LONDON — Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Iron Lady, was laid to rest Wednesday with a level of pomp and protest reflecting her status as a commanding, polarizing political figure.
Bishop of London Richard Chartres referred to the strong feelings the former prime minister still evokes 23 years after leaving office in his address to the 2,300 mourners at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“The storm of conflicting opinions centers on the Mrs. Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an -ism,” he said. “Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service.”
“There is an important place for debating policies and legacy … but here and today is neither the time nor the place.”
More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route to the cathedral and around 4,000 police officers were on duty. Security was stepped up after Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170.
Spectators lining the route broke into applause – and scattered boos – as the carriage passed by, escorted by young soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Yet some clearly disagreed with the bishop’s exhortation not to protest. Some people staged silent protests by turning their backs upon Thatcher’s coffin. One man held a banner declaring “Rest in shame.” Arguments also broke out in the crowd along the route between Thatcher supporters and opponents.
Inside the cathedral, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip were among the invited mourners, who included political colleagues and rivals, dignitaries from around the world, 11 prime ministers and former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz.
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.
Her 19-year-old granddaughter Amanda Thatcher read a passage from Ephesians: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”
It was a classic Thatcher image, capturing what people loved and loathed about a leader full of strength and certainty.
The dean of St. Paul’s, David Ison, recalled “her courage, her steadfastness and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good.”
Before the service, Thatcher’s coffin was driven from the Houses of Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes 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 on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses from the Royal Horse Artillery to the cathedral.