Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington

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The Lord Carrington
Peter Carington 1984.jpg
Carrington in 1984
6th Secretary General of NATO
In office
25 June 1984 – 1 July 1988
Preceded byJoseph Luns
Succeeded byManfred Wörner
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
In office
4 May 1979 – 5 April 1982
Prime MinisterMargaret Thatcher
Preceded byDavid Owen
Succeeded byFrancis Pym
Other ministerial offices
In office
4 March 1974 – 4 May 1979
Preceded byThe Lord Shackleton
Succeeded byThe Lord Peart
In office
16 October 1964 – 20 June 1970
Preceded byThe Earl Alexander of Hillsborough
Succeeded byThe Lord Shackleton
Secretary of State for Energy
In office
8 January 1974 – 4 March 1974
Prime MinisterEdward Heath
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byEric Varley
Chairman of the Conservative Party
In office
7 April 1972 – 4 March 1974
LeaderEdward Heath
Preceded byPeter Thomas
Succeeded byWilliam Whitelaw
Secretary of State for Defence
In office
20 June 1970 – 8 January 1974
Prime MinisterEdward Heath
Preceded byDenis Healey
Succeeded byIan Gilmour
In office
20 October 1963 – 16 October 1964
Prime MinisterSir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by
Succeeded by
First Lord of the Admiralty
In office
14 October 1959 – 20 October 1963
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Preceded byThe Earl of Selkirk
Succeeded byThe Earl Jellicoe
High Commissioner to Australia
In office
26 May 1956 – 14 October 1959
Prime Minister
Preceded byStephen Holmes
Succeeded bySir William Oliver
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence
In office
18 October 1954 – 26 May 1956
Prime Minister
Preceded byNigel Birch
Succeeded byThe Earl of Gosford
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food
In office
5 November 1951 – 18 October 1954
Serving with Richard Nugent
Prime MinisterSir Winston Churchill
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Member of the House of Lords
Hereditary peerage
6 June 1940 – 11 November 1999
Preceded byThe 5th Baron Carrington
Succeeded bySeat abolished
Life peerage
17 November 1999 – 9 July 2018
Personal details
Peter Alexander Rupert Carington

(1919-06-06)6 June 1919
London, England
Died9 July 2018(2018-07-09) (aged 99)
Bledlow, England
Political partyConservative
Iona McClean
(m. 1942; died 2009)
Children3, including Rupert
Alma materRoyal Military College, Sandhurst
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1939–1949 (inactive from 1945)
UnitGrenadier Guards
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsMilitary Cross

Peter Alexander Rupert Carington, 6th Baron Carrington, Baron Carington of Upton, KG, GCMG, CH, MC, PC, DL (6 June 1919 – 9 July 2018), was a British Conservative Party politician and hereditary peer who served as Defence Secretary from 1970 to 1974, Foreign Secretary from 1979 to 1982, Chairman of the General Electric Company from 1983 to 1984, and Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988. In Margaret Thatcher's first government, he played a major role in negotiating the Lancaster House Agreement that ended the racial conflict in Rhodesia and enabled the creation of Zimbabwe.

Carrington was Foreign Secretary in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. He took full responsibility for the failure to foresee this and resigned. As NATO secretary general, he helped prevent a war between Greece and Turkey during the 1987 Aegean crisis.[1]

Following the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, Carrington was created a life peer as Baron Carington of Upton.

Background and early life[edit]

The surname "Carrington" (with two r's) was adopted by royal licence dated 1839 by his direct male ancestor Robert Carrington, 2nd Baron Carrington, in lieu of Smith.[2] The latter's father, Robert Smith, MP for Nottingham, was created Baron Carrington in 1796 (Peerage of Ireland) and 1797 (Peerage of Great Britain).[3] The spelling of the surname was changed by royal licence to "Carington" (with one r) in 1880 by the 2nd Baron's sons, but the spelling of the title did not change.

Born in Chelsea on 6 June 1919,[4][5] Peter Alexander Rupert Carington[6] was the only son of the 5th Baron Carrington by his wife, the Hon. Sybil Marion Colville, a daughter of Charles Colville, 2nd Viscount Colville of Culross.[7] He was a great-nephew of the Liberal statesman Charles Wynn-Carington, 1st Marquess of Lincolnshire, and also of politician and courtier the Hon. Sir William Carington.[citation needed] Brought up at Millaton House in Bridestowe, Devon,[8] he was educated at two independent schools: Sandroyd School from 1928 to 1932,[9] based at the time in the town of Cobham, Surrey (now the site of Reed's School), and Eton College. Upon leaving Eton, his housemaster, Cyril Butterwick, said of him, "For a really stupid boy, there are three possible professions: farming, soldiering and stockbroking".[6]

Military service[edit]

Having trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Carrington was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards as a second lieutenant on 26 January 1939.[10] He served with the regiment during the Second World War, promoted to lieutenant on 1 January 1941,[11] and later temporary captain[12] and acting major. Captain Lord Carrington played a key role as a tank commander during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands in 1944; he led the first group of four Sherman tanks to reach the other side of the Nijmegen railway bridge across the Waal River. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) on 1 March 1945 "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in North West Europe".[13][12] After the war, Carrington remained in the army until 1949.[14]

