Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Diana, Princess of Wales (born Diana Frances Spencer; 1 July 1961 – 31 August 1997), was a member of the British royal family. She was the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the mother of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.
Diana was born into the Spencer family, a family of British nobility, and she was the youngest daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Althorp. She grew up in Park House, situated on the Sandringham estate, and was educated in England and Switzerland. In 1975, after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer, she became known as Lady Diana Spencer.
Diana came to prominence in February 1981 upon engagement to Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Their wedding took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 29 July 1981 and made her Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, and Countess of Chester. The marriage produced two sons, the princes William and Harry, who were then respectively second and third in the line of succession to the British throne. As Princess of Wales, Diana undertook royal duties on behalf of the Queen and represented her at functions overseas. She was celebrated for her charity work and for her support of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Diana was involved with dozens of charities including London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, of which she was president from 1989. She also raised awareness and advocated ways to help people affected with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and mental illness.
Diana remained the object of worldwide media scrutiny during and after her marriage, which ended in divorce on 28 August 1996 following well-publicised extramarital affairs by both parties. Media attention and public mourning were extensive after her death in a car crash in a Paris tunnel on 31 August 1997 and subsequent televised funeral.
Lady Diana first met Charles, Prince of Wales, the Queen's eldest son and heir apparent, when she was 16 in November 1977. He was then dating her older sister, Lady Sarah. They were guests at a country weekend during the summer of 1980 when she watched him play polo and he took a serious interest in Diana as a potential bride. The relationship progressed when he invited her aboard the royal yacht Britannia for a sailing weekend to Cowes. This was followed by an invitation to Balmoral (the royal family's Scottish residence) to meet his family one weekend in November 1980. Lady Diana was well received by the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles subsequently courted Diana in London. The Prince proposed on 6 February 1981, and Lady Diana accepted, but their engagement was kept secret for the next few weeks.
Engagement and wedding
The wedding of Charles and Diana commemorated on a 1981 British Crown
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. The Queen Mother gave Diana a sapphire and diamond brooch as an engagement present.
Following the engagement, Diana left her occupation as a kindergarten assistant and 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. Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry the first in line to the throne since Anne Hyde over 300 years earlier, and she was also the first royal bride to have a paying job before her engagement. She made her first public appearance with Prince Charles in a charity ball in March 1981 at Goldsmiths' Hall, where she met the Princess of Monaco.
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, a church that was generally used for royal nuptials. The service was widely described as a "fairytale wedding" and was watched by a global television audience of 750 million people while 600,000 spectators lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the couple en route to the ceremony. At the altar, Diana inadvertently reversed the order of Charles's first two names, saying "Philip Charles" Arthur George instead. She did not say that she would "obey" him; that traditional vow was left out at the couple's request, which caused some comment at the time. Diana wore a dress valued at £9,000 with a 25-foot (7.62-metre) train.
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 and the Queen Mother), and 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, and the Prince of Wales. Within a few years of the wedding, the Queen extended Diana visible tokens of membership in the Royal Family; she lent the Princess the Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara, and granted her the badge of the Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II.
The couple had residences at Kensington Palace and Highgrove House, near Tetbury. On 5 November 1981, the Princess's pregnancy was officially announced. In January 1982—twelve weeks into the pregnancy—Diana fell down a staircase at Sandringham, and the royal gynaecologist Sir George Pinker was summoned from London. He found that although she had suffered severe bruising, the foetus was uninjured. Diana later confessed that she had intentionally thrown herself down the stairs as she was feeling "so inadequate". In February 1982, pictures of a pregnant Diana in bikini while holidaying was published in the media. The Queen subsequently released a statement and called it "the blackest day in the history of British journalism."
On 21 June 1982, the Princess gave birth to the couple's first son, Prince William. Amidst some media criticism, she decided to take William—who was still a baby—on her first major tours of Australia and New Zealand, and the decision was popularly applauded. By her own admission, the Princess of Wales had not initially intended to take William until Malcolm Fraser, the Australian prime minister, made the suggestion.
A second son, Prince Harry, was born on 15 September 1984. The Princess said she and the Prince were closest during her pregnancy with Harry. She was aware that their second child was a boy, but did not share the knowledge with anyone else, including the Prince of Wales.
