Raine Spencer was without a doubt one of the most flamboyant figures of the 20th Century. Politician, socialite and party host, Raine was a formidable woman who was both loved and loathed by high-society. She is best known for being stepmother to Diana, Princess of Wales with whom she had a feisty relationship. Nicknamed ‘Acid Raine’ by Diana and the press, Countess Spencer was often vilified in the media as Diana’s ‘wicked’ stepmother, but all is not that simple.
Born in London as Raine McCorquodale in September 1929, Raine was the only child of novelist Dame Barbara Cartland and Alexander McCorquodale.
In 1947 at the age of 18, Raine was launched into London high society life where she met her first husband, Gerald Legge. She and Legge married a year later and had four children together.
During her early life, Raine served in her local government for many years. As a member of the Conservative Party, she became the youngest member of the Westminster City Council at the age of 23.
Before her divorce in 1976, her husband succeeded to the title of Viscount Lewisham, and as such became the 9th Earl of Dartmouth. In turn, Raine became the Countess of Dartmouth – the first of many titles to her name.
Raine met Diana’s father, Earl Spencer while serving in the government. They subsequently married on 14 July 1976 in London. Countess Spencer was deeply unpopular with the Spencer children, and so the nickname “Acid Raine” was born. Diana and her siblings taunted their stepmother in a variety of ways; one example is where they sang “rain rain go away” but never finished the well-known rhyme “and come back another day”.
In 1978, Lord Spencer suffered a severe brain haemorrhage – one that left him in a coma and almost cost him his life. In the months that followed, Raine is credited with saving his life as she nursed her husband better all day and every day in hospital. She also went to extreme lengths so far as purchasing an untested drug from overseas. However, at the time, it was said that Raine prevented the children from seeing their father while he was recovering.
In the times after the Earl’s illness, Raine was again the centre of media attention, having redecorated Althorp with new wallpaper and gilding. In order to fund the restoration, she sold works by Van Dyck and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as antique furniture, china, porcelain, silver, gold, and family documents. This made the Spencer children loath Raine even more.
In 1989 during a function Raine was hosting, tensions between Diana and her stepmother reached boiling point. The two women were seen having a row at the top of a staircase, and amidst the fuss, Diana pushed Raine down the stairs.
In a Channel 4 documentary, Raine’s personal assistant Sue Howe said: “She was badly bruised and dreadfully upset. It was not justified at all; it was a cruel, heartless thing to do. I think Diana was very stressed. This sounds really wrong, but she wasn’t centre of attention on this occasion.”
In the same documentary, royal biographer Ingrid Seward said: “All the Spencer children behaved very badly to Raine, it wasn’t just Diana. They were purposely ganging up on her.”
A few years later on 29 March 1992, Lord Spencer died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 68. Immediately after his death, Raine was asked to leave Althorpe by the current Earl Spencer, Charles. This was against the last Lord Spencer’s wishes, and Raine’s belongings were thrown outside in black bin liners.
Despite her husband’s death and rejection from the Spencer family, Raine decided life was for living and married for a third time to Count Jean-François Pineton de Chambrun in 1993. However, this union only lasted three years, and they divorced in 1995.
Shortly before her tragic death in 1997 and after her separation from the Prince of Wales, Diana got back in touch with Raine and invited her to over dinner. Since that moment, the two women reconciled and became close confidants.
Diana’s relationship with her birth mother, Francis Shand-Kydd became strained in the last year of her life after she called her daughter a ‘whore’ for “messing around with Muslim men”, according to the 2007 inquest. Diana did not speak to her mother in the months before her death, and so Raine was there and supported her relationship with Dodi Fayed.
Tragically, Diana and Raine’s new found friendship was cruelly cut short in August 1997 when the Princess of Wales died in a car accident in Paris. In the years that followed, Countess Spencer gave sworn testimony during the 2007 investigation into the death.
In the late 1990s, Raine became a member of the boards of directors at Harrods. She was heavily involved and even worked at the front of the house in store.
She said: “Ironically, I never went shopping in Harrods. It was my husband [Earl Spencer] who practically lived there.”
In 2012, letters between Raine and Diana were leaked to the media, which shed some new light on the turbulent relationship she had with Diana. Some of the letters showed a softer side between the pair, with warm words to one another. Auctioneers wanted to auction off some of the letters the young Lady Diana had written to Raine before The Prince of Wales had proposed. However, Raine was furious and demanded to be informed of how they were released.
Raine carried on organising huge and lavish parties right up until the age of 87. Her last party was just a few weeks before her death in late 2016 when she invited 30 of her closest friends around for dinner. Raine knew at the time that she was dying from cancer, but kept this to herself as she did not want to ruin the mood. She used the dinner to say goodbye to all of her friends over the years, going around the table and sharing her favourite memories of each guest. Sadly, none of her guests knew it was her final goodbye until she died a few weeks later at the age of 87.
The Honourable Mrs Gerald Legge, Viscountess Lewisham, Countess of Dartmouth, Countess Spencer and Comtesse de Chambrun died on October 21st, 2016. She was survived by her four children.
BRITTANI BARGER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE