How Princess Diana's nephew became the 'poster boy of primogeniture'

How Princess Diana's nephew became the 'poster boy of primogeniture'

05/19/2021

How Princess Diana’s nephew became the ‘poster boy of male primogeniture’: Aspiring actor Louis Spencer, 27, who shuns the spotlight will inherit his father’s title and Althorp House over his older sisters – but who is the future Earl Spencer?

  • Louis Spencer, 27, is the son of Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer
  • His older sisters are D&G model Lady Kitty and Tatler stars Amelia and Eliza  
  • Louis has stayed largely out of the spotlight, although he was spotted with Nicki Minaj and attended the weddings of his cousins Prince William and Prince Harry
  • He is back in the public eye after Lady Kitty discussed male primogeniture 

He is the nephew of one of the most famous women in history and his sisters grace the pages of magazines, but the chances are you have never heard of Louis Spencer, Viscount Althorp. 

The 27-year-old aristocrat is the youngest child and only son of Princess Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Victoria Aitken (née Lockwood). 

Tall like his cousins Prince William and Prince Harry – and arguably better looking – Louis was raised by his mother in South Africa where he attended Cape Town’s most expensive private school before returning to the UK to study at Edinburgh University.

Unlike his older sisters, D&G model Lady Kitty, 30, and twin Tatler cover stars Lady Amelia and Lady Eliza, 28, Louis shuns social media and avoids high profile events, although this sits at odds with his reported ambition to become a professional actor.

Thanks to the centuries-old practice of male primogeniture, by which an aristocrat’s title and estate passes to the eldest son, rather than the eldest child, Louis will also one day inherit Althorp House and its accompanying 13,500-acre estate in Northamptonshire. 

Dashing: Louis Spencer, Viscount Althorp, is the youngest child and only son of Princess Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, and his first wife, Victoria. He left royal watchers swooning after his appearance at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in May 2018 (pictured, with his sister Lady Eliza Spencer and mother Victoria at the event)

Son and heir: Thanks to the centuries-old practice of male primogeniture, by which an aristocrat’s title and estate passes to the eldest son, rather than the eldest child, Louis will also one day inherit Althorp House and its accompanying 13,500-acre estate in Northamptonshire. Pictured, Earl Spencer and Victoria with newborn son Louis in 1994 

Celebrity cameo: Louis has stayed largely out of the spotlight but made a surprise appearance in a Nicki Minaj Instagram snap in 2015. The pair posed backstage following a concert. Nicki was clearly taken, joking: ‘Check out our wedding photo’ in the caption

Family seat: Althorp  House, in Northamptonshire, which has been in the Spencer family for more than 500 years. It will one day be inherited by Earl Spencer’s son, Louis

It is this issue has brought Louis back into the spotlight this week and led the Daily Telegraph to dub Louis the ‘reluctant poster boy of male primogeniture’.

His eldest sister Lady Kitty, who is engaged to a fashion tycoon 30 years her senior, discussed being overlooked in the order of inheritance in an interview with Town & Country magazine.

‘Primogeniture can be a tricky topic, because as times are changing, attitudes are as well,’ she said. ‘We’ve grown up understanding that it’s Louis to inherit, and Louis will do an incredible job.’ 

The model, who has secured lucrative contracts with the likes of jewellery brand Bulgari, is just one of the would-be ladies of the manor who are set to lose out to their younger brothers.

Lady Violet Manners, 27, the eldest of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland’s five children, will be superseded by her younger brother, Charles Manners, Marquess of Granby, 21, while the Duke of Northumberland’s title will be passed on to his son, George Percy, 36, Earl Percy, rather than his 38-year-old daughter Lady Katie.  

Other blue-blooded women, including Catherine FitzGerald, the wife of actor Dominic West, have signed signed up to the Daughters’ Rights campaign, a European-wide petition calling for an end to male primogeniture.    

