The Truth About Princess Diana's Parents

Diana, Princess of Wales, was born on July 1, 1961 in Norfolk, England. Born into nobility, she spent much of her childhood at the Sandringham estate, via the royal family's official website. She would go on to meet the son of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and a short while later, he proposed marriage. A young bride, she married Charles in St. Paul's Cathedral with over 750 million people witnessing the matrimony on live TV, per Town & Country. Together, they had two sons, Harry and William

When the marriage dissolved a few years later, Diana was stripped of her title of the next-in-line queen consort and was no longer addressed as Her Royal Highness Next to her sons, Diana's legacy will live on through her many acts of service to her community and to the world. Diana would be crowned the "people's princess," as she led a life of philanthropy. Though her life was cut too short, it was full, and her influence remains strong even today.

Despite Diana's very public life, we hear very little about the people who raised her. Let's take a look at the lives of Princess Diana's parents, John Spencer and Frances Roche.

John Spencer was considered royal adjacent

Edward John Spencer was born in London, England on January 24, 1924, to Albert Spencer and Lady Cynthia Hamilton. He would go on to attend Eton College, the same university that his grandchildren Harry and William attended. After his time at Eton, he attended the Sandhurst Military Academy and then the Royal Agricultural University.

John wasn't considered royalty, but rather royal-adjacent, as he spent time serving both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, with a long line of Earl of Spencers in his family. He would also serve as an aide to the governor of South Australia in 1947 and also joined the Royal Scots Greys regiment, per The Los Angeles Times. He additionally carried the title of Viscount of Althorp, a family estate of over 500 years. John would go on to inherit the title of the Earl of Spencer after the passing of his father in 1975. His son Charles would later receive the title.

Frances Roche was born into nobility

Frances Shand Kydd, born Frances Ruth Roche, was born in Park House at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England, on January 20, 1936, per Stylecaster. She was born into nobility, as her father Maurice Roche was the third Baron Fermoy and son of the American heiress Frances Ellen Work. Her grandfather on her mother's side was Colonel William Smith Gill, and her mother Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy was his daughter.

Ruth Roche served as confidante and lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. At 18 years old, she would go on to marry John Spencer, on June 1, 1954. Together, they would have five children, including Princess Diana. Roche would later divorce Spencer in 1967 and then marry Peter Shand Kydd. Later in life, Frances would struggle with maintaining both her public and private image. Diana's relationship with her mother was documented as tumultuous, with Diana at some point vowing to never speak with her again, via the Mirror.

The couple married and had five children

On June 1, 1954, John and Frances got married at Westminster Abbey. Considered "the social event of 1954," the wedding had some notable guests in attendance, including Queen Elizabeth II. Frances, much like her daughter Diana, was a young bride — in fact, at 18 years old, she was the youngest to be married in Westminster Abbey in the last five decades, per The Montreal Gazette.  

A year after their marriage, the couple welcomed their firstborn child, Elizabeth Sarah Lavinia, followed by Cynthia Jane two years later. They had hoped for a son, and their wish was granted in 1960 with the birth of John. However, John would tragically pass away mere hours after his birth, per the Mirror. Diana Spencer would be the next child born, followed lastly by Charles Edward Spencer, who would later inherit his father's title of Earl Spencer after his death. The family would take residence at the Sandringham Estate.

Their homes held sentimental appeal

Before getting married and having children, John Spencer held the title of royal equerry for both King George VI and for a young Queen Elizabeth, per People. When his children were young, he rented the Park House at the Sandringham Estate, which was one of Queen Elizabeth's properties. This was Princess Diana's first home, as her birth occurred after the move. 

Princess Diana's former nanny, Ingrid Crane, spoke to CNN regarding the sentiment of this estate, stating that "there's always been something special about Park House. It's difficult to put a finger on what it is." In the mid-1970s, after the death of his father, Spencer decided to move his family to the Althorp Estate, located in Northamptonshire. Per the BBC, Diana adored her time at this estate, so much so that it became her final resting place following her tragic death in 1997. Currently, the estate is owned by Diana's sibling, Charles.

The couple divorced in 1969

Unfortunately, the Spencer family unit would dissolve, as John and Frances' marriage started to fall apart in 1967, 13 years into their union. According to The Washington Post, Frances had begun to develop feelings for another man in 1967 — Peter Shand Kydd, who was a wallpaper heir and was also married himself. John and Frances officially divorced in 1969; Princess Diana was 6 years old at the time.

