2021-11-16 17:13:26 UTC
Clarissa Eden, the Countess of Avon, who has died aged 101, is remembered for her comment, as the prime minister Anthony Eden’s wife during the 1956 Suez crisis, that she “felt sometimes that the Suez canal was flowing through my drawing room”. It reflected only partly the spirit of a stylish, intellectual woman, who found herself almost unwittingly at the centre of Britain’s political life in the mid-1950s.
Though she was descended from the Churchill dynasty, politics hardly impinged on her early life. The third child and only daughter of Winston Churchill’s younger brother, John Spencer-Churchill, a stockbroker, and Lady Gwendoline Bertie, daughter of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, Clarissa Churchill, born in London, was more attracted to the liberal and intellectual milieu of her cultured mother, a renowned beauty, than to politics.
Of her uncle Winston, she recalled attending lunches in the 1930s at his country home, Chartwell, where, at the nadir of his career, he was “endlessly telling us there was going to be a war and we would all get gassed”.
A patchy education, not uncommon among girls of her class, ended when, at 16, she was sent to Paris with two friends and a chaperone to be “finished off”. She intended to paint, but was taken up by the glitterati of Paris society and would arrive at parties in a green Rolls-Royce owned by Hugo Baring, of the banking family. It was only when she went to Oxford in 1940 to study philosophy that she discovered a direction to her life.
Though not an undergraduate, she studied seriously and found Oxford’s intellectual life “a revelation, terribly exciting”. Clever, beautiful and original, she was taken up by the elite, became a “dons’ delight”, and mixed with the pillars of the academic community – Maurice Bowra, David Cecil and Isaiah Berlin – and of the artistic world, including the composer, novelist and painter Gerald Berners, the photographer Cecil Beaton, the painter Lucian Freud, and the writers Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh and Elizabeth Bowen...
Clarissa Eden, memoirist, wife of Anthony Eden and niece of Winston Churchill, has died at the age of 101.
When in May 1955 she walked into Downing Street with her husband Anthony, the newly elected prime minister, the wind could not have stood fairer for them. After the young Queen and Prince Philip, they were the most glamorous and powerful couple in the land.
Lady Eden was only 34, her youth and good looks a refreshing contrast to the exhaustion exuded by the previous premier, her octogenarian uncle Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Anthony Eden was 23 years older than his wife yet still handsome, a natural performer in the new age of television, and genuinely popular. Foreign secretary during the war years and since 1951...