Death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher

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Death and funeral of
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher.png
  • 8 April 2013 (death)
  • 17 April 2013 (funeral)
Location London, England

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, died of a stroke in London on 8 April 2013 at the age of 87. A ceremonial funeral, planning for which began in 2009 while Thatcher was still alive, was held on 17 April 2013. Due to the polarised view of her achievements and legacy, the reception to her death was mixed, and included street parties. The funeral, including a formal procession through Central London followed by a church service at St Paul's Cathedral, cost some £3.6 million including £3.1 million for security. Her body was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, and her ashes were buried alongside those of her husband Denis at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London on 28 September 2013.[1]

Illness and death[edit]

Thatcher suffered several small strokes in 2002 and was advised by her doctors not to engage in any more public speaking.[2] On 23 March, she announced the cancellation of her planned speaking engagements and that she would accept no more.[3] But despite her illness, she pre-recorded a eulogy for the funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004, and attended her 80th birthday celebration in 2005 with HM the Queen and 650 other guests in attendance.[4] However, her health continued to decline as the decade went on; she was briefly hospitalised in 2008 after feeling unwell during a dinner, and again after falling and fracturing her arm in 2009. In June 2009, her daughter Carol Thatcher spoke to the press of her mother's struggle with dementia.[5][6]

Thatcher died at approximately 11:00 BST (10:00 UTC) on 8 April 2013 at the Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly, after suffering a stroke.[7][8] She had been staying in a suite there since December 2012, after having difficulty using the stairs at her house in Chester Square.[9] She had been invited to stay at the Ritz by its owners David and Frederick Barclay, who were long-time supporters.[10] Lord Bell, Thatcher's spokesman, confirmed her death to the Press Association, who issued the first wire report to newsrooms at 12:47 BST (11:47 UTC). The Union Flag was flown at half-mast at Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, Parliament and other palaces,[11] and flowers were laid outside her home.[12]

Thatcher's funeral[edit]

Planning Thatcher's funeral, 2009–13[edit]

Planning for the funeral began in 2009. The committee was originally chaired by Sir Malcolm Ross, the Queen's former Master of the Royal Household. Following the 2010 general election that brought the Conservative–Liberal Democrat Coalition into power, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was made the new chairman of the committee; the codename given to the plans was changed to "True Blue" to give it "a more Conservative feel".[13]

Details of Thatcher's funeral had been agreed with her in advance.[14] Specifically, Thatcher had chosen the hymns and stipulated that the Prime Minister would deliver a reading from the Bible.[15] She had previously vetoed a state funeral; reasons included cost, parliamentary deliberation,[16] and that it suggested similar stature to Churchill – with which she disagreed.[17] Instead with her and her family's agreement, she received a ceremonial funeral,[18] including military honours,[19] a guard of honour, and a service at St Paul's Cathedral, London. The arrangements were similar to those for the Queen Mother in 2002 and Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, except with more military honours as she had been a former head of government. Thatcher's body was cremated after the funeral, in accordance with her wishes.[20]

Some of Thatcher's supporters expressed disappointment that she would not be given a full state funeral.[21] However, Peter Oborne in The Daily Telegraph, stated that the scale of the ceremony amounted to a state funeral, and thought this a serious error: the Queen would be seen as partisan, as she had not attended Labour post-war Prime Minister Clement Attlee's funeral.[22]

The scale and the cost to the taxpayer of the funeral, estimated before the event at up to £10 million in total, was also criticised by public figures including the Bishop of Grantham, Lord Prescott and George Galloway.[23][24][25] Thatcher's family agreed to meet part of the cost of the funeral, unspecified but thought to cover transport, flowers and the cremation. The government would fund the remaining costs, including security.[26] After the event, it was reported by 10 Downing Street that in fact the total public spending on the funeral was £3.6 million, of which £3.1 million had been the costs of police and security.[27]

Anticipating possible protests and demonstrations along the route, police mounted one of the largest security operations since the 2012 Summer Olympics.[28][29] Against the backdrop of the bombings at the Boston Marathon two days earlier, it was announced that over 4,000 police officers would be deployed.[30] In the event, the crowds were peaceful, with supporters drowning out most of the scattered protests with cheers and applause.[31]:10.02am, 10.32am, 10.40am, 10.45am[32][32] A few hundred people turned up to protest at Ludgate Circus, some shouting and others turning their backs, with other protesters scattered along the route.[33]

The ceremonial funeral on 17 April 2013[edit]

The coffin bearing the remains of Margaret Thatcher being carried by a gun carriage
Police conducted spot checks of photographers and other passers-by, beginning the day before the funeral.
Margaret Thatcher's coffin being carried up the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral
Security barriers were installed around St. Paul's Cathedral and key parts of the route of the procession in advance of the funeral.

