Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led

Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led

by Anne Edwards

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Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led by Anne Edwards

"This is the stuff of fairy tales," said the Archbishop of Canterbury on July 23, 1981, after the 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer arrived in a glass coach for her wedding to Prince Charles. But everyone knows how that fairy tale ended.

Drawing upon intensive research and interviews, acclaimed biographer Anne Edwards, well-known for her revelatory and incisive books on members of Britain's royal family, here uncovers new details of Diana's life and her search for love; of her family background; and of a betrayal, historic in its outcome. What the public did not know at the time of her storybook wedding was the true story of Diana's troubled childhood-of the cold, autocratic grandfather who disdained her father, who was himself an abusive husband obsessed with having a son to inherit the Spencer wealth and title.

When Diana married Prince Charles, she joined the equally troubled House of Windsor, and was caught up in a plot Shakespearean in its deception and eventual tragic ending. Anne Edwards paints a vivid portrait of a woman desperate in her marriage, fearful of her life, who became devious-and often brilliant-in the moves she played in a treacherous royal chess game.

As in her superb biographies of other royal and celebrated women, Anne Edwards's Ever After transcends the one-sided views of Diana in a work that must be called definitive. At long last, and with all of the insight and narrative drama that have marked her previous bestsellers, Edwards brings us the first full-scale, authoritative portrait of a more intelligent, more resourceful, and sometimes more ruthless woman than we have seen before.

"Diana's many fans are sure to be delighted by Edwards's intimate prose and detailed descriptions." - Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250293909
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 414
Sales rank: 237,203
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Anne Edwards, who lived in London for many years and has close friends within royal circles, is the author of many bestselling biographies, including Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor and Royal Sisters: Elizabeth and Margaret. She is known for her meticulous research and ability to portray her subjects with passion and sympathy. She has also written biographies of Vivien Leigh, Margaret Mitchell, Katharine Hepburn, and Sonya, Countess Tolstoy.

Anne Edwards's biographies include Vivien Leigh: A Biography, the New York Times bestseller that has become a classic in the field. Other acclaimed titles include Early Reagan: The Rise to Power; Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor; and Katharine Hepburn: A Biography. Anne Edwards is a former president of the Authors Guild and a sought-after speaker. Currently, she and her husband, musical theater historian Stephen Citron, live in Beverly Hills, California.

Read an Excerpt


At the age of three Diana Spencer was taken on a rare visit to see her paternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess Spencer, at Althorp House in Northamptonshire, on what was intended to be an occasion of great celebration. Her mother had produced a healthy male heir for the House of Spencer, which had featured prominently in the history of England since the mid-sixteenth century. The young heir, her infant brother Charles, was screaming in his nanny's arms unaware that one day he would inherit a substantial fortune, an earldom — granted originally by Charles I — and the massive estate whose noble halls, on this crisp autumn day in 1964, echoed to his bawling cries. Diana knew there was something special about Charles that made him more important to her parents than either she or her two older sisters, Sarah and Jane: since his birth there had been an air of jubilation in their home, Park House near King's Lynn.

After the rail journey, the family was met at Northampton station by the Earl's dark green Rolls-Royce, adorned with the Spencer crest, and driven the remaining six miles to Althorp. The splendid Tudor mansion, with its vast acreage, had been home to the Spencer family since 1508. The current Earl was vigorously protective of his cars so the chauffeur drove slowly along the Northampton-Rugby road, through small villages whose inhabitants had been reliant for generations upon the successive masters of Althorp for their livelihood.

At last the car passed through the gates of Althorp and continued on beneath an arch of ancient oaks to the front entrance where the Earl and Countess were standing. Upon arrival, Diana's mother Frances, a tall, lean, blonde woman, pushed forward the little girl at her side and let go of herhand. "This is Diana, the shy one," she announced.

Diana gazed up at the gruff, unsmiling face of her grandfather, Albert (Jack) Edward John Spencer, the 7th Earl Spencer. Later she recalled being too terrified to speak as he grunted something at her, then turned his back and walked away.

