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        Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales
Princess Diana

The People’s Mother           


            Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 in Norfolk, England. She was already born to an aristocratic title, so the pressure placed upon her by her parents, Edward John [Johnnie] Spencer and Frances Ruth Roche, was quite difficult to handle from the beginning.  The Spencer aristocratic family hoped Frances Spencer would give birth to a son.  This son would continue their lineage, passing the family name on to yet another generation.  Instead, Lady Diana was born.  Because this baby’s gender was unwanted by Johnnie, not much was expected of her.  Since British titles are passed through primogeniture, Diana could not be the heir.  Lady Diana accomplished much more than her parents ever dreamed of in her short lifetime.  She proved to her family that although she could not be the heir, she could rise to the occasion to make a lasting impression on many people.  Lady Diana went on to become the Princess of Wales, and extend her insight and love throughout the world.

            In any aristocratic family, a normal childhood is difficult because of the expectations set by the family.  Lady Diana was already a disappointment to her father at the moment of her birth.  After Diana was born, her mother immediately asked the gender of the baby.  When she was told that she had a girl, “the first words ever spoken about Diana Frances Spencer were her mother’s plaintive lament, ‘Oh, Johnnie will be so disappointed’” (Mulvaney 19).  Unfortunately, for Diana’s sake, this upset did not end here.  Her mother, Frances Spencer, went into postpartum depression shortly after her birth.  Because of this, Diana “fell to the care of a governess, Gertrude Allen” (Mulvaney 23).  This is not an ideal situation, but was fairly routine in upper-class families.  Shortly after Frances gave birth to a son, the tension within the family lifted, but not all was well for them.  Frances and Johnnie grew further apart, which eventually led to their divorce. Diana was only six at the time. 

            Diana was hit rather hard by her parents’ divorce.  Because of the deteriorating relationship between her parents, she was also pushed aside.  She has noted that “the biggest disruption [in my childhood] was when Mummy decided to leg it.  For my brother and I [sic] it was a very painful experience” (Mulvaney 39).  It was hard enough for Diana to have not made anyone happy initially, but now she lost her family altogether.  The Spencers were one of the most recognized families in the English aristocracy, meaning there was the responsibility of a title to live up to; but, especially after the divorce, there was little comfort found in the home.  One of the only relatives that she could turn to was her brother.  He too was affected by the family situation but, as Diana recalled, “‘hadn’t realized how much the divorce had affected him until he got married and starting having a life of his own’”  (Mulvaney 49).  Diana knew all along that this divorce affected her, so was she set up to fail?  Many could believe this, but Diana went on to surprise the world by leading a successful life by any standard. 

            Lady Diana went on to form a relationship with Charles Windsor, the Prince of Wales.  This match was seen to be picture perfect, and for a while it was.  In this relationship, however, Diana found herself once again living up to what others had molded for her.  In an interview after Charles’ relationship with Anna Wallace ended, he commented that:

 ‘It’s awfully difficult, because you’ve got to remember that when you marry, in my position, you are going to marry someone who perhaps is one day going to become Queen.  You’ve got to choose someone really carefully….People expect quite a lot from somebody like that…and it has got to be somebody pretty special’ (Mulvaney 91).

Would she ever be able to escape the mold others made for her?  In Diana’s case, she was unable to pull away from this standard just yet.  Still, she was luckier than her mother: she produced a son on the first try.  In the royal family’s eyes, this was her first responsibility.  This was not the only duty that Diana would have to fulfill.  Queen Elizabeth offered some assistance to Diana, but the Queen found helping Diana more difficult than expected because the Queen found it easy to fill this role.  Queen Elizabeth was born into the family and so did not need to adjust as much as the Princess had to.  Because Queen Elizabeth did not recognize the difficulty of adjusting, she would often become frustrated with Diana when she was slow at learning.  It took Diana a while, but she learned how to fill the role and she did it well.  Perhaps this did not necessarily guarantee her a comfortable and satisfying life that she had hoped for. 

