Friday, July 29, 2011

Today in History: Lady Diana Spencer Weds Prince Charles

On July 29, 1981 the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer took place at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Princess Diana was a beloved figure--known for her elegance and class and her passion for charity work--who's untimely death shocked the world.

Great Britain's Diana, Princess of Wales, was married to the heir to the British throne, Charles, Prince of Wales, from 1981 to 1996. After their divorce, Diana found a positive channel for her remarkable popularity by becoming a crusader for those less fortunate than herself.

Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1, 1961 in Norfolk to an aristocratic family. Her father, Lord Althorp, became the eighth Earl of Spencer after his father's death in 1975. Diana's title then changed to Lady Diana Spencer. Diana grew up on an estate next door to the British royal family's Sandringham retreat. She went to a preparatory school in Norfolk and to West Heath boarding school in Kent. After completing finishing school in Switzerland, Diana returned to England to live in London, where she worked as a part-time governess and nanny before becoming a kindergarten teacher's aide.

Diana met Prince Charles, who was 12 years her senior, during her childhood and began dating him in 1980. Diana's beauty and innocence captured the world's imagination in February 1981 when the two became engaged. Their extravagant wedding on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul's Cathedral was televised worldwide and was watched by an estimated 1 billion people. Diana was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the British throne in more than 300 years. She in turn provided heirs to the throne, giving birth to two sons, Prince William Arthur Philip Louis in June 1982 and Prince Henry Charles Albert David in September 1984.

In the beginning of her marriage, Diana appeared eager to fulfill her role as the future queen and wife of the man who would be king. By the mid-1980s, however, the couple was growing apart. They continued to make public appearances together but led increasingly separate lives. Their marriage began to crumble in 1986, when Charles allegedly renewed a relationship with a former girlfriend, Camilla Parker-Bowles. A relentless barrage of tabloid coverage made their difficulties an embarrassment to the royal family.

Buckingham Palace repeatedly denied rumors of Charles and Diana's failing marriage until 1992, when Prime Minister John Major announced to the British Parliament that the two were separating. They began a rivalry for public approval through a series of confessionals in the media that concerned Queen Elizabeth II to the point that she asked them to end their marriage. Their divorce was formally announced in July 1996. Diana lost the right to be referred to as Her Royal Highness, but she retained her title of Princess of Wales. She retained equal access with Charles to their children.

While married to Prince Charles, Diana was active in more than 100 charities and used her public popularity to draw the world's attention to the need for humanitarian efforts. She became a spokesperson for the battle against AIDS, the eradication of land mines, and the welfare of children, the sick, and the dying. She announced in December 1993 that she would reduce the extent of her public life in order to make her public role more meaningful, yet she remained involved with Centrepoint (a homeless charity), the English National Ballet, the Leprosy Mission, National AIDS Trust, the Hospital for Sick Children, and Royal Marsden Hospital. In June 1997, she auctioned off a number of her dresses and suits, with the proceeds going to various charities.

In the year before her death, Diana especially embraced the issue of land mines, actively campaigning for a ban on their manufacture and use. A cheap and effective weapon, decades of international conflict have left millions of unrecorded land mines scattered in more than 50 countries throughout the world. Extremely difficult to detect and remove, discarded land mines reportedly kill or maim one person every 20 minutes worldwide. Diana visited land mine victims in Angola in January 1997 and spoke at a land mines conference at the Royal Geographical Society in London in June. She traveled to Washington, D.C. later that month to promote the American Red Cross' land mines campaign. In August, she visited Bosnia and met with land mine projects in Travnic, Sarajevo, and Zenezica.

These humanitarian projects received an enormous amount of publicity after Diana's death in a controversial car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997. The incredible public outpouring of grief following her death reflected the affection that the people in Britain and all over the world felt for her. Her funeral was among the most-watched events in television history, and the funds generated by those touched by her death went to the charities she had donated her time to in life.

"Diana, Princess of Wales." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 29 July 2011.


Additional Resources

By Martin Gitlin

From her aristocratic upbringing to her charitable legacy, this volume explores Lady Diana's role as a royal, a tragic figure, and a cultural icon.

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