Harold Macmillan

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The Right Honourable
 The Earl of Stockton 

In office
10 January 1957 – 18 October 1963
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home

In office
20 December 1955 – 13 January 1957
Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden
Preceded by Rab Butler
Succeeded by Peter Thorneycroft

In office
7 April – 20 December 1955
Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden
Preceded by Sir Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Selwyn Lloyd

In office
19 October 1954 – 7 April 1955
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by The Earl Alexander of Tunis
Succeeded by Selwyn Lloyd

In office
30 October 1951 – 19 October 1954
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Hugh Dalton
Succeeded by Duncan Sandys

In office
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Sir Archibald Sinclair
Succeeded by The Viscount Stansgate

In office
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by John Llewellin
Succeeded by The Viscount Portal

In office
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by George Hall
Succeeded by The Duke of Devonshire

Born 10 February 1894(1894-02-10)
Chelsea, London,
United Kingdom
Died 29 December 1986 (aged 92)
Chelwood Gate, East Sussex,
United Kingdom
Birth name Maurice Harold Macmillan
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Lady Dorothy Macmillan
Children Maurice Macmillan (deceased)
Caroline Faber
Catherine Amery (deceased)
Sarah Heath (deceased)
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Profession Publisher
Religion Anglican[1]
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank Captain
Unit Grenadier Guards
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Allied Victory Medal BAR.svg Victory Medal
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal

Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC, FRS[2] (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was Conservative Party (UK) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963.

Macmillan achieved notoriety before the Second World War as a critic of appeasement. Doubtless this was an early sign of his left-wing leanings, revealed later. Addressing the National Conference of Young Conservatives on February 15, 1961, Macmillan related how "some of us had traditional Liberal connections, but we found the Liberal Pary shattered and split. Some of us felt an instinctive sympathy with the new emerging Labour Party."[3] It was no surprise, then, that he rose to high office as a protégé of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, another former Liberal.

Macmillan believed in the post-war settlement and the necessity of a mixed economy, and in his premiership pursued corporatist policies to develop the domestic market as the engine of growth.[4] During his time as prime minister, average living standards steadily rose[5] while numerous social reforms were carried out such as the 1956 Clean Air Act, the 1957 Housing Act, the 1960 Offices Act, the 1960 Noise Abatement Act,[6] the Factories Act 1961, and the introduction of a graduated pension scheme to provide an additional income to retirees.[7]

As a One Nation Tory of the Disraelian tradition, haunted by memories of the Great Depression, he championed a Keynesian strategy of public investment to maintain demand, winning a second term in 1959 with an increased majority on an electioneering budget. Benefiting from favourable international conditions,[4] he presided over an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high if uneven growth. In his Bedford speech of July 1957 he told the nation they had 'never had it so good',[8] but warned of the dangers of inflation, summing up the fragile prosperity of the 1950s.[9]

In international affairs, Macmillan rebuilt the special relationship with the United States after their betrayal of Britain during the Suez Crisis[10] (of which he had been one of the architects), and redrew the world map by decolonising sub-Saharan Africa, which led to the establishment at home of the Conservative Monday Club who utterly opposed him.[11]

Reconfiguring the nation's defences to meet the realities of the nuclear age, he ended National Service, strengthened the nuclear forces by acquiring Polaris, and pioneered the Nuclear Test Ban with the United States and the Soviet Union. Belatedly recognising the dangers of strategic dependence, he sought a new role for Britain in Europe, but his unwillingness to disclose United States nuclear secrets to France contributed to a French veto of the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community.[12]

Near the end of his reign as prime minister, his government was rocked by the Vassall and Profumo scandals, which seemed to symbolise for the rebellious youth of the 1960s the moral decay of the British establishment.[13] Resigning aged 70, after a medical misdiagnosis, Macmillan lived out a long retirement as an elder statesman. He was as trenchant a critic of his successors in his old age as he had been of his predecessors in his youth.


Early life


Harold Macmillan was born at 52 Cadogan Place in Chelsea, London, to Maurice Crawford Macmillan (1853–1936), publisher, and Helen (Nellie) Artie Tarleton Belles (1856–1937), artist and socialite, from Spencer, Indiana in the United States.[14] He had two brothers, Daniel, eight years his senior, and Arthur, four years his senior.[15] His paternal grandfather, Daniel MacMillan (1813–1857), was the son of a Scottish crofter who founded Macmillan Publishers.


Like Churchill, Macmillan's mother was an American. His early education was intense and closely guided by her. He was taught French at home every morning by a succession of nursery maids, and exercised daily at Mr Macpherson's Gymnasium and Dancing Academy, around the corner from the family home in Cadogan Place.[16] From the age of six or seven he received introductory lessons in classical Latin and Greek at Mr Gladstone's day school, close by in Sloane Square.[17]

Macmillan then attended Summer Fields School, Oxford (1903–6), but his time at Eton College (1906–10) was blighted by recurrent illness, starting with a near-fatal attack of pneumonia in his first half; he missed his final year after being invalided out,[18][19] and had to be taught at home by private tutors (1910–11), notably Ronald Knox, who did much to instil his High Church Anglicanism.[20] He went up to Balliol College, Oxford (1912–14), where he obtained a First in Mods (Latin and Greek, the first half of the four-year Oxford Greats course), and became an officer of the Oxford Union Society, before the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

War service

Macmillan served with distinction as a captain in the Grenadier Guards during the First World War, and was wounded on three occasions. During the Battle of the Somme, he spent an entire day wounded and lying in a slit trench with a bullet in his pelvis, reading the classical Greek playwright Aeschylus in the original language.[21] Macmillan spent the final two years of the war in hospital undergoing a long series of operations, and saw no further active service.[22] His hip wound took four years to heal completely, and he was left with a slight shuffle to his walk and a limp grip in his right hand from a separate wound. As was common for contemporary former officers, he continued to be known as 'Captain Macmillan' until the early 1930s.

