Frances Shand Kydd

Mother of Diana, Princess of Wales

Frances Shand Kydd was the mother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the grandmother of Prince William and Prince Harry. She was thrust into unexpected prominence in the middle and later years of her life, being otherwise rather unknown to the general public.



Frances Ruth Burke Roche: born 20 January 1936; married 1954 Viscount Althorp (succeeded 1975 as eighth Earl Spencer, died 1992; one son, two daughters, and one son and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved 1969), 1969 Peter Shand Kydd (marriage dissolved 1990); died Seil, Argyllshire 3 June 2004.



Frances Shand Kydd was the mother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the grandmother of Prince William and Prince Harry. She was thrust into unexpected prominence in the middle and later years of her life, being otherwise rather unknown to the general public.

In the early 1920s it was made clear to George V that there must be a revised attitude to marriages into the Royal Family. Following the First World War, the idea of princesses from foreign houses was less attractive as a prospect and, of course, the idea of a German princess unacceptable. This paved the way for the marriage of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to the Duke of York (who was to become King George VI). This marriage was supremely successful, and the satisfactory dilution of royal blood with richly aristocratic stock appealed to those who felt that there had been too many cousinly unions.

The wedding of the present Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer appeared to fulfil the same demands. The Spencers were a long-established aristocratic family and the genealogists were able to trace descent from various Stuart kings. In a sense the theory was good, if the reality less so.

It was also noted that both the bride's grandmothers and four of her great-aunts had served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. One of these was Ruth Lady Fermoy, widow of the fourth Lord Fermoy and the mother of Diana's mother Frances Roche. Frances was born in Norfolk in 1936, her birth exactly coinciding with the death of King George V, in the "Big House" at Sandringham. In a stalwart moment, Queen Mary deflected her own grief by sending an enquiry about Ruth Fermoy's baby, born that day. This story was told to Queen Mary's biographer, James Pope-Hennessy, as a "signal instance of Queen Mary's self-control and consideration for others". The teller was Captain Sir William Fellowes, the Land Agent at Sandringham, whose son Robert was to marry Diana's sister, Lady Jane Spencer, and to become the Queen's Private Secretary. The links appeared close and the omens good.

In 1954 Frances married the then Viscount Althorp in Westminster Abbey. Two daughters, Sarah and Jane, were born and then a son, John, who died the same day, in January 1960. Diana was the next daughter, born the following year, and Charles, the present Earl Spencer, was born in 1964.

The Althorps lived for some time at Park House, Sandringham, on the Royal Family's estate and the young children were often in the company of their royal counterparts. There seemed no reason to suppose that family life would not continue in happy mode, but then Frances eloped with Peter Shand Kydd, whom she later married.

There was an unpleasant court case in 1968 in which Lord Althorp obtained custody of his children, and it was noted that Lady Fermoy took his side against her daughter, whom she considered to be a bolter. Thereafter the young Spencer children had a disorganised upbringing. This was further complicated when their father inherited the earldom and the estate of Althorp in 1975, and soon afterwards married Lady Dartmouth (Raine, the daughter of Barbara Cartland).

Frances Shand Kydd retired into private life, but was propelled into the public eye when the press began to focus on Diana as a potential royal bride in the autumn of 1980. As the press hounded Diana on her daily peregrinations to the kindergarten where she worked, Shand Kydd took the unusual step of writing to The Times to appeal for some respite in the media pursuit.

She was happy when the engagement was announced in February 1981 and took a full part in the highly popular wedding at St Paul's Cathedral that July, sitting with her former husband, Earl Spencer, opposite the Royal Family, and returning to Buckingham Palace seated beside the Duke of Edinburgh.

It would be wrong to suppose that the Wales marriage was unhappy or doomed from the start. That it later collapsed slowly, publicly and with great unhappiness on all sides is a matter of record. It did not appear that Diana had ever been able to turn to either her mother or maternal grandmother for the kind of support she might have expected.

The media focused on Frances Shand Kydd again at the time of Diana's death in 1997. By this time she was leading a remote life, her second husband having left her, and she had adopted the Roman Catholic faith. At Diana's funeral in Westminster Abbey she appeared a lonely figure, as she had done the previous evening at a Catholic service in Westminster Cathedral, accompanied by another Catholic convert, the Duchess of Kent.

It was harder for her to escape media attention following this tragedy. It was inevitable that the media would press for supposed grievances and occasionally these were voiced, whether accurately or not is uncertain. She spent her last years in isolation on the isle of Seil, near Oban, and involved herself in charity work.

Her last prominent appearance was when she came to London to serve as a prosecution witness in a court case against Diana's butler Paul Burrell in the autumn of 2002. So much out of the public eye had she been for so long, that it was a surprise to many to find that she had become an old lady with white hair, walking lamely on a stick, supported by her daughter Sarah.

It was impossible not to sympathise with her, frail in health, when she was asked to declare how long the estrangement with her daughter Diana had been. Shand Kydd admitted she had had no contact with Diana for four months before her daughter died. This had no relevance to the case in hand, but was an example of the courts being unable to resist digging pruriently into such matters - having her there and under oath in the witness box.

Equally pathetic was what followed, a burglary at her house while she was known to be in London, more sordid details of arguments and bitterness revealed in the tabloid press frenzy that followed the collapse of the Burrell case and a car accident a few weeks later marking the decline. She became a concern to her family, and her last years were lived out in the aftermath of her daughter's death.

Hugo Vickers

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice