BRITAIN's first woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87 following a stroke.
As tributes poured in to the former premier, it was announced that she will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral.
She had been in ill-health for several years and was rarely seen in public in recent years.
Baroness Thatcher died without her children at her bedside after suffering a stroke at The Ritz hotel yesterday morning.
She had been ill since Christmas, and died at 11am in the presence of her doctor and carer.
Both her children, Mark and Carol, live abroad and were making plans to return to Britain for her funeral.
Lord Bell, her spokesman, said that Lady Thatcher's health had been "deteriorating for some months" and that by the end she was "very frail" and no longer admitting visitors.
She had been staying at a suite in The Ritz since Christmas after struggling to cope with the stairs at her London home in Chester Square, Belgravia.
Lord Bell, who visited Mrs Thatcher two months ago, said: "She wasn't well, and had been deteriorating for some months. She still had times when she was like her old self but most of the time she was in frail health in recent months. Her family were not with her (when she died), but I know that her doctor and carer were there.
"I got the call from Julian Seymour (the former director of Lady Thatcher's private office) at about 12pm and put a statement out on behalf of Mark and Carol. It is a very sad day indeed."
Her physical and mental health deteriorated significantly over the past decade. As well as suffering from a series of minor strokes in the past, she has also suffered from dementia.
President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tributes to Mrs Thatcher's leadership which was often marked by controversy.
She had an at best stormy relationship with Ireland concerning her handling of the Northern Ireland problem.
Her battle with dementia was depicted in 'The Iron Lady', a 2011 film about her later life starring Meryl Streep. It was criticised by David Cameron and her friends as "disrespectful".
For some of her close friends, her death after years of suffering came as a relief. Lord Deben, a Tory minister under Lady Thatcher, said: "It's sad, of course, this is the passing of a great leader, but it's also a relief because she in her latter days had a very, very tough time indeed."
She made her first concession to age in 2002, when she cut back on her workload on the advice of doctors after suffering a minor stroke.
In 2004, on the 25th anniversary of her election as prime minister, she defied doctors' orders to deliver a robust speech at a dinner in her honour, attacking the Tony Blair government and praising Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader.
Four years later she suffered another health scare, succumbing to the heat at a dinner in the House of Lords. She was taken to hospital for tests, but was allowed to return home the following day.
In 2008, Carol Thatcher disclosed in memoirs that her mother was suffering from dementia. She described how she had to be repeatedly reminded about the death of her husband, Sir Denis, each time reacting to the sad news as if it was the first time she had heard it.
By 2010, she was too ill to attend an 85th birthday party thrown for her by Mr Cameron at 10 Downing Street, and missed a lunch hosted by Queen Elizabeth with former and serving prime ministers last year as part of the Diamond Jubilee. In October last year she was well enough to mark her 87th birthday with lunch at a restaurant in London with Mark and his wife.
She returned to hospital in December, undergoing an operation to remove a growth on her bladder.
She opted to convalesce at The Ritz hotel, which is owned by the Barclay family, proprietors of Telegraph Media Group.
Despite her health, she had moments of clarity. Lord Bell said: "She was aware of current affairs although not intensely involved because she got irritated by things. We tended to talk about the good old days when she was in power and we could have an influence on things." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
YOU were supposed to hate her. I never did. I did not agree with her. How could you agree with any one who said that there was no such thing as society, only an economy. That goes way beyond the ideological. That's just daft.
Margaret Thatcher was a lucky general. Lucky in the excellent advisers who surrounded her; lucky in the enemies who underestimated her, like Arthur Scargill and General Leopoldo Galtieri; lucky to lead a party with whose prejudices she was in tune and of which most members worshipped her.