Parents and Grandparents
Born into British nobility, Princess Diana was the fourth of five children of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and Frances Spencer, Viscountess Althorp.
Diana’s father, who was born in 1924, was educated at Eton, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and the Royal Agricultural College. He played a pivotal role in World War II as a Captain in the Royal Scots Greys, leading his unit during the liberation of two French towns. After a brief engagement to Lady Anne Coke, Spencer married Frances Ruth Roche in 1954.
Diana’s mother Frances was born on the Royal Estate at Sandringham in 1936. Only 18 when they married, their relationship was an unhappy one culminating in divorce in 1967. Frances married Peter Shand Kydd in 1969 until their split in 1988. Frances’ loss of custody of her children following her first divorce led to a complicated relationship with Diana. This tension reared its head most publicly when she divulged that Diana was relieved to relinquish her title of Royal Highness following her divorce from Prince Charles.
Diana’s paternal grandfather was Albert Spencer, born in London in 1892. Holding numerous positions in the army, he was also actively involved in the local politics of Northamptonshire. He married Lady Cynthia Hamilton in 1919.
The Conservative politician Maurice Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy, was Diana’s maternal grandfather. A Harvard graduate, he married Ruth Sylvia Gill, a highly accomplished pianist and eventual lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother in 1931.
Siblings and cousins
Diana grew up with three siblings – her brother John tragically died shortly after birth a year before she was born. One of two older sisters, Sarah is credited with introducing Diana to Prince Charles owing to her own relationship with the prince. Said to be one of the few people who Diana truly trusted, she was often by her sister’s side on official trips. She became Lady Sarah McCorquodale after marrying Neil Edmund McCorquodale in 1980, later having three children.
Said to be the most academically gifted of the three sisters, the closeness of Diana’s relationship with Lady Jane Fellowes has always been the subject of speculation – it has been said that they only became truly close in adulthood. More reticent by nature, Jane’s public utterances have been minimal since Diana’s death in 1997.
An established author, journalist and broadcaster, Diana’s younger brother Charles Spencer is perhaps the most prominent of her siblings. Much of this stems from his Eulogy at Diana’s funeral with its barely concealed criticisms of the Royal Family’s treatment of his sister leading up to her death. Although said to be very close growing up, in 2003 the Daily Telegraph reported that Charles refused to let Diana live in one of the cottages on the Althorp Estate at a time of great distress for her.
Recently, Diana’s first cousin Diana McFarlane has spoken about her memories of their shared childhood. The daughter of Lady Anne Spencer, Princess Diana’s paternal aunt, the pair both attended West Heath Girls School and the future princess regularly visited Diana McFarlane and her family throughout her childhood. Providing a glimpse of things to come, rather than the usual posters of famous singers, Diana kept pictures of Prince Charles by her bedside. More facts about Princess Diana’s life can be found in this Princess Diana documentary.