Arthur Christopher John Soames, preferred name Christopher, was born in 1920 and died in 1987. He once commented that he had been born in the aftermath of one World war and lived through a second while his son had never heard a shot fired in anger. This, he explained, was why he was a fervent Europeanist. He was physically a large man; his maiden speech to the House of Lords puns on the fact (the bigger they are the harder they fall), which was to prove a dreadful irony. He appears to have been genuinely popular with his colleagues in both The Lords and 'another place' and to have been held in affection by members on both sides of the House. Fenner Brockway, a committed republican, congratulated Lord Soames on his 60th birthday saying that many who opposed him politically were not so disposed in personal terms. (SOAM/53:3)
In 1947 Christopher Soames married Mary Churchill, Sir Winston and Lady Spencer Churchill's youngest daughter. They had five children. After a career in the Army Lord Soames went into politics. He served as MP for Bedford from 1950-66 during which time he acted as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill and held two further posts before becoming a Minister, first as Secretary of State for War 1958-60 and then as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1960-64.
In 1968 Lord Soames was appointed HM Ambassador to France, with an unwritten brief to mend relations with France and prepare for Britain's entry into the EEC. He was described by one official as undoubtedly the most successful Ambassador of the 20th century. Lord Soames had already had one tour of diplomatic duty in Paris, having served as Assistant Military Attaché 1946-7. Many of the press reports of his appointment as Ambassador make humorous comments on the fact that he was taller than De Gaulle. Viscount Monck sent him a punning poem on the fact (SOAM/28C). Another official, summing up his tenure, wrote: "He has been the Great Pachyderm, winning support and affection everywhere with tremendous trumpetings, brushing aside opposition with a genial sweep of the trunk and occasionally a savage prod from the tusk." (SOAM/49:8)
After Paris Lord Soames served for five years as Vice-President of the Commission of the European Communities with special responsibility for External Relations. Again his capacity for making personal friends of those with whom he did not necessarily see completely eye to eye politically ensured that he was held in great affection and respect by his colleagues. (SOAM/52:2)
After ten years as a diplomat Lord Soames re-entered politics, becoming, after his elevation to the Lords, the Leader of that House and Lord President of the Council. His ministerial career came to an end in 1981 after what one contemporary commentator described as " a row you could hear all over Downing Street". His loss was greatly regretted by many. (SOAM/20). However Lord Soames remained active in the Lords and frequently spoke in debate.
It was during his term of Service as Lord President that Lord Soames also accepted the difficult task of becoming the last Governor of Rhodesia with the brief of negotiating independence within the Commonwealth. For their work in Zimbabwe both Lord and Lady Soames were honoured; Lord Soames received a Companion of Honour while Lady Soames received a DBE.
Lord Soames made many speeches and published a number of articles and pamphlets. Two quotations from these may be said to sum up his political and diplomatic beliefs as expressed in his career:
From the Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture: On Being European : University of Berne 1975: European unity " represents the triumph of the concept of government and of the state as the servant rather than the master of free men, which is morally superior to that concept which is embodied in the classical doctrine of sovereignty." From his address to the Conservative Political Centre : Europe and the Wider World : 1980 "And if politics is the art of the possible, the art of the statesman must be to make possible that which is necessary."
Educated: Eton & Royal Military College, Sandhurst.
1939-45 War service in the Middle East, Italy & France.
1939 2nd Lieutenant Coldstream Guards
1942 Croix de Guerre
1946-47 Assistant Military Attaché, Paris.
1947 Married Mary Churchill.
1950-66 MP for Bedford.
1952-55 Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (WSC).
1955 Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
1955-57 Parliamentary Under Secretary Air Ministry.
1957-58 Parliamentary & Financial Secretary to the Admiralty
1958 Privy Counsellor
1958-60 Secretary of State for War.
1960-64 Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
1968-72 HM Ambassador to France.
1972 GCVO (Knight of the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order); GCMG (Knight of the Grand Gross of the Order of St Michael & St George); Grand Officer de la Legion d'Honneur; Medal of Honour - City of Paris.
1973 President of the Royal Agricultural Society (England)
1973-77 Vice-President of the Commission of the European Communities with special responsibility for External Relations.
1974 Hon LLD University of St Andrews; Cross of St Olav (Norway).
1976 Winner of the Robert Schuman Prize.
1977-79 Director: Rothschild & Sons
1978-79 Director: National Westminster Bank.
1979 - created Baron Soames of Fletching.
1979-81 Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House.
1979-80 Governor of Rhodesia
1980 Companion of Honour
1981 Hon DCL University of Oxford
1981-83 Active member of the House of Lords.
1984-7 Chairman ICL (UK).
"Europe & the Wider World" (Conservative Political Centre, LONDON, 1980).
"Three Views of Europe" (Conservative Political Centre, LONDON, 1973).
"From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe" (Royal Institute of International Affairs. LONDON, 1980).
"L'Europe, L'Amerique et leurs responsabilites internationales in Politique etrangere" (Institute Francais des Relations Internationales, PARIS, 1982).
"Europe, America and their International Responsibilities and Opportunities". Paper presented to the European Business Forum: Finance Investment & Trade. Rome 10 & 11 December 1981.
"Whitehall into Europe". Lecture given to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Royal Institute of Public Administration 1972. Reprint from the journal Public Administration
Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture 31/1/1975 University of Berne. "On Being European".
The papers held at Churchill Archives Centre consist chiefly of records dating from after Lord Soames' appointment as Ambassador to France in 1968. The exceptions are some correspondence from the 50s and early 60s and some personal papers.
The collection includes:
Personal Papers (Family & Personal; Sport; Honours; Photographs; Correspondence; and Mostly Business)
Official Papers - Government
Official Papers - Diplomatic (Paris; Brussels; Rhodesia; and Misc)
Official Papers - Speeches & Publications
Lord Soames' papers were deposited with the Churchill Archive Centre in 1988 at the request of Lady Soames.
Although the Soames papers were processed in groups identified from the original boxlist some proved on further detailed examination to have been rather loosely described. In particular the records listed as 'itineraries' were found to contain also correspondence and papers of a sensitive nature relating to trade and diplomatic negotiations. The processing numbers are therefore not particularly informative and a full paper arrangement was undertaken. However the original structure of individual files was in most cases retained as the papers had clearly been carefully organised within the original overall filing structure. The records were placed in four main groups : Personal; Official - Government; Official - Diplomatic and Official - Speeches and Publications. There is considerable overlap between the sections and in many cases papers have been assigned to more than one section. The sections are also sub-divided. Each section has a short preamble explaining the content and arrangement of the section.