Duff Cooper

The Right Honourable
The Viscount Norwich

Duff Cooper in 1941
Secretary of State for War
In office
22 November 1935  28 May 1937
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
Preceded by The Viscount Halifax
Succeeded by Leslie Hore-Belisha
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
20 July 1941  11 November 1943
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by The Lord Hankey
Succeeded by Ernest Brown
British Ambassador to France
In office
Monarch George VI
Preceded by Vacant due to German occupation
Succeeded by Oliver Harvey
Personal details
Born (1890-02-22)22 February 1890
Died 1 January 1954(1954-01-01) (aged 63)
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Lady Diana Manners
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Military service
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank Lieutenant
Unit Grenadier Guards

First World War

Awards Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches

Alfred Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich, GCMG, DSO, PC (22 February 1890 – 1 January 1954), known as Duff Cooper, was a British Conservative Party politician, diplomat and author. in the intense political debates of the late 1930s over appeasement, he first put his trust in the League of Nations, and realized that war with Germany was inevitable. He denounced the Munich agreement of 1938 as meaningless, cowardly, and unworkable, as he resigned from the cabinet. When Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he named Cooper, Minister of Information. From 1941 he served in numerous minor diplomatic roles. His most important role was representative to de Gaulle's Free France (1943-44) and ambassador to France from 1944-48.

Background and education

The only son of fashionable society doctor Sir Alfred Cooper and Lady Agnes Duff, daughter of James Duff, 5th Earl Fife, Duff Cooper was the youngest of their four children. He had royal connections: his maternal uncle, the first Duke of Fife, was married to Louise, Princess Royal. Cooper enjoyed a typical gentleman's upbringing of country estates, London society, Wixenford School,[1] Eton College and New College, Oxford.

Duff Cooper at his wedding to Lady Diana Manners in 1919

Early life and marriage

At Oxford, his Eton friendship with John Nevile Manners won him entry into a famous circle of young aristocrats and intellectuals known as the Coterie, including Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Raymond Asquith, Sir Denis Anson, Edward Horner and the celebrated Lady Diana Manners. He cultivated a reputation for eloquence and fast living and although he had established a reputation as a poet, he earned an even stronger reputation for gambling, womanizing, and drinking in his studied emulation of the life of the 18th and 19th century Whig statesman Charles James Fox.

Following Oxford, he entered the Foreign Service and, owing to the national importance of his work at the cipher desk, he was excluded from military service until 1917, when he joined the Grenadier Guards.[2] He served with distinction as a lieutenant in the campaigns of 1918, winning a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for conspicuous gallantry. Almost all of his closest friends, including Shaw-Stewart, Horner, Asquith and John Manners were killed in the war, drawing him closer to Lady Diana Manners, an extremely popular social figure hailed for her beauty and eccentricities. They married in 1919. His service in the First World War was highlighted by the ITV programme The Great War: The People's Story, where his correspondence with Diana Cooper was one of those selected to be dramatised.

The Coopers' marriage was fraught with infidelities, notably Duff's affairs with the Franco-American Singer sewing-machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, the socialite Gloria Guinness, the French novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin and the writer Susan Mary Alsop (then an American diplomat's wife, by whom he had an illegitimate son, William Patten Jr.).[3][4] The polo player 'Boy' Capel's wife Diana and the Anglo-Irish socialite and fashion model Maxime de la Falaise were two more, although Lady Diana reportedly did not mind, explaining to their son that "They were the flowers, but I was the tree."[5]

Political career

Returning to the Foreign Service, he became principal private secretary to two ministers and played a significant role in the Egyptian and Turkish crises in the early 1920s, before winning a seat in Parliament as a Conservative for Oldham in 1924. He gave one of the most acclaimed maiden speeches of the era and became a stalwart supporter of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and a friend of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. Cooper became Financial Secretary to the War Office in January, 1928, before losing his seat in the 1929 election when the Conservative Party lost power.

Turning to literature, he produced Talleyrand (1932), a short biography that was published by his nephew Rupert Hart-Davis to critical praise and lasting success.[6] The 1931 by-election for the constituency of Westminster St. George's saw the Empire Free Trade Crusade party threatening the Conservative position at a time when satisfaction with Baldwin's leadership was at a low. When the original Conservative candidate stepped down, Duff Cooper agreed to contest the election in what was regarded as a referendum on Baldwin's leadership. He won the seat with a majority of 5,710, thus returning to Parliament and serving until 1945.[7]

Cooper returned to ministerial office as Financial Secretary to the War Office in 1931, then as Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1934, he was elevated to the Cabinet as War Secretary in 1935, and promoted to First Lord of the Admiralty in 1937. He completed a biography of the British military commander Douglas Haig during this period.

Opponent of appeasement

Further information: Appeasement

Cooper was the most public critic of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy inside the Cabinet. He resigned the day after the 1938 Munich Agreement made with Adolf Hitler. On doing so he said, "War with honour or peace with dishonour," he might have been persuaded to accept, "but war with dishonour—that was too much." [8] Fellow appeasement-critic and Conservative Party MP Vyvyan Adams described Cooper's actions as "the first step in the road back to national sanity." Cooper later took a prominent role in the famous Norway Debate of 1940, which led to Chamberlain's downfall.

