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Diana, 60 years: Who were the parents of Diana, Princess of Wales?

Diana Frances Spencer was born 1 July 1961 at Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk. She was the fourth of five children of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Frances Spencer, Viscountess Althorp (née Roche.) While many know of Diana and her early years, many might not know much about her parents. In honour of her 60th birthday, Royal Central looks at who John and Frances were and how they had ties to the Royal Family before Diana married Prince Charles.

John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer

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Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, was born a British nobleman on 24 January 1924 at the Althorp family home at 24 Sussex Square, Bayswater, London. He is the only son and younger child of Albert Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer, and his wife, the former Lady Cynthia Hamilton, who was the second daughter of the 2nd Duke of Abercorn. His mother was appointed a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth in 1938. She continued her role after Elizabeth became The Queen Mother in 1952, keeping in post until her 1972 death.

John was educated at Eton, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and the Royal Agricultural College. Known to his friends and family as “Johnnie,” he served as a Captain in the Royal Scots Greys from 1944 to 1945 and was mentioned in despatches. John landed in France the day after D-Day helping to lead a British Army unit in an operation to liberate two French towns, La Neuve-Lyre, and La Vieille-Lyre. From 1947 to 1950, he served as Aide-de-Camp to His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir Willoughby Norrie, who at the time was the Governor of South Australia.

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John was engaged to the 1950s debutante of the year, Lady Anne Cooke who later became Anne Tennant, Baroness Glenconner, the lady in waiting for Princess Margaret. John’s father objected to the marriage on the grounds of “mad blood”, a reference to institutionalised relatives of The Queen; John served as an equerry to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. On 1 June 1954, John married Frances at Westminster Abbey. Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family were in attendance.

The couple divorced in 1969. Shortly after, Frances married Peter Shand Kydd, while John was granted custody of Diana and her siblings: Lady Sarah McCorquodale (b. 1955), Jane Fellowes, Baroness Fellowes (b. 1957), The Honourable John Spencer (b.1960, John died within ten hours of his birth), and Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer (b. 1964.) In 1976, John remarried and wed Raine McCorquodale, the former wife of the 9th Earl of Dartmouth and daughter of Capt. Alexander McCorquodale, a British Army Officer.

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In 1978, John suffered a severe stroke which, at one point, he was not expected to recover from. The stroke kept him in the hospital for eight months. Shortly before his death, John was hospitalised for pneumonia. He died from a heart attack on 29 March 1992 at the age of 68.

Frances Shand Kydd

Frances Ruth Roche was born at Park House, on the royal estate at Sandringham, Norfolk, on 20 January 1936. Coincidentally, her birth coincided with the death of King George V, who died on the same day. Her father, Maurice Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy, was a friend of King George VI and the elder son of American heiress Frances Ellen Work and her first husband, the 3rd Baron Fermoy. Her mother, Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy, was a daughter of William Smith Gill, a confidante, and lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth (later The Queen Mother.)

Upon her marriage to John, she became the youngest woman to wed in Westminster Abbey in the last five decades, having only been 18-years-old at the time. She left the marriage in 1967 to be with Peter Shand Kydd, an heir to a wallpaper fortune in Australia who she had met years prior. In response, she was named “the other woman” in Janet Shand Kydd’s divorce against her husband. Frances and Peter married on 2 May 1969 on the Scottish island of Seil. The same year she married Peter, 1969, Frances’s mother testified against her daughter in her divorce from Viscount Althorp. As a result, John won custody of the children. In 1996, Frances was banned from driving after she was convicted of drunk driving, although she denied she had a problem with alcohol.

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A few months before Diana’s death, Frances and Diana quarrelled after she told Hello! magazine she was happy Diana lost her royal title following her divorce from Prince Charles. It’s believed Frances was not on speaking terms with her daughter at the time of her August 1997 death.

Frances spent her later years on Seil and dividing time between London, Seil, and a sheep farm in Yass, New South Wales, becoming a Roman Catholic and devoting herself to Catholic charities including the Handicapped Children’s Trust, and the National Search and Rescue Dogs Association. In October 2002, when Frances left her home to give testimony at the trial of Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, Frances’s home was targeted and her jewelry was stolen.

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Frances died at her Scotland home at the age of 68 on 3 June 2004 following a long illness with Parkinson’s disease and brain cancer. Her children and grandchildren attended her funeral, including Prince William (who gave a reading) and Prince Harry. Their father and her former son-in-law, Prince Charles, did not attend because he was travelling to Washington to lead the British delegation at the state funeral of former US President Ronald Reagan. Frances is buried in the local graveyard on the outskirts of Oban in Argyll.

About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.