Colourful collection of Princess Diana’s stepmother goes to auction

Raine, Countess Spencer lived the high life until her death last year


Raine, Countess Spencer is one of those names that seems vaguely familiar. She was a member of English ‘high society’ in the late 20th century best known to the public as the daughter of the novelist Barbara Cartland and step-mother to Diana, Princess of Wales.

She died, aged 87, last year and her collection of art and antiques is being auctioned at Christie’s in London later this month.

An avid collector, she could well afford to indulge her love of the finer things in life.

Born in 1929, with the proverbial silver spoon, she was, reputedly, seen as an infant by the young Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth who observed: “What a lovely, fat baby”.

Raine grew up to be voted ‘Debutante of the Year’ during ‘the Season’ in 1947 and, the following year, married the future Earl of Dartmouth. She dabbled in politics and was elected a councillor for the Conservative Party in London having canvassed voters dressed in her jewellery and furs.

Her obituary in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ noted that until the late 1960s - at the height of ‘Swinging London’ - she still had “a footman wearing white gloves in attendance at even the most informal lunch”.

She divorced her husband in 1976 and swapped one earldom for another - by marrying the also-divorced 8th Earl Spencer.

She nursed him for years after he suffered a stroke but also, controversially, funded a redecoration of Althorp, the Spencer estate in Northamptonshire, by selling some of the family heirlooms.

She was reputedly disliked by Earl Spencer’s children who cruelly dubbed her ‘Acid Raine’. That didn’t prevent her attending the fairy-tale wedding of her step-daughter Diana to Prince Charles in 1981.

Earl Spencer died in 1992 and Raine was forced to leave Althorp. She remarried, for the final time, a year later, the French aristocrat, the Comte de Chambrun - but the marriage didn’t last. She died in London in October 2016 and was survived by three sons and a daughter from her first marriage.

Christie’s said “Raine as a young girl had been guided towards a love of the arts by her mother who frequently took her to major galleries and private collections including that of her godfather, the 5th Duke of Sutherland, heir to one of the country’s finest collections of paintings.”

She left a major collection of fine and decorative arts including ‘Old Master’ paintings - by Vernet and Fragonard. But the main collection from her London home including furniture, clocks, objets d’art, Chinese carved jades and a selection of couture, jewellery and accessories from her personal wardrobe will be auctioned on Thursday (July 13th).

‘Little things’ reveal larger-than-life personality

Given the prices achieved at previous London auctions of the collections of well-known 20th century women - including Lady Thatcher and Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire - the estimates may be greatly exceeded.

Big ticket items such as Lot 10, a Louis XVI ormolu mantel clock (£ 25,000-£40,000) ; Lot 30; a Louis XVI commode (£60,000-£90,000); and, Lot 180 an 18 ct gold, ruby and diamond parure by Van Cleef & Arpels (£ 100,000-£150,000) may attract much attention.

But it’s the “little things” that reveal her larger-than-life personality. A renowned hostess with “a glamorous Art Deco dining room”, Lot 97, her French Art Deco rosewood and ebonised dining suite has an estimate of only £2,000-£3,000 ; while Lot 119, a Royal Worcester table-service commissioned for Claridge’s hotel where she “frequently took tea” is just £800-£1,200.

Among her clothes, Lot 178 is a cocktail gown, worn by Countess Spencer in 2004 to the ‘Made In Italy’ festival at Harrods the Knightsbridge department store for which she did promotional work into her 80s (£1,000-£2,000).

Rhere are numerous other items from her wardrobe - ball-gowns, shoes, hats and scarves - including Lot 184, a scarlet silk grosgrain ball gown by Pierre Balmain that she wore for her 70th birthday celebrations in 1999 at The Ritz, London (£800-£1,200); Lot 276, a collection of 11 scarves by Hermès (£ 1,000-£1,500); and Lot 295, ‘nine pairs of silk covered evening court shoes’ (£500-£800).

Lot 288 is two ‘Lady Dior’ handbags, by Christian Dior, 1990s estimated at £1,000-£1,500. According to a catalogue note, an early version of the ‘Lady Dior’ bag is said to have been given to Diana, Princess of Wales, by Mrs Chirac [wife of the then French president] on the occasion of a visit to Paris in 1995.

The Princess was subsequently much photographed using the model of bag. There’s also a selection of luggage by Louis Vuitton in which to transport everything including Lot 308, a set of three nesting hat boxes (£ 700-1,000).

Not everything owned by Countess Spencer was consigned to auction. She left some jewellery and paintings to her children (from her first marriage to the Earl of Dartmouth) and whichever car she owned at the time of her death to her devoted butler. Happily for him, that just happened to be a Rolls Royce.

For further details see the online catalogue

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.