Belonging to a woman in a man's world there was intense curiosity and speculation about the contents of the Thatcher handbag.

What is it?

This deceptively ordinary-looking handbag is hiding a key role in twentieth century political history behind its mock-crocodile exterior. It was given to Baroness Thatcher by friends in 1984, and she used it every day during her time at Downing Street. We know from photographs in her archive that it accompanied her to Poland in 1988, when she met Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, and that she also used it when she delivered her famous Bruges Speech at the College of Europe, in September 1988, when she declared her opposition to a European superstate.

What is the story?

Belonging to a woman in a man's world there was intense curiosity and speculation at the contents of the Thatcher handbag. World leaders, including President Gorbachev and US Secretary of State George Shultz, joked at the (supposed) contents of the bag. Margaret Thatcher aggressively represented Britain's views at international summits in the 1980s. Some suggested that under her Britain had moved from "gunboat diplomacy" to "handbag diplomacy".  In July 1990 in an interview for Channel Four news, Margaret Thatcher revealed that anything she wanted to keep quiet was usually kept in her handbag, the safest place - the only leak-proof place - in Number 10.

Can we see it?

The handbag (ref THCR 9/1/1) is kept at Churchill Archives Centre, along with the rest of Baroness Thatcher's archive. In 2008, to help prove its provenance, Thatcher prepared a small handwritten card detailing the history of the bag and its purchase. At the same time she presented a series of items - handkerchiefs, lipsticks, makeup - which had once lived in the bag. The many documents and papers from the 1980s which had also lived in the bag were transferred to the Archives in 1997.

Want to know more?

To find out more about Churchill Archives Centre visit http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/, and to see other images from the archives, have a look at our Image of the Month page, at http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/gallery/ImageoftheMonth/.  Details about the Thatcher Papers can be found at http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/archives/collections/thatcher/thatcher_home.php.


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