By now Cooper appeared in German propaganda as one of Britain's three most dangerous Conservative warmongers.[9] He entered the Cabinet as Minister of Information under Winston Churchill, but after a controversial appointment as Resident Cabinet Minister in Singapore in 1941, he did not play a major role in the direction of the war until appointed the British Government's liaison to the Free French in 1943. He subsequently became the British ambassador to France in 1944, and was a great success in Paris. Cooper was in the words of the British historian P.H Bell such a "devoted Francophile" that during his time as ambassador to Paris that he often tried the patience of the Foreign Office by going well beyond his instructions to maintain good relations with France by trying to create an Anglo-French alliance that would dominate post-war Europe.[10] Despite being a Conservative, Cooper was not replaced as Ambassador when Labour won the 1945 election as Ernest Bevin, the new Foreign Secretary valued an ambassador who was close friends with so many French politicians and even managed to have a friendship of sorts with the famously Anglophobic Charles de Gaulle.[11]

In January 1947, Cooper acting without orders began the process that led to the Treaty of Dunkirk when he suggested to the French Premier Leon Blum that there should an Anglo-French military alliance, an idea Blum took up thinking this was an offer from London.[12] He left office in 1947, was appointed to the Order of St Michael and St George as a Knight Grand Cross in 1948,[13] and devoted himself primarily to literature until his death in 1954, at the age of 63. He produced during this period the classic autobiography Old Men Forget and was eventually created Viscount Norwich, of Aldwick in the County of Sussex, in 1952, in recognition of his political and literary career.[14] His wife refused to be called Lady Norwich, claiming that it sounded too much like "porridge" and promptly took out a newspaper advertisement declaring that she would retain her previous style of Lady Diana Cooper.


Duff Cooper's only legitimate child, John Julius Norwich (born 1929), became well known as a writer and television host and has published a collection of his father's diaries, The Duff Cooper Diaries: 1915–1951.[15] His granddaughter Artemis Cooper has published several books, including A Durable Fire: The Letters of Duff and Diana Cooper, 1913–50. Another granddaughter is screenwriter Allegra Huston, the only child of Norwich and Enrica Soma Huston, estranged wife of the American film director John Huston. Duff Cooper's niece Enid Levita (daughter of his sister Stephanie), is the paternal grandmother of the Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who served as Prime Minister from 2010-2016. Duff Cooper was the subject of a biography by John Charmley and a British literary award, the Duff Cooper Prize, was established in his name.[16]

Cooper wrote six books, including an autobiography, Old Men Forget, and a biography of the French diplomat Talleyrand. He wrote one novel, Operation Heartbreak (1950), which has been republished by Persephone Books.

H. G. Wells, in The Shape of Things to Come, published in 1934, predicted a Second World War in which Britain would not participate but would vainly try to effect a peaceful compromise. In this vision, Duff Cooper was mentioned as one of several prominent Britons delivering "brilliant pacific speeches" which "echo throughout Europe" but fail to end the war; the other would-be peacemakers, in Wells' vision, included Leslie Hore Belisha, Ellen Wilkinson and Randolph Churchill.[17]

Styles of address




  1. Cooper, Duff. Old Men Forget (1953), p. 31
  2. Cooper, Duff. The Papers of Alfred Duff Cooper (1st Viscount Norwich). Cambridge University Press.
  3. Vanity Fair (February 2006)
  4. Sheppard, Ben; Alderson, Andrew (8 January 2006). "Revealed: Duff Cooper's secret second son". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  5. "John Julius Norwich:'Deep down, I'm shallow. I really am'". The Daily Telegraph. 4 June 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  6. Cooper, 2001 (1932).
  7. Peele, Gillian "St George's and the Empire Crusade" in Cook, Chris and Ramsden, John (eds/) By-elections in British politics. UCL Press, 1997
  8. Norwich, John Julius (2011). A History of England in 100 places. London: John Murray. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-84854-606-6.
  9. Stenton, Michael (2000). Radio London and Resistance in Occupied Europe: British Political Warfare 1939–1943. Oxford University Press. pp. 9–10. ISBN 0-19-820843-X.
  10. Bell, P.H France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation London: Routledge, 2014 page 72.
  11. Bell, P.H France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation London: Routledge, 2014 page 72.
  12. Bell, P.H France and Britain, 1940-1994: The Long Separation London: Routledge, 2014 page 74.
  13. "Page 1600". The Peerage. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  14. "Whitehall, July 8, 1952". London Gazette. London. 8 July 1952. p. 3699.
  15. Norwich, 2005.
  16. Charmley, 1997 (1986).
  17. Wells, H. G. "9. The Last War Cyclone, 1940–50" in The Shape of Things to Come (1934)


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William John Tout
Edward Grigg
Member of Parliament for Oldham
With: William Wiggins
Succeeded by
James Wilson
Gordon Lang
Preceded by
Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, Bt
Member of Parliament for Westminster St George's
Succeeded by
Arthur Jared Palmer Howard
Political offices
Preceded by
Douglas King
Financial Secretary to the War Office
Succeeded by
Manny Shinwell
Preceded by
William Sanders
Financial Secretary to the War Office
Succeeded by
Douglas Hacking
Preceded by
Leslie Hore-Belisha
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
William Morrison
Preceded by
The Viscount Halifax
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
Leslie Hore-Belisha
Preceded by
Sir Samuel Hoare
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl Stanhope
Preceded by
Sir John Reith
Minister of Information
Succeeded by
Brendan Bracken
Preceded by
The Lord Hankey
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Ernest Brown
Diplomatic posts
German occupation of France during World War II.
Title last held by
Ronald Campbell
British Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Oliver Harvey
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Norwich
Succeeded by
John Julius Cooper
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