Drawing on a wealth of ancestral documents, Spencer, the Ninth Earl Spencer and brother of the late Lady Diana, recounts the history of his aristocratic family from his forebear's arrival in England as a courtier to William the Conqueror in 1066 to his sister's marriage to Prince Charles in 1981.
The text begins with the life of the Spencer patriarch who served as steward to William the Conqueror. While the family made their fortunes as sheep farmers in Warwickshire, they always remained keenly active in England's political establishment, serving in both military and political capacities. When the Spencers became united through marriage with the powerful Churchill dynasty, their matriarch Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, expressed her political ambitions by personally arranging marriages for descendents of both families. There's an enormous amount of historical detail here, but the repetitious nature of biographical history on a scale such as this (constant recitations of names, dates of births and deaths, the titles and lineages united by each marriage match) can become muddled and ultimately confusing for the reader. The author's challenge is to adequately mesh fact-listing with an overarching narrative that is both coherent and engaging. In this, Spencer succeeds tolerably well. Though he fails to construct thematic through-lines that would tie the disparate fates of his ancestors together in a way that would be enlightening, Spencer's narrative tone, consistently intimate and sincere, helps provide the cohesive structure such a project so badly needs. The frequent referencing of letters and diaries available to the author also lends a legitimacy to his conclusions, usefully highlighting and emphasizing his points.
Well-written and satisfying—to Anglophiles in general, and particularly to the royalty-obsessed.