Queen Elizabeth II is often said to have had a less than easy relationship with former premier Margaret Thatcher, her eighth – and longest-serving – prime minister.
Born six months apart, Margaret Thatcher and the Queen were two women very much making their mark in a man’s world.
Always mindful of her constitutional role and cordial to the last, the British monarch is nevertheless said to have personally disagreed with some of Margaret Thatcher’s more divisive policies and privately expressed her alarm over issues such as unemployment and the miners’ strike.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman issued a statement on Monday saying the Queen was “sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher” and would be sending a private message of sympathy to her family.
However, there was no confirmation that the Queen would attend the funeral (as she did for Sir Winston Churchill, although that was a state occasion), despite having no public engagements in her diary for either Wednesday or Thursday next week.
Instead, a spokesman said the Queen was “waiting for details about the funeral arrangements from the Government”. While Her Majesty may have found her first female prime minister somewhat frosty, Lady Thatcher’s respect and admiration for the monarch knew no bounds, not least because she had been raised in an intensely patriotic family.
Margaret Thatcher once told author Gyles Brandreth that the talk of a strained relationship with the Queen was “a lot of nonsense” and spoke with admiration about her commitment to the Commonwealth and armed services.
“No one could curtsey lower than Margaret Thatcher,” said another former aide.
Inevitably, after 11 years of almost weekly meetings, the Queen and Margaret Thatcher reached something akin to friendship.
Margaret Thatcher was even said to have jokingly sent the monarch a pair of rubber gloves as a Christmas present after witnessing her doing the washing up following a barbecue at Balmoral without a pair. Other sources say it wasn’t that the two women did not like each other, they were simply very different people.
The Queen is dry and rather witty in private, while Margaret Thatcher always had a tendency to hector, regardless of her audience.
In 1986, their relationship was put under the spotlight when The Sunday Times reported sources close to the Queen saying she was “dismayed” by “uncaring” Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa, a decision the monarch feared would split the Commonwealth.
The story caused uproar. The Queen is required constitutionally to keep her opinions private. The quotes were subsequently attributed to the Palace’s press secretary, Michael Shea. The monarch is said to have rung Margaret Thatcher to reassure her that her views were nothing of the sort.
If the relationship was never entirely easy, the two certainly never wavered in their mutual respect. The Queen, in particular, is said to have admired Margaret Thatcher’s grit, determination and enormous achievements.
After Margaret Thatcher’s enforced resignation in 1990, the Queen awarded the baroness the Order of Garter and the Order of Merit – neither of which has been offered to Tony Blair.
The Queen was also a guest of honor at Margaret Thatcher’s 80th birthday celebrations.
Fellow guests were touched at the sight of the Queen taking the hand of Margaret Thatcher as she gently raised her from a deep curtsey, before guiding the already frail baroness through the throng of assembled guests.