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Charles has detailed accounts of abuse in his memoir© Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

Charles Spencer: His family's most shocking moments as he announces third divorce

Princess Diana's brother is custodian of his family's sprawling estate in Northamptonshire

Phoebe Tatham
Content Writer
June 15, 2024
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Earl Charles Spencer has been the subject of recent headlines as a result of his searingly candid memoir and his subsequent divorce announcement.

Princess Diana's brother, the 9th Earl Spencer, confirmed the sad news of his divorce from his third wife, Karen Gordon, earlier this month.

Earl Charles Spencer attends the ICAP charity day at ICAP on December 9, 2015 in London© Getty Images
Charles and Karen tied the knot in 2011

The 60-year-old first publicly shared the news with the Mail On Sunday, adding: "I just want to devote myself to all my children, and to my grandchildren, and I wish Karen every happiness in the future." He also called the news "immensely sad".

It is thought that Charles and Karen's marriage broke down in recent years amid the strain of the Earl's memoir, A Very Private School, in which he detailed physical and sexual abuse while at boarding school.

Earl Charles Spencer and Countess Karen Spencer attend day 3 of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 18, 2015© Getty Images
The pair are divorcing after 13 years of marriage

Aside from his divorce news, take a look at Charles's most shocking family moments below…

His "unhappy childhood"

Charles Spencer has previously spoken about his upbringing and how the divorce of his parents, John Spencer and Frances Shand Kydd, had a profound impact on him.

Lady Diana Spencer and Charles Spencer in 1968© Getty Images
A young Charles Spencer with sister Diana in 1968

"Diana and I had two older sisters who were away at school, so she and I were very much in it together and I did talk to her about it," he told The Sunday Times in 2020. "Our father was a quiet and constant source of love, but our mother wasn't cut out for maternity. Not her fault, she couldn't do it," he added.

"While she was packing her stuff to leave, she promised Diana [then aged five] she'd come back to see her. Diana used to wait on the doorstep for her, but she never came," he recalled.

The father-of-seven added that he has done "a lot of very profound work" on his "unhappy childhood" which was "agonising and horrible."

His claims of abuse while at school

Earlier this year, Charles disclosed that he was sexually abused at the age of 11 by a female staff member when he was at boarding school. In an extract from his book, A Very Private School, Charles claims that he was abused by an assistant matron at the school when he was a child, during the 1970s.

Charles has detailed accounts of abuse in his memoir© Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock
Charles has detailed accounts of abuse in his memoir

Princess Diana's death

Charles's older sister Diana was tragically killed in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997. Her death had a profound impact on the royal family and sent shockwaves around the globe.

For Charles, the incident was unsurprisingly heartbreaking. During a 1999 TV interview with US chat show host Larry King, the author spoke about the moment he learned of Diana's fate.

Diana, Princess of Wales wearing a Stephen Jones hat to the wedding of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones and Daniel Chatto in 1994© Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images
Diana passed away in August 1997

"I was in Cape Town, South Africa with my four children, just the five of us in the house, and the telephone went very early in the morning," he recalled. "And somebody from my property in England said, 'Look, I've got some bad news. It seems as though your sister and Dodi Fayed have been in a car crash in Paris.'"

He continued: "So I went downstairs and turned on the television and was following, in fact, on CNN, and watching the broadcast, and they were quite adamant at the time that she had been seen walking away from the car and was obviously hurt, but fine.

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Charles went on to add: "And then I called my other sister, my middle sister, who was actually married to somebody who was working for the Queen, and I said, 'Look, what's going on?' And she said, 'Well, he's on the other line, right now.' And then she stopped talking, and I'll always remember hearing my brother-in-law Robert say 'Oh, no,' and then my sister Jane said, 'I'm afraid that's it. I'm afraid she's dead.'"

At her funeral, Charles delivered a heartbreaking eulogy where he paid tribute to his late sister, describing her as the "very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty."

John Spencer's death

In 1960, Charles' parents lost their baby son, just ten hours after his birth. The Hon. John Spencer was the third child born to the couple, following elder sisters Lady Sarah McCorquidale and Jane Fellowes

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In 2022, Charles paid a touching tribute to his late brother. Alongside a picture of John's gravestone, he wrote: "Looking as it should, now… I never knew my older brother, John, and live 100 miles from his grave - but, seeing it last summer, realised serious action was required. Thank you, BB, for making it look as it should."

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