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Who was Acid Raine and why did she cause such controversy? Lady Diana’s ‘wicked stepmother’ died on this day seven years ago, but not before a surprise rapprochement with the Princess of Wales


Once dubbed ‘Acid Raine’ by the late Princess of Wales and her sisters, she has often been thought of as the classic ‘wicked stepmother’. 

Raine Spencer married Diana’s father, John, Earl Spencer, when the future Princess of Wales was just 15 years old.

The circumstances were traumatic; the Spencer children’s own mother, Frances, had walked out. So it was not an easy start to the relationship.

Other controversies would follow, including the sale of heirlooms including furniture, silver and old masters – including a Van Dyke – to help fund a lavish, and to some eyes distasteful, refurbishment of Althorp House, the family seat.

Raine Spencer met Earl Spencer, Diana's father, when she was a young Conservative councillor where she was known for her  bouffant hair, pearls and scarves

Raine Spencer met Earl Spencer, Diana’s father, when she was a young Conservative councillor where she was known for her  bouffant hair, pearls and scarves

Pictured in 1957 as Mrs Raine Legge. The following year, she would be Viscountess Lewisham then, later, Lady Dartmouth

Pictured in 1957 as Mrs Raine Legge. The following year, she would be Viscountess Lewisham then, later, Lady Dartmouth

Raine was the only daughter of Alexander McCorquodale and pulp romance writer Dame Barbara Cartland. The two are pictured together in 1971

Raine was the only daughter of Alexander McCorquodale and pulp romance writer Dame Barbara Cartland. The two are pictured together in 1971

Yet there would, eventually, be a rapprochement between Diana and her stepmother, who was a considerable person in her own right, and an intelligent one, too, before she passed away – on this day – in October 2016.

A former IT girl and society beauty, Raine Spencer was a hard working and committed politician from the age of 23 who played a notable role in local government and the Conservative party.

Known for her determined, not to say ruthless style of management, Prince Philip is once said to have remarked ‘if you want to get anything organised, send for Raine’. 

Countess Spencer, born in 1929, was the only daughter of Alexander McCorquodale, an Army officer and heir to a printing fortune, and – perhaps more reccognisably – the romantic writer Dame Barbara Cartland.

Her parents later divorced and her mother married her ex-husband’s cousin Hugh McCorquodale and they had two sons.

Even as a girl, Raine mixed in rarified circles. 

‘What a pretty baby,’ Princess Elizabeth remarked to her governess, Marion Crawford, when she first set eyes on the youngster at a children’s tea party in London. ‘What’s her name?’

The future Queen was rather baffled by ‘Raine’. ‘What a funny, funny name,’ she is said to have replied.

Though Raine was bright, her parents instructed her to hide her intellect on the grounds that it would deter suitable husbands.

In 1947, an 18-year-old Raine McCorquodale was launched as a debutante into London high society where she had a successful season and was named ‘Deb of the Year’.

One year after Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh, she married the Hon Gerald Legge, soon to become Viscount Lewisham and later the 9th Earl of Dartmouth. The couple had four children, three sons and one daughter.

Following her marriage, Lady Dartmouth began to take a strong interest in politics and at 23 she became the youngest member of Westminster City Council as a Conservative.

Eighteen-year-old Raine McCorquodale was launched as a debutante in 1947. She is pictured here meeting Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother in 1956

Eighteen-year-old Raine McCorquodale was launched as a debutante in 1947. She is pictured here meeting Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother in 1956

Raine began to take a strong interest in politics and at 23 she became the youngest member of Westminster City Council as a Conservative

 Raine began to take a strong interest in politics and at 23 she became the youngest member of Westminster City Council as a Conservative

Pictured: Author Barbara Cartland with her daughter Raine and sons Ian and Glen in 1940

Pictured: Author Barbara Cartland with her daughter Raine and sons Ian and Glen in 1940

In 1973, after 25 years of marriage to the Earl of Dartmouth, the socialite began a relationship with Earl John Spencer, Diana's father

In 1973, after 25 years of marriage to the Earl of Dartmouth, the socialite began a relationship with Earl John Spencer, Diana’s father

As Lady Lewisham, and later Lady Dartmouth, she remained in local government for 17 years and sat on Westminster’s town planning, parks and personnel committees.

In 1973, after 25 years of marriage to the Earl of Dartmouth, the socialite began a relationship with Earl John Spencer, Diana’s father, having met him on an architectural heritage committee.

