Diana - The Last Resting Place: A lake island grave in splendid isolation

Steve Boggan
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:51

In life, her loneliness and vulnerability made her seem so often like an island surrounded by the hostile waters of royal rejection. So it is perhaps fitting that in death Diana, Princess of Wales, will be buried on an island in the grounds of her ancestral home, Althorp Park, in Northamptonshire.

The Spencers announced details of her final resting place yesterday due to concerns that the family chapel inside the Church of St Mary the Virgin in nearby Great Brington would have been deluged by visitors had the Princess been interred there.

Instead, her brother, Earl Spencer, said her coffin would be buried on an island at the centre of an ornamental lake called The Oval. There, surrounded by the tranquillity she failed to find in life, Diana's grave could be "properly looked after by her family and visited in privacy by her sons", he said.

The family is looking at the possibility of a permanent memorial to the Princess outside the estate, a place that could be visited by the public. However, realising the depth of feeling for the princess, Lord Spencer said the family also planned to open the place of burial for several weeks each year so ordinary people could pay their respects.

At present, the island sits in perfect isolation. There is no bridge - although a temporary walkway has been erected for the funeral - and the plot is surrounded by trees, many of which were planted by the Queen, the Queen Mother, the Prince of Wales, Princes William and Harry, Diana's father, the former Earl Spencer, and her brother, at an ancient arboretum.

The ornamental lake was designed by Samuel Lapidge, a close associate of the 18th-century landscape gardener Capability Brown. It forms part of the Pleasure Garden at Althorp, an area restored by the 5th Earl Spencer in the 1880s. As First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl was able to buy the Temple from the gardens of Admiralty House in London for pounds 3 and put it on the banks of the lake.

Villagers at Great Brington had been concerned that the family chapel, which houses the remains of 20 generations of Spencers, would be turned into a tourist attraction on the same scale as Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Tennessee.

The chapel was built in the 16th century for Sir John Spencer, who was interred there in 1522. The embalmed heart of the third Baron Spencer, who died in the Battle of Newbury in 1643, and the ashes of Diana's father are interred in the crypt, which was entered over the centuries by lifting a heavy stone slab embedded with an iron ring.

The tombstone of the great-great-great grandfather of George Washington, the first President of the United States, lies just a few feet from the chapel.

There was relief yesterday at Great Brington that the new plans would keep the village off the tourist trail.

Rosalie Clarke, who works at the village's post office, said: "We're all very much relieved because it's the best idea.

"It's a nice place for her to go ... it's a beautiful estate with sheep and deer running around. We think the Earl has made a very sensible choice because we just couldn't have coped. Everyone who came into the shop today is all of the same opinion - they have all breathed a sigh of relief."

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