Biography of Halifax, 1st Earl of
Bith Date: April 16, 1881
Death Date: December 23, 1959
Place of Birth: Exeter, Devonshire, England
Occupations: politician, ambassador, viceroy
The English statesman Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax (1881-1959), was viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931. He later served as foreign secretary and as ambassador to the United States during World War II.
Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, the fourth son of the 2d Viscount Halifax, was born on April 16, 1881, in Powderham Castle near Exeter, Devonshire. He enjoyed an aristocratic childhood, although it was punctuated by tragedy. Like his father, who was president of the English Church Union for 51 years, he was a deeply religious person and developed a stoic ability to rise above personal tragedies. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford; in 1906 he became a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.
In 1909 Wood married Lady Dorothy Onslow, and the following year he entered Parliament as a Conservative member for Ripon, Yorkshire. His political advancement was steady but not spectacular. After serving (1915-1917) with the Yorkshire Dragoons in France, he became assistant secretary to the minister of national service and served in that capacity until the end of World War I. He was undersecretary of state for the colonies (1921-1922), president of the board of education (1922--1924), and minister of agriculture (1924-1925). In 1925 he was created Baron Irwin, and the following year he was appointed viceroy of India.
India in 1926 was a country in ferment. As viceroy, Lord Irwin labored to make India's constitutional development a reality and to reconcile British and Indian differences. He gained the respect of the Indians and enjoyed friendly relations with their leaders, including Gandhi. He returned to England in 1931 and again served as president of the board of education (1932-1935). After the death of his father in 1934, he became the 3d Viscount Halifax and left the House of Commons to sit in the House of Lords. He continued to hold office--secretary for war (1935), lord privy seal (1935-1937), and lord president of the council (1937-1938). He was also leader of the House of Lords (1935-1938).
When Anthony Eden resigned in 1938 as foreign secretary in Neville Chamberlain's government, Halifax succeeded him. He supported the policy of appeasement, but after the signing of the Munich Pact he began to reconsider his views. After the outbreak of World War II he supported the war effort with determination. When Chamberlain resigned as prime minister in May 1940, Halifax was favored by many, including the King, to succeed him. However, as a member of the House of Lords, it was feared that he would be able to provide only token leadership in the Commons. Consequently, Winston Churchill was asked to form the new government. Halifax continued as foreign secretary until later in 1940, when Churchill appointed him ambassador to the United States.
The new ambassador was not well received in the United States. He was popularly denounced as a Tory reactionary and was the target of egg-throwing peace demonstrators. He ignored such remonstrances, however, and traveled widely throughout the United States to gain a firsthand impression of the American people. In time he became a respected and popular figure in the United States. He worked diligently to foster good Anglo-American relations throughout the war years, and in 1945 he attended the San Francisco Conference as a British delegate. When he concluded his ambassadorship in 1946, he stepped out of public life.
Halifax always conducted himself with quiet dignity. A serious and reserved person, he was considered an astute politician as well as an idealistic public servant. In appearance he was tall and angular and conveyed the impression of being an aristocratic country gentleman. He was also a person of high scholarly attainment. In 1909 he wrote a biography of the churchman John Keble, and in 1918 he coauthored The Great Opportunity, a volume that dealt with the future of the Conservative party. After his return from India, he published Indian Problems (1932). For his efforts in India he was awarded the Order of the Garter; in 1944 he was created an earl. He died on Dec. 23, 1959, after a short illness.
- Lord Halifax's own recollections, Fullness of Days (1957), should be read in conjunction with his Speeches on Foreign Policy (1940) and The American Speeches of the Earl of Halifax (1947). The Earl of Birkenhead, Halifax: The Life of Lord Halifax (1965), is the best full-length biography. Alan Campbell Johnson, Viscount Halifax (1941), gives a satisfactory contemporary account of his life. For a perceptive appraisal of his work in India see Percival Spear, India: A Modern History (1961). These works refer to aspects of his later career: Sir Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm (1948); Cordell Hull, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull (2 vols., 1948); John W. Wheeler-Bennett, King George VI (1958); Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, The Appeasers (1963; 2d ed. 1967); and Sir Anthony Eden, The Reckoning (1965).
- Roberts, Andrew, The Holy Fox: a biography of Lord Halifax, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991.