Canadian aide-de-campship

Of the 28 freshmen who started at Balliol with Macmillan, only he and one other survived.[23] As a result, he refused to return to Oxford, saying the university would never be the same.[24] He served instead in Ottawa, Canada, in 1919 as ADC to Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire, then Governor General of Canada, and his future father-in-law.[25]


On his return to London in 1920 he joined the family firm Macmillan Publishers as a junior partner, remaining with the company until his appointment to ministerial office in 1940.

Personal life


Macmillan married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, on 21 April 1920. Her great-uncle was Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, who was leader of the Liberal Party in the 1870s, and a close colleague of William Ewart Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Salisbury. Lady Dorothy was also descended from William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, who served as Prime Minister from 1756–1757 in communion with Newcastle and Pitt the Elder. Her nephew William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington married Kathleen, a sister of John F. Kennedy. In 1929 Lady Dorothy began a life-long affair with the Conservative politician Robert Boothby, an arrangement which scandalised high society but remained unknown to the general public.[26] The stress caused by this may have contributed to Macmillan's nervous breakdown in 1931.[27]

The Macmillans had four children:

Lady Dorothy died on 21 May 1966, aged 65.

Macmillan was in close friendship in old age with Ava Anderson, Viscountess Waverley, née Bodley (1896–1973), the widow of John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley.[29] Eileen O'Casey, née Reynolds (1900–1995), the actress wife of Irish dramatist Seán O'Casey, was another female friend of Macmillan, who published her husband's plays. Although she is said to have replaced Lady Dorothy in Macmillan's affections, there is disagreement over how intimate they became after the death of their respective spouses, and whether he proposed.[30][31][32][33]

Political career (1924–1957)

Ordinary Member (1924–1929, 1931–1940)

Elected to the House of Commons in 1924 for the depressed northern industrial constituency of Stockton-on-Tees, Macmillan lost his seat in 1929 in the face of high regional unemployment, but returned in 1931. He spent the 1930s on the backbenches, in the "liberal wing of the Conservative Party"[34],"a notorious and rather left-wing Tory rebel"[35] who had written to The Times in 1930 about the need for parliamentary reform and who had resigned the Conservative Party Whip over Abyssinia.[36] He was in favour of economic planning, and was anti-appeasement; he was a continual critic of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, calling the latter "bone-headed" and serving to isolate him from the party leadership. In fact despite his relative obscurity he was calling, at one point, for "an immediate pogrom to get rid of Neville and make Winston Prime Minister."[37] Macmillan was definitely not "in the Conservative mainstream on Anglo-German relations" and he associated himself with Churchill, another liberal also in the wilderness on this issue.[38] However Macmillan joined with Baldwin and Churchill in cheering Chamberlain in the House of Commons on 28th September 1938 for arranging for the four power conference at Munich in order to arrange for the secession of the Sudetenland. (But ever the liberal, he later gave refuge to some Czech Jews who had fled from there).[39] During this time (1938) he published the first edition of his book The Middle Way, which advocated a broadly centrist political philosophy both domestically and internationally. At the end of July 1939 when the British government was attempting every diplomatic initiative to avoid having to go to Poland's aid should war break out, Macmillan was already calling for a "broad-based National Government which would include Churchill, Eden and leaders of the Labour Party."[40]

Supply Parliamentary Secretary (1940–1942)

In the Second World War Macmillan at last attained office, serving in the wartime coalition government as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply from 1940 to 1942. The task of the department was to provide armaments and other equipment to the British Army and Royal Air Force. Macmillan travelled up and down the country to co-ordinate production, working with some success under Lord Beaverbrook to increase the supply and quality of armoured vehicles.[41]

Colonial Under-Secretary (1942)

Macmillan was appointed as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1942, in his own words, 'leaving a madhouse in order to enter a mausoleum'.[42] Though a junior minister he was sworn of the Privy Council and spoke in the House of Commons for successive Colonial Secretaries Lord Moyne and Lord Cranborne. Macmillan was given responsibility for increasing colonial production and trade, and signalled the future direction of British policy when in June 1942 he declared:

The governing principle of the Colonial Empire should be the principle of partnership between the various elements composing it. Out of partnership comes understanding and friendship. Within the fabric of the Commonwealth lies the future of the Colonial territories.[43]

Minister Resident in the Mediterranean (1942–1945)

Macmillan (top row, left) with Allied military leaders in the Sicilian campaign, 1943.

Macmillan attained real power and Cabinet rank upon being sent to North Africa in 1942 as British government representative to the Allies in the Mediterranean, reporting directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill over the head of the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. During this assignment Macmillan served as liaison and mediator between Churchill and US General Dwight D. Eisenhower in North Africa, building a rapport with the latter that would prove helpful in his later career.[44]

As minister resident with a roving commission, Macmillan also the minister advising General Keightley of V Corps, the senior Allied commander in Austria responsible for Operation Keelhaul, which included the forced repatriation of up to 70,000 prisoners of war to the Soviet Union and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia in 1945. The deportations and Macmillan's involvement later became a source of controversy because of the harsh treatment meted out to National Socialist collaborators and anti-partisans by the receiving countries, and because in the confusion V Corps went beyond the terms agreed at Yalta and Allied Forces Headquarters directives by repatriating 4000 White Russian troops and 11,000 civilian family members who could not properly be regarded as Soviet citizens.[45][46][47]

Air Secretary (1945)

Macmillan returned to England after the European war and was Secretary of State for Air for two months in Churchill's caretaker government, 'much of which was taken up in electioneering', there being 'nothing much to be done in the way of forward planning'.[48] He felt himself 'almost a stranger at home',[49] and lost his seat in the landslide Labour victory of 1945, but soon returned to Parliament in a November 1945 by-election in Bromley.

