E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax
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Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, TD, 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 of appeasement prior to World War II. During the war, he served as British Ambassador in Washington.
He was born into a Yorkshire family. He and his siblings were sickly: 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. His childhood was divided mainly between Hickleton Hall near Doncaster and Garrowby in North Yorkshire.
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 thwarted 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). 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. Some criticism of Irwin may have been 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 5 March 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 20 March 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. He formally opened the Indian School of Mines Dhanbad as a premier institute of advanced studies in field of mining and geological sciences.
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, activity for which his background had not prepared him, and which caused increasing tension with Eden.
Halifax said the Hoare-Laval proposals "were not so frightfully different from those put forward by the Committee of Five. But the latter were of respectable parentage: and the Paris ones were too much like the off-the-stage arrangements of nineteenth-century diplomacy".
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: "As I looked out of the car window, on eye level, I saw in the middle of this swept path a pair of black trousered legs, finishing up in silk socks and pumps. I assumed this was a footman who had come down to help me out of the car and up the steps, and was proceeding in leisurely fashion to get myself out of the car when I heard Von Neurath or somebody throwing a hoarse whisper at my ear of ‘Der Fuhrer, de Fuhrer’; and it then dawned upon me that the legs were not the legs of a footman, but of Hitler". 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. Writing to Baldwin on the subject of the conversation between Karl Burckhardt (the League of Nations' Commissioner of Danzig) and Hitler, Halifax said: "Nationalism and Racialism is a powerful force but I can't feel that it's either unnatural or immoral! I cannot myself doubt that these fellows are genuine haters of Communism, etc.! And I daresay if we were in their position we might feel the same!"
The following year Eden resigned, exasperated by the continued interference of the Prime Minister in foreign affairs and his increasingly determined policy of appeasement (particularly 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.
Halifax's political line as Foreign Secretary must be seen in the context of existing British foreign policy, which was predicated on a broad consensus that in none of the democracies was there popular support for war, military pressure or even 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 for rearmament, a process to which Britain was already heavily committed. For 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 confidence he placed in the large French Army; he was more isolated in his belief that France would be a resilient ally.
Chamberlain and many others who were deeply opposed to war and defence spending embraced the policy of appeasement as a moral force for good. By comparison, Halifax's policy, like that of Samuel Hoare, appears more pragmatic, coupled to 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). Nonetheless, Halifax (along with Chamberlain, Hoare and twelve others) was criticized as an appeaser in the anonymous 1940 book Guilty Men.
In March 1938 Hitler annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia was clearly next on the agenda, with neither Britain nor France having the military capacity to support Czechoslovakia. Halifax remained in London at the key moments of the Munich crisis of September 1938, where Chamberlain's personal intervention was dramatic. It was during the Munich crisis that Halifax 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 (it is of note that, when war did begin, neither Japan nor Italy was prepared to join in until the pendulum had swung much further in Germany's favour).
The eventual Munich settlement, while hugely popular around the world and humiliating to many in the British government, 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 following months, 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 prevent additional military supplies (e.g. tungsten) from Germany. In particular it was Halifax's immediate granting of a guarantee to Poland on 31 March 1939—triggered by alarming 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 early April the Foreign Office received intelligence that Italy was about to invade Albania. Halifax, in a Cabinet meeting on 5 April, rejected these reports. Two days later Italy invaded Albania but Halifax met Sir Alexander Cadogan and "decided we can't do anything to stop it".
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 offers 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 most of the Conservative party and 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, and Churchill reportedly was willing to serve under Halifax. As Lord Beaverbrook said, "Chamberlain wanted Halifax. Labour wanted Halifax. Sinclair wanted Halifax. The Lords wanted Halifax. The King wanted Halifax. And Halifax wanted Halifax." The last sentence was incorrect, however; Halifax did not want to become Prime Minister. He believed that Churchill's energy and skills as leader of a desperate cause were superior to his. 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
Churchill retained Halifax as Foreign Secretary for seven months, but the two men had never enjoyed a close relationship. In the spring of 1940 during heated Cabinet discussions as France teetered towards defeat, Halifax 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 Churchill argued that playing for time was in Britain's interest, but Halifax was concerned that the British Expeditionary Force would be destroyed, and Britain would lose its last bargaining chip. Churchill won the argument, and the BEF was saved at Dunkirk.
Halifax wrote in his memoirs of an occasion during a short holiday in Yorkshire:
One such interlude early in June 1940 is for ever graven into my memory. It was just after the fall of France, an event which at the time it happened seemed something unbelievable as to be almost surely unreal, and if not unreal then quite immeasurably catastrophic. Dorothy and I had spent a lovely summer evening walking over the Wolds, and on our way home sat in the sun for half an hour at a point looking across the plain of York. All the landscape of the nearer foreground was familiar—its sights, its sounds, its smells; hardly a field that did not call up some half-forgotten bit of association; the red-roofed village and nearby hamlets, gathered as it were for company round the old greystone church, where men and women like ourselves, now long dead and gone, had once knelt in worship and prayer. Here in Yorkshire was a true fragment of the undying England, like the White Cliffs of Dover, or any other part of our land that Englishmen have loved. Then the question came, is it possible that the Prussian jackboot will force its way into this countryside to tread and trample over it at will? The very thought seemed an insult and an outrage; much as if anyone were to be condemned to watch his mother, wife or daughter being raped.
In January 1941 Halifax was sent to Washington, D.C., on the death in office there of Ambassador Marquess of Lothian; he was the last man linked with appeasement to leave the Cabinet, as Chamberlain, Hoare and Simon had already departed.
