What We Know About Princess Diana’s Tumultuous Relationship With Her Mother
Princess Diana is perhaps best known for her rocky marriage to King Charles III, but the People’s Princess had a number of other strained relationships throughout her lifetime. Indeed, the princess was famous for growing close to new friends and then quickly cutting them out. This was especially evident in Diana’s friendship with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York — who called Diana her "best friend" for many years. In 1996, though, the princess suddenly stopped talking to Sarah, leaving the duchess baffled. Unfortunately, this type of hot and cold approach to relationships was something of a pattern for Diana — Elton John also reported quickly falling out with the princess for an unexplained reason.
Sadly, Diana also had a tumultuous relationship with her mother, Frances Shand Kydd. Although the pair had a difficult time during Diana’s childhood, they were able to grow closer in their later years. Frances supported her daughter during her unhappy marriage to the Prince of Wales and even empathized with her during the 1996 divorce. After all, as a society woman who had been publicly shamed for her own marital issues in the 1960s, Frances would have been able to provide the princess with invaluable advice.
Nevertheless, by the time Diana began dating again, the two women began arguing constantly. Tensions rose, and, before long, Diana cut her mother out of her life — just as she had done to many friends before.
When Diana was born, her mother wanted a boy
Although Princess Diana and her mother grew close later in life, their relationship got off to a rocky start. The reason was that, when Diana was born in 1961, Frances was under a tremendous amount of pressure to have a baby boy. Her husband — and Diana’s father — was John Spencer, the 8th Earl Spencer. In British upper-class society, those titles meant that Frances and John needed to have a son in order to keep the Spencer peerage in the family.
By the time that Frances was pregnant with Diana, she and her husband has already had two daughters — a tremendous disappointment by the standards of the day. Thus, the couple did everything in their power to try to ensure that Diana was a boy. As the princess’ biographer, Andrew Morton, revealed in the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of the Spencers" (via Express), Frances "was sent to various clinics in Harley Street, Wimpole Street [to be] prodded and poked in the most intimate of areas by gynecologists and doctors." The hope was, in Morton’s words, to "produce a healthy, male heir."
Unfortunately, at the time, not everyone understood that the father determines the sex of the baby. Thus, when Diana came into the world, Morton said "there was widespread dismay." Apparently, this sensation of being a letdown haunted Diana for years. As Morton told filmmakers, "Diana … thought that she was the unwanted child."
Frances took Diana to live with her in London
Princess Diana’s mother may have been disappointed to bear another daughter, but that doesn’t mean that Frances Shand Kydd blamed Diana for being born a girl. If anything, Frances grew increasingly frustrated with her husband, John Spencer, the 8th Earl Spencer, for putting her under so much pressure to have a son. Even when Frances finally gave birth to Diana’s younger brother, Charles Spencer, in 1964, the fatigued mother was not happy in her marriage.
In the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of the Spencers" (via YouTube), royal expert, Angela Levin, explained, that John "would shout at [Frances] and scream at her. And, little Diana used to look through the banister. Then, she could see him being really horrible and making her mother cry." It wasn’t long before Frances ran into the arms of a London-based businessman named Peter Shand Kydd. She herself believed that she started the affair as a result of her strained relationship with John.
Frances was once quoted by the Telegraph saying, "If Johnnie and I had had a strong marriage, it wouldn’t have happened." Nevertheless, it eventually did, and, before long, she decided to move to London to be closer to her lover. Although Frances would ultimately become known as a "bolter," or someone who abandons her family, she did not initially leave her children behind. On the contrary, she brought Diana and Charles to London with her, hoping that, together, they could start anew.
When Frances and John formally separated, Diana lived with her father
Princess Diana and her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, lived together for a time in London. However, this arrangement was short-lived. During the Christmas holiday of 1967, Frances returned to the home of John Spencer, the 8th Earl of Spencer, in hopes of enjoying some quality family time with the children. Unfortunately, disaster ensued. Frances and John spent much of the holiday arguing. Frances even went so far as to ask her once-partner for a divorce — something that was looked down on at the time.
In the eyes of the conservative earl, this request was unreasonable because of the way that a formal separation could humiliate the Spencer family before the British upper-crust establishment. Thus, he decided to punish Frances by refusing to let her leave the house unless she left Diana and Charles Spencer behind. Speaking in the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of the Spencers" (via YouTube), royal expert, Angela Levin, said, "She was absolutely shocked and heartbroken, and I think Johnny did it out of spite. And, he was just furious that she had brought the name of the family down so much."
