A wealthy wine merchant, he joined the National Socialist party in 1932 and soon met and impressed Adolf Hitler with his knowledge of foreign affairs. He became Hitler's favourite foreign policy advisor and was a great admirer and slavish follower of Hitler. He was Minister Plenipotentiary at Large (1935 - 1936) and negotiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement in 1935 and the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, in August 1936 he was appointed Ambassador to Great Britain. In 1938 he succeeded Konstantin von Neurath as Foreign Minister in Hitler's government. He played a role in the German occupation of Czechoslovakia (1938), in the conclusion of the Russo-German nonaggression pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, and in the diplomatic action surrounding the attack on Poland. He was aware of the subsequent attacks that took place and had a part in the deportation of Jews to the 'East'. At the end of the war he was dismissed by Admiral Karl Doenitz but he was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials and was found guilty and hanged.