Stuart England

The woman who put the Spencer family on the map

The first woman to put the Spencer family on the map was not Diana, Princess of Wales, the youngest daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer, nor even Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the elder daughter of the 1st. Rather, it was their Tudor forebear Alice, Countess of Derby, the subject of this absorbing biography by Vanessa Wilkie. Born at Althorp – then a modest, two-storey red brick manor house – in May 1559, six months into the reign of Elizabeth I, Alice was the youngest daughter of Sir John Spencer, a prosperous sheep farmer and sometime sheriff of Northamptonshire, and his wife Katherine, née Kytson. At the age of about 20,