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Anne de Vere Cole was born to Major William Utting Cole, of West Woodhay House. Her mother, Jane de Vere, was Irish, and traced her descent to the 15th Earl of Oxford; she would inherit Issercleran, Craughwell, County Galway in 1914. Her brother was Horace de Vere Cole (1881–1936), who inherited the family house sometime after 1889. From childhood Anne loved to travel, going abroad each year, later going to Canada and East Africa as a married woman. She wed Neville Chamberlain in January 1911, and remained his wife until his death in November 1940.
At the time of her marriage her husband, a successful businessman, was already 41 years old, and had expected to remain a bachelor. She encouraged and supported his entry into local politics and he was elected to the Birmingham City Council in November 1911. In 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War he was made an Alderman and the following year was elected to the office of Lord Mayor. This marked the beginning of a public career in which Anne Chamberlain was to be Neville's constant companion, helper and trusted colleague, and to share in full his interests in housing and other political and social activities after his election as MP for the Birmingham Constituencies of first Ladywood and then Edgbaston.
The couple had many tastes in common: a love of music and art, of books and flowers (while at 10 Downing Street, she created a bright border where previously there had been some sad London shrubs), and especially of the countryside and wildlife. She would accompany him on his outdoor excursions (though not always the whole way, for he was a prodigious walker), and learned much from his collections and studies of Lepidoptera, plants and birds.
In literature she preferred Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, and especially liked works on history, biography and ancient religious rites. Archaeology was also an enduring interest; one of the attractions of Chequers (the British Prime Minister's country retreat) for her was that it lay on the Icknield Way.
In his biography, Keith Feiling wrote: "Of what he felt of his debt to his wife, he often spoke in public and, as it had been at Ladywood, so he repeats in a letter of 1937 on becoming Prime Minister: 'I should never have become P.M. if I hadn't had Annie to help me."
She was a widow for more than 26 years. While living in Edgbaston, the Chamberlains had two children: Dorothy Ethel (1911–1994) and Francis Neville (1914–1965), predeceasing his mother by two years. Anne Chamberlain is interred in St. Peter's Church, Harborne.
Anne is referenced in the popular series Downton Abbey. In the last season, Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham informs her son Robert that Anne's godfather was her husband and she hopes that connection will help convince Chamberlain, as Minister of Health, to visit the estate and take her side in a dispute over a local hospital.
- Feiling, Keith (1970). The Life of Neville Chamberlain. p. 124.
- Vol 1 Neville Chamberlain 1869-1929 by David Dilks, Cambridge, 1984
" Mrs. Neville Chamberlain Wife Of Former Prime Minister", The Times, 13 February 1967; pg. 14
|Spouse of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom