Updated: Aug 9
Lady Diana Frances Spencer, was born on 1 July 1961 at Park House near Sandringham, Norfolk.
She was the youngest daughter of the then Viscount & Viscountess Althorp, now the late (8th) Earl Spencer & the late Hon. Mrs Shand-Kydd, daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy. Diana was baptised at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham on 30 August 1961. Prior to her father inheriting the Earldom, she was styled The Honourable Diana Spencer.
Her father the Viscount Althorp was Equerry to king George VI from 1950 to 1952, & to The Queen from 1952 to 1954. Lady Diana's parents, who had married in 1954, separated in 1967 & the marriage was dissolved in 1969. Earl Spencer later married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth in 1976.
Together with her two elder sisters Sarah (born 1955), Jane (born 1957) & her brother Charles (born 1964), Diana continued to live with her father at Park House, Sandringham (leased to them by Queen Elizabeth II), until the death of her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer. Her father became the 8th Earl Spencer, & Diana was now titled ' Lady Diana Frances Spencer'. In 1975, the family moved to the Spencer seat at Althorp in Northamptonshire.
DID YOU KNOW? The royal family frequently holidayed at the neighbouring Sandringham House, & Diana played with the Queen's sons Prince Andrew & Prince Edward.
Lady Diana was educated first at a preparatory school, Riddlesworth Hall at Diss, Norfolk, & then in 1974 went as a boarder to West Heath, near Sevenoaks, Kent. At school she showed a particular talent for music (as an accomplished pianist), dancing & domestic science, & gained the school's award for the girl giving maximum help to the school & her schoolfellows. Diana also excelled in swimming & diving, & studied ballet and tap dance.
She left West Heath in 1977 & went to finishing school at the Institut Alpin Videmanette in Rougemont, Switzerland, which she left after the Easter term of 1978. The following year she moved to her mother's flat which she shared with two school friends in Coleherne Court, London. For a while she worked as a nanny looking after the child of an American couple, & she also worked as a kindergarten teacher at the Young England School in Pimlico, City of Westminster, London. In July 1979, her mother bought her a flat at Coleherne Court in Earl's Court as an 18th birthday present. She lived there with three flatmates until 25 February 1981.
DID YOU KNOW? Both of Diana's grandmothers had served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
Marriage & family
Lady Diana & the Prince of Wales met during a country weekend during the summer of 1980 when she watched him play polo & the Prince took a serious interest in Diana as a potential bride. They met again when he was invited to a weekend at Althorp in November 1977. Diana was invited to Balmoral in Scotland to meet his family one weekend in November 1980. Lady Diana was well received by the Queen, the Queen Mother & the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles subsequently courted Diana in London. The Prince proposed on 6 February 1981, & Lady Diana accepted, but their engagement was kept secret for the next few weeks.
Their engagement became official on 24 February 1981. Diana selected a large engagement ring that consisted of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-carat white gold, which was similar to her mother's engagement ring. The ring was made by the Crown jewellers Garrard. In 2010, it became the engagement ring of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
DID YOU KNOW? The Queen Mother gave Diana a sapphire & diamond brooch as an engagement present.
After the engagement announcement, Diana left her occupation as a kindergarten assistant & lived for a short period at Clarence House, which was the home of the Queen Mother. She then lived at Buckingham Palace until the wedding. She made her first public appearance with Prince Charles in a charity ball in March 1981 at Goldsmiths' Hall.
Twenty-year-old Diana became Princess of Wales when she married the Prince of Wales on 29 July 1981 at St Paul's Cathedral, which offered more seating than Westminster Abbey.
The ceremony drew a global television & radio audience estimated at around 1,000 million people, & hundreds of thousands of people lining the route from Buckingham Palace to the Cathedral. The wedding reception was held at Buckingham Palace.
The marriage was solemnised by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Runcie, together with the Dean of St Paul's; clergy from other denominations read prayers. Music included the hymns 'Christ is made the sure foundation', 'I vow to thee my country', the anthem 'I was glad' (by Sir Hubert Parry), a specially composed anthem 'Let the people praise thee' by Professor Mathias, & Handel's 'Let the bright seraphim' performed by Dame Kiri te Kanawa. The lesson was read by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr George Thomas (the late Lord Tonypandy).
Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne for 300 years (when Anne Hyde married the future James II from whom The Princess was descended). The bride wore a silk taffeta dress with a 25-foot train designed by the Emanuels, her veil was held in place by the Spencer family diamond tiara, and she carried a bouquet of gardenias, lilies-of-the-valley, white freesia, golden roses, white orchids & stephanotis.
She was attended by five bridesmaids, including Princess Margaret's daughter Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (now Lady Sarah Chatto). Prince Andrew (now The Duke of York) and Prince Edward (now The Earl of Wessex) were The Prince of Wales's Supporters (a Royal custom instead of a Best Man).
