Spencer of Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 12:00 17 August 2015

Earl Spencer

Earl Spencer

Justin Creedy Smith

Earl Spencer talks to Shaun Curran about how he considers Norfolk home, and the success of his recently released bestseller Killers of the King.

Esteemed historian, broadcaster and author Earl Spencer’s most recent book, Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I, was the second highest selling history book in the UK last year. It is the latest in a line of literary investigations into ancient political and aristocracy-related events, and enables the author to delve into the downfall of Charles I and the retribution that followed.

Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, Lord 9th Earl Spencer - brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales - has always been a prolific and passionate writer, and his latest work follows the tone of 2004’s Blenheim, Battle for Europe.

Tracing the passages of history is a fitting reflection of Lord Spencer given that, away from his writing bureau, this is a man who remains true to his Norfolk upbringing. That childhood, spent predominately on the Sandringham Estate with his parents the Viscount and Viscountess Althorp and three sisters, Diana, Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, shaped his life immeasurably.

“Norfolk is really home for me,” Lord Spencer says. “I lived there until the age of 11 and when I go back to north Norfolk, which I probably do about six times a year, I always feel like I’m coming home.”

The descendant of one of Britain’s preeminent aristocratic families enjoyed everything that Norfolk had to offer for a young person growing up in the countryside. “Brancaster beach was always the highlight for us of the summer,” he recalls. “We had a beach hut there which has sadly long since disappeared into the North Sea, but I still get a very nostalgic feeling when returning. I love Burnham Market - people say it has been overdone because it’s one of those incredibly popular villages, but I always like being there. And Holkham, I love the estate at Holkham and the beach is one of the outstanding beauty spots in the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Lord Spencer says that he spends a lot of time in Norfolk and Suffolk as he has a number of friends who still live in the counties - as well, of course as relatives, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge now settled with Prince George and Princess Charlotte at their country home at Anmer on the royal Sandringham estate. These days, though, he splits his time between residences in London, California and Northamptonshire, where he curates and hosts the annual Althorp Literary Festival. The event is hosted on the Althorp Estate he inherited aged just 27.

The festival is known for its grandeur and disparate repertoire of authors from all walks of life - everyone from former Norfolk resident Bill Bryson to London Mayor Boris Johnson have given talks over the event’s 12-year history. This year’s gathering was no different, with Sir Tom Stoppard, Alan Johnson, Julian Fellowes, Sophie Dahl and Alan Titchmarsh among the invitees.

“I love the literary festival because I think it’s very unusual,” he continues. “The investment in us looking after the authors and having them to stay at the house has really paid off, because I think Althorp is quite fun for them to come to. I think this year we’ve really had an unbelievably high acceptance rate among well-known figures, whether it’s Darcy Bussell, Lady Antonia Fraser or Clare Balding. This year was the best line-up we’ve ever had.”

And if anyone knows a successful literature festival when they see one, it is Lord Spencer. His busy schedule means he has spoken at no less than 85 such events in the six months since Killers of the King was released. There are several events in Norfolk which distinctly stand out for him. “I’ve spoken all over the county, including at The Hoste hotel in Burnham Market - they have a fantastic event with dinners with authors. I was lucky enough to be there and that was great fun. Also down the road in North Creake they have regular talks, many supporting the Norfolk Churches Trust in looking after the old buildings. So that’s also a wonderful event too. It’s just about going out and discovering what’s there.”

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer, published by Bloomsbury, is out now in paperback, priced £8.99.

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