Edward Wood, the fourth son of the 2nd Viscount Halifax, was born in Powderham Castle, Devon, on 16th April, 1881. He was born with an atrophied left arm that had no hand and his three elder brothers died before he reached the age of nine, leaving him the heir to the title and great estates in Yorkshire.
Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, he taught at All Souls before being elected to the House of Commons to represent Ripon in 1910. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the cabinet as president of the Board of Education (1922-24) and Minister of Agriculture (1924-25). In 1925 he was appointed Viceroy of India, a position he held for six years.
When Ramsay MacDonald, the former leader of the Labour Party, formed his National Government in 1931 he appointed Wood as his president of the Board of Education. Wood had to give up his parliamentary seat in 1934 when he succeeded his father as the 3rd Viscount Halifax.
When Stanley Baldwin replaced Ramsay MacDonald as prime minister in 1935 he appointed Lord Halifax as his war secretary and as leader of the House of Lords. In 1936 Halifax visited Nazi Germany for the first time. Halifax's friend, Henry (Chips) Channon, reported: "He told me he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic."
In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain, who had replaced Stanley Baldwin as prime minister, sent Lord Halifax to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in Germany. In his diary, Lord Halifax records how he told Hitler: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country." This was a reference to the fact that Hitler had banned the Communist Party (KPD) in Germany and placed its leaders in Concentration Camps.
Whereas Lord Halifax supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy, the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, was highly critical of this way of dealing with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. On 25th February, 1938 Eden resigned over this issue and Lord Halifax became the new foreign secretary.
Soon after Lord Halifax's appointment, Adolf Hitler invited Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, to meet him at Berchtesgarden. Hitler demanded concessions for the Austrian Nazi Party. Schuschnigg refused and after resigning was replaced by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the leader of the Austrian Nazi Party. On 13th March, Seyss-Inquart invited the German Army to occupy Austria and proclaimed union with Germany.
The union of Germany and Austria (Anschluss) had been specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Some members of the House of Commons, including Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill, now called on Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain to take action against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.
International tension increased when Adolf Hitler began demanding that the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia should be under the control of the German government. In an attempt to to solve the crisis, Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain and the heads of the governments of Germany, France and Italy met in Munich in September, 1938.
On 29th September, 1938, Neville Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred to Germany the Sudetenland, a fortified frontier region that contained a large German-speaking population.
When Eduard Benes, Czechoslovakia's head of state, who had not been invited to Munich, protested at this decision, Neville Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.
The Munich Agreement was popular with most people in Britain because it appeared to have prevented a war with Germany. However, some politicians, including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, attacked the agreement. These critics pointed out that no only had the British government behaved dishonorably, but it had lost the support of Czech Army, one of the best in Europe.
In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action, Adolf Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement. Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, now realized that Hitler could not be trusted and their appeasement policy now came to an end.
After the outbreak of the Second World War Lord Halifax remained as the country's foreign secretary. When Neville Chamberlain resigned in May, 1940, the new premier, Winston Churchill kept Lord Halifax as foreign secretary in order to give the impression that the British government was united against Adolf Hitler.
In December, 1940, Lord Halifax was replaced as foreign secretary by his long-term opponent, Anthony Eden. Halifax now became British ambassador to the United States.
Lord Halifax was the British delegate to the San Francisco Conference in March 1945, and attended the first session of the United Nations in 1945. He resigned as ambassador to the United States in May, 1946.
In his retirement Lord Halifax wrote his memoirs, Fulness of Days (1957) where he attempted to defend the policy of appeasement. Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, died at Garroby Hall, near York, on 23rd December, 1959.