Three years passed until Raine, who was known for her  bouffant hair, pearls and scarves, divorced her first husband, marrying Spencer – who had been through a divorce with Diana’s mother in 1969 – two months later.

At first, she was notoriously unpopular with her stepdaughter, Lady Diana and the other girls, Lady Sarah and Lady Jane.

Two years into the new marriage, the Earl found himself lying in a coma in London’s Royal Brompton Hospital after a massive stroke. And over the course of many months, it was Raine who nursed him slowly back to health. 

Relations between Raine and the rest of the Spencer family seemed to grow more sour with each passing year.

In 1989, the Princess claimed she had pushed Raine down the stairs at her brother Charles’s wedding to model Victoria Lockwood.

In 1992, Lord Spencer passed away at the age of 68, having suffered a heart attack, and Raine moved out of Althorp.

As Countess Spencer she was notoriously unpopular with her stepdaughter, Diana, Princess of Wales, and her siblings

As Countess Spencer she was notoriously unpopular with her stepdaughter, Diana, Princess of Wales, and her siblings

Raine Spencer pictured alongside Princess Diana during Earl Spencer's funeral in Great Brington in April 1992

Raine Spencer pictured alongside Princess Diana during Earl Spencer’s funeral in Great Brington in April 1992

Following the death of Earl Spencer, her second husband, she moved to a smart Georgian house in Mayfair which Johnnie had bequeathed her

Following the death of Earl Spencer, her second husband, she moved to a smart Georgian house in Mayfair which Johnnie had bequeathed her

During her exit, a maid initially packed her clothes in suitcases bearing the Spencer emblem upon her exit from the stately property. But, the Princess of Wales opposed and that her stepmother’s clothes be put in black bin liners instead, according to The Telegraph.

Following the death of Earl Spencer, her second husband, she moved to a smart Georgian house in Mayfair which Johnnie had bequeathed her and set about building a new life for herself.

Here, she married Count Jean-Francois de Chambrun in 1993, but the marriage only lasted two years. When Raine divorced her third husband, she decided to revert back to her Countess Spencer title.

And it was during those years that she forged a new life once more, working as a director of Harrods International and also becoming a confidante of an increasingly troubled Princess Diana during her final years.

As the Princess was coming to terms with the breakdown of her marriage, while estranged from her own mother, Raine had provided a shoulder to cry on. 

She married Count Jean-Francois de Chambrun in 1993, but the marriage only lasted two years

She married Count Jean-Francois de Chambrun in 1993, but the marriage only lasted two years

The Countess became a confidante of an increasingly troubled Princess Diana during her final years. Pictured: The late Princess of Wales lunching with her stepmother at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair in March 1997

The Countess became a confidante of an increasingly troubled Princess Diana during her final years. Pictured: The late Princess of Wales lunching with her stepmother at the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair in March 1997

She died on October 21, 2016, after a short illness at the age of 87. Pictured: Raine at Westminster Abbey for the funeral service for the Princess of Wales in September 1997

She died on October 21, 2016, after a short illness at the age of 87. Pictured: Raine at Westminster Abbey for the funeral service for the Princess of Wales in September 1997

Many years later, the true extent of her closeness to her late stepdaughter would surface in letters and in her appearance at the 2007 inquest into Diana’s death.

‘She always said I had no hidden agenda,’ Raine told the court. ‘So many people, because she was so popular and so world-famous, wanted something out of her. It was a very draining life.’

During Diana’s inquest, Countess Spencer said her stepdaughter was ‘madly in love’ with Dodi Fayed and was probably about to marry him.

She told the inquest on the couple that it was ‘highly likely’ they would have become engaged and married – or at least started living together.

In 2012 private correspondence between Countess Spencer and Diana reignited the debate as to whether Camilla Parker Bowles cast a shadow over her life even before Diana’s engagement.

Auctioneers planned to sell the two handwritten missives, sent by Diana to Raine weeks before Charles proposed but a furious Countess Spencer demanded to know the provenance of the letters.

For five years after her death, Raine's grave had no headstone, but instead a small, weather-beaten wooden cross

For five years after her death, Raine’s grave had no headstone, but instead a small, weather-beaten wooden cross

She said she was ‘appalled’ and ‘astonished’ at the sale. 

She died on October 21, 2016, after a short illness at the age of 87. 

For five years after her death, Raine’s grave had no headstone, but instead a small, weather-beaten wooden cross.

Finally, a simple headstone, engraved with a gold coronet and the inscription ‘Countess Raine Spencer 1929-2016’, was erected in North Sheen Cemetery, South-West London.



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