Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Royal Profile: Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer

When Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, the Spencer's - one of England's preeminent aristocratic families, moved into the spotlight. While he is probably best known as the father of Diana, Princess of Wales, Johnnie Spencer was also a gifted amateur photographer, filmaker and people person.

Edward John (Johnnie) was born January 24, 1924, at 24 Sussex Square, London, the son of Albert, the 7th Earl Spencer and Lady Cynthia Hamilton. He had an older sister, Anne (born 1920).

He attended school at Wellesly House in Kent, where he boarded from the age of eight. He was popular, excelled academically, was good at sports, in particular cricket. Like generations of Spencer's, his son and later his grandsons, Princes William and Harry, Johnnie went to Eton in 1937. He excelled at soldiering, and also like his royal grandsons, he was educated at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Around this time his talent for photography began to emerge, and during wartime he chronicled bomb damage with his Box Brownie.

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.

20th May 1985:  The Earl (1924 - 1992) and Countess Spencer arriving at Spencer House for the 21st birthday of the Earl's son, Viscount Charles Althorp. The Earl is the father of Princess Diana and Prince Charles'  father-in-law.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) He became the 8th Earl Spencer upon the death of his father in 1975 and the family moved to Althorp. He married his second wife, Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, the daughter of the romance novelist, Barbara Cartland, on July 14, 1976. In September 1978 he collapsed due to a stroke, but recovered sufficiently to walk Diana down the aisle at her 1981 wedding.
He was chairman of the National Association of Boy's Clubs and a member of Northampton Council for 29 years. In 1983 he wrote a book with Raine called The Spencer's on Spas.

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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Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you are remembering the Princess of Wales late father. Do you think that the Diana Memorial Service will air here in America on next Friday? I don't see any listings.

Marilyn Braun said...

I hope that it will, but I haven't heard anything either. I would think that it should be, as I think that many members of the public would want to pay their respects too.

Marilyn Braun said...

Just an update, the BBC will be broadcasting the Diana memorial service.

Anonymous said...

Oh I see, so can watch it on BBC Online. Thank you for the update Marilyn.

Marilyn Braun said...

No problem, I was curious about it myself! :)

Anonymous said...

I am always intrigued by the physical resemblances of family members, for example the similiarities between Peter Phillips and his first cousin, Prince William. In this photo of the 8th Earl Spencer, I see the strong resemblance between the Earl and his son, Charles, the present Earl. In the recent CNN special about Princess Diana, they showed wedding photos and footage of the wedding of Diana's parents - I was amazed to realize in seeing those photos of her mother at age 20, that Diana's face is nearly identical in her blue-suit engagement photos (photos she hated) from February 1981. Diana's appearance began to change drastically from that point forward, but in that freeze-frame of time, she was her mother's twin. I cannot help but wonder how Diana would have looked if she had lived to her mother's age at the time of he wedding - she'd be approaching that now... :(