Study Guide

Lord Halifax in Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat

By Winston Churchill

Lord Halifax

Despite the fact that he sounds like a Disney villain, or possibly the love interest in a Jane Austen novel, Lord Halifax isn't nearly as famous as his political contemporaries. But since Halifax was Britain's foreign secretary starting in 1938, he played a role Great Britain's entry into WWII, which is pretty much why we've all gathered here today.

Also, he once met Adolf Hitler and almost mistook him for a servant (source). Come on, that's a pretty good anecdote. We're sure Hitler had some chuckles about it.

Holy Fox to Halifax

Like Winston Churchill, Edward Lindley Wood (no, his real first name wasn't "Lord") was born into an established aristocratic family. His father was the second Viscount Halifax. If you're wondering what a viscount is, you can read about the British peerage system here.

Halifax was born with an atrophied left arm with a nonexistent hand. He was pretty good at hiding it from the camera. He still managed to serve in the army during World War I. The guy was determined.

He was known as "the Holy Fox," because he was very religious (Anglican) and loved hunting (source). We have to admit it's kinda catchy.

Halifax became a Member of Parliament in 1910 for the Conservative Party. In 1925, after the war, he became the viceroy of India, which was still firmly a British colony. However, it was a time when nationalist sentiment in India was starting to ramp up. As a deeply religious man, Halifax empathized with the Indians and some guy named Gandhi, and helped accelerate the process of India getting its independence from Britain (source).

Why Can't We all Just Get Along?

In 1934 Halifax took on his father's title of Viscount, and from there, he had a series of important-sounding titles within the British government, such as "lord president of the council." Some of his jobs had taken him to continental Europe to meet with people like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

In his role in Parliament, up to and including when he was foreign secretary, Halifax tried to prevent war. He used his trips to Europe to try and convince Hitler to, you know, not invade places like Czechoslovakia. Clearly that didn't work so well, and he was sidelined by Chamberlain as the war began. But that didn't stop Chamberlain from putting Halifax's name forward as his replacement when he resigned.

Halifax turned down the PM job, as tempting as it must have been to take leadership of a country without many military resources that's just gotten pulled into a major world war against a well-equipped evil empire.

His reasons, though, were much more politically noble.

He said he shouldn't be prime minister because he was a member of the House of Lords (the aristocrats), and had consistently sided with Chamberlain, whose reputation had suffered immensely when his appeasement strategy had crashed and burned. Halifax thought a prime minister from the House of Commons (elected by the voting population) would be more acceptable to the people.

Halifax thought Winston Churchill was a better man for the job given the circumstances.

Lord of the Complex International Diplomacy

Lord Halifax got a pretty sweet gig as ambassador to the U.S. in 1940 after Chamberlain resigned. He also attended the first session of the United Nations in 1945 as a representative for Great Britain. Soon after that he retired, after decades in government, and did some writing before his death.

Like Chamberlain, Halifax played a role in the way that Britain tried to deal with the Nazis leading up to Churchill's "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech. Like Chamberlain, Halifax's failures made the speech necessary by failing to prevent the outbreak of war.

Halifax and Chamberlain represented a much larger group of people and politicians who wanted to do everything possible to avoid war. Halifax made more of an effort than some—he went hunting with Nazis at Berchtesgaden.

That's gotta earn him some street cred.

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