Close: Despite their complicated family dynamic, Louis enjoys a close relationship with his sisters. Pictured, the siblings in a childhood snap shared by Lady Kitty on Instagram

Private: Aside from a handful of photo calls with his father, Louis was kept largely out of the spotlight as a child. Pictured, with his father and sisters at the opening of the Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Palace Gardens in 2000

Catherine stands to inherit the title that once belonged to her father, Desmond, Knight of Glin.

It has also piqued the interest of politicians. Then Prime Minister David Cameron said the ‘idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter, simply because he is a man, just isn’t acceptable any more’ while Boris Johnson reportedly ordered the issue of male primogeniture be looked into as part of plans to make Parliament more welcoming to women.

Earl Spencer, 56, however, is not inclined to embrace the ‘changing attitudes’ and has spoken out to say he will keep to tradition and choose Louis as his heir. 

What is male primogeniture?

Primogeniture is preference in inheritance that is given by law, custom, or usage to the eldest son and his issue. 

In exceptional cases, primogeniture may prescribe such preferential inheritance to the line of the eldest daughter. 

The motivation for such a practice has usually been to keep the estate of the deceased, or some part of it, whole and intact.   

The Royal Family brought to an end the system of primogeniture that had dictated the line of succession since 1701. 

Under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, princes no longer take precedence over their sisters. 

It means Princess Charlotte, five, is ahead of her brother Prince Louis, two, in the line of succession.  

‘If I chose Kitty it would be against all the tradition that goes with Althorp. It’s just the way it is. I get the problems with it as a concept,’ he said in 2015.

‘I also get the strengths of it having worked to date. It is still intact. If you go around the chateaux of the Loire or whatever, they are empty. 

‘Everything gets split equally through the generations and you end up with a beautiful building with one nice tapestry in it. The whole idea of primogeniture was to keep it together.’

Certainly there would be considerable difficulty if the thrice-married Earl tried to divide his estate between his seven children. 

Earl Spencer shares Kitty, Louis and 28-year-old twins Amelia and Eliza – who recently covered Tatler together – with Victoria; son Edmund, 17, and daughter Lara, 15, with second wife Caroline Freud; and youngest daughter Charlotte, eight, with his current wife Karen.

Despite their complicated family dynamic, Louis enjoys a close relationship with his sisters.

This must be at least partly due to the fact that they enjoyed a privileged but private upbringing in Cape Town, where Earl Spencer and Victoria moved in 1995 to raise their children out of the public eye. 

The couple divorced in December 1997, months after Diana’s death, and Charles moved back to the UK shortly afterwards. 

Louis attended Diocesan College, where fees cost up to the equivalent of £13,955 a year. 

Aside from a handful of photo calls with his father, Louis was kept largely out of the spotlight. 

His first high profile appearance was at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in April 2011, although the then 17-year-old was outshone by his glamorous blonde older sisters.

Four years later Louis made an unlikely cameo in an Instagram snap shared by Nicki Minaj. The dashing aristo posed with his arm around the rapper in a backstage meeting after one of her concerts. 

Nicki was clearly taken, joking: ‘Check out our wedding photo’. 

Supportive brother: Louis with his mother and Lady Kitty at a party to celebrate her being named one of Tatler’s English Roses 2017. The magazine also declared Louis one of the world’s most eligible bachelors

Family affair: Louis with his mother Victoria and sisters Eliza (left) and Kitty at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in May 2018

It was in 2018 that Louis really came to the public’s attention when he accompanied his mother and sisters to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  

Dapper in a morning suit, Louis became one of the unlikely stars of the day and received dozens of playful marriage proposals from besotted social media users.

His appearance and strong family resemblance also earned him the nickname ‘Harry Lite’ and led to Tatler naming him one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.

No doubt his family connections and dashing good looks will come in handy if Louis decides to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. 

In 2019, Charles revealed: ‘Louis lives in London. He’s an actor at drama school and works incredibly hard and I want him to be able to fulfil his dreams in that direction. It is full on: he’s doing 14-hour days.’

However it remains to be seen how he might juggle a burgeoning career with the sizeable responsibility of managing Althorp, when the day comes.  

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