Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, was a church-going, fox-hunting aristocrat, but it was his political guile that earned him Churchill’s nickname ‘The Holy Fox’. As Viceroy of India, his deal with Mahatma Gandhi ended the Civil Disobedience campaign before it could force the British to quit the sub-continent. His meeting in 1937 was a milestone in appeasement, yet just days before Munich, Halifax – by then Neville Chamberlain’s foreign secretary – repudiated the policy and demanded ‘the destruction of Nazism’. By the time Hitler unleashed Blitzkrieg on the West in May 1940 it was Halifax, not Winston Churchill, who was many people’s first choice for Prime Minister.

This was the first biography of Lord Halifax for over 25 years and the only one to make use of the official papers that were made available under the 30- and 50-year rules. I was granted access to many remarkable documents hitherto closed to historians, including a note regarding peace negotiations with Germany that Winston Churchill passed to Halifax in Cabinet in May 1940. My interpretation of Halifax’s life and political contribution was at variance with the popular opinion of this enigmatic, influential and much-maligned politician, but mine is, I believe, the view that has now won general acceptance.