour of time at home. Still a firm protege of Baldwin's, Irwin returned to Education in 1932, a position enlivened by his continuing (now backroom) role in Indian politics, his attainment of the position of Master of the Middleton Hunt in 1932 and his election as Chancellor of Oxford University in 1933. In 1934 he inherited the title Viscount Halifax from his father. In the period that followed he held a succession of government posts: Secretary of State for War for five months in 1935, Lord Privy Seal (1935–1937) and Lord President of the Council (1937–1938) under Stanley Baldwin and, after 1937, Neville Chamberlain.

The appointment of Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary in 1935 seemed initially to tie in well with Halifax's feelings about the direction of foreign policy. The two were in agreement (and in line with prevailing opinion throughout Britain) that Germany's reoccupation of the Rhineland—its "own backyard"—would be difficult to oppose and should be welcomed insofar as it continued Germany's seeming progress towards normality after the tribulations of the post-World War I settlement. However, after Chamberlain succeeded Baldwin in 1937, the new prime minister began increasingly to intervene directly in foreign policy for which his background had not prepared him, and which caused increasing tension with Eden.

In November 1937 Halifax went to Germany at the invitation of Hermann Göring on the pretext of a hunting exhibition. (Göring himself was a passionate hunter and gave Halifax the nickname Halalifax, after Halali!, a German hunting call.) However, Halifax was publicly and correctly regarded as acting on behalf of the British government to renew dialogue with the German government. A long and barbed meeting with Adolf Hitler ensued. On meeting the Führer, Halifax almost created an incident by nearly handing his coat to Hitler, believing him to be a footman. In subsequent discussions Halifax ignored Eden's reservations and indicated clearly to Hitler that German designs on Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia and Poland were not regarded as illegitimate by the British, but that only peaceful processes of change would be acceptable.

The following year Eden resigned, exasperated by the continued interference of the Prime Minister in foreign affairs and increasingly determined policy of appeasement, in particular of Benito Mussolini, whom Eden regarded as an untrustworthy gangster. For Halifax, as for Chamberlain and the Chiefs of Staff, every effort had to be made to prevent an alignment of the three great threats to peace and the British Empire: Italy, Germany and Japan. Halifax replaced Eden as Foreign Secretary in February 1938.

British foreign policy was predicated on the a wide consensus that in none of the democracies was there popular support for war, for military pressure or even for rearmament. There was debate about the extent to which the dictatorships' very separate interests could be teased apart; it was clear that an alignment of Germany and Italy would divide Britain's forces in any general war; and that, without at least a neutral Italy, Britain would be unable to move large naval forces east to confront Japan, given America's refusal to help. For many, especially in the Foreign Office, appeasement was a necessary compromise to buy time in which to rearm, to which Britain was already heavily committed. To others, especially Churchill, a strong military alliance with France would permit a more robust foreign policy towards the dictators. Churchill was not unusual in the high confidence he placed in the large French Army; he was more isolated in his belief that France would be a resilient ally.

Lord Halifax with Hermann Göring at Schorfheide, Germany, 20 November 1937.

For many, especially Chamberlain, a deep hostility to war and defence spending meant that the policy of appeasement acquired a moral force. Halifax's policy, like that of Samuel Hoare, was primarily a cool realpolitik, matched with a firm albeit unenthusiastic commitment to rearmament. All parties recognised the hostility of public opinion to war or military preparations, and the difficulty of acting without a readiness on the part of America or Russia to play their part. The Labour party was to oppose rearmament until well after Munich.

In March 1938 Hitler annexed Austria; Czechoslovakia was now seriously at risk and was clearly next on Hitler's agenda.

In particular it seemed clear that neither Britain nor France had a military capacity to aid Czechoslovakia. In the Munich crisis of September 1938, Chamberlain's personal intervention was dramatic. Halifax remained in London at the key moments, and it was during the Munich crisis that he began to take a stronger line than Chamberlain against further concessions to Germany. It appears that a frank conversation with his pugnacious Permanent Secretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan brought Halifax to the sharp realisation that the road to appeasement had taken Britain into a series of concessions that were unwise, and that were unlikely to secure the necessary pacification of Germany. From this point on, as Andrew Roberts in particular argues, Halifax set his face firmly towards a policy of deterrence based on increased rearmament, including the reintroduction of conscription; strengthening of alliances and economic support to Eastern Europe; and a firmer line towards Germany, Italy and Japan in the hope that increased British resolution would increase the risks of a combination of all three. On this point it should be noted that when war did began, neither Japan nor Italy was prepared to join in until the pendulum had swung much further in Germany's favour.

The eventual Munich settlement, though humiliating to many in the British government, while hugely popular around the world, was short of Hitler's desires (and of Chamberlain's proposed concessions) and increased Hitler's determination to return to destroy Czechoslovakia in the spring.

In the months that ensued, in particular as Hitler's lack of commitment to the Munich agreement became clearer, Halifax worked steadily to assemble a stronger British position, pushing Chamberlain to take economic steps to underpin British interests in Eastern Europe, and to prevent additional military supplies, e.g. wolfram, from Germany. In particular it was Halifax's immediate granting of a guarantee to Poland on 31 March 1939—triggered by alarmist intelligence of German preparations—that set a firm trigger for war should Germany ignore this signal that, in Halifax's words, there would be "no more Munichs".

In January 1940, Halifax said, in a meeting with an emissary of Ulrich von Hassell, a leading member of the German resistance, that "he personally would be against the Allies taking advantage of a revolution in Germany to attack the Siegfried Line." In July 1940 Halifax rejected German peace feelers from the Papal Nuncio in Berne and the Portuguese and Finnish prime ministers.

In May 1940, when the Chamberlain government fell and a coalition was to be formed there were two candidates for Prime Minister: Halifax and Winston Churchill. Halifax had the support of the great mass of the Conservative party, of the royal family, and was acceptable to the Labour party. His position as a peer was a merely technical barrier given the scale of the crisis. But at a meeting with Neville Chamberlain, at which Churchill was also present, Halifax did not press his claim, presumably recognising in Churchill a set of skills better suited to the challenge. Like Chamberlain he served in Churchill's cabinet, frequently exasperated by Churchill's style of doing business.

Ambassador to the United States and later life

Lord Halifax in the middle (behind a seated Franklin D. Roosevelt) as a member of the Pacific War Council.

Churchill continued Halifax as Foreign Secretary for nine months, but the two men had never enjoyed a close relationship. In the summer of 1940 Halifax in intense Cabinet debates as France teetered towards defeat, energetically participated in the debates for and against a recourse to total war and lone opposition to Germany, whatever the cost to Britain's long-term military and economic standing. The Cabinet believed that Italian offices might open peace negotiations and broadly speaking Churchill argued that playing for time was in Britain's interest, while Halifax was concerned that should the British Expeditionary Force be destroyed Britain would lose its last bargaining chip. Churchill won the argument, and the BEF was saved at Dunkirk.

In January 1941 Halifax was sent to Washington, D.C., on the death in office there of the then Ambassador, the Marquess of Lothian; the last of the appeasers to leave the Cabinet, Chamberlain, Hoare and Simon having already departed.

Halifax, a cautious and elusive public figure, was not an effective public diplomat, unlike his predecessor. Relations with President Roosevelt were satisfactory, but Halifax was a low key figure. Churchill's close engagement with the United States, and personal investment in communication with the President ushered in a more constrained Ambassadorial role. Communications technology meant that Churchill could communicate directly with Roosevelt, and was a regular visitor to Washington. Relations also increasingly turned on military issues channelled through the Joint Chiefs of Staff secretariat in Washington.

Mourning the death of his middle son in combat in 1942, Halifax wearied of Washington and asked Anthony Eden to have him replaced, but ultimately he stuck out the position until 1946, witnessing the transition to Harry S. Truman and Clement Attlee. These years contained fraught moments and challenges for the relationship as American power eclipsed that of Britain and Britain's interests and rights were on occasion ignored, in particular the cessation of nuclear cooperation after construction of the atom bomb. This should not occlude the fact that the UK-US partnership in World War II was immensely successful, and as close as any other such partnership; for example those of World War I, and that this was a demanding Ambassadorial post by any standards. Halifax can reasonably claim to have played his part, and he enjoyed a notably longer term than his less successful successor, Archibald Clark Kerr, 1st Baron Inverchapel.