On the day that Frances left the house, Diana was just six-years-old and completely incapable of understanding the intricacies of her parents’ adult relationship. Consequently, that was the moment that her mother walked out the front door, traumatizing the young child. At the time, Diana believed that Frances was never coming back.
Diana’s mother fought for custody and lost
Although Princess Diana relayed feeling abandoned by her mother, the reality was much more complicated than that. During the divorce proceedings, Frances Shand Kydd fought for custody of her children, however, she faced several legal obstacles along the way due to the fact that she had not been faithful throughout her marriage.
As historical expert, Dr. Tessa Dunlop, explained in the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of the Spencers" (via YouTube), most people at the time viewed Frances as the party at fault: "So, [Frances is] publicly, legally, the adulterer. So, she is the ‘baddie.’ Versus, Johnny is ‘goodie’ in terms of the perception and legal binding of this case. And, therefore, the idea that she is then going to ‘win’ the children, it doesn’t matter what the children need." Ultimately, Frances lost custody of her children and was only given the chance to see them on weekends.
For Diana, this arrangement proved extremely stressful. In practice, spending only short periods of time with Frances meant that the future princess was forced to witness her mother’s most vulnerable moments. As Diana would later recall in the tapes she made for her biographer, Andrew Morton (via Daily Mail), "Every Saturday, when we went up [to be with mom] for weekends … she would start crying." Apparently, Frances would tell her children, "Oh, I don’t want you to leave tomorrow." Diana called his experience "devastating."
Diana did not feel supported by Frances during her engagement to Charles
On February 24, 1981, King Charles III and Princess Diana announced their engagement to the world. From the outside, this relationship looked like a modern-day fairy tale. However, from Diana’s perspective, things looked way more complicated. As she would later reveal in the tapes that she made for her biographer, Andrew Morton, Diana realized that Charles and Camilla were close fairly early on in the engagement. Diana recalled (via YouTube), "And then, someone in [Charles’] office told me that my husband has had a bracelet made for [Camilla] … I was devastated … But, no, it absolutely cut me dead."
As Diana was dealing with the stress of a royal wedding, Frances Shand Kydd was not available to support her daughter. Apparently, all the fuss surrounding the big event was just too much for Frances to handle — let alone the reality of her daughter’s doubts. In the tapes, Diana told Andrew Morton (via Cheat Sheet), "My mother let me down terribly with the wedding … She kept crying … Saying that she couldn’t cope with the pressure."
Sadly, Frances’ failure to adequately support her was nearly unforgivable in Diana’s opinion. Following the wedding, the People’s Princess cut out her mother for the first time. Diana recalled, "I didn’t speak to her for three or four years afterwards. She drove me mad… It was me that was being strong and her sobbing the whole time."
Frances was pleased that Diana bore an heir and a spare
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While Princess Diana and her mother did not have a great relationship following the royal wedding, the two did stay somewhat in touch. This was especially evident on June 26, 1982, when Prince William came into the world. Frances Shand Kydd went to Mary’s Hospital for the occasion and was said to be especially happy to see that William was a boy. After all, it meant that Diana would be spared the intense pressure of producing a male heir.
In the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of the Spencers" (via Express), the princess’ friend, Richard Kay, explained, "There must have been a sense of great relief on Frances’ part that her daughter might not have to go through the constant ups and downs of childbirth, because her very first child was a boy."
When Prince Harry was born two years later, Frances was said to be similarly pleased. In her view, Diana had solidified her position in the royal family, providing the crown with both an heir and a spare. That being said, King Charles III didn’t exactly see things that way. Speaking in the same documentary, Diana’s biographer, Andrew Morton, told filmmakers, "Frances was talking to Prince Charles and he said he wished that the baby had been a girl, not a boy because he’d always wanted a girl" (via Express). Frances reportedly stood up for Diana, retorting, "You should be grateful for having a healthy child."
Princess Diana’s mother connected with William and Harry throughout their childhood
As Prince William and Prince Harry grew up, they oftentimes found themselves surrounded by the glitter and gilt of royal life. However, when they visited their maternal grandmother at her home in Scotland, the boys enjoyed a more natural environment. Indeed, Frances Shand Kydd lived on Seil Island, an isolated little paradise located on the country’s western coast.
