A public figure from the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles, Diana remained the focus of near-constant media scrutiny in the United Kingdom and around the world before, during and after her marriage, even in the years following her sudden death in a car crash, which was followed by a spontaneous and prolonged show of public mourning. Contemporary responses to Diana’s life and legacy were mixed but a popular fascination with the Princess endures. The long-awaited Coroner’s Inquest concluded in April 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the negligent driving of the following vehicles and the driver of the Mercedes in which she was travelling.
Diana was the youngest daughter of John Spencer, Viscount Althorpta, later the 8th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Frances, Viscountess Althorp (formerly the Honorable Frances Burke Roche, and later Frances Shand Kydd). She was born at Park House, Sandringham in Norfolk, England on 1 July 1961. She was baptized on August 30, 1961 at St. Mary Magdalene Church by the Rt. Rev. Percy Herbert (rector of the church and former Bishop of Norwich and Blackburn), with godparents that included John Floyd (the chairman of Christie’s). She was the fourth child to the couple, with elder sisters Sarah, born in 1955, and Jane, born in 1957, as well as an infant brother, The Honourable John Spencer, who was born and died on 12 January 1960. The heir to the Spencer titles and estates, her younger brother, Charles, was born three years after her, in 1964.
Following her parents’ acrimonious divorce in 1969 (over Lady Althorp’s affair with wallpaper heir Peter Shand Kydd), Diana’s mother took her and her younger brother to live in an apartment in London’s Knightsbridge, where Diana attended a local day school. At Christmas the children returned to Norfolk with their mother, and Lord Althorp subsequently refused to allow them to return to London. Lady Althorp sued for custody, but her mother’s testimony during the trial against her contributed to the court awarding custody of Diana and her brother to their father.
In 1976 Lord Spencer married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, the only daughter of romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, after he was named as the “other party” in the Dartmouths’ divorce. During this time Diana travelled between her parents’ homes. Her father inherited the earldom and Spencer seat in Northamptonshire in 1975, and with her mother moved to the Island of Seil on the west coast of Scotland. Diana, like her siblings, did not get along with her stepmother.
On her father’s side, she was a descendant of King Charles II of England through four illegitimate sons:
* Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton, son by Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland
* Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond and Lennox, son by Louise de Kérouaille
* Charles Beau clerk, son by Nell Gwyn
* James Crofts- Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, leader of a famous rebellion, son by Lucy Walter
She was also a descendant of King James II of England through an illegitimate daughter, Henrietta Fitz James.
Her family had produced other Diana Spencer’s in previous centuries: one almost became queen, and the other had an unhappy marriage and divorce. The first, who lived 1710-1735, was the daughter of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and his wife, Lady Anne Churchill, daughter of the John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her grandmother, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, wanted to arrange a marriage with George, Prince of Wales (George II), but a relative, Sir Robert Walpole, put an end to it. In 1731, she married John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, becoming Lady Diana Russell, Duchess of Bedford. The second (1734-1808) was the daughter of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough and the Honorable Elizabeth Trevor. She married Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke (1734–1787) in 1757, and from 1762–1768 was lady of the bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. Her marriage was unhappy and Bolingbroke was notoriously unfaithful. In February of 1768 he petitioned for divorce on grounds of adultery. She became an artist and is known to history as Lady Diana Beau clerk.
On her mother’s side, Diana was Irish and Scottish, as well as a descendant of American heiress Frances Work, her mother’s grandmother and namesake, from whom the considerable Burke Roche fortune was derived.
The Spencer’s had been close to the British Royal Family for centuries, rising in royal favour during the 1600s. Diana’s maternal grandmother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy, was a long-time friend and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her father had served as an equerry to King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth II.
Diana was first educated at Silfield School, Kings Lynn, Norfolk, then at Riddles worth Hall in Norfolk, and at West Heath Girls’ School (later reorganised as the The New School at West Heath) in Seven oaks, Kent, where she was regarded as a poor student, having attempted and failed all of her O-levels twice. Her outstanding community spirit was recognised with an award from West Heath. In 1977, at the age of 16, she left West Heath and briefly attended Institute Alpin Videmanette, a finishing school in Rougemont, Switzerland. At about that time, she first met her future husband, who was dating her eldest sister, Lady Sarah. Diana reportedly excelled in swimming and diving, and longed to be a ballerina. She studied ballet for a time, but at 5’10” was too tall to become a professional.
Diana moved to London before she turned seventeen, living in her mother’s flat, as her mother then was living most of the year in Scotland. Soon afterward an apartment was purchased for £50,000 sterling, as an 18th birthday present, at Cole erne Court in the Earls Court area of the Kensington and Chelsea. She lived there until 1981 with three flat mates.
In London she took an advanced cooking course at her mother’s suggestion, although she never became an adroit cook, and worked first as a dance instructor for youth, until a skiing accident caused her to miss three months of work. She then got a job as a kindergarten assistant, did some cleaning work for her sister Sarah and several of her friends, and worked as a hostess at parties.
Prince Charles’s love life had often been the subject of press speculation, and he was linked to many glamorous and aristocratic women, including Diana’s older sister Sarah. Charles had also dated Dvina Sheffield, Scottish heiress Anna Wallace, the Honourable Amanda Knatchbull (granddaughter of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma), Susan George (actress), Lady Jane Wellesley, heiress Sabrina Guinness and Camilla Shand, among others. In his early thirties, he was under increasing pressure to marry. Legally, his marriage required the Queen’s formal consent. The only requirement was he could not marry a Roman Catholic or lose his place in the order of succession; a member of the Church of England was preferred. In order to gain the approval of his family and their advisers, any potential bride was expected to have a royal or aristocratic background, be a virgin, as well as be Protestant.
Prince Charles had known Diana for several years, but he first took a serious interest in her as a potential bride during the summer of 1980, when they were guests at a country weekend, where she watched him play polo. The relationship developed as he invited her for a sailing weekend to Cowes, aboard the royal yacht Britannia, followed by an invitation to Balmoral Castle, the Windsor family’s Scottish home, to meet his family. Diana was well received at Balmoral by Queen Elizabeth II, by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the Queen Mother. The couple then had several dates in London. The prince proposed on 6 February 1981, and Diana accepted, but their engagement was kept secret for the next few weeks.
Engagement and wedding
Their engagement became official on the 24th February, 1981, after Diana selected a walnut-sized £30,000 ring consisting of 14 diamonds surrounding a sapphire, similar to her mother’s engagement ring.
The 20-year-old became The Princess of Wales when she married Charles on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral, which offered more seating than Westminster Abbey, generally used for royal nuptials. It was widely billed as a “fairytale wedding,” watched by a global television audience of 750 million. At the altar Diana accidentally reversed the order of Charles’s names, saying Philip Charles Arthur George instead. She also did not say she would “obey,” which caused a sensation at the time. The ceremony began at 11:20 A.M. BST and Diana wore a dress valued at £9000 with 25 foot train. The couple’s wedding cake was created by Belgian pastry chef S. G. Sender, who was known as the “cake maker to the kings.”
On 5 November 1981, Diana’s first pregnancy was officially announced, and she frankly discussed her condition with members of the press corps. In the private Lindo wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington on 21 June 1982, Diana gave birth to her first son and heir, William. There was some controversy in the media when she decided to take William, still a baby, on her first major overseas visit to Australia and New Zealand, but which was popularly applauded. By her own admission, Diana had not initially thought to, or insisted upon, bringing William until it was suggested by the Australian Prime Minister.
A second son, Henry was born a little over two years after William on 15 September 1984. According to Diana, she and Prince Charles were closest during her pregnancy with “Harry,” as the younger prince became known. She was aware their second child was a boy, but did not share the knowledge with anyone else, including Prince Charles, who was hoping for a girl.
Even during her lifetime, when Diana underwent frequent and regular criticism for her choice of charities, her public image, relationship with the media, as well as her relationship with her husband and his family, Diana was universally regarded as a devoted mother who lavished her sons with attention and affection. Diana rarely deferred to Prince Charles or the royal family, and was often implacable when it came to her children. She chose their first given names, went against the royal custom of circumcision, dismissed a royal family nanny and hired one of her choosing, in addition to choosing their schools, clothes, planning their outings and taking them to school as often as her schedule permitted. She also negotiated her public duties around their time-tables.
Starting in the mid- to late 1980s, the Princess of Wales became increasingly known for her support of numerous charities. This stemmed naturally from her role as Princess of Wales—she was expected to visit hospitals and other state agencies in the 20th century model of royal patronage. Diana, however, developed an interest in serious illnesses and health-related matters outside the purview of traditional royal involvement, including AIDS and leprosy. In addition, the Princess patronised charities and organisations working with the homeless, youth, drug addicts and the elderly. From 1989, she was President of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.
Diana was most famously, in the last year of her life, the most visible supporter of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a campaign that went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 after her death, which many believed was a posthumous tribute to the Princess.
In April 1987, the Princess of Wales was one of the first public figures to be photographed touching a person infected with HIV. She contributed to changing the public opinion of AIDS sufferers during the subsequent years, as her involvement with a variety of AIDS charities, not only in the United Kingdom but in North America, Africa and Asia as well, was a consistent public role she embraced.
Problems and separation
In the early 1990s, the marriage of Diana and Charles fell apart, an event at first suppressed, then sensationalised, by the world media. Both the Prince and Princess of Wales allegedly spoke to the press through friends, each blaming the other for the marriage’s demise. Charles resumed his old, pre-marital affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana claimed Charles resumed his affair with Camilla as early as 1984, just three years after their marriage, while Charles later admitted to resuming it around 1986. Asked what part Camilla had played in the break-up of her marriage, Diana commented during the BBC programme Panorama, “Well there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.
During the Panorama television interview, shown on 20 November 1995, Diana confirmed she had an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Charles had confirmed his own affair over a year earlier in a televised interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. The Prince and Princess of Wales were separated on 9 December 1992. Although her affair with Hewitt was the longest lived of her affairs, Diana also had relationships with other men after her affair with Hewitt ended when he was posted to Germany. According to some sources, but which Diana vehemently denied, she had an affair that preceded her affair with Hewitt, with her bodyguard, but after leaving the Royal Protection squad he was killed in a motorcycle accident.
While she blamed Camilla Parker Bowles for her marital troubles, at some point Diana began to believe Charles had other affairs. In October 1993 Diana wrote to a friend that she believed her husband was now in love with Tiggy Legge-Bourke and wanted to marry her. Legge-Bourke had been hired by Prince Charles as a young companion for his sons while they were in his care, and Diana was extremely resentful of Legge-Bourke and her relationship with the young princes.
On 3 December 1993, Diana announced her withdrawal from public life.
In December 1995, the Queen asked Charles and Diana for “an early divorce,” as a direct result of Diana’s Panorama interview. This followed shortly after Diana’s accusation that Tiggy Legge-Bourke had aborted Charles’s child, after which Legge-Bourke instructed Peter Carter-Ruck to demand an apology. Two days before this story broke, Diana’s secretary Patrick Jephson resigned, later writing Diana had “exulted in accusing Legge-Bourke of having had an abortion.
On 20 December 1995, Buckingham Palace publicly announced the Queen had sent letters to Charles and Diana advising them to divorce. The Queen’s move was backed by the Prime Minister and by senior Privy Councillors, and, according to the BBC, was decided after two weeks of talks. Prince Charles immediately agreed with the suggestion. In February Diana announced her agreement after negotiations with Prince Charles and representatives of Queen, irritating Buckingham Palace by issuing her own announcement of a divorce agreement and its terms.
The divorce was finalised on 28 August 1996.
Diana received a lump sum settlement of around £17 million along with a clause standard in royal divorces preventing her from discussing the details. Diana and her advisors shrewdly negotiated with Charles and his representatives, with Charles reportedly having to liquidate all of his personal holdings, as well as borrowing from the Queen, to meet her financial demands. The Royal Family would have preferred an alimony settlement, which would have provided some degree of control over the erstwhile Princess of Wales.
Days before the decree absolute of divorce, Letters Patent were issued with general rules to regulate royal titles after divorce. In accordance, as she was no longer married to the Prince of Wales, Diana lost the style Her Royal Highness and instead was styled Diana, Princess of Wales, the standard styling for divorced wives of nobility, where divorce had been common for decades. Buckingham Palace issued a press release on the day of the decree absolute of divorce was issued, announcing Diana’s change of title.
Buckingham Palace stated Diana was still a member of the Royal Family, as she was the mother of the second- and third-in-line to the throne, which was confirmed by the Deputy Coroner of the Queen’s Household, Baroness Butler-Sloss, after a pre-hearing on 8 January 2007: “I am satisfied that at her death, Diana, Princess of Wales continued to be considered as a member of the Royal Household. This appears to have been confirmed in the High Court judicial review matter of Al Fayed & Ors v Butler-Sloss. In that case, three High Court judges accepted submissions that the “very name ‘Coroner to the Queen’s Household’ gave the appearance of partiality in the context of inquests into the deaths of two people, one of whom was a member of the Royal Family and the other was not.
Personal life after divorce
After the divorce, Diana retained her double apartment on the north side of Kensington Palace, which she had shared with Prince Charles since the first year of their marriage, and it remained her home until her death.
Diana dated respected heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, from Jhelum, Pakistan, who was called “the love of her life” after her death by many her closest friends, for almost two years, before Khan ended the relationship. Khan was intensely private and the relationship was conducted in secrecy, with Diana lying to members of the press who questioned her about it. Khan was from a traditional Pakistani family who expected him to marry from a related Muslim clan, and although Diana expressed willingness to convert to Islam, their differences, not only religion, became too much for Khan. He reportedly ended the relationship in a late-night meeting in Hyde Park, which adjoins the grounds of Kensington Palace, in June 1997.
Within a month Diana had begun seeing Dodi Fayed, son of her host that summer, Mohamed Al-Fayed. Diana had considered taking her sons that summer on a holiday to The Hamptons on Long Island, New York, but security officials had prevented it. After deciding against a trip to Thailand, she accepted Fayed’s invitation to join his family on the south of France, where his compound and large security detail would not cause concern with Royal Protection squad. Mohamed Al-Fayed bought a multi-million pound yacht on which to entertain the princess and her sons.
In January 1997, pictures of the Princess touring an Angolan minefield in a ballistic helmet and flak jacket were seen worldwide. It was during this campaign that some accused the Princess of meddling in politics and declared her a ‘loose cannon. In August 1997, just days before her death, she visited Bosnia with the Landmine Survivors Network. Her interest in landmines was focused on the injuries they create, often to children, long after a conflict is over.
She is believed to have influenced the signing, though only after her death, of the Ottawa Treaty, which created an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. Introducing the Second Reading of the Landmines Bill 1998 to the British House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, paid tribute to Diana’s work on landmines:
All Honourable Members will be aware from their postbags of the immense contribution made by Diana, Princess of Wales to bringing home to many of our constituents the human costs of landmines. The best way in which to record our appreciation of her work, and the work of NGOs that have campaigned against landmines, is to pass the Bill, and to pave the way towards a global ban on landmines.
The United Nations appealed to the nations which produced and stockpiled the largest numbers of landmines (United States, China, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia) to sign the Ottawa Treaty forbidding their production and use, for which Diana had campaigned. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that landmines remained “a deadly attraction for children, whose innate curiosity and need for play often lure them directly into harm’s way”.
On 31 August 1997, Diana died after a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris along with Dodi Al-Fayed and the acting security manager of the Hotel Ritz Paris, Henri Paul, who was instructed to drive the hired Mercedes-Benz through Paris in order to elude the paparazzi. Their black 1994 Mercedes-Benz S280 crashed into the thirteenth pillar of the tunnel. The two-lane tunnel was built without metal barriers in front of the pillars. Only one of the four occupants wore seat belts.
Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, she died at 4 a.m. local time. Her funeral on 6 September 1997 was broadcast and watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide.
An eighteen month French judicial investigation concluded in 1999 that the car crash that killed Diana was caused by Paul, who lost control of the car at high speed while intoxicated.
Since February 1999, Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al-Fayed (the owner of the Hotel Ritz, for which Paul worked) has claimed that the crash was a result of a conspiracy, and has since contended that the crash was orchestrated by MI6 on the instructions of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
An inquest headed by Lord Justice Scott Baker into the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed began at the Royal Courts of Justice, London on 2 October 2007 and was a continuation of the original inquest that began in 2004. A jury decided on 7 April 2008 that Diana had been unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of chauffeur Henri Paul and press photographers. The following day Mr. Fayed announced he would end his 10 year campaign for the sake of the late Princess of Wales’ children.
Tribute, funeral, and burial
Diana’s funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997. The previous day, following a week long absence from the public eye, Queen ElizabethII paid tribute to her former daughter-in-law in a live television broadcast.