Diana gave her sons wider experiences than was usual for royal children. She rarely deferred to the Prince or to the royal family, and was often intransigent when it came to the children. She chose their first given names, dismissed a royal family nanny and engaged one of her own choosing, selected their schools and clothing, planned their outings, and took them to school herself as often as her schedule permitted. She also organised her public duties around their timetables.
Among members of the Royal Family throughout history, Diana remains one of the most popular, and continues to influence the principles of the Royal Family and its younger generations. She was a major presence on the world stage from her engagement to the Prince of Wales in 1981 until her death in 1997, and was often described as the "world's most photographed woman". She was noted for her compassion, style, charisma, and high-profile charity work, as well as her ill-fated marriage to the Prince of Wales. Her former private secretary described her as an organised and hardworking person, and pointed out that the Princess's husband was not able to "reconcile with his wife's extraordinary popularity", a viewpoint supported by biographer Tina Brown. He also said that she was a tough boss who was "equally quick to appreciate hard work", but could also be defiant "if she felt she had been the victim of injustice". Paul Burrell, who worked as a butler for the Princess, remembered her as a "deep thinker" capable of "introspective analysis". She was often described as a devoted mother to her children, who are influenced by her personality and way of life.
In the early years, Diana was often noted for her shy nature, as well as her shrewdness, funny character, and smartness. Those who communicated with her closely describe her as a person who was led by her heart. The Princess was also said to have a strong character, because she entered the Royal Family as an inexperienced girl with little education, but could handle their expectations, and overcome the difficulties and sufferings of her marital life.
Diana was widely known for her encounters with sick and dying patients, and the poor and unwanted whom she used to comfort, an action that earned her more popularity. She was mindful of people's thoughts and feelings, and later revealed her wish to become a beloved figure among the people, saying in her 1995 interview, that "[She would] like to be a queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts." According to Tina Brown, she could charm people with a single glance. Brown also points out that Diana's fame had spread around the world, even affecting Tony Blair who reportedly said that Diana had shown the nation "a new way to be British".
Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post wrote in an article that "Diana imbued her role as royal princess with vitality, activism and, above all, glamour." Alicia Carroll of The New York Times described Diana as "a breath of fresh air" who was the main reason the Royal Family was known in the United States. Despite all the marital issues and scandals, Diana continued to enjoy a high level of popularity in the polls while her husband was suffering from low levels of public approval. Her peak popularity rate in the United Kingdom between 1981 and 2012 was 47%.
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 and mourning, and subsequently a crisis arose in the Royal Household. Andrew Marr said that by her death she "revived the culture of public sentiment". 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.
In 1997, the Princess was one of the runners-up for Time magazine's person of the Year. In 1999, Time magazine named Diana one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. In 2002, Diana ranked third on the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, above the Queen and other British monarchs. In 2006, the Japanese public ranked Diana twelfth in The Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan. In 2018, Diana ranked fifteenth on the BBC History's poll of 100 Women Who Changed the World.
Despite being regarded as an iconic figure and a popular member of the Royal Family, Diana was subject to criticism during her life. Patrick Jephson, her private secretary of eight years, wrote in an article in The Daily Telegraph that "[Diana] had an extra quality that frustrated her critics during her lifetime and has done little to soften their disdain since her death ... the human face of a remote institution". Some have said that it was Diana who let the journalists and paparazzi into her life as she knew that they were the source of her power, thus she had "overburdened herself with public duties" and destroyed the border between private and public life. Diana was famously criticised by philosophy professor Anthony O'Hear who, in his notes argued that she was unable to fulfill her duties, her reckless behaviour was damaging the monarchy, and she was "self-indulgent" in her philanthropic efforts. Following his remarks, charity organisations that were supported by her defended the Princess, and Peter Luff called O'Hear's comments "distasteful and inappropriate". Further criticism surfaced as she was accused of using her public profile to benefit herself, which in turn "demeaned her royal office". Diana's unique type of charity work, which sometimes included physical contact with people affected by serious diseases sometimes had a negative reaction in the media.
Sally Bedell Smith characterised Diana as unpredictable, egocentric, and possessive. Smith also argued that in her desire to do charity works she was "motivated by personal considerations, rather than by an ambitious urge to take on a societal problem".Robinson, however, said that "[Diana] was serious about the causes she espoused". According to Sarah Bradford, Diana looked down on the House of Windsor whom she reportedly viewed "as jumped-up foreign princelings" and called them "the Germans". She believed that Diana was a "victim of her own poor judgment" as she lost social privilege by doing the Panorama interview. Some observers characterised her as a manipulative person. It was also alleged by some people that the Princess and her former father-in-law, Prince Philip, had a relationship filled with tension; however, other observers said that their letters provided no sign of friction between them. Author Anne Applebaum believed that Diana has not had any impact on public opinions posthumously; an idea supported by Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian who also noted in his article that Diana's memory and influence started to fade away in the years after her death, while Peter Conrad, another Guardian contributor, argued that even in "a decade after her death, she is still not silent," and Allan Massie of The Telegraph described the Princess as "the celebrity of celebrities" whose sentiments "continue to shape our society".
Diana Frances Spencer was born on 1 July 1961, in Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk. She was the fourth of five children of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp (1924–1992), and his first wife, Frances (née Roche; 1936–2004). The Spencer family has been closely allied with the British royal family for several generations; Diana's grandmothers had served as ladies-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The Spencers were hoping for a boy to carry on the family line, and no name was chosen for a week, until they settled on Diana Frances, after her mother and after Lady Diana Spencer, a many-times-great-aunt who was also a prospective Princess of Wales.
On 30 August 1961, Diana was baptised at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham. She grew up with three siblings: Sarah, Jane, and Charles. Her infant brother, John, died shortly after his birth one year before Diana was born. The desire for an heir added strain to the Spencers' marriage, and Lady Althorp was reportedly sent to Harley Street clinics in London to determine the cause of the "problem". The experience was described as "humiliating" by Diana's younger brother, Charles: "It was a dreadful time for my parents and probably the root of their divorce because I don't think they ever got over it." Diana grew up in Park House, situated on the Sandringham estate. The Spencers leased the house from its owner, Queen Elizabeth II. The royal family frequently holidayed at the neighbouring Sandringham House, and Diana played with the Queen's sons Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
Diana was seven years old when her parents divorced. Her mother later began a relationship with Peter Shand Kydd and married him in 1969. Diana lived with her mother in London during her parents' separation in 1967, but during that year's Christmas holidays, Lord Althorp refused to let Diana return to London with Lady Althorp. Shortly afterwards he won custody of Diana with support from his former mother-in-law, Ruth Roche, Baroness Fermoy. In 1976, Lord Althorp married Raine, Countess of Dartmouth. Diana's relationship with her stepmother was particularly bad. She resented Raine, whom she called a "bully", and on one occasion Diana "pushed her down the stairs". She later described her childhood as "very unhappy" and "very unstable, the whole thing". Diana became known as Lady Diana after her father later inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975, at which point her father moved the entire family from Park House to Althorp, the Spencer seat in Northamptonshire.
Education and career
Diana was initially home-schooled under the supervision of her governess, Gertrude Allen. She began her formal education at Silfield Private School in Gayton, Norfolk, and moved to Riddlesworth Hall School, an all-girls boarding school near Thetford, when she was nine. She joined her sisters at West Heath Girls' School in Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1973. She did not shine academically, failing her O-levels twice. Her outstanding community spirit was recognised with an award from West Heath. She left West Heath when she was sixteen. Her brother Charles recalls her as being quite shy up until that time. She showed a talent for music as an accomplished pianist. Diana also excelled in swimming and diving, and studied ballet and tap dance.
After attending Institut Alpin Videmanette (a finishing school in Rougemont, Switzerland) for one term in 1978, Diana returned to London, where she shared her mother's flat with two school friends. In London, she took an advanced cooking course, but seldom cooked for her roommates. She took a series of low-paying jobs; she worked as a dance instructor for youth until a skiing accident caused her to miss three months of work. She then found employment as a playgroup pre-school assistant, did some cleaning work for her sister Sarah and several of her friends, and acted as a hostess at parties. Diana spent time working as a nanny for the Robertsons, an American family living in London, and worked as a nursery teacher's assistant at the Young England School in Pimlico. 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.