Sources indicate that Princess Diana, too, valued the time that she and the boys spent in this peaceful setting. As the princess’s bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, explained in the documentary, "Diana: The Curse of The Spencers" (via YouTube), "Such was the informality of being at Frances’ house. You know, I stayed there. We had some very, very entertaining, you know, weekends there with William and Harry. It was real swallows and Amazons country, you know. I mean, the kids loved it."
For Diana and the boys, one of the best parts of visiting Frances was certainly taking a break from the formality of palace living. After all, Diana’s mother did not exactly fill her house with priceless paintings or Persian rugs. As Wharfe told documentary-makers, "There was nothing grand about where Frances lived. It was barely any furniture there. But, it was fun." As an added bonus, the paparazzi did not follow the family to the island, meaning that the whole family could simply be themselves. In this environment, Diana and Frances could both feel normal.
Frances came to blame her own romantic issues on Diana
Princess Diana and her mother enjoyed plenty of Scottish getaways together, but those positive interactions did not prevent them from having issues. This was especially true in 1988 when Frances Shand Kydd parted ways with her second husband, Peter Shand Kydd. Unfortunately, Frances largely blamed Diana — and all the fame that went along with her — for the separation.
While it might seem odd for Frances to blame her adult daughter for her divorce, there was a reason for her way of thinking. Indeed, as Diana skyrocketed in popularity, so did Frances, and, ultimately, neither woman was able to keep her name out of the press. This was apparently really stressful for Peter. At times, he was even said to feel overshadowed by his more famous wife. Years later, The Guardian quoted Frances’ thoughts on why Peter wanted to get a divorce: "I think the pressure of it all was overwhelming and, finally, impossible for Peter. They didn’t want him. They wanted me. I became Diana’s mum, and not his wife."
Sadly, Peter was not the only member of Diana’s extended family that felt overwhelmed by the media buzz surrounding the People’s Princess. Diana’s younger brother, Charles Spencer, also noted: "Diana’s marriage moved us from the shadows of the landed aristocracy into the role of bit-part players in the soap-opera fantasy world that the media foisted on to the royal family."
Diana’s mother spoke to the press about the royal divorce
While Princess Diana’s mother suffered at the hands of the British media, she did not shy away from the press. On the contrary, Frances Shand Kydd tried using the interest of the public to her own benefit — just like Diana did for most of her adult life. The best instance of this occurred in 1997 when Frances gave an interview to the popular British tabloid, Hello!. Although she did spill some tea to the press, Frances believed that she was doing so with the best intentions. After all, her motivation for arranging the exclusive was to raise £30,000 for a Catholic charity.
Unfortunately, though, Diana was not impressed with her mother’s altruistic goals. According to a report in the Mirror (via The Free Library), she was furious with Frances for giving the interview. An anonymous insider told the magazine, "The relationship between the princess and Mrs. Shand Kydd is about as bad as it could be. We are talking of a serious bust-up. Let’s just say that the princess is distraught and distressed and cannot understand how she can have done this."
Apparently, Diana reacted particularly badly when she saw that Frances discussed her separation from King Charles III with Hello!. Frances had reportedly told the magazine that it was "wonderful" that Diana lost the right to be called "Her Royal Highness" following the divorce. "At last she was able to be herself," Frances said.
Princess Diana’s mother might have disapproved of her daughter’s boyfriends
Following her separation from King Charles III, Princess Diana had a slew of suitors and a couple of serious relationships. Starting in 1995, she had a particularly intense romance with a heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan. However, the two parted ways just two years later. Soon after, Diana started seeing Dodi Al-Fayed, with whom she ultimately perished in a 1997 car crash in Paris.
During these years when Diana was exploring her options, Frances Shand Kydd was said to be opposed to many of her daughter’s relationships. According to Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, there was one occasion when Frances called Diana to berate her for dating the wrong men. Burrell told The Mirror that Frances spewed "a torrent of abuse, swearing and upsetting innuendo towards the Princess and towards the male company she was keeping." The butler believed that the reason for Frances’ strong reaction was prejudice against people from different religious backgrounds. Burrell even labeled her words "a hate-filled personal attack on the men and their religious beliefs."
While this revelation was certainly shocking, it is worth noting that Burrell and Frances never got along. As reported by The Mirror, Diana’s mother liked to call the butler "just another hanger-on grasping at Diana’s celebrity." Regardless of the veracity of Burrell’s account, one thing remains true: Diana and Frances fought terribly in 1997. The princess refused to speak to her mother during the last months of her life.