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John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer

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The Earl Spencer
Spencer in 1967
Edward John Spencer

(1924-01-24)24 January 1924
Bayswater, Paddington, London, England
Died29 March 1992(1992-03-29) (aged 68)
St John's Wood, London, England
Resting placeAshes interred in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Brington
  • (m. 1954; div. 1969)
  • (m. 1976)

Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, LVO (24 January 1924 – 29 March 1992), styled Viscount Althorp until June 1975, was a British nobleman, military officer, and courtier. He was the father of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the maternal grandfather of William, Prince of Wales, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.

Early life, education and military career


Lord Spencer was born Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, the only son and younger child of Albert Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer, and his wife the former Lady Cynthia Hamilton, second daughter of the 3rd Duke of Abercorn. He was born on 24 January 1924 in their family home at 24 Sussex Square, Bayswater, London.[1] His godfather was the future King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom. He was educated at Eton, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and the Royal Agricultural College. Popularly known to his family and friends as Johnnie Althorp, he served as a captain in the Royal Scots Greys from 1944 to 1945,[2] and was Mentioned in Dispatches. He landed in France the day after D-Day. He led a British Army unit in an operation to liberate two French towns, La Neuve-Lyre and La Vieille-Lyre.[3][4][5] From 1947 to 1950, he served as Aide-de-Camp to His Excellency Lieutenant-General Sir Willoughby Norrie, then Governor of South Australia.[2]

He was engaged to 1950's debutante of the year, Lady Anne Coke (later Anne Tennant, Baroness Glenconner, lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret).[6] His father objected to the match on the grounds of "mad blood", a reference to the institutionalised relatives of the queen, and the engagement was broken off. Much later, the director of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute thought that a genetic disease in the Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis family may have killed male members of the family in early childhood and caused learning disabilities in females.[7][8][9]

Spencer held the offices of County Councillor for Northamptonshire (1952), High Sheriff of Northamptonshire (1959) and Justice of the Peace for Norfolk (1970).[2] He served as equerry to King George VI (1950–52) and to Queen Elizabeth II (1952–54),[10] and was invested as a Member (fourth class) of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) in 1954.[11] Prior to 1984, the grades of Lieutenant and Member were classified as Members (fourth class) and Members (fifth class), respectively, but both with the post-nominals MVO. He was known by the courtesy title Viscount Althorp until 1975 when he became the 8th Earl Spencer upon his father's death.[12] He was Member of the House of Lords from 9 June 1975 (the day his father died and he inherited the peerage) until his own death.

Family life


On 1 June 1954 Spencer and Hon. Frances Ruth Roche, the younger daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy, were married in Westminster Abbey by Percy Herbert, Bishop of Norwich. Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family attended the wedding ceremony.[13] They had five children:

According to author Penny Junor "Johnny could be violent, and [Frances] felt she and her children would be safer out of the home".[14] Their daughter Diana also recalled "seeing my father slap my mother across the face and I was hiding behind the door and she was crying".[14]

The marriage was not a happy one and, in 1967, Frances left John to be with Peter Shand Kydd, an heir to a wallpaper fortune in Australia, whom she had met the year before. Frances lived with their two youngest children, Diana and Charles, in London during the separation in 1967, but during that year's Christmas holidays, Viscount Althorp refused to let his children return to London with their mother.[15] John and Frances Spencer were divorced in 1969. Immediately thereafter, Frances married Peter Shand Kydd, while John was granted custody of their children by the courts after his former mother-in-law, Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy, testified against her own daughter.[16] In 1976, Lord Spencer married Raine McCorquodale, the former wife of the 9th Earl of Dartmouth and daughter of Captain Alexander McCorquodale, a British Army officer, and the romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland.

In 1978, Spencer suffered a severe stroke,[1] from which, at one stage, he was not expected to recover, and which kept him in hospital for eight months. Shortly before his death, he was hospitalised for pneumonia.[17] He died of a heart attack in 1992, and was succeeded by his only surviving son Charles.[18] His funeral was held at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Brington, and his ashes were interred in the family vault beneath the Spencer chapel.[19]

Coat of arms

Coat of arms of John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer
A Coronet of an Earl
Out of a Ducal Coronet Or a Griffin's Head Azure gorged with a Bar Gemelle Gules between two Wings expanded of the second
Quarterly Argent and Gules in the 2nd and 3rd quarters a Fret Or over all on a Bend Sable three Escallops of the first
Dexter: A Griffin per fess Ermine and Erminois gorged with a Collar Sable the edges flory-counterflory and chained of the last and on the Collar three Escallops Argent; Sinister: A Wyvern Erect on his tail Ermine similarly collared and chained
Dieu Defend Le Droit (God defend the right)




  1. ^ a b "The 8th Earl Spencer, 68, Dies; Father of the Princess of Wales". The New York Times. 30 March 1992. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "The 8th Earl Spencer Dies". The Washington Post. 30 March 1992. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  3. ^ Puente, Maria (4 September 2019). "Princess Diana's dad was WWII hero, her brother Charles Spencer reveals in 'Today' sitdown". USA Today. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  4. ^ Spencer, Charles (4 September 2019). "Charles Spencer, Princess Diana's brother, shares discovery of father's WWII heroism". Today. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  5. ^ Winston, George (24 September 2019). "Father of Princess Diana Was Hero Who Liberated Two Towns in WWII". Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner review – a bestselling glimpse of the royals". The Guardian. 7 December 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  7. ^ "The History of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute Archived 11 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine" website, retrieved 14 November 2011.
  8. ^ Coke, Hope (19 November 2020). "Behind The Crown: The true story of the Queen's cousins, Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon". Tatler. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  9. ^ "Bowes-Lyon Retardation Gene May Have Killed Males‎", The Age, 9 April 1987.
  10. ^ "Diana, Princess of Wales biography". The official website of the British Monarchy. Archived from the original on 25 May 2014. Earl Spencer was Equerry to George VI from 1950 to 1952, and to The Queen from 1952 to 1954.
  11. ^ "No. 40181". The London Gazette. 25 May 1954. p. 3072.
  12. ^ "Princess Diana: The Earl's daughter, born to life of privilege". CNN. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  13. ^ "Queen heads lists guests at wedding". The Gazette. Montreal. 1 June 1954. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  14. ^ a b Cohen, Rebecca (8 October 2021). "Princess Diana once witnessed her father 'slap' her mother during the royal's tumultuous childhood, CNN doc details". Insider. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  15. ^ Brown, Tina (2007). The Diana Chronicles. London; New York: Doubleday. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-385-51708-9.
  16. ^ The Times (London), Thursday, 8 July 1993; p. 4 col. D and p. 19 col. A
  17. ^ "Edward John Spencer; Earl Was Princess Diana's Father". Los Angeles Times. 30 March 1992. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  18. ^ "Edward John Spencer; Earl Was Princess Diana's Father". Times Wire Services. London. 30 March 1992. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  19. ^ "Princess Diana's father, 68, dead of heart attack". Associated Press. 30 March 1992. Retrieved 21 April 2024.
Honorary titles
Preceded by High Sheriff of Northamptonshire
Succeeded by
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by Earl Spencer
9 June 1975 – 29 March 1992
Succeeded by