Housing Minister (1951–1954)

With the Conservative victory in 1951 Macmillan became Minister of Housing under Churchill, who entrusted Macmillan with fulfilling the latter's conference promise to build 300,000 houses per year. 'It is a gamble—it will make or mar your political career,' Churchill said, 'but every humble home will bless your name if you succeed.'[50] Macmillan achieved the target a year ahead of schedule.[51]

Defence Minister (1954–1955)

Macmillan served as Minister of Defence from October 1954, but found his authority restricted by Churchill's personal involvement.[52] In the opinion of The Economist: 'He gave the impression that his own undoubted capacity for imaginative running of his own show melted way when an august superior was breathing down his neck.'[53]

A major theme of Macmillan's tenure at Defence was the ministry's growing reliance on the nuclear deterrent, in the view of some critics, to the detriment of conventional forces.[54] The Defence White Paper of February 1955, announcing the decision to produce the hydrogen bomb, received bipartisan support.[55]

By this time Macmillan had lost the wire-rimmed glasses, toothy grin and brylcreemed hair of wartime photographs, and instead grew his hair thick and glossy, had his teeth capped and walked with the ramrod bearing of a former Guards officer—acquiring the distinguished appearance of his later career.

Foreign Secretary (1955)

Macmillan served as Foreign Secretary in April–December 1955 in the government of newly appointed prime minister Anthony Eden, who had taken over from the retiring Winston Churchill. Returning from the Geneva Summit of that year he made headlines by declaring: 'There ain’t gonna be no war.'[56] Of the role of Foreign Secretary Macmillan famously observed:

Nothing he can say can do very much good and almost anything he may say may do a great deal of harm. Anything he says that is not obvious is dangerous; whatever is not trite is risky. He is forever poised between the cliché and the indiscretion.[56]

Chancellor of the Exchequer (1955–1957)

Macmillan was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1955, after just eight months as Foreign Secretary, and held this role for just over a year.

In this office he insisted that Eden's de facto deputy Rab Butler not be treated as senior to him, and threatened resignation until he was allowed to cut bread and milk subsidies. One of Macmillan's innovations at the Treasury was the introduction of premium bonds,[57] announced in his budget of 17 April 1956.[58] Although the Labour Opposition initially decried the sale as a 'squalid raffle', it proved an immediate hit with the public, with £1,000 being awarded to savers in the first prize draw in June 1957.

During the Suez Crisis, when Britain invaded Egypt in collusion with France and Israel, according to Labour leader Harold Wilson Macmillan was 'first in, first out': first very supportive of the invasion, then a prime mover in Britain's humiliating withdrawal in the wake of the financial crisis caused by pressure from the U.S. government.[59] Since the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, relations between Britain and Egypt deteriorated. The Egyptian government, which came to be dominated by Gamal Abdel Nasser, was opposed to the British military presence in the Arab World. The Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal by President Nasser on 26 July 1956 prompted the British government of Anthony Eden and the French government of Guy Mollet to commence plans for invading Egypt, regaining the canal, and toppling Nasser. Macmillan wrote in his diary:

"If Nasser 'gets away with it', we are done for. The whole Arab world will despise us ... Nuri [es-Said, British-backed prime minister of Iraq] and our friends will fall. It may well be the end of British influence and strength forever. So, in the last resort, we must use force and defy opinion, here and overseas".[60]

Macmillan was heavily involved in the secret planning of the invasion with France and Israel. It was he who first suggested collusion with Israel.[61] On 5 August 1956 Macmillan met with Churchill at Chartwell. He told the former Prime Minister that the government's existing military plan for simply regaining control of the canal was not enough and suggested involving Israel, recording in his diary for that day: "Surely, if we landed we must seek out the Egyptian forces; destroy them; and bring down Nasser's government. Churchill seemed to agree with all this."[62] Macmillan knew President Eisenhower well, but misjudged his strong opposition to a military solution to the issue. Macmillan met privately with Eisenhower on 25 September 1956 and convinced himself that the US would not oppose the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion,[63] despite the misgivings of the British Ambassador, Sir Roger Makins, who was also present. Macmillan also failed to heed a warning from the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that whatever the British government did should wait until after the US presidential election on 6 November, and failed to report Dulles' remarks to Eden.

The treasury was his portfolio, but he did not recognize the financial disaster that could result from U.S. government actions. Sterling was draining out of the Bank of England at an alarming rate, and it was getting worse. The canal was blocked by the Egyptians, and most oil shipments were delayed as tankers had to go all the way around Africa. The U.S. government refused any financial help until Britain withdrew its forces from Egypt. When he did realise it, he reversed himself and called for withdrawal on the U.S. terms, while exaggerating the financial crisis. Faced with Macmillan's prediction of doom, the cabinet had no choice but to accept the American terms and withdraw. Ultimately, the Suez Canal remained in Egyptian hands, and Nasser's government continued its support of Arab and African national resistance movements opposed to the British Empire in the region, and the continent.[64] The debacle destroyed Prime Minister Eden's political standing and his physical health; he had to resign, leaving the door to 10 Downing Street open for his deputy Rab Butler or Macmillan.[65]

In later life Macmillan was open about his failure to read Eisenhower's thoughts correctly and much regretted the damage done to Anglo-American relations, but always maintained that the Anglo-French military response to the nationalisation of the Canal had been for the best.[66]

Prime Minister (1957–1963)

