After Eton he went into the Army, fighting in the Second World War. He was mentioned in dispatches for bravery, eventually gaining the rank of Captain in the Royal Scots Greys. After the war he served as ADC to Lord Norrie, Governor of South Australia, before becoming a courtier. He served King George VI and the Queen as an equerry, accompanying her on her tour of the Commonwealth in the early 1950s. He became a Member of the Royal Victorian Order in 1954.
He married The Honorable Frances Burke Roche on June 1, 1954. Their wedding was considered the social event of the year, attended by the Queen, the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret. After their marriage, the couple settled at Park House and Johnnie studied at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. They would have five children (one died in infancy) - Sarah (born 1955), Jane (born 1957), Diana (1961-1997) and Charles (born 1964), the present Earl Spencer. The couple were divorced in 1969, after Frances left Johnnie for Peter Shand Kydd. In the ensuing divorce, he won custody of his children.
He was passionate about photography, his wine cellar and people. As his eldest daughter Lady Sarah McCorquodale recalls:
"My father had an instinctive way with people...He was brilliant, and he stood in this wonderful shop at Althorp selling wine and he would come in and say, 'I've had a really good day today.' So we would say, 'Oh, have you sold lots of wine?' 'No' he'd reply, 'two divorces and a hysterectomy.' People would talk to him and he was gripped. He loved it.
Lord Spencer died on March 29th, 1992 of a heart attack, at Humana Hospital, Wellington, London, where he had been admitted for pneumonia on March 21st. He was cremated and buried at the traditional Spencer burial place, St. Mary's Church, Great Brighton, Northamptonshire.
© Marilyn Braun 2007
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