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Who is Denis Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher’s Husband?


In her 68 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has seen 14 prime ministers pass through 10 Downing Street. Thanks to The Crown‘s dramatic—and somewhat historically accurate—retelling of the monarch’s life and reign (the first three seasons have covered the years from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947 to her Silver Jubilee in 1977), we’ve become acquainted with a number of these politicians, imagined what their private behind-closed-door conversations with the Queen might have been like, and even gotten a bit of a history lesson on the lesser-known PMs. (Did you know who Harold Wilson and Edward Heath were before season three?)

But the prime minister we meet in the fourth season of The Crown hardly needs a primer. She’s Margaret Thatcher, the formidable woman who was not only England’s first female prime minister, but also its longest serving one in the 20th century, occupying 10 Downing from 1979 to 1990.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher curtsies to Queen Elizabeth, as her husband Denis looks on, 1985.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

Although they were born just six months apart, Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher had, by most accounts, a complicated relationship. Their clashes of personality and world view will certainly be a major plot point in The Crown‘s season 4, which stars Gillian Anderson as Thatcher and brings back Olivia Colman in her role as the Queen.

Throughout its run, the show has also made a point of offering glimpses into the interior lives of its prime ministers. We’ve watched Winston Churchill agonize over his legacy and Harold Macmillan become a helpless cuckold as his wife, the blue-blooded Lady Dorothy Cavendish, partakes in a decades-long, not-so-secret affair with politician Robert Boothby.

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Gillian Anderson and Stephen Boxer as Margaret and Denis Thatcher in the fourth season of The Crown.

Des Willie

This season will be no different. And while Margaret Thatcher is undeniably an icon, her husband Denis may need a little bit of an introduction. Played by Stephen Boxer, the first male spouse of a British prime minister has a notable role in The Crown. “I never could have been Prime Minister for more than 11 years without Denis by my side,” Margaret wrote in her autobiography. Here is what we know about him.

Denis and Margaret met in 1949 and were married two years later.

It was actually his second marriage. He met his first wife—also named Margaret—in 1942 and they were married for six years. Because Denis was serving in the war at the time, they never lived together. During his time abroad, she met someone else and, in 1946, asked for a divorce. He never spoke of this marriage and divorce—his children (with Margaret Thatcher) didn’t find out about their father’s first marriage until 1976, after their mother became the Leader of the Conservative Party and the media revealed it.

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The Thatchers on their 25th wedding anniversary, 1976.

Fox PhotosGetty Images

Denis met his second Margaret (née Roberts) at a function in Kent, England, in the winter of 1949. She was still a chemist then, and had just become the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dartford. Margaret is said to have described Denis as “not a very attractive creature… very reserved, but quite nice.” Nonetheless, the couple married in December 1951 in London. Their children, twins Mark and Carol, were born two years later.

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Margaret and Denis Thatcher with their two children, twins Carol and Mark, 1979.

PA ImagesGetty Images

He was a decorated war veteran.

Denis served in World War II, rising the ranks from second lieutenant to temporary major. In 1945, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire and was twice mentioned in dispatches, which is when an armed forces member’s name appears in an official report sent to high command that details valiant actions against the enemy. In 1965, he retired from the Territorial Army reserve of officers with the honorary rank of major.

He was a wealthy businessman who financed his wife’s law studies.

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The Thatchers on a summer holiday in Cornwall, 1981.

MirrorpixGetty Images

Denis returned from the war in 1946 and took over his father’s paint and chemical business, which he grew into a lucrative 200-employee firm and expanded overseas. This enabled him to pay for Margaret’s barrister training, along with a home in Chelsea and a country house in Kent. He sold the firm in 1965 to automotive lubricant brand Castrol, and took on various director jobs and board seats in the years that followed.

He had a nervous breakdown in 1964.

The pressures of running a business and keeping up with his wife’s political ambitions proved too much in 1964, when Denis suffered a nervous breakdown. He retreated to South Africa for two months to recover. Margaret’s biographer David Cannadine called it the greatest crisis of their marriage, but upon his return, their relationship re-stabilized.

He remained a loyal and supportive husband for the rest of his life.

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Denis Thatcher, Nancy Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Reagan at a state dinner at the White House in 1988.

Diana Walker

Denis almost never gave interviews or made speeches but when he did, he was known to refer to his wife as “the Boss.” Any form of ridicule or satire directed at him from the British press and public he took in stride. In his obituary upon his death in 2003, the New York Times called him “a steadfast husband…who embraced his role as second fiddle with aplomb and humor.”

As Margaret’s former political secretary John Whittingdale put it: “Margaret Thatcher wasn’t just the first woman prime minister, he was also the first prime minister’s husband, which in many ways was as difficult a job, which he did terribly well. He was always there to give support, but he was always happy to remain two or three paces behind her.”

In 1990, the Queen granted him the Thatcher baronetcy, earning him the title Sir Denis Thatcher, 1st Baronet, of Scotney in the County of Kent. It was the first—and only—baronetcy granted since 1964 and is one of just three surviving hereditary titles awarded outside the British royal family since 1965.

In 1996, his daughter Carol published a biography of her father, entitled Below the Parapet. Seven years later, she produced a documentary about him as well, called Married to Maggie.

Margaret and Denis were married for 51 years, until his death in 2003.

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Margaret Thatcher at Denis’s funeral in 2003.

Ian WaldieGetty Images

In January 2003, Denis was admitted to the hospital after complaining of shortness of breath; he received heart bypass surgery. Six months later, he wasn’t feeling well and went back to the hospital, where doctors discovered he had terminal pancreatic cancer (in 1992 he had beat prostate cancer). He died on June 26, and his ashes were buried outside the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. A decade later, on April 8, 2013, Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke. Her ashes are buried next to her husband’s.

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