Catching up on previous seasons of The Crown before diving into season five? If you're curious about Princess Diana's real life sister, read on for our story from 2020:
In the two decades since the tragic death of Princess Diana, her older sisters Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes have largely avoided public life, though they have remained close with their nephews William and Harry and recently made appearances at Harry and Meghan's wedding and Archie's christening.
But now, the sisters' lives are in the spotlight once again with the arrival of season four of The Crown. The new episodes, which cover the period from 1977 through 1989, will introduce viewers to Lady Diana Spencer, as she was then known, and will include her wedding to Prince Charles. But before Charles met Diana, he briefly dated her sister Sarah—in fact, she's the one who introduced them. Here's everything you need to know about Lady Sarah, Diana's oldest sister.
Her family has been involved with the royals for generations.
The Spencer family has been part of the British aristocracy for hundreds of years, and Diana and Sarah's grandmothers—Cynthia Spencer, Countess Spencer and Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy—even served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Elizabeth Sarah Lavinia Spencer was born in 1955 to John Spencer, Viscount Althorp and Frances Spencer, Viscountess Althorp. Sarah was the eldest of the four Spencer children: she is two years older than Lady Jane Fellowes and six years older than Diana. Their brother, Earl Charles Spencer, is the youngest sibling. They all grew up in Park House, the home that Spencers rented on Queen Elizabeth II's estate at Sandringham.
Sarah and Diana's parents separated in 1967 and divorced in 1969 (their mother quickly remarried Peter Shand Kydd, with whom she had had an affair.) In an unusual move for the time, their father sued for full custody of the children and won. The siblings continued to live with him at Park House until the death of her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer. In 1975, the family moved to the Spencer seat at Althorp (where Diana would later be buried.) One year later, their father married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth.
According to a Diana biography by Sarah Bradford, Sarah is described as being “hero-worshipped” by a young Diana.
She dated Prince Charles in her early 20s.
Sarah attended Riddlesworth Hall School in Norfolk and then West Heath boarding school in Kent. She left West Heath after passing O Level exams (which are typically taken at age 16) and went to work in London.
Sarah briefly dated Prince Charles, but it was not meant to last. She reportedly said to Time magazine in 1978, "There is no chance of my marrying him. I'm not in love with him. And I wouldn't marry anyone I didn't love whether he were the dustman or the King of England."
However, it was through Sarah that Charles and Diana first met, at a shooting party in 1977 at the Spencer family home in Althorp, when she was 16 and he was 29.
The two sisters briefly lived together, and Diana did most of the cleaning.
According to a biography of Diana by Andrew Morton, when she first moved to London in the late 1970s, Diana shared a flat in Chelsea with her Sarah and Sarah's friend Lucinda Craig Harvey. Apparently, Sarah tasked her with doing much of the cleaning, but Diana didn't seem to mind.
A few years later, in 1980, Charles and Diana, who were now 32 and 19, respectively, reconnected and started dating. Diana was living in London at this point, working odd jobs as a dance instructor, nanny, and nursery teacher.
“I introduced them, I’m cupid,” Sarah reportedly said shortly after Charles and Diana's engagement was announced in 1981. Sarah apparently approved of her sister's relationship with the future monarch.
Sarah got married one year before her sister, in 1980, to Neil McCorquodale. The couple have three children, Emily, George, and Celia, and are still together today.
She was very involved with William and Harry's upbringing.
Sarah and Diana remained close after Diana married Charles and became part of the royal family. Diana biographer Andrew Morton wrote that Sarah was one of the few people Diana trusted during those complicated years. Sarah was often seen with her nephews, Princes William and Harry, out and about in London, and the two sisters often brought their children on vacation together.
She also sometimes accompanied Diana on official trips as a lady-in-waiting, including a royal visit to Nepal in March 1993.
Diana's death in 1997 was extremely difficult for the Spencer siblings, who largely retreated from public life.
After Diana’s shocking death in a car accident in Paris on August 31, 1997, both of her sisters went with Charles to collect her body. Sarah recited a poem at Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey, which was watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide. Sarah's brother Earl Spencer did not mince words about his contempt for the royal family, and the media in his now-famous eulogy.
Diana was interred in a private ceremony at the family home in Althorp, with just the Spencer family, Charles, William and Harry, a close friend, and a clergyman present. Lady Sarah was the co-executor of Diana's will and later became president of the Diana Memorial Fund, which raised over £112 million for various charities in the 15 years after her death, before closing in 2012.
She also testified at the 2007 inquest into Princess Diana’s death, which resulted in a jury ruling that the princess and her companion Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed by a combination of their driver Henri Paul (who was under the influence of alcohol) and the crush of paparazzi following them in the Paris tunnel.
She has remained close to her nephews.
Since Diana's passing, Lady Sarah has stayed close with her nephews, Prince William and Prince Harry. She has been spotted with Prince William at charity events in Lincolnshire, attended the funeral of his nanny in 2012, and was present at his marriage to Kate Middleton in 2011. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also attended the wedding of the Duke’s cousin, Lady Sarah’s eldest daughter Emily, in 2012.
Lady Sarah was also present at Harry and Megan's wedding in 2018 and for the christening of their son Archie last year. In a poignant moment, Sarah and her sister Jane were included in the official portrait released in honor of the occasion.