Macmillan with Indian Minister and head of Indian delegation Ashoke Kumar Sen and wife Anjana, daughter of Sudhi Ranjan Das

First government (1957–1959)

Anthony Eden resigned as prime minister in January 1957. At that time the Conservative Party had no formal mechanism for selecting a new leader, effectively leaving the choice of the new leader, and Prime Minister, in the hands of the Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen appointed Macmillan Prime Minister after taking advice from Winston Churchill and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 5th Marquess of Salisbury, surprising some observers who expected that Rab Butler would be chosen. The political situation after Suez, which had contributed to Eden's resignation, was so desperate that on taking office on 10 January he told the Queen he could not guarantee his government would last "six weeks" - though ultimately he would be in charge of the government for more than six years.[67]

Macmillan populated his government with many former Etonians: he filled government posts with 35, 7 of whom sat in Cabinet.[68] He was also devoted to family members: when Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire was later appointed (Minister for Colonial Affairs from 1963 to 1964 amongst other positions) he described his uncle's behaviour as "the greatest act of nepotism ever".[69]

He was nicknamed Supermac in 1958 by cartoonist Victor 'Vicky' Weisz. It was intended as mockery, but backfired, coming to be used in a neutral or friendly fashion. Weisz tried to label him with other names, including "Mac the Knife" at the time of widespread cabinet changes in 1962, but none of these caught on.[70]


Macmillan brought the monetary concerns of the Exchequer into office; the economy was his prime concern. His One Nation approach to the economy was to seek high or full employment. This contrasted with his mainly monetarist Treasury ministers who argued that any support of sterling required strict controls on money and hence an unavoidable rise in unemployment. Their advice was rejected and in January 1958 the three Treasury ministers Peter Thorneycroft, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Birch, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Enoch Powell, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, resigned. Macmillan, away on a tour of the Commonwealth, brushed aside this incident as 'a little local difficulty'.

Foreign policy

Macmillan took close control of foreign policy. He worked to narrow the post-Suez Crisis rift with the United States, where his wartime friendship with Dwight D. Eisenhower was key; the two had a productive conference in Bermuda as early as March 1957.

In February 1959 Macmillan became the first Western leader to visit the Soviet Union since the Second World War.[71] Talks with Nikita Khrushchev eased tensions in East-West relations over West Berlin and led to an agreement in principle to stop nuclear tests and to hold a further summit meeting of Allied and Soviet heads of government.[72]

In the Middle East, faced by the 1958 collapse of the Baghdad Pact and the spread of Soviet influence, Macmillan acted decisively to restore the confidence of Persian Gulf allies, using the Royal Air Force and special forces to defeat a revolt backed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt against the Sultan of Oman, Said bin Taimur, in July 1957,[73] deploying airborne battalions to defend Jordan against Syrian subversion in July 1958,[74] and deterring a threatened Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by landing a brigade group in July 1960.[75]

Macmillan was also a major proponent and architect of decolonisation. The Gold Coast was granted independence as Ghana, and the Federation of Malaya achieved independence within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1957.

Nuclear weapons

First successful British H-bomb test – Operation Grapple X Round C1, which took place over Kiritimati

In April 1957 Macmillan reaffirmed his strong support for the British nuclear weapons programme. A succession of prime ministers since the Second World War had been determined to persuade the United States to revive wartime co-operation in the area of nuclear weapons research. Macmillan believed that one way to encourage such co-operation would be for the United Kingdom to speed up the development of its own hydrogen bomb, which was successfully tested on 8 November 1957.

Macmillan's decision led to increased demands on the Windscale and (subsequently) Calder Hall nuclear plants to produce plutonium for military purposes.[76] As a result the safety margins of the radioactive materials inside the Windscale reactor were eroded. This contributed to the Windscale fire on the night of 10 October 1957, in which a fire broke out in the plutonium plant of Pile No. 1, and nuclear contaminants travelled up a chimney where the filters blocked some but not all of the contaminated material. The radioactive cloud spread to south-east England and fallout reached mainland Europe. Although scientists had warned of the dangers of such an accident for some time, the government blamed the workers who had put out the fire for 'an error of judgement', rather than the political pressure for fast-tracking the megaton bomb.[77][78]

Macmillan, concerned that public confidence in the nuclear programme might be shaken and that technical information might be misused by opponents of defence co-operation in the US Congress, withheld all but the summary of a report into the Windscale fire prepared for the Atomic Energy Authority by Sir William Penney, director of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.[79] While subsequently released files show that 'Macmillan's cuts were few and covered up few technical details',[80] and that even the full report at the time found no danger to public health, later official estimates acknowledged the release of polonium-210 may have led directly to 25 to 50 deaths, and anti-nuclear groups linked it to 1,000 fatal cancers.[81][82]

On 25 March 1957 Macmillan acceded to Eisenhower's request to base 60 Thor IRBMs in England under joint control, to replace the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command, which had been stationed under joint control in the country since 1948, and were approaching obsolescence. Partly as a consequence of this favour, in late October 1957, the US McMahon Act was eased to facilitate nuclear co-operation between the two governments, initially with a view to producing cleaner weapons and reducing the need for duplicate testing.[83] The Mutual Defence Agreement followed on 3 July 1958, speeding up British ballistic missile development,[84] notwithstanding unease expressed at the time about the impetus co-operation might give to atomic proliferation by arousing the jealousy of France and other allies.[85]

Election campaign (1959)

Macmillan led the Conservatives to victory in the October 1959 general election, increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats. The successful campaign was based on the economic improvements achieved; the slogan "Life's Better Under the Conservatives" was matched by Macmillan's own remark, '"indeed let us be frank about it — most of our people have never had it so good,"[86] usually paraphrased as "You've never had it so good." Such rhetoric reflected a new reality of working-class affluence; it has been argued: "The key factor in the Conservative victory was that average real pay for industrial workers had risen since Churchill’s 1951 victory by over 20 per cent".[87]

The Daily Mirror, despite being staunch supporters of the Labour Party, wished Macmillan "good luck" on their front page after his election win.[88]

Second government (1959–1963)


Britain's balance of payments problems led to the imposition of a wage freeze in 1961 and, amongst other factors, this caused the government to lose popularity and a series of by-elections in March 1962.

