Scope and Contents
The papers include: political correspondence relating to Soames's ministerial career and with his Conservative colleagues; papers from his diplomatic postings in Paris, Brussels and Rhodesia; articles and speeches; photographs; appointment diaries; personal correspondence with friends; recordings and transcripts of interviews with CS which were to be used in his memoirs, which were never completed; some papers on his personal interests, including horseracing; some videos, particularly relating to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
- 1921 - 2006
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.
Conditions Governing Use
Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.
Biographical / Historical
Arthur Christopher John Soames, preferred name Christopher, was born on 12 October 1920 and died on 16 September 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.
In 1947 Christopher Soames married Mary Churchill, Sir Winston and Lady Spencer Churchill's youngest daughter. They had five children. After the war, during which he served in the Middle East, Italy and France, Soames became Assistant Military Attaché at the British Embassy, Paris, 1946-47, before going into politics. He served as MP for Bedford from 1950-66, during which time he acted as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill, 1952-55. He held two further posts (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Air Ministry, Dec. 1955-Jan 1957, then Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, Admiralty, 1957-58) 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 British 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. 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. 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."
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.
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. 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 Southern Rhodesia with the brief of negotiating independence within the Commonwealth. For their work in Rhodesia [later 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 Soames's 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."
109 archive box(es)
Language of Materials
Although the Soames papers were originally 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 were therefore not particularly informative and a full paper arrangement was undertaken in 1996. 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 was considerable overlap between the sections and in many cases papers were assigned to more than one section. The sections were also sub-divided. Each section was given a short preamble explaining the content and arrangement of the section.
Following the deposit of a large amount of further papers after Lady Soames's death, in 2018 this arrangement was expanded into twelve series to accommodate the new material, as the four groups originally used were no longer sufficient. New series for official and personal correspondence, diaries, photographs, cuttings, honours, memoirs, personal papers and audio visual were added. The four original groupings for Government papers, Diplomatic papers and Soames’s speeches and publications were left broadly as they were (though with numerous additions), but their numbering had to be completely changed, partly because of the new series, but also because multiple boxes of similar material had previously been given the same reference number.
Other Finding Aids
A copy of the catalogue to the Soames papers is available for consultation in the reading room at Churchill Archives Centre.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The first half of Lord Soames's papers were deposited with the Churchill Archive Centre in 1988 at the request of Lady Soames. Following Lady Soames's death the second half of the archive followed between 2014 and 2018.
The first half of the collection was catalogued by Averil Condren at Churchill Archives Centre in 1996, and then recatalogued by Katharine Thomson in 2018, with the other half of the archive, using information from the catalogue.
Soames, Arthur Christopher John, 1920-1987, Baron Soames of Fletching, politician
- 2004-07-06 11:35:55+00:00
- Language of description
- Script of description