The definitive history of one of England’s greatest houses: Althorp, where for five hundred years the Spencer family have made their home.
Charles Spencer’s house of Althorp in Northamptonshire is where he and his sister Princess Diana grew up, and where she is buried. In this rich history, Spencer traces the house’s life from the sixteenth century through to Charles’ sleepless nights there as a child and the estate’s transformation into a site of global mourning. He weaves together the architecture, the story of how it amassed one of the largest private art collections in the country, the characters – by turns forbidding and elitist, warm and exuberant – and much more.
The perfect guide to a great English house, this book also tells a broader story of the social and political vicissitudes that have shaped the Spencer family’s wealth, taste and attitudes over the years.
‘Whether he is describing the sleepless nights of his childhood, the ticking of clocks "always… too subtle a sound, getting absorbed in the oak of the floorboards and the fabric of the tapestries", or appraising the forbidding character of his grandfather, the "Curator Earl", Spencer casts a candid, evocative light on his subject …
Indeed, Spencer's own efforts on the estate have been considerable. First came the business of repairing the predations of his "short-termist stepmother" Raine, Countess of Dartmouth–she who carpeted a 115-ft long Tudor picture gallery with a wall-to-wall oatmeal carpet. Now comes the death and burial on the estate of his sister Diana, Princess of Wales. That Charles must now curate the family home as a site of global mourning is a trial quite the equal of anything the estate has ever faced.
Subtitled The Story of an English House, the book's structure, covering buildings, grounds, family history and collections, is entirely conventional. What does surprise is the way Spencer packs in so much about the social and political vicissitudes that shaped his family's wealth and taste. In doing so, he eschews his grandfather's regrettable elitism, while losing none of the old man's dedication to the family's heritage. Like all good introductions, this book suggests a world and time far exceeding its little compass. –Simon Ings
About the author
Charles Spencer was educated at Eton College and obtained his degree in Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was a reporter on NBC’s Today show from 1986 until 1995, and is the author of seven books, including the Sunday Times bestsellers Blenheim: Battle for Europe (shortlisted for History Book of the Year, National Book Awards) and Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I.