After she became Princess of Wales, Diana automatically acquired rank as the third-highest female in the United Kingdom Order of Precedence (after the Queen &the Queen Mother), & was fifth or sixth in the orders of precedence of her other realms, following the Queen, the relevant viceroy, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother, & the Prince of Wales. Within a few years of the wedding, the Queen granted her the title of the Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Prince & Princess of Wales spent part of their honeymoon at the Mountbatten family home at Broadlands, Hampshire, before flying out to Gibraltar to join the Royal Yacht HMY BRITANNIA for a 12-day cruise through the Mediterranean to Egypt. They finished their honeymoon with a stay at Balmoral.
The Prince & Princess made their principal home at Highgrove House near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, with an apartment in Kensington Palace as their London home.
They had two sons. Prince William Arthur Philip Louis was born on 21 June 1982 and Prince Henry (Harry) Charles Albert David on 15 September 1984, both at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in London. The Princess had 17 godchildren.
In December 1992 it was announced that The Prince & Princess of Wales had agreed to separate. The Princess based her household and her office at Kensington Palace, while The Prince was based at St James's Palace & continued to live at Highgrove.
In November 1995 The Princess gave a television interview during which she spoke of her unhappiness in her personal life & the pressures of her public role. The Prince & Princess were divorced on 28 August 1996. The Prince & Princess continued to share equal responsibility for the upbringing of their children. The Princess continued to be regarded as a member of the Royal Family.
The Queen, The Prince & The Princess of Wales agreed that the Princess was to be known after the divorce as Diana, Princess of Wales, without the style of 'Her Royal Highness' (as The Princess was given the style 'HRH' on marriage she would therefore be expected to give it up on divorce). The Princess continued to live at Kensington Palace, with her office based there.
After her marriage, The Princess of Wales quickly became involved in the official duties of the Royal Family. Her first tour with The Prince of Wales was a three day visit to Wales in October 1981. Diana attended the State Opening of Parliament for the first time on 4 November 1981.
Her first solo engagement was a visit to Regent Street on 18 November 1981 to switch on the Christmas lights. She attended the Trooping the Colour for the first time in June 1982. In 1983 she accompanied the Prince on a tour of Australia & New Zealand, & they took the infant Prince William with them. Prince William, with Prince Harry, again joined The Prince & Princess of Wales at the end of their tour to Italy in 1985. Their visit to the Holy See included a private audience with Pope John Paul II
Other official overseas visits undertaken with the Prince included Australia (for the bicentenary celebrations in 1988), Brazil, India, Canada, Nigeria, Cameroon, Indonesia, Spain, Italy, France, & Portugal. They also visited Japan, for the enthronement of their Emperor Akihito. Their last joint overseas visit was to South Korea in 1992.
The Princess's first official visit overseas on her own was in September 1982, when she represented The Queen at the State funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. The Princess's first solo overseas tour was in February 1984, when she travelled to Norway to attend a performance of Carmen by the London City Ballet, of which she was Patron. The Princess subsequently visited many other countries including Germany, the United States, Belgium, France, South Africa, Zimbabwe & Nepal & more.
Diana was known for her style & was closely associated with the fashion world, she was best known for her charitable work. During her marriage, the Princess was president or patron of over 100 charities. The Princess helped raise awareness on behalf of homeless & also disabled people, children & people with HIV/Aids. In 1987, Diana was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City of London, the highest honour which is in the power of the City of London to bestow on someone.
In December 1993, the Princess announced that she would be reducing the extent of her public life in order to combine 'a meaningful public role with a more private life'. After her separation from The Prince of Wales, she continued to appear with the Royal Family on major national occasions, such as the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) & VJ (Victory over Japan) Days in 1995. In February 1995, the Princess visited Japan. She paid a formal visit to Emperor Akihito & Empress Michiko, & visited the National Children's Hospital in Tokyo. In June 1995, Diana went to the Venice Biennale art festival,& also visited Moscow where she received the International Leonardo Prize which is given to "the most distinguished patrons & people in the arts, medicine, & sports" In December 1995, Diana received the United Cerebral Palsy Humanitarian of the Year Award in New York City for her philanthropic efforts.
Following her divorce, the Princess resigned most of her charity & other patronages, & relinquished all her Service appointments with military units. She remained as patron of Centrepoint (homeless charity), English National Ballet, Leprosy Mission & National Aids Trust, & as President of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street & of the Royal Marsden Hospital.
In June 1997, the Princess attended receptions in London & New York as previews of the sale of a number of dresses & suits worn by her on official engagements, with the proceeds going to charity. On her 36th birthday on 1 July 1997 she attended the Tate Gallery's 100th anniversary celebrations. Her last official engagement in Britain was on 21 July, when she visited Northwick Park Hospital, London (children's accident & emergency unit).
