Lady Diana Spencer, who became the Princess of Wales, was one of the most fascinating and best-known women of the last century. Her death in 1997 has not diminished the amount of curiosity, stories and pictures of her and she continues to live through her two children with the Prince Charles, the Princes William and Harry.
The Spencer family's lineage is an interesting one. Genealogists calculated she was her ex-husband's seventh cousin once removed and traced her bloodline to George Washington, Humphrey Bogart, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Rudolf Valentino. The family had five lines of descent, mostly through illegitimate children, from King Charles the Second, who reigned in the 17th century. This pedigree linked her to the Stuart dynasty, which, because of its Roman Catholic faith, lost the throne to the Protestant Hanoverians, the family of her former husband, Prince Charles.
Althorp House, on over 6000 hectares of green Northamptonshire countryside, has been the Spencer family seat for 500 years and became known to the world only when Diana and Prince Charles's engagement was announced.
Diana's brother, Lord Charles, is the 9th Earl Spencer and is the caretaker of the magnificent home. There was hue and cry when her family chose Althorp as the final resting place for Diana, but even those who were against it must now admit it is the perfect location.
A man-made lake, known as the Round Oval, sits at the edge of the grounds and at its centre is an island and that is where she is buried. It is a place she loved very much, silent and peaceful with high trees giving a cathedral-like atmosphere. It is a place family can visit privately whilst visitors see it only from afar.
The Earl divides his time between London and Althorp and, like his father and grandfather, he is obliged under English tax laws to open his home to the public. Althorp is a tourist drawcard and during its open season in summer can attract up to 1500 people a day.
As a child Earl Spencer acted as a tour guide, and today his own children work in the gift shop. Six rooms of the original stables have been converted to house "Diana: A Celebration", an award-winning exhibition. When not at Althorp it travels the world, with all profits being donated to the Princess's Memorial Fund. To date it has received more than $2,000,000.
The display is quite intimate and includes Diana's bridal gown, childhood letters, family photographs, school reports, speech notes and, possibly the most moving exhibit, a draft of Lord Spencer's unforgettably emotive eulogy to his sister.
There has been a house at Althorp since the beginning of the 16th century. The original house was built of red brick but the well-travelled Second Earl of Sunderland thought that unfashionable and without status. He introduced an Italian architect to "classicise" the facade. Weldon stone Corinthian and composite columns were added and a balustrade added to the elevation. The gardens and grounds are laid out in the geometric French style to plans by Andre le Notre who designed the gardens at Versailles.
Inside, there is an extensive literary and art collection including works by Rubens, van Dyck, Reynolds and Gainsborough. Althorp also has excellent examples of other fine arts from carpets to candelabra.
While it rarely occurs, people can stay there. Not something they advertise but it is possible.
Northampton in England.
Althorp entry is around $30 for adults and $15 for children. It is open between July 1 and September 30 each year, excluding August 31. Gates open at 11am and last admission is at 4pm.
Emirates has flights to London.
Valid for sale until August 31, 2007 and for travel between October 4, 2007, to February 29, 2008. Flights from Perth and Darwin are valid for travel until November 25, 2007.
Prices correct at 30.08.2007
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