Earl Spencer's son is to become the first holder of the title in almost 250 years not to attend Eton or Harrow following his mother's disclosure yesterday that he would continue to go to school in South Africa.
Victoria, Countess Spencer, 37, who has made a new life in Cape Town since her acrimonious divorce from Lord Spencer, 37, four years ago, said their son, Louis, eight, would not be following in the footsteps of generations of Spencers, despite his name having been put down for Eton at birth.
Instead his parents have decided not to separate their only son from his sisters, Kitty, 11, and twins Eliza and Amelia, 10, who live with the Countess for most of the year and spend summers with their father at Althorp, Lord Spencer's ancestral home in Northants.
"The children are very happy and settled in Cape Town. We've dropped the idea of sending Louis to Eton because separating him from his sisters and moving him from an environment where he is thriving doesn't make any sense at all," she told Hello! magazine.
The long-established tradition of educating Spencer sons at either Eton or Harrow dates back at least to George John, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), who attended Harrow.
But the Countess stressed that both she and her former husband, who recently remarried, were interested only in the welfare of their son, who will one day inherit the Althorp estate, the childhood home and resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales, Lord Spencer's sister.
"Surely it's an archaic idea that Louis should have to go through a certain system to become equipped to run Althorp and I think Charles agrees with me," she said of Lord Spencer. "We're modern parents in that we're genuinely putting the children's needs first."
Since the title of Earl Spencer was created in 1765, generations of Spencer sons have trodden the public school path, with the emphasis slightly more on Harrow than Eton. John Charles, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782-1845), John Poyntz, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910), Charles Robert, 6th Earl Spencer (1857-1922) and Albert Edward, 7th Earl Spencer (1892-1975) were all Old Harrovians.
The present Earl, his father Edward John, 8th Earl Spencer, and Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer (1798-1857) are all Old Etonians.
Indeed, at the time of Lord Spencer's divorce case in South Africa, his former wife's lawyer, Jeremy Gauntlett, told the court that the couple had agreed that the children would remain in South Africa with their mother until Louis was due to attend Eton.
The Countess, who despite her divorce can retain the title, remains single and said she was settled in South Africa.
She is using her personal experience of anorexia, alcoholism and heroin addiction by working as a counsellor in a Cape Town addiction centre. She overcame her own addictions seven years ago.
The Countess also spoke of Lord Spencer's marriage last year to Caroline Freud, 34, former wife of the PR consultant Matthew Freud. "I am happy that Charles is happy and settled. It will bring an element of stability to the children to know that their father is in a committed relationship," she said.
Of her own romantic life, she reveals that she split up with Guy Wood, a pharmacist she met in South Africa, a year ago because they wanted different things. "Ultimately Guy wanted a wife and a family. I already have four children so I wasn't really a candidate for that, much as we absolutely loved each other," she told the magazine.
"My relationship with Guy was, perhaps, the first really loving and non-destructive relationship I'd ever had. He was the only person I'd been with who didn't have a dark and tortured side."