News that Princess Diana's brother Charles Spencer was engaged to former schoolteacher Caroline Freud came as no surprise to the residents of Great Brington, the village nearest to Althorp, Spencer's 10,000-acre estate and the final resting place of his sister, who died in 1997. Freud, 36, and Spencer, 37—who met while students at Oxford and have been together since 1999—are often seen "walking and talking avidly, oblivious to everyone else," says local Christine Whiley. Of the marriage proposal, Freud would only say that the ninth Earl Spencer "is a very romantic man."

Spencer's first wife, former model Victoria Lockwood, 36, may beg to differ. Allegations of Spencer's philandering during their eight-year marriage dominated their nasty 1997 divorce, in which Lockwood was ultimately awarded $2.5 million of his estimated $131 million fortune and shared custody of their children Kitty, 10, twins Eliza and Katya, 9, and Louis, 7. The children, who live with Lockwood in Cape Town but spend vacations with their dad, will gain some stepbrothers: Freud's sons George, 5, and Jonah, 4, with British public relations exec Matthew Freud (great-grandson of Sigmund), whom she divorced in 2000. Friends hope this proves a happier match. Caroline "is independent and [Spencer] respects that," says a pal. "She is not daunted by all the glitz of his title."

"When the couple wed at a Christmas-themed ceremony at Althorp on Dec. 15, mincemeat pies and choirboys will add wintry charm to the festivities. Less certain is whether Spencer's nephews Princes William and Harry will bring their royal touch to the proceedings. "It would surprise us, knowing how far in advance they make their plans," says a Spencer pal. "But he would be delighted if they could attend."