A moment later her grandmother, Cynthia, bent down, took her hand and said, "Well, Diana, you certainly have grown into a lovely big girl." These words, with minor revisions appropriate to Diana's passage from childhood to adolescence, were repeated on all her future visits to Althorp until her grandmother's death.

Diana adored her grandmother, in whose presence she always felt protected. She was still lovely, with softly waved silver hair and deep blue eyes, and a warm, genuine smile. It was she who kept the peace between her rather brusque husband and his family.

On that day, Cynthia led Diana across the black and white checkered marble floor of the hall, up the deep steps of the grand, balustered staircase. They went along a wide corridor hung with portraits of men in uniform, swords at their sides, and bejewelled women, until eventually Countess Spencer opened a door into "a soft blue and delicately flowered" sitting room. "This was my favourite book as a child," she said as she retrieved a book with a brightly coloured cover from a glass-fronted cabinet. "I would like you to have it now." It was an illustrated edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, which Diana treasured for the rest of her life.

Diana never knew her grandfather well, for Jack Spencer had little interest in his family. Althorp was his passion and he had great pride in his Spencer heritage which he considered, because of its solid English roots, of a higher order than that of the Windsors. That dynasty had been founded by the Hanoverian George I in 1714, four centuries after William Spencer, an English sheep-farmer, had become a prominent landowner. Jack Spencer had one son, Diana's father Edward John — Johnnie — Viscount Althorp, for whom he had small regard. Johnnie lacked intellectual curiosity, and he had little respect for the history of the earldom that he would one day inherit Neither could he manage his income. He drank heavily, and family rumour ran that he had struck Frances more than once.

Diana was fascinated by the family portraits, so much so that it would not take too many years before she would be well-schooled in her family history. She made a practice of interweaving the basic facts about the Spencers with those she learned about the kings and queens of England. For instance it was Sir John Spencer (1533–99) who had built Althorp and founded the family fortunes during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. His son-in-law Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, Lord Treasurer and Lord High Steward had been given the awesome task in 1587 of informing Mary Queen of Scots that she had been sentenced to death, and in 1600 had presided over the trial for disobedience of the Earl of Essex.

More than a hundred portraits and paintings, by Van Dyck and Gainsborough among others, hung in Althorp's spectacular Long Gallery. Diana came to know the history of most of their subjects. There were also portraits of many of the estate's illustrious royal guests: Queen Anne, James Fs consort; King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria; King Edward VII; King George V and VI and their queens, Mary and Elizabeth; and the Empress of Austria were only a few among the many who enjoyed its ambience, hunt parties and fine library.

Among Diana's antecedents were ambassadors, privy councillors and Knights of the Garter. There were intellectuals, politicians, poets and philosophers — philanderers and Philistines too. She was related to Charles II, seven American presidents, and the distinguished Suffolk, Sunderland, Shaftesbury, Marlborough, Abercorn, Seymour, Halifax, Devonshire, Peel, Baring and Churchill families. Through the Suffolks the Spencers were directly descended from King Henry VII. They could also claim descent from Sir Robert Walpole, usually regarded as the first prime minister, the great Duke of Marlborough and the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey. Diana was proud of her Spencer ancestry and when at times she faced confrontation, she would say to herself, "Remember, Diana, you are a Spencer."

Diana took away from her first visit to Althorp the warm memory of Grandmother Spencer, and a sense of apprehension when she thought of her grandfather, whose oppressive personality pervaded the great house. Later in life she said she could feel his presence minutes before he entered a room. Of that visit she also recalled that her parents had abruptly gathered together their children and departed hurriedly, her father's face red and unsmiling, her mother silent until they were on their way home to Park House. Then there was a row. Diana never knew what had been the cause, but it left her with a sense of foreboding that shadowed her childhood and followed her throughout her life.