            Just when Diana thought she had adjusted and that her situation would improve, it did not.  There is always a high standard for a royal family member to live up to.  In Diana’s case, Queen Elizabeth was the person to follow.  In some cases, these generations will run into conflict because it is difficult to have more than one person held in high regard.  There was much tension between Queen Elizabeth and Diana.  Many believe that this tension arose from Diana’s media role.  Diana was sought after by more press than the Royal Family had anticipated.  She used the press to get her messages across.  Most royalty before her wanted little to do with the media, so this surprised many people.  The Queen has noted, “My mother’s a star, my daughter-in-law’s a star, where does that leave me?” (Mulvaney 129).   Was the Queen jealous of the publicity that Diana was receiving?  This may have contributed to the tension between them, but it was definitely not the only cause.  Most of the royal family attempted to keep their personal lives away from the media; for Diana, this was not the case.  When Diana wanted to communicate her problems with the royal family, she would go to the media to expose their private life to the community.  In a television interview, Panorama, Diana made her struggles with Charles public, “coloring them to achieve the effect she wanted—Diana as innocent betrayed” (Mulvaney 152).  She lashed out against the royal family because they did not approve of her, which only gave them a greater reason to disapprove.

            After Diana and Charles were divorced, the only duty that remained to Diana was to take care of her children.  She had always mainly focused on this role, so it did not come unnaturally to her:

Throughout her pregnancy, the Princess had put duty first.  At all her public appearances, she had shown the genuine, caring side of her nature, her transparent love of children, and her concern for the elderly and in return, the public warmed to her in something approaching adulation.  During the last weeks of her pregnancy, her time belonged to her and her husband and she was able to relax and prepare for the birth of her baby like any other young mother in the country (Courtney 82). 


If Diana could embody all of these characteristics to the public, then her role as a mother seemed promising, providing she applied this to her own children:  “Diana was also determined to do something else that was anathema to most royal mothers: breast-feed her child” (Andersen 41).  She broke with the royal mothers before her and believed that she always knew best.  This could also have added to the animosity between her and the Windsors.  Who was this young woman disrupting the monarchy?  Diana was not concerned with the thoughts of the Windors, but just with caring for her children: “William and Harry’s greatest asset is not their wealth or their privileged position; it is having such a caring mother” (Fairley 144).  In any interview or meeting, Diana made it quite clear that her children came first.  How many mothers are really that devoted to their children?  Diana had quite an active schedule, but chose to bring her children if she was making trips out of the country or had an event to attend.  She could have easily left her children with their nanny, but attempted to spend as much time as possible with them.

            One of Diana’s main goals was to encourage her children to lead a normal life.  Perhaps this is where her experiences from childhood aided her.  She realized that she wanted to take the negative experiences that she had faced as an aristocratic child and shield her children from such experiences:  “Child-rearing experts, the press, and the public applauded her insistence that her boys experience life on both sides of the gilded palace railing” (Mulvaney 157).  She concentrated on spending quality time with them, taking them horseback riding and other activities of a typical family.  Diana bonded with her children, as she wished she had with her own parents.  She believed that children are supposed to spend time with their family because that is what gives life to the house.  She also took the focus off of their title and placed importance on what they made of themselves.  Because of this attitude, Diana and Charles disagreed often.  In a conversation in which they battled back and forth, Charles said: ‘The boys are princes and should be reared as such.’  Diana fought back with: ‘They may be princes, but they are children as well.  They need to have a normal life or they will end up as hopelessly out of touch as you are’ (Andersen 92).  Did Diana encourage mothers to abandon tradition in order to raise a family as they saw fit? 

            On the other hand, if Diana really wanted to be the biggest influence on her children’s lives, then why did she hire a nanny?  In some respects, she was forced to follow the way mothers of the past went about raising their children.  Because of Diana’s status, she needed help in taking care of her boys.  Like every royal mother before her, she hired a nanny; she herself was raised by one, so this was fairly acceptable.  Even so, Diana still was not ready to just let go of them.  Her friend, Lady Bowker, commented, “‘she was not interested in sharing them with anyone-- not Charles, and especially not another woman’” (Andersen 122).  It is not surprising that people had said this because Diana believed that a nanny “‘was to help with, not to take over, child care’” (Fairley 129).  It is pretty safe to say that if Diana did indeed have to hire a nanny, at least she insisted on spending as much time as she could with her boys.         