Halifax, a cautious and elusive public figure, was not an effective public diplomat unlike his predecessor. His relations with President Roosevelt were satisfactory, but Halifax kept a low profile. Churchill's close engagement with the United States and his investment in personal communication with the President meant a more constrained role for the British Ambassador. 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.
In mourning after the death of his middle son in action in 1942, Halifax wearied of Washington and asked Anthony Eden to find someone to replace him, but he stayed until 1946, witnessing the transition to Harry S. Truman and Clement Attlee. Those 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 co-operation after construction of the atom bomb. However, the UK-US partnership in World War II was immensely successful and as close as any other such partnership. It was a demanding post by any standards, but Halifax could 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 the Soviet Union but, here again, he believed that Churchill's view of the Soviet threat was exaggerated and urged him to be more conciliatory, perhaps indicating his reluctance to learn the lessons of the 1930s so obvious in his 1957 autobiography The Fulness of Days, described in the Dictionary of National Biography as "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.
To one of his supporters, Harold Begbie, Halifax was "the highest kind of Englishman now in politics" whose "life and doctrine were in complete harmony with a very lofty moral principle, but who has no harsh judgement for men who err and go astray".
In 1968 the official records of Halifax's years as Foreign Secretary were released. (The "fifty-year rule" was replaced by the "thirty-year rule".) The Conservative historian Maurice Cowling wrote in 1975: "To history, until yesterday, Halifax was the arch-appeaser. This, it is now recognised, was a mistake. His rôle, however, was complicated. In these pages he is not the man who stopped the rot, but the embodiment of Conservative wisdom who decided that Hitler must be obstructed because Labour could not otherwise be resisted".
In popular culture
- 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 Peter Eyre.
- Halifax also appears in the film Gandhi, in which he is portrayed by Sir John Gielgud. The film incorrectly depicts him as possessing a left hand.
- Halifax makes an appearance as Lord Irwin in the film The Legend of Bhagat Singh, played by the Israeli actor Gil Alon.
- Halifax is also a significant character in Michael Dobbs' novels Winston's War and Never Surrender.
- He is also portrayed by British actor Richard Durdon in the BBC docudrama miniseries Dunkirk (2004).
- His cabinet struggle with Churchill is the subject of the 2011 play Three Days in May by Ben Brown.
- He appears as a character in the BBC television drama The Cambridge Spies in which he was played by James Fox.
- He was played by Donald Sumpter in the HBO/BBC biographical film Into the Storm.
- Halifax is also mentioned in the 2011 novel The Afrika Reich, an alternate history novel in which Halifax became Prime Minister following the fictitious massacre of British forces at Dunkirk, the novel's divergence point, and negotiated an uneasy peace with Nazi Germany.
- In the alternate history novel Dominion by C. J. Sansom, World War II ended in June 1940 when the British government, under the leadership of Lord Halifax, signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany in Berlin. Due to poor health, Halifax resigned as Prime Minister in 1941 and was succeeded by the 78-year-old David Lloyd George.
- In the alternate history novel For the Sake of England by Richard K. Burns in which Winston Churchill was born in New York City in 1874 when his mother Jennie Jerome left his father Lord Randolph Churchill and was elected President of the United States in 1936, Lord Halifax became Prime Minister in 1940 and signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany after the Battle of France. However, Adolf Hitler betrayed Halifax and attacked the UK in 1941, leading the United States to enter the war.
- In 2012's Season 2 of Upstairs Downstairs, the 2010 television series, Halifax is portrayed by British actor Ken Bones.
- List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s - 12 Apr. 1926
- Keith Feiling, A Life of Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 275.
- The Earl of Halifax, Fulness of Days (London: Collins, 1957), p. 185.
- Andrew Roberts, ‘The Holy Fox’. The Life of Lord Halifax (Phoenix, 1997), p. 67.
- Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm. The Authorized History of MI5 (London: Allen Lane, 2009), p. 208.
- Blake, Robert (1993). "How Churchill Became Prime MInister". In Blake, Robert B.; Louis, William Roger. Churchill. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 264–270. ISBN 0-19-820626-7.
- Halifax, p. 215.
- Martin, Stanley (2007). The Order of Merit: one hundred years of matchless honour. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 375.
- A Gentleman with a Duster [pseud. for Harold Begbie], The Conservative Mind (London: Mills & Boon, 1924), pp. 47-48.
- Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 531.
- Lord Butler, The Art of the Possible (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1971), p. 77.
- Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler. British Politics and British Policy. 1933-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 9.
- "Making history with brick and mortar". Hindustan Times. September 15, 2011.
- Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (London: Allen Lane, 2009).
- A Gentleman with a Duster [pseud. for Harold Begbie], The Conservative Mind (London: Mills & Boon, 1924).
- Lord Butler, The Art of the Possible (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1971).
- Maurice Cowling, The Impact of Hitler: British Politics and British Policy, 1933-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 1975).
- Keith Feiling, A Life of Neville Chamberlain (London: Macmillan, 1970).
- The Earl of Halifax, Fulness of Days (London: Collins, 1957).
- Andrew Roberts, ‘The Holy Fox’: The Life of Lord Halifax (Phoenix, 1997).
- Alan Campbell-Johnson and R. Hale. Viscount Halifax: A Biography. 1941
- Earl of Birkenhead. Earl of Halifax: The Life of Lord Halifax. Hamilton, 1965.
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- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by the Earl of Halifax
- Lord Irwin
- Biography at spartacus schoolnet
- Lord Halifax, Our War Aims - Now and After, radio broadcast November 1939