The funeral of Margaret Thatcher in two days time will feature her own choice of favorite hymns and poetry amid the pomp of the service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and a procession with full military honors.
The former British premier took an active part in deciding on the order of service. “He Who Would Valiant Be,” originally written by John Bunyan, and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, reflecting the former premier’s Methodist upbringing, will be among those sung, according to details released by Prime Minister David Cameron’s office yesterday. The final hymn will be the patriotic “I Vow to Thee My Country” to the music of Gustav Holst. Poems by William Wordsworth and T.S. Eliot will be printed on the order of service.
“The basic shape of this funeral has been in place for many years now,” Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister who has been in charge of the organization of the event, told Sky News television yesterday. “She didn’t obsess about it, but she took an interest and so she had some very clear views. For example, she was adamant she didn’t want there to be any question of a lying in state.”
More than 2,000 invitations have gone out for the service, with all surviving former British premiers and U.S. presidents asked to attend. The ceremonial funeral with full military honors is the biggest such event for a political leader since the state funeral for Winston Churchill in 1965. Queen Elizabeth II will lead the mourners. Thatcher, who was the Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990, died on April 8 at the age of 87 after a stroke.
Cameron will give one of the two readings, with the other by one of Thatcher’s grandchildren, Amanda. Both will be from the King James Bible, the early 17th-century translation that has come to be regarded as among the most influential works in the English language.
“Lady Thatcher was particularly fond of the King James Bible and found its prose to be beautifully poetic,” Cameron’s office said in a statement on its website.
The funeral starts at 11 a.m. after Thatcher’s coffin arrives in a military horse-drawn procession. A single half-muffled bell will toll at the cathedral. Amanda Thatcher and her brother, Michael, the children of Thatcher’s son Mark, will carry cushions bearing their grandmother’s honors -- the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit -- before the coffin and lay them on the altar.
The address will be given by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, while the newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will give the blessing before the coffin is carried out of St. Paul’s.
Thatcher’s death has prompted a divided reaction in the U.K., with her Tory supporters lauding her economic reforms and strength of character. Her political opponents have pointed to the decline in traditional manufacturing and growing north-south divide under her premiership.
The song ``Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead'' from the movie ``The Wizard of Oz'' reached No. 2 on Britain's official singles chart yesterday after an online campaign by anti-Thatcherites.
A ComRes Ltd. poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror newspapers found 33 percent of respondents agreeing with the proposition that she was Britain’s greatest peacetime prime minister and 41 percent disagreeing. Fifty-nine percent agreed that she was the most divisive premier they can remember.
ComRes interviewed 2,012 adults online on April 10 and 11. It didn’t specify a margin of error.
Several hundred anti-Thatcherite protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square in central London on the evening of April 13 for a demonstration intended to celebrate her death. A total of 16 people were arrested, the capital’s Metropolitan Police said on its Twitter feed.
Roads in central London will be closed and Parliament suspended for the service. More than 700 troops from U.K. units that fought in the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina under Thatcher’s government will line the route of the procession. The former premier’s body will rest in the Houses of Parliament overnight before the funeral.
Guests expected to attend the funeral include Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives and a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard and former South African President F.W. de Klerk, according to lists released by Cameron’s office last week.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, will also attend, according to an announcement yesterday.