"We just drifted apart, and there was nothing either of us could do about it," Frances would later claim in an interview, per The Telegraph. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Diana's brother Charles stated, "Our father was a quiet and constant source of love, but our mother wasn't cut out for maternity. Not her fault, she couldn't do it. She was in love with someone else — infatuated, really." After losing parental custody, Frances would become estranged from her family.

Both parents remarried after their divorce

Charles Spencer, Princess Diana's younger brother, spoke with The Sunday Times about their parents' divorce and their mother's subsequent departure. "Diana and I had two older sisters who were away at school, so she and I were very much in it together and I did talk to her about it," he shared. "While [their mother] was packing her stuff to leave, she promised Diana she'd come back to see her ... Diana used to wait on the doorstep for her, but she never came." 

Frances would go on to marry Peter Shand Kydd in 1969, the same year as her divorce from John Spencer. Spencer later remarried in 1976 to Raine McCorquodale. He kept quiet about this union and hid it from his children. Upon finding out about the marriage, Diana stated, "I got really angry and I, if I remember rightly, I slapped him across the face, and I said, 'That's from all of us, for hurting us' and walked out and slammed the door," per the Daily Mail.

Their involvement in Diana's wedding

In 1981, when Princess Diana married Prince Charles, her father John Spencer walked her down the aisle. Millions of people watched as gave his daughter away in matrimony. Regarding her engagement, Spencer was reported to have said, "There are times I wish she was marrying an ordinary chap, so I could have her and my son-in-law living here with me in the park," per People

As for Frances, although she did attend her daughter's wedding, unfortunately, she and Diana were still on rocky terms. According to a documentary titled "When the Spencers Met the Monarchy," Frances was "terrified" of her daughter and Prince Charles' upcoming union, per Express. She was reportedly less than enthusiastic about her young daughter marrying into the royal family. When asked to ponder the effect it would have on Diana, Frances responded with, "It's a very hard question to answer, isn't it, because it's an unknown world for her."

Diana and her mother had a strained relationship

It's been widely speculated that the tension between Princess Diana and her mother first stemmed from resentment about Diana not being born a boy. Whether this was true or not, one couldn't deny the strain caused as a result of Diana's parents divorcing, as she was just 6 years old at the time. Diana would later recount the moment of her mother leaving in Andrew Morton's book "Diana: Her True Story," recalling hearing the crunching of the tires on the gravel as her mother drove away. Additionally, the book details Diana's childhood as "very unhappy, very unstable, the whole thing."

As an adult, Diana would attempt to move on from her dissolved marriage to Charles. Her mother wasn't happy about her decision-making and had a few choice words for her. "She would ring up and be verbally abusive to the princess," stated Diana's former personal chef, Darren McGrady, per People.

Diana softened toward her father in his later years

John Spencer's divorce from Frances and his later marriage to Raine McCorquodale did leave a wedge between him and his family. "We weren't invited [to the wedding]. Not grand enough," his daughter Sarah once shared, per Vanity Fair. However, as John Spencer grew older, it was reported that Princess Diana was determined to be his "comforting angel," per "The Diana Chronicles."

In 1978, John suffered a stroke, which caused him to become frailer than he already was. During Princess Diana's wedding, he had trouble walking steadily. Regarding the relationship in these years, Diana would recount, "He was one person before and he was certainly a different person after ... He's remained estranged but adoring since. If he comes and sees me he comes and sees me, if he doesn't he doesn't. It's not my problem anymore. It's his."

Frances dedicated her later years to charity work in the Catholic church, which reportedly gave her a sense of peace throughout the last years of her life, per her obituary. 

They died 12 years apart

John Spencer died of a heart attack in 1992, before the untimely death of his daughter Diana. It was reported that before his death, Diana and 8-year-old William visited him in the hospital when he was being treated for pneumonia. Soon after, John passed away while Diana and her family were on a ski trip in Austria, per the Los Angeles Times

Diana's mother passed away in 2004 after a long battle with brain cancer and Parkinson's disease. A spokesman for her son Charles sent out the message: "Lord Spencer's mother passed away peacefully this morning after suffering from a long illness, and this is now a private time for the family to grieve," per The Guardian. Prince William and Prince Harry were reportedly "very upset" about the news of their maternal grandmother's death. Her final resting place is at Pennyfuir Cemetery is a cemetery in Oban, Argyll and Bute, Scotland.