Diana's grandfather devoted his life to the preservation of Althorp. He had little time for frivolity and had no patience with fools or children. A blunt man, "he would say and do precisely what he thought true and right without the faintest regard for the reaction his words or deeds might produce."

Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, he had been wounded in the shoulder and leg in the First World War. His experiences at the front and the brutality of battle marked him for life. His wounds, though not life-threatening, had caused him considerable and lasting pain and might have accounted in part for his frequent ill-humour. He became the 7th Earl Spencer in 1922, aged thirty, on the death of his father, Charles Robert, Earl Spencer, three years after he and Cynthia were married, and two years before the birth of his son and heir, Diana's father.

When he was eight Johnnie Spencer was sent away to board at St. Peter's Court School in Broadstairs. The regime was strict, the dormitories unheated, curtainless and grim. Parents were allowed to visit only once a term. Johnnie recalled that his mother made these trips alone or with his older sister Anne. At thirteen, in the summer of 1937, he went on to Eton. He was not popular there, perhaps because he liked playing tricks on his fellows — he once put a worm in another boy's food.

In his senior year, as was customary, he had a "fag," a younger boy who had to do chores for him. "He wasn't as fierce as some one heard about," said John Bovill, "and didn't beat me much. I had to light the fire in his room, make his toast for tea and run his errands. There was a tuck shop where you could get some fried bread, which we called rafts, with an egg or sausage on it. In wartime, though [coal and sticks were scare and a fire was difficult to start] — woe betide you if you didn't get it going ... Toast was cooked in front of the fire, and when on one occasion I burned it, Johnnie gave me six of the best with a leather belt."

After Eton, Johnnie went to Sandhurst for a year before joining the Army in 1942 at eighteen. After his initial training he received his commission and, in the spring of 1944, joined the Royal Scots Greys. He fought in Normandy with the Tank Corps, a traumatic experience. "We have been existing in a world of noise, ruin and the choking dust of a boiling summer," he wrote in his diary. "Evil sights and the stench of burned flesh have become more and more commonplace." In August 1944, when his regiment was fighting near Caen and overcoming German forces, he recorded, "Everywhere in ditches, in carts, in streams and on the roads lay scattered hundreds of German bodies rapidly decaying under the August sun." Like many others, he tried to obliterate the haunting images in heavy drinking.

He fought hard and well, but even so he was unable to win the admiration of his company. "He had all the signs of never having been given his head," his senior commanding officer confessed. "He was very nice but very stupid, very slow and lacking in go ... It was all squashed out of him by a domineering father. He had beautiful manners and was always correct, but was one of the stupidest officers I had at that time met. I recall a private soldier remarking to me that you could set his trousers on fire and it would be ten minutes before he realized his bun was burning — though the word used, needless to say, was not bun."

During the war, Althorp was used by the armed forces as temporary headquarters for soldiers about to be sent to France. The park was a mass of tents and although Jack Spencer considered himself a patriot, he was not pleased at the presence of the troops. He claimed they blocked his view of his estate and demanded that the men run past windows that faced the best vistas.

His father's wartime injuries and their shared experience of war might have brought Johnnie Spencer closer to his father, but they were always at loggerheads. The Earl was a domineering father and Johnnie never seemed able to please him. Jack Spencer was accustomed to having his own way.

In the early 1950s, when Jack Spencer heard that the family vault under St. Mary's Church in Great Brington, which adjoined the Althorp estate, was overcrowded and that many of the coffins were disintegrating, he cremated the remains of his ancestors, to the disapproval of "his more conventional neighbours." The villagers felt he had committed an act of desecration. However, Earl Spencer dismissed their objections as misguided.

One of the few amusing stories told about Jack Spencer had to do with his penchant for dark green Rolls-Royces. His chauffeur had strict orders "never to turn his head when the Earl was in the car, but to start the car and move off when he heard the door slam." One day Jack was being driven to Buckingham Palace, in his official attire as honorary sheriff of Northampton. On the return journey he ordered the chauffeur to stop near some thick bushes by the roadside and got out to relieve himself. A strong wind was blowing, the car door slammed shut and the chauffeur drove off, "leaving the Earl stranded and he had to hitch a lift in full regalia from a passing motorist." The story became part of family lore but was never repeated in front of the Earl himself.

Another anecdote recalls how Jack once entered the Long Library at Althorp where his cousin Winston Churchill was researching a book on the Duke of Marlborough. On finding Churchill smoking a cigar, the Earl "ripped it right out of his mouth": he allowed no one to smoke there for fear of damage to Althorp's wealth of rare books.

Cynthia's soft nature did not offset her husband's gruffness, but it did contribute to his social acceptance. More importantly, in personal terms, it had given her son, Johnnie, who she tried desperately hard to protect from his father's ill-temper without much success, a home where love and warmth was accessible and where Jack Spencer's authoritarian rule could be somewhat modified, if only in small ways, by her intervention. But she had long ago given up trying to mediate between her grown son and her aging husband. Rather, Cynthia turned her attention to her grandchildren who she sensed, with great sadness, were presently caught between two warring parents.

The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer was born in her parents' bedroom at Park House on 1 July 1961, as the sun was setting and shadows falling across the vast rear lawns and the open fields where her father's cows grazed. Her mother had been in labour since early that morning. Diana was her third daughter; her only son, John, born eighteen months earlier, had lived just ten hours. Frances knew that unless she could deliver a son, Althorp, the Spencer fortunes and the title would pass on Johnnie's death to his nephew.

Her first words to the midwife who had attended Diana's birth were, "Is it a boy?"

When she was told she had a girl, weighing seven pounds twelve ounces, it is claimed she said, "Johnnie will be so disappointed." And, indeed, although he loved his three daughters, Viscount Althorp badly wanted a son.

"Diana wasn't many hours old," Ray Hunt, the former groundsman at Park House recalled, "[When] Viscount Althorp sent for me and asked if I would put the lounge television in the bedroom for his wife so that she could have a telly to watch in bed. [He] and I carried this monstrous console television up the staircase and put it in the bedroom. Lady Althorp was in bed with Diana and said to me, 'Come have a look at the little brat, right?' She was laughing because she didn't mean it and I went over and had a look — and she was beautiful, a beautiful baby."

Shortly after Diana's birth, Frances visited a series of Harley Street specialists to undergo tests to determine why she could not deliver a healthy boy. In the early sixties it was not yet commonly known that a child's sex is determined by its father. It was a painful and humiliating experience for her, compounded by post-natal depression. Johnnie and Frances quarrelled endlessly, their raised voices echoing through Park House, and Frances suffered constantly from migraine headaches, which made the sound of her three children at play unbearable.

Before her marriage to Johnnie Spencer, the eighteen-year-old Frances Roche, daughter of Lord and Lady Fermoy, had been free-spirited, cheerful, attractive and popular with her "set." She was a skilful dancer, but not gifted in any of the arts — a disappointment to her mother who was a talented musician.

It was in 1953, at a dance at Holkham Hall, the nearby home of the Earl and Countess of Leicester, that Frances met Johnnie Spencer, Viscount Althorp. He was slim and tanned, his red hair slicked back to frame his high forehead and his well-defined features. He had recently completed a tour of duty as equerry to Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, and was at Sandringham for the weekend as a guest. He was about to become engaged to Lady Anne Coke, eldest daughter of the Leicesters. Anne had been a maid of honour to the Queen at her coronation and there was much excitement in the county over her expected betrothal.

However, from the moment Johnnie set eyes on Frances as she whirled around the dance floor in her escort's arms he was drawn to her. At one point she caught him staring at her, came over and asked if he wanted to dance with her. He accepted and hardly left her side for the rest of the evening.


Excerpted from "Ever After"
by .
Copyright © 1999 Anne Edwards.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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