Halifax took part in a plethora of international conferences over the UN and Russia (memorably describing Molotov, the Russian foreign minister, as "smiling granite") though here again he believed that Churchill's view of the Russian threat was exaggerated and urged him to be more conciliatory, perhaps indicating the reluctance to learn the lessons of the 1930s so obvious in his 1957 autobiography The Fulness of Days, a book politely dubbed "gently evasive".

In retirement from 1946 he returned to largely honorary pursuits as Chancellor of the University of Sheffield and the Order of the Garter and Chairman of the BBC. He died at his estate at Garrowby shortly before Christmas 1959, aged 78.

German Alliance Pact Documents

In August 2008, under the Freedom of Information Act the MI5 released documents revealing the attempts of James Lonsdale-Bryans to seek a peace treaty between Britain and Germany, and implicated Halifax as James Lonsdale-Bryans' strongest proponent in Parliament. [1]

Cultural references

Lord Halifax features in the novel The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and also the 1993 film of the same name in which he is portrayed by the actor Peter Eyre. Halifax also appears in the film Gandhi, where he is portrayed by Sir John Gielgud. Halifax makes an appearance as Lord Irwin in the film The Legend of Bhagat Singh, where he is played by the Israeli actor Gil Alon. Halifax is also a significant character in Michael Dobbs' 2003 novel Winston's War.

Halifax College at the University of York is named after Lord Halifax.

See also

  • List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s - 12 Apr. 1926

Further reading

Halifax is still a controversial figure, and his autobiography as well as many of the books about, or discussing, him have their own agendas.

  • Autobiography - Fulness of Days, Collins, 1957
  • Viscount Halifax: A Biography by Alan Campbell-Johnson, R. Hale, 1941
  • Earl of Halifax: the Life of Lord Halifax by Earl of Birkenhead, Hamilton, 1965.
  • The Holy Fox: The Life of Lord Halifax (1997) by Andrew Roberts.

References

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Leo Amery
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
1921–1922
Succeeded by
William Ormsby-Gore
Preceded by
H. A. L. Fisher
President of the Board of Education
1922–1924
Succeeded by
Charles Philips Trevelyan
Preceded by
Noel Buxton
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries
1924–1925
Succeeded by
Walter Guinness
Preceded by
Sir Donald Maclean
President of the Board of Education
1932–1935
Succeeded by
Oliver Stanley
Preceded by
The Viscount Hailsham
War Secretary
1935
Succeeded by
Duff Cooper
Preceded by
The Marquess of Londonderry
Lord Privy Seal
1935–1937
Succeeded by
The Earl De La Warr
Leader of the House of Lords
1935–1938
Succeeded by
The Earl Stanhope
Preceded by
Ramsay MacDonald
Lord President of the Council
1937–1938
Succeeded by
The Viscount Hailsham
Preceded by
Anthony Eden
Foreign Secretary
1938–1940
Succeeded by
Anthony Eden
Preceded by
The Viscount Caldecote
Leader of the House of Lords
1940
Succeeded by
The Lord Lloyd
Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Lytton
Viceroy of India
1926–1929
Succeeded by
Lord Goschen (acting)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Finnis Blosse Lynch
Member of Parliament for Ripon
1910 – 1925
Succeeded by
John Waller Hills
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
The Marquess of Lothian
British Ambassador to the United States
1940–1946
Succeeded by
The Lord Inverchapel
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
1933–1959
Succeeded by
Harold Macmillan
Preceded by
Henry Lascelles
Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
1947–1959
Succeeded by
Rab Butler
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Duke of Portland
Chancellor of the Order of the Garter
1943–1959
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by
The Earl of Athlone
Grand Master of the Order of St Michael and St George
1957–1959
Succeeded by
The Earl Alexander of Tunis
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Halifax
4th creation
1944–1959
Succeeded by
Charles Wood
Preceded by
Charles Wood
Viscount Halifax
2nd creation
1934–1959
New creation Baron Irwin
1925–1959
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