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By Ray Moseley
Chicago Tribune

Daily News
Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 9, 1997

Earl Spencer's bitterly angry speech at the funeral of his sister, Princess Diana, has opened a feud between two powerful families, the Spencers and the Windsors, that are both frequently described as dysfunctional.

In his tribute to Diana on Saturday, Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer, referred indirectly, but with some derision, to the fact the Windsors had stripped his sister of the title Her Royal Highness.

He also promised in the presence of Diana's former husband, Prince Charles, that the Spencers would not allow the couple's children, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12, to grow up in royal stuffiness but would preserve in them Diana's own free spirit.

One newspaper Monday likened the division he had opened to the feud between the Montagues and Capulets, the families from whom the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet sprang in literary tragedy.

Another compared Earl Spencer to Mark Antony, the friend of the murdered Julius Caesar who roused the people of Rome against the assassins.

Constitutional historian David Starkey said, ``It was one of the cruelest speeches I have heard.''

The Spencers are a family whose noble lineage goes back to Tudor times, a family with ties of kinship that range from George Washington to Winston Churchill. They have lived at their Althorp estate in Northamptonshire since 1486. They are, in short, quintessential English aristocrats.

Diana's friend Rosa Monckton wrote Sunday that Diana was far prouder of being a Spencer than of being royal and would constantly tell herself when she felt challenged: ``Diana, remember you are a Spencer.''

The Windsors, the royal family, also have a long and distinguished history, but their English roots go back only to the early 18th century. The family was originally German, named Saxe-Coburg until World War I prompted King George V to change it. Queen Elizabeth II married a Greek, Prince Philip, whose own family ancestry was German.

Both families have seen their share of troubles in recent years. All of the Windsor children, except Prince Edward who is single, have gone through divorces that were often, as in the case of Charles and Diana, tumultuous.

The Spencers have long been known as a difficult family, and many found supporting evidence in the fact Diana was continually firing and replacing members of her personal staff, evidently unable to get along with them.

Charles Spencer, 33, who has blamed British editors for Diana's death on the grounds they encouraged photographers to hound her, undoubtedly has personal reasons to be bitter toward the press.

When he was a bachelor, he came under criticism for his choice of friends, including the best man at his wedding, fellow Etonian Darius Guppy, who later was convicted of fraud.

Spencer's various love affairs also attracted a lot of press coverage, and he was christened ``Champagne Charlie'' for his exuberant lifestyle after he left Eton College and Oxford University.

In 1989 he went on television to denounce tabloid journalists as ``totally insensitive, evil people'' for harassing him and his fiancee, 24-year-old model Victoria Lockwood, whom he married that year.

Himself a television journalist who worked in British broadcasting and then for NBC, Spencer attracted more unfavorable publicity as his wife was revealed to be an alcoholic and a victim of anorexia. She was in and out of various clinics before Spencer, apparently to escape the publicity, went to live in South Africa with their four children.

He is separated from his wife, but she lives near him in Cape Town. In 1995 he wrote to the Press Complaints Commission that journalists had constantly harassed his wife at a private clinic.

Yet at his 30th birthday party a year earlier, Spencer embarrassed guests by recalling his father's wish he should marry somebody who would stick by him through thick and thin.

``Those of you who know Victoria know that she's thick - and she's certainly thin,'' he said.

Six years ago Sally Ann Lasson, an old girlfriend, told a British tabloid she and Spencer had rekindled their love during a Paris weekend six months after his marriage.

Since Spencer's move to South Africa, the British tabloids have continued their coverage of him, including his liaisons with former model Josie Borain and model Chantal Collopy.

Like Diana and his surviving two sisters, Spencer had a painful childhood. Their mother walked out on them in the middle of the night when Diana was 6 and he was 3, saying she could no longer live with a bullying husband.

Their father's second wife, Raine, was loathed by Diana and her brother, and they nicknamed her ``Acid Raine.''

His blast at the royal family Saturday provoked a wave of applause from those listening to the funeral service outside Westminster Abbey, and the applause was taken up by those inside.

Diana's sons, and one of the young daughters of the Duchess of York, joined in the applause. But adult members of the royal family sat in frozen-faced silence.

The British public is clearly divided over the wisdom of what Spencer did, as reflected in the letters columns of major newspapers. Readers of the liberal Guardian, for example, have mostly cheered him on, with one writing: ``Earl Spencer for president!''

In the Daily Telegraph, sometimes described as the bible of British conservatives, a few readers sided with Spencer. But most were highly critical, saying his remarks damaged the monarchy and were hurtful to Diana's sons as well.

The Times of London, with no letters on the subject in Monday's edition, deplored Spencer's words. In an editorial, it said he, rather than seeking reconciliation with the Windsors, had reopened old wounds.

Times columnist Peter Stothard said Spencer had ``thrown down a graceless gauntlet to his sovereign - and one that must damage his best hopes.''

The Times also carried an article by Sarah Bradford, a biographer of the queen, who wrote: ``Spencer's appreciation of his sister was magnificent; his bitterness devalued her memory.''

Bradford said his remarks were undoubtedly deeply upsetting for Diana's children, ``who only want love and unity around them.''

Newspaper reports Monday said Prince Charles was angry over Spencer's funeral tirade.

The Guardian quoted royal sources as saying Charles believed Spencer had misunderstood his close relationship with his sons. Charles also was dismissive of Spencer's promise to have a hand in how the boys were raised, the sources said, pointing out it would be ``impractical'' to think of him traveling back and forth from South Africa to perform this role.

In the Guardian, writer Matthew Engel put the feud between these powerful families in a historical perspective:

"Now we begin to understand why the most popular and enduring tragic plays of history have been written about kings and princes and earls, and not about, say, the European Union or the parliamentary Labor Party."