Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Royal Profile: Frances Shand Kydd

Two significant events occured on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk on January 20, 1936. King George V died and The Honorable Frances Ruth Burke Roche was born. The Fermoy's had long been friends of King George V and Queen Mary and it is said that Queen Mary was able to tell the King the news of her birth before he died. Frances was the younger daughter of Edmund Maurice Burke Roche, 4th Lord Fermoy, and Ruth Silvia Gill, an accomplished concert pianist and later lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Frances had an elder sister, Cynthia (or Mary), and a younger brother, Edmund.

She was educated at home in the schoolroom of Park House under a governess by the name of Miss Gertrude Allen, who would later teach Frances' own children. When Frances and her sister graduated from the schoolroom they went to Downham, in Hertfordshire. Frances did exceptionally well, leaving at the age of sixteen as head girl and captain of cricket, netball, lacrosse and tennis. She became a good tennis player and qualified for a national school's tournament, however appendicitis sidelined her chance to play at Wimbledon.

When she left school in 1952 to met John 'Johnny' Spencer, Viscount Althorp (later the 8th Earl Spencer). Like the Fermoy's, the Spencer's had long associations with the royal family and Johnny was equerry to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. On June 1, 1954 she married Johnny at Westminster Abbey. This wedding was touted as the society wedding of the year, attended by the queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. Frances at eighteen, was the youngest royal bride to be married in the Abbey in the 20th century. Like her daughter Diana, she married a man 12 years her senior.

The Althorps began their married life in Gloucestershire where Johnny was a student in a farming course at the Royal Agricultural College. They would have five children: Sarah (b 1955), Jane (b 1957), John (born 1960, and died within 10 hours of his birth), and Diana (born 1961). After the death of their son and the birth of Diana, the marriage was increasingly marred by pressure to produce a male heir to continue the Spencer title. Frances was sent to various doctors to evaluate her failure to produce a boy. In 1964, their son Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer was born.

Increasingly unhappy in her marriage, Frances caused a scandal by having an affair with a married, wealthy businessman, Peter Shand Kydd. Lord and Lady Althorp separated in 1967 and divorced in April 1969. As a result of her affair, and having been named as 'the other woman' in the Shand Kydd's divorce, Frances lost custody of her children. One month later, Frances married Peter on May 2, 1969 in a quiet register office ceremony. In 1972 the Shand Kydd's bought a 1,000 acre farm on the isle of Seil, south of Oban in Argyllshire.

The Shand Kydd's led a quiet life until Diana married into the royal family and the media turned their attention on the family. Peter and Frances separated in June 1988 after he had an affair with a younger woman. She continued to live on the island, and she was respected and known for taking long walks and for her love of fishing. She converted to Catholicism and was well known for her charity work. She died on June 3, 2004, in her home after a long illness at the age of 68.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Hon.Mrs.Frances Shand Kydd was a wonderful woman,and very elegant as always an iconic woman of elegance in her times.i salute her and adores her principles in life.

Anonymous said...

She sounds like a lovely person who wasn't as appreciated by her family as she should have been. Didn't that old Earl Spencer know that the father determines the baby's sex, not the mother?