Flags along Whitehall were lowered to half-mast at 8 am,[31] and as a rare mark of respect the chimes of the Palace of Westminster Great Clock, including Big Ben, were silenced from 9.45 am for the duration of the funeral.[34] At the Tower of London, a 105mm gun fired every 60 seconds during the procession.[31]:10.43am Muffled bells tolled at St Margaret's church at Westminster Abbey,[31]:10.02am and at St Pauls.

Houses of Parliament[edit]

The funeral cortège commenced at the Houses of Parliament, where Thatcher's coffin had lain overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath St Stephen's Hall at the Palace of Westminster.[35]

Funeral procession[edit]

The funeral procession was as follows:

Service at St Paul's[edit]

The bidding (introductory words) was given by the Dean of St Paul's, David Ison. Amanda Thatcher gave the first Bible reading; the second reading was given by David Cameron.[38] The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, gave an address.[39]

Cremation at Mortlake[edit]

Following the church service, the coffin was taken by motor hearse from St Paul's Cathedral to Mortlake Crematorium, where Sir Denis Thatcher had been cremated years before. The cremation service was only attended by the immediate family.

Mourners and dignitaries[edit]

It was expected that there would be about 2,300 mourners within St. Paul's Cathedral for the funeral. Invitations were decided by the Thatcher family and their representatives, together with the government and the Conservative Party. The guest list included her family and friends; former colleagues including former British Cabinet members; and personal staff who worked closely with her. Invitations were also sent to representatives of some 200 countries, and to all living presidents of the US[40] and prime ministers of the UK. Two current heads of state, 11 serving prime ministers, and 17 serving foreign ministers, were present.[41]

Queen Elizabeth II led mourners at the funeral.[42] It marked the second time in the Queen's reign that she attended the funeral of a former prime minister, the only other time was for that of Winston Churchill in 1965.[43] Prime ministers current and former: David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major were also in attendance with their wives.

Interment of ashes on 28 September 2013[edit]

On 28 September 2013, a private and unpublicised service for Thatcher was held in the All Saints Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea's Margaret Thatcher Infirmary. Afterwards Thatcher's ashes were interred in the grounds of the hospital, next to those of her husband.[44][45]



On 10 April, two days following Thatcher's death, her son Mark spoke of his mother's death on the steps of her Chester Square home. He told a gathering of journalists that his family was "proud and equally grateful" that her funeral service would be attended by the Queen, whose presence he said her mother would be "greatly honored as well as humbled by". He expressed gratitude for all the messages of support and condolences from far and wide.[46] Three days later on 13 April her daughter Carol thanked Barack Obama and others for their tributes, and all those who had sent messages of sympathy and support.[47]


Crown and political leaders[edit]

A Buckingham Palace spokesman reported the Queen's sadness upon hearing the news of her death, and that she would be sending a private message to the family.[48]

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit abroad and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast. He issued a statement lamenting Great Britain's loss of "a great prime minister, a great leader, a great Briton".[49] The Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said that Thatcher defined modern British politics, and that while she may have been divisive during her time, but there would be no disagreement about "the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics".[50]

Leader of the Opposition and Labour leader Ed Miliband said that she would be remembered for having "reshaped the politics of a whole generation [and moving] the centre ground of British politics" and for her stature in the world. He said that although the Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did, "we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength."[48]

John Major, her successor as Prime Minister credited Thatcher's leadership with turning Britain around in large measure. "Her reforms of the economy, trades union law, and her recovery of the Falkland Islands elevated her above normal politics".[48] Former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said that even those who disagreed with her would admire her strength of character, her convictions, her view of Britain's place in the world and her contribution to British national life.[51]

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said: "Margaret Thatcher was a truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation".[52] Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, while expressing sympathy to her family, criticised her policies' effects on Wales.[53]

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: "Britain's first female Prime Minister ... did little for women either inside or outside the House of Commons."[54]

Other reactions from the UK[edit]

The House of Commons held a special session discussing Thatcher's legacy.[55] While current and former cabinet ministers struck a conciliatory tone in their speeches, some in the Labour Party attacked Thatcher's legacy.[26][55][56][57] Over half of all Labour MPs chose to boycott the tribute to Thatcher,[58] with many saying it would have been hypocritical for them to honour her as their constituents continued to suffer from decisions she made.[54] Retired MP Tony Benn, former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, and Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB trade union, stated that her policies were divisive and her legacy involves "the destruction of communities, the elevation of personal greed over social values and legitimizing the exploitation of the weak by the strong."[59] but Benn acknowledged some of her personal qualities.[60]