Political career 1946–1982[edit]

In 1938, Carrington succeeded his father as 6th Baron Carrington. Although he became eligible to take his seat in the House of Lords on his 21st birthday in 1940, he was on active service at the time, and did not do so until 9 October 1945.[15] After leaving the Army, he became involved in politics and served in the Conservative governments of Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden as Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Food from November 1951 to October 1954. During the Crichel Down affair, which led to the resignation of Minister Thomas Dugdale, Carrington tendered his resignation, which was refused by the Prime Minister. Carrington then became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence from October 1954 to October 1956. The latter year he was appointed High Commissioner to Australia, a post he held until October 1959. He was also appointed a Deputy lieutenant of Buckinghamshire on 2 July 1951.[16] He became a Privy Counsellor in 1959.[17]

Stone set by Lord Carrington, while High Commissioner to Australia, at All Saints Church, Canberra

Following his return to Britain he served under Harold Macmillan as First Lord of the Admiralty until October 1963.[18] These were the years of the Royal Navy's Indian summer, and Carrington completed his education in high level defence, largely playing a secondary role, with former CNS Lord Mountbatten, 'Burma' to even other Sea Lords, as the last Royal CDS achieving the restoration of the Royal Navy to equal status with the Army and RAF, and securing major ship orders with guided missile destroyers replacing cruisers, and a large new nuclear submarine and Leander frigate building programme and interim retention of a large carrier programme. Carrington found Mountbatten impossibly vain and unrealistic in his pretensions, but thought that aircraft carriers and an amphibious task force allowing flexible intervention, and crucially easier withdrawal, than land forces, a better idea than the RAF 'island-hopping' alternative,[19] believing that the Island bases would probably all have declared independence by 1975. The unrealistic nature of Mountbatten's large CVA01 carrier programme and Harold Macmillan's replacement as Prime Minister by Alec Douglas-Home, saw Carrington settle for Minister without Portfolio and Leader of the House of Lords under Douglas-Home until October 1964, when the Conservatives fell from power. From 1964 to 1970 he was Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords.

When the Conservatives returned to power in 1970 under Edward Heath, Carrington became Defence Secretary, where he remained until 1974 when the Conservatives were voted out in favour of Harold Wilson's Labour. In a 1977 letter discussing the policy of torture of Irish republican internees during Operation Demetrius in August 1971, the then Home Secretary Merlyn Rees attributed the origins of the policy in particular to Carrington: '"It is my view (confirmed by Brian Faulkner before his death [NI's prime minister at the time]) that the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971/72 was taken by ministers – in particular Lord Carrington, then secretary of state for defence."[20][21]

Carrington had become Shadow Defence Secretary in 1968 after Enoch Powell was dismissed from the position following his controversial Rivers of Blood speech on immigration.[22] He also served as Chairman of the Conservative Party from 1972 to 1974, and was briefly Secretary of State for Energy from January to March 1974.

Carrington (then Foreign Secretary) and US Secretary of State Alexander Haig meet during a 1981 state visit by Margaret Thatcher to the US.

Carrington was again Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords from 1974 to 1979. In 1979 he was made Foreign Secretary and Minister for Overseas Development as part of the first Cabinet of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher spoke very highly of Carrington, stating that "Peter had great panache and the ability to identify immediately the main points in any argument; and he could express himself in pungent terms. We had disagreements, but there were never any hard feelings."[23]

Carrington chaired the Lancaster House conference in 1979, attended by Ian Smith, Abel Muzorewa, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and Josiah Tongogara, which brought to an end Rhodesia's Bush War. He later expressed his support for Mugabe over Smith.[24]

Carrington was Foreign Secretary when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982. He resigned from the position on 5 April, taking full responsibility for the complacency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its failure to foresee this development[25] and for the misleading signals sent by the Foreign Office on British intentions for retaining control over the Falklands.[26] In her autobiography, Margaret Thatcher was later to express her sorrow at his departure.[27] She had asked him to stay but he left because he and the Foreign Office were distrusted and even hated by many back-bench Conservatives, and in turn he despised the party for its pettiness.[28] Since his resignation, no other member of the House of Lords has held any of the four Great Offices of State.[29]

Later life and death[edit]

Carrington (then NATO Secretary General) with West German Foreign Minister Genscher in Bonn, 1984

Lord Carrington then served as Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988. He was also appointed Chancellor of the Order of St Michael and St George on 1 August 1984,[30] serving until June 1994.[31]

In 1991, he presided over diplomatic talks about the breakup of Yugoslavia and attempted to pass a plan that would end the wars and result in each republic becoming an independent nation.[32]

Apart from his political posts, he was the Chancellor of the University of Reading and served as chairman of several companies, including Christie's, and as a director of many others, including Barclays Bank, Cadbury Schweppes and The Daily Telegraph. He also chaired the Bilderberg conferences from 1990 to 1998, being succeeded in 1999 by Étienne Davignon.[33] From 1983 to 2002, he was president of the Pilgrims Society,[34][35] and from 1971 to 2018 the President of the Britain–Australia Society.[36] He was appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter on 8 November 1994,[37] a role from which he retired in October 2012.[38]

After the House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, Carrington, along with all former leaders of the House of Lords, was given a life peerage on 17 November 1999 as Baron Carington of Upton, of Upton in the County of Nottinghamshire.[39] He was the longest-serving member of the House of Lords, and following the retirement of Lord Barber of Tewkesbury in 2016, had been the oldest. He was the second longest-serving member of the Privy Council after the Duke of Edinburgh.

He died on 9 July 2018, aged 99, of natural causes[40][41][4] at his home, the Manor House,[42] in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire;[43] his son Rupert succeeded him as 7th Baron Carrington.[6]

A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey on 31 January 2019.[44]


Lord Carrington married Iona McClean (19 March 1920 – 7 June 2009), daughter of Lt Col. Sir Francis McClean AFC and Aileen Wale, on 25 April 1942. They had three children: Alexandra de Bunsen DL (born 1943), Virginia Carington CVO (born 1946; formerly married to Lord Ashcombe),[45] and Rupert Carington, 7th Baron Carrington DL (born 1948). Lord Carrington's wife, Lady Carrington, died on 7 June 2009, aged 89.[46]

In popular culture[edit]

Carrington was a guest on BBC Radio 4's long-running programme Desert Island Discs in 1975[47] and on the same station's A Good Read in 2004.[48]

In the 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far, John Stride played a Grenadier Guards captain at Nijmegen Bridge based on Carrington. This portrayal depicts the historical argument between Carrington and Major Julian Cook on whether to move forward along the "Hell's Highway" route.[49]

In February 1982 Carrington was portrayed by Rowan Atkinson in a Not the Nine O'Clock News parody of Question Time, pedantically discussing an imminent nuclear holocaust.[50][51]

Carrington was portrayed by James Fox in the 2002 BBC production of Ian Curteis's The Falklands Play.[52] He was also briefly portrayed by James Smith in the 2011 film The Iron Lady,[53] and by Jeff Rawle in the 2014 play Handbagged.[54]


Lord Carrington, as Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, in procession to St George's Chapel in 2006

Honorary degrees[edit]


Coat of arms of Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington
Coat of Arms of Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington.svg
6th Baron Carrington since 1938
A coronet of a Baron
An elephant's head erased or eared gules charged on the neck with three fleurs-de-lis, two and one azure.
Mantling: Or and sable.
Or, a chevron cotised between three demi-griffins couped those in chief respectant sable.[70][71]
Two griffins wings elevated sable, the dexter charged on the body with three fleurs-de-lis palewise or and the sinister with three trefoils slipped palewise of the last.[72]
Latin: Tenacious and faithful
The Order of the Garter circlet.[73]
Garter Banner of the 6th Baron Carrington.svg The banner of the Baron Carrington's arms as knight of the Garter


  • Reflect on Things Past – The Memoirs of Lord Carrington. Published by William Collins, 1988.[74]


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    "No. 42249". The London Gazette. 13 January 1961. p. 263.
    "No. 42321". The London Gazette. 7 April 1961. p. 2546.
    "No. 42476". The London Gazette. 29 September 1961. p. 7055.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Bennett, Harry. "Lord Carrington, 1979–82." in British Foreign Secretaries Since 1974 (Routledge, 2004), pp. 131–154.
  • Carrington, Peter Alexander Rupert Carington Baron. Reflect on things past: The memoirs of Lord Carrington (HarperCollins, 1988), a primary source.
    • Kedourie, Elie. "False inevitabilities." American Scholar (1990) 59#3, pp. 462–468, review.
  • Novak, Andrew. "Face-saving maneuvers and strong third-party mediation: the Lancaster house conference on Zimbabwe-Rhodesia." International Negotiation 14.1 (2009): 149–174. online[dead link]
  • Sharp, Paul. "The Thatcher-Carrington Partnership." in Thatcher's Diplomacy (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1997), pp. 30–49.
  • Tendi, Blessing-Miles. "Soldiers contra diplomats: Britain's role in the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia ceasefire (1979–1980) reconsidered." Small Wars & Insurgencies 26.6 (2015): 937–956.
  • Yorke, Edmund. "'A Family Affair': the Lancaster House Agreement." in Diplomacy at the Highest Level (Palgrave Macmillan, 1996), pp. 200–219.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries
Served alongside: Richard Nugent
Succeeded by
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence
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Preceded by First Lord of the Admiralty
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Preceded by Minister without Portfolio
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Preceded by Leader of the House of Lords
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Preceded by Secretary of State for Defence
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New office Secretary of State for Energy
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Preceded by Foreign Secretary
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Diplomatic posts
Preceded by High Commissioner to Australia
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Preceded by Secretary General of NATO
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Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords
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Business positions
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Academic offices
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Honorary titles
Preceded by Chancellor of the Order of the Garter
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Preceded by Longest-serving member in the House of Lords
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Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by Baron Carrington
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Peerage of Great Britain
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