The Guardsmen

Harold Macmillan,
Three Friends and the World they Made

Simon Ball

From the playing fields of Eton via the horrors of the Western Front to the pinnacle of political power in 20th-century Britain – a brilliant collective biography of Harold Macmillan, Lord Salisbury, Oliver Lyttleton and Harry Crookshank.   They all arrived at Eton in 1906, all served on the Western Front in the same battalion of the Grenadier Guards and all served in Cabinet under Winston Churchill during World War II. They helped Churchill regain Downing Street in 1951 and once more joined his Cabinet as senior figures. These four men who were lifelong friends (and sometimes enemies), argued and fought their way up the political ladder for over forty years.

The theme of Simon Ball’s brilliant book is a race, willingly entered into by these four men, for power and glory. ‘Politics is not a flat race, it’s a steeplechase,’ as Churchill once told Macmillan. And through the collective biography, Ball presents an extraordinary portrait of political ambition and intrigue from World War II until Macmillan’s resignation as Prime Minister in 1963, tracing the lives of his four protagonists through the trauma of the trenches, the Treaty of Versailles and the rebuilding of Europe after the Great War. Ball has based the book on years of original research in many archives and has had exclusive access to the Salisbury papers, closed to the public until 2022.   The Guardsmen is a work of significant scholarship that presents a gripping account of British politics in the 20th-century.

First published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2004.


‘I read every page, every line of this very long book with sustained interest and pleasure…It is a magnificent achievement…A product of superb scholarship and profound insight and written in a style both incisive and flowing, this is a book for every taste and for the politically minded of every age group. I cannot recommend it too highly.’
Peregrine Worsthorne, Spectator

‘“The Guardsmen” is a magnificent achievement. By following the careers of four friends and competitors through Eton, Oxford, the Guards, and into politics, it explores British political and social history in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. It is a work of consummate scholarship, lightly borne, but above all rendered in a prose that is consistently deft and readable. Simon Ball is a historian at the height of his powers.’
Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford

‘Through skilfull stitching of threads from personal and official papers, Ball has woven a superb panoramic tapestry of 20th-century Conservative politics…Compelling.’
Sunday Times

“The Guardsmen” is an accomplished work. Simon Ball has command of his subject matter and demonstrates an assured touch with primary material that has not appeared in previous biographies and memoirs.’
Literary Review

‘“The Guardsmen” is good reading because political warfare is at its centre, and Ball skillfully evokes that inter-war world…A stylish book.’
Daily Telegraph

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