A Brother’s Heartfelt Thunder
Charles Spencer, the ninth Earl Spencer and younger brother of Princess Diana, swore a blood oath on her coffin Saturday to protect Princes William and Harry from the media, and laid claim to her family’s right to share their upbringing with their father, Prince Charles.
Spencer’s controlled but angry funeral oration had an almost medieval ring, signaling unresolved tensions and the likelihood of more trouble ahead between the noble Spencers and the royal Windsors.
Heartless hounding by the British press, he charged, had transformed his sister into “the most hunted person in the modern age.” And he warned that constrictions of royalty should never be allowed to deny Diana’s sons the ability to live free lives and “sing openly,” as she would have wanted.
The condemnation before Queen Elizabeth II and 42 other royals from the pulpit in Westminster Abbey, the heart of Britain’s establishment church, left commentators gasping. “Astounding,” said one. “He’s blown his top,” said another.
Observers were taken aback by the combination of the bitterness of Spencer’s remarks with where they were spoken, but not by their content. The day Diana died, Spencer accused editors of tabloids that printed pictures of her taken by paparazzi of “having blood on their hands.”
While Spencer was direct and forceful Saturday in his attack on the media, his criticism of the royal family was less harsh--but no less pronounced. His oration implicitly rebuked them for depriving Diana of her title and royal status after her 1996 divorce from Charles, as well as for the family’s immersion of Diana’s sons in a world of “duty and tradition.” And he emphasized his differences with the royals by referring to the Spencers as the young princes’ “blood family.”
Spencer’s remarks, broadcast beyond the abbey, won loud applause from the huge crowd outside, and the clapping was taken up by many within the abbey.
Spencer, whose hatred for the British press is well known, said that Diana had recently been looking for a new direction in her life.
“She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment she received at the hands of the newspapers. I don’t think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down,” he said.
“It is baffling. My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum,” said the 33-year-old aristocrat.
Although Diana lost the title “her royal highness” with her divorce, Spencer noted tartly that her continued work and success on behalf of the disadvantaged proved that “she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.”
Nor did the public need to put his sister too high on a pedestal, Spencer said. “There is a temptation to rush to canonize your memory,” he said of Diana. “There is no need to do so. You stand tall enough as a human being of unique qualities not to need to be seen as a saint.”
Of all the ironies about Diana, Spencer said, the greatest was that a woman christened with the name of the ancient goddess of hunting “was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.”
“She would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys, William and Harry, from a similar fate. And I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair.”
Spencer, whose own family has been hounded by Britain’s tabloid newspapers, has called those publications “hypocritical and evil.” He personally disinvited the editors of the country’s five largest tabloids from Saturday’s funeral service.
Once himself a reporter for NBC, Spencer said a few years ago that newspapers were to blame for the failure of the royal marriage between his sister and the likely heir to Britain’s throne.
Spencer also offered a scarcely veiled criticism of the royal family’s unwavering adherence to protocol. Still addressing his sister, whose flag-draped coffin lay before him, he said he spoke on behalf of their mother, Frances Shand Kydd, and sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes.
“I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned,” Spencer said.
“We fully respect the heritage into which they have both been born, and will always respect and encourage them in their royal role. But we, like you, recognize the need for them to experience as many different aspects of life as possible, to arm them spiritually and emotionally for the years ahead. I know you would have expected nothing less from us.”
In so many words, he appeared to be saying that Diana’s family will not allow the boys to grow up in the straitjacket of royal convention and protocol--which reportedly drove Diana to eating disorders and other symptoms of deep unhappiness.
The eulogy was unusual for its unblinking acknowledgment of these problems as well as Diana’s insecurities. Spencer also alluded to a less-than-happy childhood he shared with his sister, being shuttled between divorced parents.
As Britain offered unprecedented public homage to Diana last week, criticism flared against the royal family for apparent remoteness and aloofness.
Speaking to his nephews, Spencer echoed the anguish that has swept the nation.
“William and Harry, we all care desperately for you today. We are all chewed up with sadness at the loss of a woman who wasn’t even our mother. How great your suffering is we cannot even imagine.”
His voice breaking at the end, Spencer saluted his sister, “the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana, whose beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds.”
* EULOGY: Full text of Earl Spencer’s address, A28