Reading Between the Lines - The Library of former Prime Minister Anthony Eden to come up for auction at Bellmans in July

29 June 2023
Image Credit: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Bellmans is delighted to announce the sale of the majority of former Prime Minister Anthony Eden's library on Thursday, 13th July 2023. The private library of the 1st Earl and Countess of Avon gives an incredible insight into 20th century world politics as many of the books include extensive annotations by Eden himself in which he shares his views on the political situation described in the book or its author. Nicholas Worskett, Bellmans' book specialist, says:"It has been a rare privilege and an education for me to discover more about Anthony Eden through his book collection, and to find so many books with his annotations which are often surprising for their candour, revealing the off-duty, unofficial statesman. Every book tells you something about its owner, but rarely, as here, do they provide a unique and compelling insight into momentous world events. There was a great deal more to Anthony Eden than the elegantly-attired Prime Minister who resigned over the Suez Crisis, which is how people tend to remember him."

While his copy of Churchill's World Crisis is probably one of the most valuable ones given his close relationship with Churchill, both on a political as well as a family level. Winston Churchill's (1874 1965) The World Crisis from 1923-31 encompass five parts, but are bound in six as per usual in its original dark blue cloth. It is estimated at £500-£800. John W. Wheeler-Bennett (1902-75) wrote Munich. Prologue to Tragedy, published in 1948 and this first edition is a presentation copy inscribed, "For Anthony Eden, with warmest best wishes and very many thanks, John W. Wheeler-Bennett, May, 1948". What makes it extremely fascinating are the copious annotations and highlighted passages, unusually for Eden in ink not pencil, principally to the first half of the book, often in outspoken and personal terms - for example, on p.15 (commenting on Sir Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany from 1937-39), Eden writes, "Disastrous man and disloyal to me. Note his conversation with Buchanan [?]in our Embassy Berlin day 1 ... He proclaimed his delight & added now we shall be able to make friends with Germany"; on p.39 (on Neville Chamberlain) he writes, "Later he did this for Poland & Rumania. [Sir John] Simon took his line against me in debate after Hitler had entered Prague [etc]"; on p.40 (on Chamberlain) he writes, simply, "Ass!"; and on pp.44-45 (on Chamberlain) he writes, in an extensive note that fills two thirds of a largely blank page, "If he had really been concerned he should have presided over our rearmament [?] - as I frequently urged him to do in vain ... A further difficulty about rearmament was that neither N.C. nor [Sir Thomas] Inskip knew the simplest rudiments of military matters". The lively language employed in some of these personal notes, perhaps intended as aides memoires or scribbled in the heat of the moment, tend to counter the more familiar characterisation of Eden as a rather distant, formal and patrician figure. This copy carries an estimate of £700-1,000.

Lot 78
Lot 78
Lot 54
Lot 54

One of the most moving ones is the first edition of the Report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff by the Supreme Allied Commander South-East Asia 1943-1945 by Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl of Burma (1900-79) from 1951 is an important presentation copy. It is inscribed, "To Anthony, in memory of his very gallant son, from Dickie".

'Dickie' was Louis Mountbatten's nickname among his family and closest friends. Anthony Eden's son referred to in the inscription, his oldest, was Simon Gascoigne Eden (1924-45) who served as a navigator with the 62nd Squadron of the Royal Air Force in Burma in June 1945. He went missing in action and was later declared dead on June 23 of the same year. The book is expected to sell for £500-800. Most of us will remember Anthony Eden as the Prime Minister who resigned over the Suez Crisis in 1957, after less than two years in the office. Although he may not have gone down in history as a particularly successful PM, his political career was exceptional. Born in 1897, he went to Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, fought in the first World War with distinction, being awarded the Military Cross, and became an MP for Warwick and Leamington in 1923 at the age of 26. From 1935 he held various ministerial positions, including being Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs three times, representing the country abroad for over 10 years in total. His personal life saw some scandal when he and his first wife divorced in 1950 and he was the first PM who was divorced, but married by then to Clarissa Churchill-Spencer (1920-2021), who later became a well-known memoirist.

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