Fearing for his own position, Macmillan organised a major Cabinet change in July 1962—also named 'the night of long knives' as a symbol of his alleged betrayal of the Conservative party. Eight junior Ministers were sacked at the same time. The Cabinet changes were widely seen as a sign of panic, and the young Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe said of Macmillan's dismissal of so many of his colleagues, 'greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life'.

Macmillan supported the creation of the National Incomes Commission as a means to institute controls on income as part of his growth-without-inflation policy. A further series of subtle indicators and controls were also introduced during his premiership.

Foreign policy

British decolonisation in Africa.

The special relationship with the United States continued after the election of President John F. Kennedy, whose sister Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington had married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, a nephew of Macmillan's wife Lady Dorothy Macmillan. The Prime Minister was supportive throughout the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and Kennedy consulted him by telephone every day. The British Ambassador David Ormsby-Gore was a close family friend of the President and actively involved in White House discussions on how to resolve the crisis.

Macmillan's first government had seen the first phase of the sub-Saharan African independence movement, which accelerated under his second government. His 'wind of change' speech in Cape Town on his African tour in February 1960 is considered a landmark in the process of decolonisation.

Macmillan felt that if the costs of holding onto a particular territory outweighed the benefits then it should be dispensed with. After securing a third term for the Conservatives in 1959 he appointed Iain Macleod as Colonial Secretary. Macleod greatly accelerated decolonisation and by the time he was moved to Conservative Party Chairman and Leader of the Commons in 1961 he had made the decision to give independence to Nigeria, Tanganyika, Kenya, Nyasaland (as Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (as Zambia).[89]

Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons and British Somaliland were granted independence in 1960, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika in 1961, Uganda in 1962, and Kenya in 1963. Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1963. All remained within the Commonwealth but British Somaliland, which merged with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia.

Macmillan's policy overrode the hostility of white minorities and the Conservative Monday Club. South Africa left the multiracial Commonwealth in 1961 and Macmillan acquiesced to the dissolution of the Central African Federation by the end of 1963.

In Southeast Asia, Malaya and the then-crown colonies of Sabah (British North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore became independent as Malaysia in 1963.

The speedy transfer of power maintained the goodwill of the new nations but critics contended it was premature. In justification Macmillan quoted Lord Macaulay in 1851:

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free until they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.[90]

Skybolt crisis

Macmillan cancelled the Blue Streak ballistic missile system in April 1960 over concerns about its vulnerability to a pre-emptive attack, but continued with the development of the air launched Blue Steel stand-off bomb, which was about to enter trials. As the eventual replacement for Blue Steel, he opted for Britain to join the American Skybolt missile development project. From the same year Macmillan also permitted the U.S. Navy to station Polaris submarines at Holy Loch, Scotland, as a replacement for Thor. When Skybolt was in turn unilaterally cancelled by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Macmillan negotiated with President John F. Kennedy the purchase of Polaris missiles from the United States under the Nassau agreement in December 1962.

Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963)

Macmillan was also a force in the successful negotiations leading to the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty by the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union. His previous attempt to create an agreement at the May 1960 summit in Paris had collapsed due to the 1960 U-2 incident.


Macmillan worked with states outside the European Economic Community (EEC) to form the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which from 3 May 1960 established a free-trade area between the member countries. Macmillan also saw the value of rapprochement with the EEC, to which his government sought belated entry. In the event, Britain's application to join was vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle on 29 January 1963. De Gaulle was always strongly opposed to British entry for many reasons. He saw it as a continental arrangement and was concerned with French agriculture. He feared the British were too close to the Americans.[91][92]

Profumo affair

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The Profumo affair of 1963 permanently damaged the credibility of Macmillan's government. He survived a Parliamentary vote with a majority of 69, one fewer than had been thought necessary for his survival, and was afterwards joined in the smoking-room only by his son and son-in-law, not by any Cabinet minister. Nonetheless, Butler and Maudling (who was very popular with backbench MPs at that time) declined to push for his resignation, especially after a tide of support from Conservative activists around the country.

Retirement (1963–1986)


The Profumo affair may have exacerbated Macmillan's ill-health. He was taken ill on the eve of the Conservative Party conference, diagnosed incorrectly with inoperable prostate cancer. Consequently, he resigned on 18 October 1963. He felt privately that he was being hounded from office by a backbench minority:

Some few will be content with the success they have had in the assassination of their leader and will not care very much who the successor is.... They are a band that in the end does not amount to more than 15 or 20 at the most.[93]


Macmillan was succeeded as Prime Minister by the Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home in a controversial move; it was alleged that Macmillan had pulled strings and utilised the party's grandees, nicknamed 'The Magic Circle', to ensure that Butler was not chosen as his successor.

Macmillan initially refused a peerage and retired from politics in September 1964, a month before the 1964 election which the Conservatives narrowly lost to Labour, now led by Harold Wilson.[94]

Oxford Chancellor (1960–1986)

Macmillan had been elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1960, in a campaign masterminded by Hugh Trevor-Roper, and continued in this distinguished office for life, frequently presiding over college events, making speeches and tirelessly raising funds. According to Sir Patrick Neill QC, the vice-chancellor, Macmillan 'would talk late into the night with eager groups of students who were often startled by the radical views he put forward, well into his last decade.'[95]

Return to publishing

In retirement Macmillan also took up the chairmanship of his family's publishing house, Macmillan Publishers, from 1964 to 1974. He brought out a six-volume autobiography:

  1. Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966) ISBN 0333066391
  2. The Blast of War, 1939–1945 (1967) ISBN 0333003586
  3. Tides of Fortune, 1945–1955 (1969) ISBN 0333040775
  4. Riding the Storm, 1956–1959 (1971) ISBN 0333103106
  5. Pointing the Way, 1959–1961 (1972) ISBN 0333124111
  6. At the End of the Day, 1961–1963 (1973) ISBN 0333124138

The read was described by Macmillan's political enemy Enoch Powell as inducing 'a sensation akin to that of chewing on cardboard'. His wartime diaries were better received.

  • War Diaries: Politics and War in the Mediterranean, January 1943 – May 1945 (London: St. Martin's Press, 1984) ISBN 0312855664

Political interventions

Macmillan made occasional political interventions in retirement. Responding to a remark made by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson about not having boots in which to go to school, Macmillan retorted: 'If Mr Wilson did not have boots to go to school that is because he was too big for them.'[96]

Macmillan accepted the distinction of the Order of Merit from the Queen in 1976. In October of that year he called for 'a Government of National Unity', including all parties, that could command the public support to resolve the economic crisis. Asked who could lead such a coalition, he replied: "Mr Gladstone formed his last Government when he was eighty-three. I'm only eighty-two. You mustn't put temptation in my way."[97] His plea was interpreted by party leaders as a bid for power and rejected.

Macmillan still travelled widely, visiting China in October 1979, where he held talks with its leader, senior Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping.[98]

Relations with Margaret Thatcher

Macmillan found himself drawn more actively into politics after Margaret Thatcher became Conservative leader in February 1975,[99] and Prime Minister in May 1979 when the Tories ended Labour's five-year rule with an election win,[100] and the record of his own premiership came under attack from the monetarists in the party, whose theories she supported. In a celebrated speech he wondered aloud where such theories had come from:

Was it America? Or was it Tibet? It is quite true, many of Your Lordships will remember it operating in the nursery. How do you treat a cold? One nanny said, 'Feed a cold'; she was a neo-Keynesian. The other said, 'Starve a cold'; she was a monetarist.[101]

On Macmillan's advice in April 1982 Thatcher excluded the Treasury from her Falklands War Cabinet. She later said: 'I never regretted following Harold Macmillan's advice. We were never tempted to compromise the security of our forces for financial reasons. Everything we did was governed by military necessity.'[102]

Macmillan finally accepted a peerage on 10 February 1984[103] and was created Earl of Stockton and Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden. He took the title from his former parliamentary seat on the border of the Durham coalfields, and in his maiden speech in the House of Lords he criticised Thatcher's handling of the coal miners' strike and her characterisation of striking miners as 'the enemy within'.[104] He received an unprecedented standing ovation for his oration which included the words:

It breaks my heart to see—and I cannot interfere—what is happening in our country today. This terrible strike, by the best men in the world, who beat the Kaiser's and Hitler's armies and never gave in. It is pointless and we cannot afford that kind of thing. Then there is the growing division of Conservative prosperity in the south and the ailing north and Midlands. We used to have battles and rows but they were quarrels. Now there is a new kind of wicked hatred that has been brought in by different types of people.[101]

As Chancellor of Oxford Lord Stockton condemned the university's refusal in February 1985 to award Thatcher an honorary degree. He noted that the decision represented a break with tradition, and predicted that the snub would rebound on the university.[105]

Stockton is widely supposed to have likened Margaret Thatcher's policy of privatisation to 'selling the family silver'. His precise quote, at a dinner of the Tory Reform Group at the Royal Overseas League on 8 November 1985, was on the subject of the sale of assets commonplace among individuals or states when they encountered financial difficulties: 'First of all the Georgian silver goes. And then all that nice furniture that used to be in the salon. Then the Canalettos go.' Profitable parts of the steel industry and the railways had been privatised, along with British Telecom: 'They were like two Rembrandts still left.'[106]

Stockton's speech was much commented on and a few days later he made a speech in the House of Lords, referring to it:

When I ventured the other day to criticise the system I was, I am afraid, misunderstood. As a Conservative, I am naturally in favour of returning into private ownership and private management all those means of production and distribution which are now controlled by state capitalism. I am sure they will be more efficient. What I ventured to question was the using of these huge sums as if they were income.[107]

In the last month of his life, he mournfully observed:

Sixty-three years ago... the unemployment figure (in Stockton-on-Tees) was then 29%. Last November... the unemployment (there) is 28%. A rather sad end to one's life.

Death and funeral

The Macmillan family graves in 2000 at St.Giles Church, Horsted Keynes. Harold Macmillan's grave is on the right.

Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, died on 29 December 1986, at Birch Grove, the Macmillan family mansion on the edge of Ashdown Forest near Chelwood Gate in East Sussex. He was aged 92 years and 322 days—the greatest age attained by a British Prime Minister until surpassed by James Callaghan on 14 February 2005. His grandson and heir Alexander, Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden, said: 'In the last 48 hours he was very weak but entirely reasonable and intelligent. His last words were, "I think I will go to sleep now".'[108][109]

Margaret Thatcher, on receiving the news, hailed him as 'a very remarkable man and a very great patriot', and said that his dislike of 'selling the family silver' had never come between them. He was 'unique in the affection of the British people'.[110]

Tributes came from around the world. US President Ronald Reagan said: 'The American people share in the loss of a voice of wisdom and humanity who, with eloquence and gentle wit, brought to the problems of today the experience of a long life of public service.'[95] Outlawed African National Congress president Oliver Tambo sent his condolences: 'As South Africans we shall always remember him for his efforts to encourage the apartheid regime to bow to the winds of change that continue to blow in South Africa.'[95] Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal affirmed: 'His own leadership in providing from Britain a worthy response to African national consciousness shaped the post-war era and made the modern Commonwealth possible.'[95]

A private funeral was held on 5 January 1987 at St Giles Church, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, where Lord Stockton had regularly worshipped and read the lesson.[111] Two hundred mourners attended,[109] including 64 members of the Macmillan family, Thatcher and former premiers Lord Home of the Hirsel and Edward Heath, Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone,[108] and 'scores of country neighbours'.[111] The Prince of Wales sent a wreath 'in admiring memory'.[108] Stockton was buried beside his wife, Lady Dorothy, and next to the graves of his parents and of his son, Maurice Macmillan.[111]

The House of Commons paid its tribute on 12 January 1987, with much reference made to the dead statesman's book, The Middle Way.[112] Thatcher said: 'In his retirement Harold Macmillan occupied a unique place in the nation's affections', while Labour leader Neil Kinnock struck a more critical note:

Death and distance cannot lend sufficient enchantment to alter the view that the period over which he presided in the 1950s, whilst certainly and thankfully a period of rising affluence and confidence, was also a time of opportunities missed, of changes avoided. Harold Macmillan was, of course, not solely or even pre-eminently responsible for that. But we cannot but record with frustration the fact that the vigorous and perceptive attacker of the status quo in the 1930s became its emblem for a time in the late 1950s before returning to be its critic in the 1980s.[112]

A public memorial service, attended by the Queen and thousands of mourners, was held on 10 February 1987 in Westminster Abbey.[113]

Stockton's son Maurice had become heir to the earldom, but predeceased him suddenly a month after his father's elevation. The 1st Earl was succeeded instead by his grandson, Maurice's son, Alexander, Lord Macmillan, who became the 2nd Earl of Stockton.

Titles from birth to death

  • Harold Macmillan, Esq (10 February 1894 – 29 October 1924)
  • Harold Macmillan, Esq, MP (29 October 1924 – 30 May 1929)
  • Harold Macmillan, Esq (30 May 1929 – 4 November 1931)
  • Harold Macmillan, Esq, MP (4 November 1931–1942)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, MP (1942 – 26 July 1945)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan (26 July 1945 – November 1945)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, MP (November 1945 – 15 September 1964)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan (15 September 1964 – 2 April 1976)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, OM (2 April 1976 – 24 February 1984)
  • The Right Honourable The Earl of Stockton, OM, PC (24 February 1984 – 29 December 1986)


For a full list of Ministerial office-holders, see Conservative Government 1957-1964.

January 1957 – October 1959


  • March 1957 – Lord Home succeeds Lord Salisbury as Lord President, remaining also Commonwealth Relations Secretary.
  • September 1957 – Lord Hailsham succeeds Lord Home as Lord President, Home remaining Commonwealth Relations Secretary. Geoffrey Lloyd succeeds Hailsham as Minister of Education. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Reginald Maudling, enters the Cabinet.
  • January 1958 – Derick Heathcoat Amory succeeds Peter Thorneycroft as Chancellor of the Exchequer. John Hare succeeds Amory as Minister of Agriculture.

October 1959 – July 1960

July 1960 – October 1961

October 1961 – July 1962

July 1962 – October 1963

In a radical reshuffle dubbed "The Night of the Long Knives", Macmillan sacked a third of his Cabinet and instituted many other changes.

Dramatic and comedic portrayals

Beyond the Fringe (1960–1966)

During his premiership in the early 1960s Macmillan was savagely satirised for his alleged decrepitude by the comedian Peter Cook in the stage review Beyond the Fringe.[114] 'Even when insulted to his face attending the show,' a biographer notes, 'Macmillan felt it was better to be mocked than ignored.'[115] One of the sketches was later revived by Cook for television.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981)

Macmillan appears as a supporting character, played by Ian Collier, in the 1981 miniseries Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years produced by Southern Television for ITV.

A Letter of Resignation (1997–1998)

Set in 1963 during the Profumo scandal, Hugh Whitemore's play A Letter of Resignation, first staged at the Comedy Theatre in October 1997, dramatises the occasion when Harold Macmillan, staying with friends in Scotland, received a political bombshell, a letter of resignation from Profumo, his war minister.

Edward Fox portrayed Macmillan with uncanny accuracy. But the play also explores the involvement of MI5 and the troubled relationship between Macmillan and his wife Dorothy (Clare Higgins) who had made no secret of her adultery with the wayward Tory MP, Robert Boothby. The play was directed by Christopher Morahan.

Eden's Empire (2006)

Macmillan was played by Kevin Quarmby in Gemma Fairlie's production of James Graham's stage play Eden's Empire, at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 2006.

Never So Good (2008)

Never So Good is a four-act play by Howard Brenton, a portrait of Harold Macmillan set against a back-drop of fading Empire, two world wars, the Suez crisis, adultery and Tory politics at the Ritz.

Brenton paints the portrait of a brilliant, witty but complex man, tragically out of kilter with his times, an old Etonian who eventually loses his way in a world of shifting values.

The play was premiered at the National Theatre in March 2008, directed by Howard Davies with Jeremy Irons as Macmillan.

