April 17, 2013

Britain's Iron Lady laid to rest with full pomp

Cassandra Vinograd and Jill Lawless / The Associated Press

LONDON — Margaret Thatcher was laid to rest Wednesday with prayers and ceremony, plus cheers and occasional jeers, as Britain paused to remember a leader who transformed the country — for the better according to many, but in some eyes for the worse.

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A Union flag draped coffin bearing the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is carried on a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery during her ceremonial funeral procession in London on Wednesday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The coffin containing the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher arrives for the ceremonial funeral at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday.

AP

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Soaring hymns, Biblical verse and fond remembrances echoed under the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, as 2,300 relatives, friends, colleagues and dignitaries attended a ceremonial funeral for Britain's only female prime minister.

Queen Elizabeth II, current and former prime ministers and representatives from 170 countries were among the mourners packing the cathedral, where Bishop of London Richard Chartres spoke of the strong feelings Thatcher still evokes 23 years after leaving office.

"The storm of conflicting opinions centers on the Mrs. Thatcher who became a symbolic figure — even an -ism," he said. "It must be very difficult for those members of her family and those closely associated with her to recognize the wife, the mother and the grandmother in the mythological figure."

"There is an important place for debating policies and legacy ... but here and today is neither the time nor the place," he added.

Security for the funeral — the largest in London for more than a decade — was tightened after bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday killed three people and wounded more than 170.

More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route taken by Thatcher's coffin to the cathedral, and around 4,000 police officers were on duty.

But while thousands of supporters and a smaller number of opponents traded shouts and arguments, there was no serious trouble. Police said there were no arrests, and the only items thrown at the cortege were flowers.

Before the service, Thatcher's coffin was driven from the Houses of Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes, about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the cathedral, for prayers.

From there the coffin — draped in a Union flag and topped with white roses and a note from her children reading "Beloved mother, always in our hearts" — was borne to the cathedral on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses.

Spectators lining the route broke into applause as the carriage passed by, escorted by young soldiers, sailors and airmen. A few demonstrators staged silent protests by turning their backs on Thatcher's coffin, and one man held a banner declaring "rest in shame."

An honor guard of soldiers in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats saluted the coffin as it approached St. Paul's, while red-coated veterans known as Chelsea Pensioners stood to attention on the steps.

Guests inside the cathedral included Thatcher's political colleagues, rivals and her successors as prime minister — John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Vice President Dick Cheney were among the American dignitaries, while notable figures from Thatcher's era included F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era leader of South Africa; former Polish President Lech Walesa; ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney; and entertainers such as "Dynasty" star Joan Collins, singer Shirley Bassey and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Notable absences included former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan and onetime Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who both had close ties to Thatcher's leadership, and were both kept away by age. Argentine Ambassador Alicia Castro declined an invitation amid continuing acrimony over the 1982 Falklands War.

The ceremony was traditional, dignified and very British. Mourners entered to music by British composers, including Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the service featured hymns and readings chosen by Thatcher, who grew up as a grocer's daughter in a hard-working Methodist household.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Amanda Thatcher, granddaughter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, delivers a reading during the funeral service in St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday.

AP

click image to enlarge

A Union flag draped coffin bearing the body of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is carried on a gun carriage drawn by the King's Troop Royal Artillery during her ceremonial funeral procession in London on Wednesday.

AP

 


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