Margaret Thatcher died this morning aged 87 following a stroke, it was announced today.

The former prime minister, who had suffered bouts of illness for many years, was said to have died peacefully.

Her spokesman, Lord Bell, said: "It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, died peacefully following a stroke this morning.

"A further statement will be made later."

Thatcher earned a place in the history books as the UK's first woman prime minister when she entered Downing Street in 1979.

Over the next 11 years even her critics admitted that she changed the face of the country.

In recent years her health deteriorated, and she stopped making public appearances.

Mrs Thatcher remained a towering figure in British politics despite her withdrawal from the public gaze.

One of Gordon Brown's early actions after entering Number 10 in 2007 was to invite her in for tea, declaring his admiration for the "Iron Lady".

David Cameron has also often tried to associate himself with her policies and leadership style.

Thatcher will receive a ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral.

In a statement on the Downing Street Twitter feed, Cameron said: "It was with great sadness that l learned of Lady Thatcher's death. We've lost a great leader, a great Prime Minister and a great Briton."

Mr Cameron will return home early from Spain this afternoon, a Downing Street spokesman said.
He had been in the country for talks with EU leaders.

Former Tory leader Michael Howard says it's terribly sad news: "She saved our country, when she took over in 1979 we were in a period of real economic decline and many people thought the country was ungovernable."

Meanwhile, the Queen has been saddened by the death of Thatcher, Buckingham Palace said today.

The Queen will send her family a private message of sympathy after the Baroness died peacefully this morning following a stroke.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: "The Queen was sad to hear the news of the death of Baroness Thatcher. Her Majesty will be sending a private message of sympathy to the family."

More to follow.

The late former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald signed the Anglo Irish Agreement with Mrs Thatcher in 1987.

In an interview some years before his death he told how she was a very tough negotiator.

He also said she continued to hold strong views about the treaty many years after she left office.