Additional reading


  • Theatre Record (1997 for Hugh Whitemore's A Letter of Resignation; 2008 for Howard Brenton's Never So Good)
  1. When Fisher resigned in 1961, Trushare.com, 17 March 1963, http://trushare.com/0122JLY05/JY05GAUST.htm, retrieved 31 January 2010 
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  5. OCR A Level History B: The End of Consensus: Britain 1945-90 by Pearson Education
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  45. Horne 2008, pp. 251–86.
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  50. Macmillan, Tides of Fortune, p. 364.
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  52. Fisher 1982, p. 143.
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  59. Horne 2008, p. 441.
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  75. Horne, Macmillan, Volume II, pp. 419.
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  79. John Hunt. 'Cabinet Papers For 1957: Windscale Fire Danger Disclosed', Financial Times (2 January 1988).
  80. David Walker, 'Focus on 1957: Macmillan ordered Windscale censorship', The Times (1 January 1988).
  81. Jean McSorley, 'Contaminated evidence: The secrecy and political cover-ups that followed the fire in a British nuclear reactor 50 years ago still resonate in public concerns', The Guardian (10 October 2007), p. 8.
  82. John Gray, 'Accident disclosures bring calls for review of U.K. secrecy laws', Globe and Mail (Toronto, 4 January 1988).
  83. Richard Gott, 'The Evolution of the Independent British Deterrent', International Affairs, 39/2 (April 1963), p. 246.
  84. Gott, 'Independent British Deterrent', p. 247.
  85. The Times (4 July US Navy).
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  88. General Election 2010 - A century of Daily Mirror front pages. mirror.co.uk. Retrieved on 7 June 2011.
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  91. George Wilkes, Britain's failure to enter the European community 1961-63: the enlargement negotiations and crises in European, Atlantic and Commonwealth relations (1997) p 63 online
  92. Lamb, Macmillan Years, pp. 164–65; Chapters 14 and 15.
  93. Anthony Bevins, 'How Supermac Was "Hounded Out of Office" by Band of 20 Opponents', The Observer (1 January 1995), p. 1.
  94. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/background/pastelec/ge64.shtml. 
  95. 95.0 95.1 95.2 95.3 Fletcher, Martin (31 December 1986), "' World pays tribute to Stockton / Death of former Conservative premier", The Times 
  96. 'The Wit and Wisdom Inside No 10', Daily Express (27 March 2008), p. 13.
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  98. Fisher 1982, p. 355.
  99. "1975: Tories choose first woman leader". BBC News. 11 February 1975. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/11/newsid_2539000/2539451.stm. 
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  104. Thatcher, Downing Street Years, p. 370.
  105. "Lord Stockton has condemned Oxford University's decision not to give Mrs Thatcher an honorary degree", The Guardian: 28., 4 February 1985 
  106. Alan Watkins, A Conservative Coup (London: Duckworth, 1992), p. 105.
  107. 468 H.L. Deb., cc.390–1, 14 November 1985. Quoted in Watkins, p. 106.
  108. 108.0 108.1 108.2 Foster, Howard (6 January 1987), "'I think I will go to sleep now.' Funeral of former premier Harold Macmillan", The Times: 23. 
  109. 109.0 109.1 "British leaders mourn Harold Macmillan", Toronto Star: A10., 6 January 1987 
  110. Fletcher, Martin (31 December 1986), "World pays tribute to Stockton. Death of former Conservative premier", The Times 
  111. 111.0 111.1 111.2 "Macmillan Funeral Held – Thatcher Attends Services", San Francisco Chronicle: 23., 6 January 1987 
  112. 112.0 112.1 Johnson, Frank (13 January 1987), "Tributes to the master of timing", The Times 
  113. Memorial service for Harold Macmillan, First Earl of Stockton, O.M., P.C.: Tuesday 10 February 1987 12, noon (London: Westminster Abbey, 1987).
  114. Horne, Macmillan, vol. II, p. 454.
  115. D R Thorpe, 'A Psychologically Interesting Prime Minister', Premiere of Never So Good (London: National Theatre, 2008).

Cited texts

  • Beckett, Francis (2006). Macmillan. London: Haus Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904-95066-0. 
  • Fisher, Nigel (1982). Harold Macmillan. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-77914-8. 
  • Horne, Alistair [1988] (2008). Macmillan: The Official Biography, Twentieth anniversary, London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-71083-2. 
  • Middleton, Roger [1996] (1997). Government Versus the Market: Growth of the Public Sector, Economic Management and British Economic Performance, 1890–1979, New, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-858-98371-4. 
  • Thorpe, D. R. (2010). Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan, Kindle, London: Chatto & Windus. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John Llewellin
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply
Succeeded by
The Viscount Portal
Preceded by
George Henry Hall
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Preceded by
Sir Archibald Sinclair
Secretary of State for Air
Succeeded by
The Viscount Stansgate
Preceded by
Hugh Dalton
as Minister of Local Government and Planning
Minister of Housing and Local Government
Succeeded by
Duncan Sandys
Preceded by
The Earl Alexander of Tunis
Minister of Defence
Succeeded by
Selwyn Lloyd
Preceded by
Sir Anthony Eden
Foreign Secretary
Preceded by
Rab Butler
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Peter Thorneycroft
Preceded by
Sir Anthony Eden
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
11 January 1957 – 19 October 1963
Succeeded by
The Earl of Home
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Strother Stewart
Member of Parliament for Stockton-on-Tees
Succeeded by
Frederick Fox Riley
Preceded by
Frederick Fox Riley
Member of Parliament for Stockton-on-Tees
Succeeded by
George Chetwynd
Preceded by
Sir Edward Campbell
Member of Parliament for Bromley
Succeeded by
John Hunt
Party political offices
Preceded by
Sir Anthony Eden
Leader of the British Conservative Party
Succeeded by
The Earl of Home
Diplomatic posts
New title Minister Resident in Northwest Africa
Succeeded by
Harold Balfour
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Halifax
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
Roy Jenkins
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Stockton
Succeeded by
Alexander Macmillan
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