            Diana was like many modern mothers because of her demanding schedule and the conflicts at home: “Diana herself proved a more feisty protagonist, emerging from the ‘Charles and Di’ era to begin a new life and with her own story to tell the nation” (Atwood 315).  Everyone knew Diana as the Princess of Wales, but there was more to her than that.  She wanted to show the people who she really was and what she really was about.  Because of this, she was known to be a mother to whomever needed it.  She did not want to just be a Princes; she wanted to be whatever the other person needed.  This required Diana to break away from tradition.  If she wanted people to see what she was about, she needed her leadership to shine through: “‘I think I’m going to cut a very different path from everyone else; I’m going to break away from this set-up and go and help the man on the street” (Mulvaney 189).  She definitely succeeded in that goal.  Diana’s new path included a great devotion to charity.  She wanted to extend her hand to everyone who was in need.  The British fund-raising manager Stephen Lee noted, “‘Her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person’s in the twentieth century’” (Andersen 141-2).  This is pretty remarkable for someone who had other things to devote her time to. 

            Diana was held in high regard by everyone whom she helped.  She visited hospitals with AIDS patients and the handicapped; just the simple gesture of putting herself on the level of these people was enough to please them.  Also, Diana used the media attention that she received to bring attention to the problem with landmines.   She worked in both Angola and Bosnia, and promoted public awareness about landmines.  Partially due to the attention that Princess Diana brought to this issue, people fighting landmines expanded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  Diana attempted to help as many people in need as she could.  The patron of the British Deaf Association said of Diana, “‘She had this very special rapport with handicapped people.  It has nothing to do with being a princess.  It’s simply that she is a very lovely person’” (Fairley 93-4).  People were recognizing that Diana was not acting out of obligation because of her title, but because of what she believed that she was capable of.

            In her volunteer work, two of her main beliefs also showed the fact that she wanted to learn from her childhood.  Diana wanted to both remember her past and to break away from it: “Diana is not only wounded, but a wounded healer, whose desire to do good for others was the outcome of deep feelings of unworthiness” (Atwood 317).  She took all the callousness that she had experienced in her childhood and learned from it.  She knew what it was like to feel unwanted, not only by her family, but by the Windsors, and attempted to never make anyone feel that way.  Also, Diana wanted to raise her children while remembering what she had learned from her past.  She wanted to raise her boys in a way that she that learned to be.  She did not want them to rely only on their title; she wanted them to form their own lives.  Diana herself pointed out: “‘Isn’t it funny, ‘that when everybody is telling their children not to talk to strangers, I’m telling my sons to go out of their way to be warm and friendly to them’” (Andersen 145).  Diana could have taken the approach that some people take, and have been harmed by her past; but she decided to turn her life around, and hoped that others could take something from her experiences, too.

            Diana worked for these goals as long as she lived.  As she and her children grew older, she only worked harder.  She encouraged her children to be dedicated and concentrated on family roles.  The main difference that Diana exemplified throughout the years was having the private life that she wanted.  When she increasingly dedicated her life to volunteering, her personal life showed through her work and media coverage.  Also, when her children got older, their lives were also put in the spotlight.  As much as Diana wanted to give them a private life, some of it was just unavoidable.  There comes a point in which any mother would break down.  During her divorce, as much as Diana attempted to lead a normal life, she became increasingly unstable.  She battled eating disorders, and suffered emotional breakdowns.  Diana gives hope to people that struggle though because she proved that problems can be overcome and bridges can be burned down.

            Diana is the epitome of someone who took all that was handed to her and did not just live with past experience, but also learned from it.  At one point she jokingly said, “‘Yes, this is my last lifetime, I’m going to do it all now.  This is it, I’m not coming back’” (Andersen 214).  In her short lifetime, she accomplished things that not many could accomplish if they lived twice as long as she did.  Because of all of the people that she touched and the lasting impact that she had on her children, her memory and love will forever remain.  People will continue to look to her for guidance and support, although she can’t physically be here to share it.

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Animation. Crown. 10 November 2003. <>.
Background.  Stars 2b. 3 November 2003.  <> .