Many reactions were unsympathetic, particularly from her opponents.[61][62][63][64] Residents in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, site of the Battle of Orgreave between striking coal miners and police in June 1984, declared that their village had been "decimated by Thatcher".[65] The Associated Press quoted a number of miners as responding to her death simply with: "good riddance".[66] Chris Kitchen, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, stated that miners would "not be shedding a tear for her."[67] Spontaneous street parties were held across the UK: celebrations took place in Glasgow, Brixton, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff and elsewhere;[64][68][69][70][71][72] Glasgow City Council advised citizens to stay away from street parties organised without their involvement or consent out of safety concerns.[73][74] A larger demonstration with around 3,000 protesters took place at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday 13 April.[75][76][77][78] Graffiti was posted calling for her to "rot in hell".[57][79][80] British director Ken Loach suggested privatising her funeral and tendering it for the cheapest bid.[81] The Daily Telegraph website closed comments on all articles related to her death because of "abuse".[82]

The issue of whether to fly the flag at half-mast for her funeral caused controversy for some councils where local feelings were strong. The government’s national flag protocol dictates that union flags should be lowered to half mast on the funeral days of former prime ministers.[83] Most councils in Scotland did not lower the flag for the funeral.[84] Several councils in England also refused including Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield in Yorkshire,[85] and Coventry in the West Midlands.[86]

Whilst business leaders, including Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Archie Norman and CBI chief John Cridland, credited her for creating a climate favourable to business in Britain, and lifting the UK "out of the economic relegation zone",[87][88] the Premier League and The Football League rejected having a minute's silence around the country's football grounds, a move backed by the Football Supporters' Federation and the Hillsborough Family Support Group. However, Saracens and Exeter Chiefs held a minute's silence for her before their Premiership rugby union games.[89]

International political leaders[edit]

Along with the eulogies and condolences, there were less sympathetic reactions in Argentina, in regards to her legacy during the Falklands War,[90] and in South Africa, because of her perceived support for apartheid.[91][92]

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described Thatcher as "a great model as the first woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who not only demonstrated her leadership but has given such great hope for many women for equality, gender equality in Parliament."[93] The message from Pope Francis "recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations."[94]

Barack Obama, President of the United States, lamented the loss of a true friend. His statement praised her as "an unapologetic supporter of our transatlantic alliance, she knew that with strength and resolve we could win the Cold War and extend freedom's promise."[95] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, acknowledged Thatcher "define[d] the age in which she served [as well as] contemporary conservatism itself."[96]

French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Thatcher left a "deep impression on her country's history"[97] Merkel said Thatcher's belief in the freedom of the individual contributed to "overcoming Europe's partition and the end of the Cold War."[48]

Irish President Michael D. Higgins extended his condolences saying: "She will be remembered as one of the most conviction-driven British Prime Ministers who drew on a scholarship that demanded markets without regulation" and that "her key role in signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement will be recalled as a valuable early contribution to the search for peace and political stability."[98] Sinn Féin leader and TD Gerry Adams condemned "the great hurt done to the Irish and British people during her time as British prime minister", adding: "Here in Ireland, her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering."[61]

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, expressed her admiration for Thatcher's achievements as a woman.[99] New Zealand Prime Minister John Key praised Thatcher's determination and expressed his "[sadness] for her family and Great Britain".[100] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented losing "a true friend of the Jewish people and Israel."[101]

Romanian President Traian Băsescu and the premier and foreign minister of Bulgaria, Marin Raykov cited her influence on them, and sent their condolences. They recognised Thatcher as a central figure in modern European history, and that her application of the law and economic liberal principles contributed to the downfall of communism in the Eastern Bloc.[102][103]

At the wishes of Thatcher's family, Argentina's president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was not invited to the funeral. Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said that any invitation would have been "just another provocation."[104] The Argentine ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro, was invited in line with diplomatic protocol,[40] but declined the invitation.[105]

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Jacob Zuma expressed their "deepest sympathies".[106][107] as did Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that Thatcher was "a pragmatic, tough and consistent person".[108] Former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev expressed sadness at the loss of a "great politician ... whose words carried great weight".[12]

Social media[edit]

Social media played a significant role in the aftermath of her death, with celebrities channelling polarised views about Thatcher on Twitter,[109] and endorsing campaigns and demonstrations.[110] Anti-Thatcher sentiment prompted a campaign on social media networks to bring the song "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" (from The Wizard of Oz) into the UK Singles Chart,[111][112] followed by a counter-campaign adopted by Thatcher supporters in favour of the 1979 punk song "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" by the Notsensibles, which had been started by the band's lead singer.[113][114] On 12 April 2013, "Ding-Dong!" charted at number 2 across the UK (it made number 1 in Scotland),[115] and "I'm in Love with Margaret Thatcher" at number 35.[116] Radio 1 Controller Ben Cooper said that the station's chart show would not play the No. 2 song but that a portion of it would be aired as part of a news item.[117][118] Cooper explained that its delicate compromise balanced freedom of speech and sensitivity for "a family that is grieving for a loved one who is yet to be buried."[116]

See also[edit]



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  • Campbell, John (2003). Margaret Thatcher; Volume Two: The Iron Lady. Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6781-4. 

External links[edit]