Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Charles Spencer

He has just written The Spencers, his second book about his clan's aristocratic history. But Charles Spencer says he will never write about his older sister Princess Diana. "I thought it was inappropriate for me to do so," says Spencer, 36, whose impassioned address at Diana's funeral earned him worldwide acclaim. "That's a completely separate volume, which I am never going to write."

Fortunately for Spencer, his family's 500-year history includes characters with lives every bit as dramatic as their best-known descendant's.

Spencer's favorite is Sarah, a 17th-century duchess whose self-made fortune grew so large that the Bank of England came to her for loans. "I loved her scheming and the way she set about things ruthlessly," Spencer says.

Spencer also writes about his forebear Father Ignatius, whose supposed ability to carry out miracles has put him in line for sainthood. No less illustrious was Henry Spencer, a 17th-century courtier and politician who criticized King Charles I for being inaccessible but then refused to join an armed revolt against him. He died defending his king. "There's a human tragedy there," Spencer says. "If you put duty before your beliefs, then it can lead to disaster."

Now divorced and living mainly at Althorp, his family's estate (where Diana is buried on an island), Spencer divides his time between his four children and his writing. Next will be a novel that has nothing to do with his family. "I don't have a subject yet," he says. "I'm waiting for something to come to me."

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