In December of 1990, just one month after her 11-year run as Prime Minister came to an end, Margaret Thatcher was appointed by Queen Elizabeth to the prestigious Order of Merit. The monarch's decision to do so—as featured in the newly-released fourth season of The Crown—was quite meaningful.
The Order was founded in 1902 by King Edward VII to honor those who "rendered exceptionally meritorious service in Our Crown Services or towards the advancement of Arts, Learning, Literature, and Science," per the Royal Collection Trust. It can only be held by 24 people at a time, making it an extremely exclusive club; previous members have included the likes of Florence Nightingale, T.S. Eliot, and Winston Churchill.
Recipients are given a red and blue badge that reads "For Merit." Should a member die, the Queen will personally receive their next-of-kin, who will return the badge. Other perks of membership include a commissioned portrait, which will become a part of the Royal Collection, and a gathering with the Queen once every five years, per the BBC.
Unlike most other royal honors, the Order of Merit is solely awarded based on the Queen's discretion, without input from her staffers or government officials. This, perhaps, even more than the exclusivity and esteem of the Order, is why it's so meaningful that she appointed Thatcher—it was a choice the Queen made herself. "This exposes the talk that Mrs. Thatcher and the queen did not get on as rubbish," Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of "Burke's Peerage," told the Baltimore Sun at the time.
The monarch and Prime Minister, famously, did not always see eye-to-eye, but there was clearly some respect there. Not only was Thatcher appointed to the Order of Merit shortly after ending her term as Prime Minister, but five years later, she was made a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in the country.
Interestingly, if the Queen had mixed feelings about Britain's first woman Prime Minister, her mother did not. Per the Independent, the Queen Mother at first balked at her daughter's intention to welcome the first non-royal woman into the Order of the Garter, but changed her mind when she learned it would be Thatcher, one of her "favorite politicians."
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