Needless to say, Haig's peace mission soon collapsed.

The relatively quick triumph of British forces revived Thatcher's political fortunes, which had been faltering along with the British economy. She won an overwhelming victory in 1983, tripling her majority in the House of Commons.

She trusted her gut instinct, famously concluding early on that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev represented a clear break in the Soviet tradition of autocratic rulers. She pronounced that the West could "do business" with him, a position that influenced Reagan's vital dealings with Gorbachev in the twilight of the Soviet era.

It was heady stuff for a woman who had little training in foreign affairs when she triumphed over a weak field of indecisive Conservative Party candidates to take over the party leadership in 1975 and ultimately run as the party's candidate for prime minister.

She profited from the enormous crisis facing the Labour Party government led by Harold Wilson and later James Callaghan. Britain was near economic collapse, its currency propped up by the International Monetary Fund, and its once defiant spirit seemingly broken.

The sagging Labour government had no parliamentary majority after 1977, and the next year it suffered through a "winter of discontent" with widespread strikes disrupting vital public services, including hospital care and even grave digging. The government's effort to hold the line on inflation led to chaos in the streets.

Britain seemed adrift, no longer a credible world power, falling from second- to third-tier status.

It was then, Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, that she came to the unshakable, almost mystical belief that only she could save Britain. She cited a deep "inner conviction" that this would be her role.

Events seemed to be moving her way when she led the Conservative Party to victory in 1979, with a commitment to reduce the state's role and champion private enterprise.

She was underestimated at first - by her own party, by the media, later by foreign adversaries. But they all soon learned to respect her. Thatcher's "Iron Lady" nickname was coined by Soviet journalists, a grudging testament to her ferocious will and determination.

Thatcher set about upending decades of liberal doctrine, successfully challenging Britain's welfare state and socialist traditions, in the process becoming the reviled bete noire of the country's leftwing intelligentsia.

She is perhaps best remembered for her hardline position during the pivotal strike in 1984 and 1985 when she faced down coal miners in an ultimately successful bid to break the power of Britain's unions. It was a reshaping of the British economic and political landscape that endures to this day.

It is for this that she is revered by free-market conservatives, who say the restructuring of the economy led to a boom that made London the rival of New York as a global financial center. The left demonized her as an implacably hostile union buster, with stone-cold indifference to the poor. But her economic philosophy eventually crossed party lines: Tony Blair led a revamped Labour Party to victory by adopting some of her ideas.

Thatcher was the West's most outspoken opponent of imposing economic sanctions on South Africa's minority government to end apartheid. She contended such sanctions cost jobs, including in Britain, hurt South Africa's black majority most and harden white resistance to change.

In 1986, Britain's Cabinet unanimously supported her resistance to such sanctions. As a result, protests ensued and many accused her of supporting the apartheid regime.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on Oct. 13, 1925. She learned the values of thrift, discipline and industry as the dutiful daughter of Alfred Roberts, a grocer and Methodist lay preacher who eventually became the mayor of Grantham, a modest-sized town in Lincolnshire 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of London.

Thatcher's personality, like that of so many of her contemporaries, was shaped in part by the traumatic events during her childhood. When World War II broke out, her hometown was one of the early targets for Luftwaffe bombs. Her belief in the need to stand up to aggressors was rooted in the failure of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's attempt to appease Adolf Hitler rather than confront him.

Thatcher said she learned much about the world simply by studying her father's business. She grew up in the family's apartment just above the shop.

"Before I read a line from the great liberal economists, I knew from my father's accounts that the free market was like a vast sensitive nervous system, responding to events and signals all over the world to meet the ever-changing needs of peoples in different countries, from different classes, of different religions, with a kind of benign indifference to their status," she wrote in her memoirs.

"The economic history of Britain for the next 40 years confirmed and amplified almost every item of my father's practical economics. In effect, I had been equipped at an early age with the ideal mental outlook and tools of analysis for reconstructing an economy ravaged by state socialism."

Educated at Oxford, Thatcher began her political career in her mid-20s with an unsuccessful 1950 campaign for a parliamentary seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Dartford. She earned nationwide publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country, despite her loss at the polls.

She was defeated again the next year, but on the campaign trail she met Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman whom she married in 1951. Their twins, Mark and Carol, were born two years later.

"She was beautiful, gay, very kind and thoughtful," Denis Thatcher said in an interview 25 years later.  "Who could meet Margaret without being completely slain by her personality and intellectual brilliance?"

As the first male Downing Street spouse, Denis Thatcher stayed out of the limelight to a large degree while supporting his wife on her many travels and public engagements. He was said to give her important behind-the-scenes advice on Cabinet choices and other personnel matters, but this role was not publicly discussed.

Margaret Thatcher first won election to Parliament in 1959, representing Finchley in north London. She climbed the Conservative Party ladder quickly, joining the Cabinet as education secretary in 1970.