What happened in the Falklands," Lord Carrington observed grimly a year after he resigned as Britain's foreign secretary, "has been a great national humiliation."

Carrington had to go, he said months later, to stem the British public's fury in those early April days about Argentina's invasion of the distant colony.

"The governor of a British territory had been forcibly removed," he told the House of Lords in his first and only speech on the issue, "an alien flag had been raised over an occupied population. The wide sense of outrage and impotence was understandable, and I was at the head of the Foreign Office. It did not seem to me a time for self-justification and certainly not to cling to office.

"I think that the country is more important than oneself."

Events in the aftermath of the invasion have enabled the sixth Baron Carrington to voice such magnanimous sentiments. Britain, of course, reclaimed the Falklands. Then in January an official inquiry concluded that Carrington could not reasonably be blamed for the Argentine action.

Victory and vindication combined to permit restoration of Carrington's reputation as one of Britain's best foreign secretaries in this century.

Now, as the country marks the anniversary of the crisis, it is generally acknowledged that any list of minuses for Britain in the Falklands affair--the loss of lives, the high cost of maintaining a substantial garrison there, the strain on ties with Latin America--also must include the departure of Carrington from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

His friends tend to be effusive. "What vanished from the Cabinet," said a senior western diplomat, "was an outward-looking mind that had a sense of Britain's destiny in the 1980s. The approach in foreign policy has become more 'little England,' more chauvinistic, less imaginative. Carrington had the gift of wit, elegance and style combined with intuitive intellectual strength."

Even more acerbic analysts praise his skills. "An urbane, decisive man," wrote Simon Jenkins, political editor of The Economist, "Lord Carrington proved adept as departmental head and as tutor to the prime minister . . . . By early 1982 he had bludgeoned her into recognizing that the Foreign Office was at least a necessary evil of British government. He had come, as a reluctant admirer, to the same view about her."

Exploiting talent, tact and timing, Carrington in his three years in office achieved a solid record of accomplishments. He presided over the conference that led to the transformation of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, a goal that had eluded Britain for more than a decade. He was instrumental in shaping the European Community's innovative position in favor of Palestinian self-determination and made a determined, if unsuccessful, effort to wheedle the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Overall, Carrington fashioned an international profile for Britain making the most of its traditional strengths in diplomacy without displaying illusions about its reduced stature in a post-imperial world. That he and the two deputy ministers who resigned with him did not fully foresee the dangers in Argentina's insistent claim to the Falklands was a responsibility they shared with British governments for a generation.

Yet Carrington acknowledges that in significant respects he was an anachronism, and that, in hindsight, probably contributed to his downfall. As an aristocrat, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords, he was outside the relative rough-and-tumble of British electoral politics.

There was no real prospect of his ever challenging Thatcher for party leadership. Not being a threat, he had the leeway for working with her that was instrumental to his success.

Without a voice of his own in the House of Commons, the important parliamentary arena, he could play no role in explaining, let alone defending, the government once the invasion took place--a weakness that he felt acutely. Carrington now tells visitors that he was almost certainly the last member of the Lords to serve in so sensitive a post as foreign minister.

Carrington portrays his decision to leave as exclusively a matter of honor, but others say he was profoundly shaken by the savagery of attacks on him in the heated weekend that followed Argentina's invasion April 2, 1982. He resigned April 5.

In his mostly restrained House of Lords speech earlier this year, he said that "the press was baying for blood." Politicians, even in his party, pounced on him in their indignation.

During 30 years of public service, which included several Cabinet posts, Carrington had not been subjected to that sort of abuse, and, as Jenkins put it, he "undoubtedly had a thinner skin" than those who had to run for office.

Thatcher, according to all accounts, tried to persuade Carrington to reconsider, but once he was gone she had neither time nor inclination to brood over the consequences.

Carrington, however, was deeply downcast in the weeks that followed his resignation, friends recall. As Britain and Argentina went to war, he spent most of his time at the family's 300-year-old manor house in Buckinghamshire. He refused to discuss the Falklands in public and resigned from the Carlton Club, one of the venerable meeting grounds for the Conservative establishment.

Gradually his spirits improved, and he accepted the position of chairman of Britain's General Electric Co., one of the country's largest businesses. He also joined Kissinger Associates, the high-priced consultancy organized by former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger. At 63, he seems to have plunged headlong into yet another blue-chip career. While there is apparently no question of his returning to the government, Thatcher is known to seek his advice.

Carrington's cachet has not been transferred to his successor as foreign secretary, Francis Pym. As he closes out a year, Pym is widely regarded as a serious-minded and capable administrator, but his relations with Thatcher have been uneasy.

He is identified with a more moderate wing of the party on domestic economic and social policy and considered a possible prime minister, should Thatcher falter. Moreover, her instinctive suspicion that the Foreign Office is not inclined to be tough enough in representing British interests is said to have resurfaced.

Pym seems to have little of the influence that Carrington attained in shaping initiatives for Britain to pursue on difficult foreign policy problems. Thatcher has adopted the concept of "Fortress Falklands" and is unyielding in her resolve that no negotiations with Argentina about the Falklands are possible.

Carrington does not speak openly about his own views on what should happen to the islands or to British policy elsewhere. While endorsing Thatcher's position in his House of Lords speech, he managed also to lament its necessity and seemed to be warning against the dangers of excessive nationalism.

The Falklands situation was bad, he said, "because we have gotten ourselves--through no fault of our own--into the position which successive governments have sought to avoid. We are committed . . . to spending large sums of money and to accepting a distortion of our defense policy."

This commitment, he went on, should not lead Britain to "retreat into our island home believing that we can, as a result of the Falklands, ignore the rest of the world. We should not be tempted into believing that we in this country are not part of Europe and the western world with an obligation and a duty in settling the many problems on the international scene . . . .

"There is much to do, and our aim should be to continue to resolve differences by genuine negotiation."