Charles Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, wrote a provocative article in Vanity Fair Magazine this month about all the manors and historical homes owned, mostly by primogeniture, by the British aristocracy. But one thing he said towards the conclusion of his article that was fairly notorious is this:
“But asset-stripping stepmothers? Aided, if the marriage does not work, by some of the most wife-friendly divorce courts in the world, which do not accept pre-nups as legally binding? These might just be the final days for many historic British landed families.” Earl Spencer, Vanity Fair January 2010
Mr. Spencer seems particularly bitter towards his own step mother, Raine. He all but dismisses her as the ultimate gold-digger/trophy wife. His disdain is hard to miss:
My father, who was a godson of the Duke of Windsor’s, married for the second time in 1976. Relations with Raine (daughter of romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, an explosion of ruffled pink dresses topped with a face of chalk-white powder) were difficult on a personal level: she was not somebody who appeared to enjoy maternity much, so the famously difficult art of stepmothering was unlikely to be her forte. Besides our reservations about her character, we four children were soon alarmed by our stepmother’s cavalier way with much-treasured family objects.
During her time at Althorp, she treated the chattels as her own, to be disposed of discreetly via a network of Bond Street dealers, for reasons that did not seem to benefit the fabric of the house or the wider estate. The house had been ours since 1508, and the collection reflected the varying tastes of 17 previous generations of Spencers, none of whom had divorced. There had been second and third wives, because of early deaths, but they had not been allowed to break the aristocratic code. The earl of the day had seen to it that his senior male relative inherited as much as possible, once an addiction to book buying in one generation and a passion for foxhunting in another had been accepted as expensive aberrations.
But his step mother is not the only woman/ex-wife he lampoons and lambastes. Charles seems accutely unforgiving of these wives and women who, he seems to believe, are stripping the British aristocracy of its gloried treasures through divorce and surrepticious transactions during marriage to a husband who is often advanced in age and bending over backwards to keep his trophy wife happy. Poor old fogeys.
I must say, the British in particular have great disdain for women who attain wealth through marriage to a man of means. Americans do too, of course. But it seems a thing that to the British, is totally anathema. My guess is that they have their reasons. But I’ve always felt that if these old men insist on making a fool of themselves by marrying and shacking up with a youngster young enough to be his grand-daughter (as if this somehow made an otherwise impotent old man virile and fertile) then he ought to suffer the consequences, which often is, a wife who eventually wants out of the marriage, and one who, by law, is entitled to a portion of the assets – aristocrat or no aristocrat, Brit, American or what have you. These aristocratic guys know going into their sexual fantasies and marital fetishes with these “damsels” that prenups are ipso facto irrelevant and redundant in their jurisdiction. Who’s fault is it? Who is to blame that they insist on these marriages? And so now that even Charles Spencer has gotten in on the name-calling of these women, so what? He, too, has been married a few times, hasn’t he? Why does he marry these women? Is it a question of once a woman has outlived her use she should go back to where he got her from as if nothing happened? As if nothing has changed? Is it sexual greed on the part of these men? But there are consequences to the privilege of marrying these women. Everything has changed upon marriage. You don’t get to use a woman and discard her when you are done like an old soiled white tee shirt. It just doesn’t work that way. Don’t they understand? There are consequences. And to resort to name-calling of the wives when she demands her fair share of the marital assets? That’s pretty lame, I think. It’s pretty lame.
It seems to me that both parties in these transactional marriages “strip” assets. The wives strip the furniture and the pricey paintings and the real estate and the husband? He strips what he strips. What can I tell you? It’s really just a question of the nature of the assets we’re talking about. And I don’t mean to be facetious when I say this. But these marriages are asset-stripping affairs, both ways. And folks need to just suck it up and deal with what it is. Next time, marry a woman your own age, station, pedigree, ethnicity, and class and you won’t be left with such a bad taste in your mouth when she walks off with what she walks off with. Because you will know that you are no better than she is. It would have been a duel of equals.