The Princess of Wales was also an active campaigner for a ban on the manufacture & use of land mines. In January 1997, she visited Angola as part of her campaign. in June, she spoke at the landmines conference at the Royal Geographical Society in London, & this was followed by a visit to the United States on 17/18 June to promote the American Red Cross landmines campaign (separately, she also met Mother Teresa in the Bronx, New York). The Princess's last public engagements were during her visit to Bosnia from 7 to 10 August, when she visited landmine projects in Travnic, Sarajevo & Zenezica. It was in recognition of her charity work that representatives of the charities with which she worked during her life were invited to walk behind her coffin with her family from St James's Palace to Westminster Abbey on the day of her funeral.
The tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales happened on Sunday 31 August 1997 following a car accident in Paris, France. The vehicle in which The Princess was travelling was involved in a high-speed accident in the Place de l'Alma underpass in central Paris shortly before midnight on Saturday 30 August.
The Princess was taken to the La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital, where she underwent two hours of emergency surgery before being declared dead at 0300 BST. The Princess's companion, Mr Dodi Fayed, & the driver of the vehicle died in the accident, whilst a bodyguard was seriously injured.
The Princess's body was subsequently repatriated to the United Kingdom in the evening of Sunday 31 August by a BAe 146 aircraft of the Royal Squadron. The Prince of Wales & the Princess's elder sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale & Lady Jane Fellowes, accompanied The Princess's coffin on its return journey. Upon arrival at RAF Northolt, the coffin, draped with a Royal Standard, was removed from the aircraft & transferred to a waiting hearse by a bearer party from The Queen's Colour Squadron of the RAF. The Prime Minister was among those in the reception party.
From RAF Northolt the coffin was taken to a private mortuary in London, so that the necessary legal formalities could be completed. Shortly after midnight, it was moved to the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace, where it lay privately until Friday 5 September, when it was taken to Kensington Palace for the last night before the funeral on Saturday 6 September, in Westminster Abbey. The Princess's family & friends visited the Chapel to pay their respects.
Following the funeral service, the coffin then was taken by road to the family estate at Althorp for a private internment. The Princess was buried in sanctified ground on an island in the centre of an ornamental lake.
Diana remains one of the most popular members of the Royal Family. She was a major presence on the world stage from her engagement to the Prince of Wales in 1981 until her death in 1997, & was often described as the "world's most photographed woman". She was noted for her compassion, style, charisma, & high-profile charity work, as well as her ill-fated marriage to the Prince of Wales. Diana had become what Prime Minister Tony Blair called the "People's Princess", an iconic national figure. Her accidental death brought an unprecedented spasm of grief & mourning across the United Kingdom & worldwide.
Of Diana, her brother, the Earl Spencer, captured her role:
"Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity. All over the world, a standard bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who transcended nationality. Someone with a natural nobility who was classless and who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic"
Titles & styles
1 July 1961 – 9 June 1975: The Honourable Diana Frances Spencer
9 June 1975 – 29 July 1981: Lady Diana Frances Spencer
29 July 1981 – 28 August 1996: Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales
in Scotland: 29 July 1981 – 28 August 1996: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Rothesay
28 August 1996 – 31 August 1997: Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana was born into the British Spencer family, different branches of which hold the titles of Duke of Marlborough, Earl Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, & Baron Churchill. The Spencers claimed descent from a cadet branch of the powerful medieval Despenser family, but its validity is questioned. Her great-grandmother was Margaret Baring, a member of the German-British Baring family of bankers and the daughter of Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke.
Diana's distant noble ancestors included the first Duke (John Churchill) & Duchess of Marlborough (Sarah Churchill). Diana & Charles were distantly related, as they were both descended from the House of Tudor through Henry VII of England. She was also descended from the House of Stuart through Charles II of England by Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, & Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton (both illegitimate sons), & his brother James II of England by his illegitimate daughter Henrietta FitzJames.
Other noble ancestors include Margaret Kerdeston, granddaughter of Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk; Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, an English nobleman & a favourite of Elizabeth I of England; & Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, a descendant of Edward III of England through his son Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. Diana's Scottish roots came from her maternal grandmother, Lady Fermoy. Among her Scottish ancestors were Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon, & his wife Jane, & Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll.
For more about ancestry visit these blogs;
Places to visit:
The Duke Cambridge & The Duke of Sussex visited Kensington Palace's Sunken Garden to unveil a new statue of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 60th birthday.
The bronze statue, by sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, was commissioned by Prince William & Prince Harry in 2017, & aims to recognise the Princess’s positive impact in the UK & around the world, & reflect her warmth, elegance & energy.
The statue stands in the Palace’s newly-conserved Sunken Garden, with an updated planting scheme designed by Pip Morrison featuring a number of the Princess’s favourite blooms. Led by our Deputy Head of Gardens & Estates Graham Dillamore, our team of 5 gardeners have planted over 4,000 flowers, including 100 Forget-me-nots, 200 roses, 300 tulips, & over 500 lavender plants .
This blog is dedicated to my grandmother Doreen Joan Cross (née Mayer) 1933-2002, who absolutely adored Diana.