Royal Regrets

updated 01/14/2002 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/2002 01:00AM

If the vibe at Charles Spencer's 1989 wedding to Victoria Lock-wood was tense—think strained smiles under a grim English sky—his second trip to the altar was anything but. On Dec. 15, swapping his formal tailcoat for a simple gray suit, the ninth Earl Spencer exchanged vows with his girlfriend of more than two years, Caroline Freud, who donned a very unbridelike red sheath. After the brief ceremony, held in the tiny chapel at Spencer's 500-year-old ancestral home, Althorp, the newlyweds joined their 80 guests for a dinner of venison and tarte tatin in the nearby picture gallery. Says one guest: "It was a quite gentle affair."

Unlike Spencer's first wedding, which was attended by his sister Princess Diana, her husband, Prince Charles, and their sons, nary a single royal turned up for the 37-year-old earl's repeat nuptials. The absence of Spencer's nephews Princes William, 19, and Harry, 17—who had accepted an earlier invitation to join their grandfather Prince Philip's shooting party at the Queen's Sandringham estate—sparked press reports of a royal snub. But a source close to Spencer, who proposed in October, says there are no hard feelings: "He would have preferred them to be there, but he understood that the wedding was short notice."

Spencer, who endured an ugly 1997 divorce from ex-model Lock-wood, 36, began publicly dating Freud, 36, a former schoolteacher, in 1999, months before her divorce from public relations executive Matthew Freud. Between them the couple have six children under the age of 11 (Spencer's four live primarily with their mother in South Africa but spend school breaks with him; Freud has joint custody of her two sons).

The kids, all of whom attended the wedding, were no doubt drowsy by the time it drew to a close. "Everyone stayed chatting until about 3 a.m.," says one guest. "It was a lovely, happy evening."

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