Spencer coat of arms
|Current region||Northamptonshire, England|
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Notable members||Earls of Sunderland
Duke of Marlborough
Diana, Princess of Wales
|Connected families||British Royal Family|
|Estate||Althorp, Blenheim Palace|
The Spencer family is one of Britain's most illustrious and exalted aristocratic families. This noble family descended in the male line from Henry Spencer, claimed to be a descendant of the cadet branch of the ancient House Le Despencer (died c. 1478), male-line ancestor of the Earls of Sunderland, the Dukes of Marlborough, and the Earls Spencer. Two prominent members of the family were Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales. The descent of the family from the Medieval Despencers has been challenged, especially by Horace Round in his essay The Rise of the Spencers. The Spencers were granted a coat of arms in 1504 which bears no resemblance to that used by the family after c. 1595, which was derived from the Despencer arms. Round believed that the Despencer descent was fabricated by Richard Lee, a corrupt Clarencieux King of Arms. The Spencer claim to be descendants of the Despencer family can neither be proven beyond reasonable doubt, nor disproved.
The Spencers started out as sheep farmers in pre-Tudor times but rose to opulent prominence during the 16th century where it was said that Lord Robert Spencer, 1st Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, was reputed to be the richest man in England upon the ascension of King James I to the English throne. This humble origins of the Spencers once caused a heated exchange of words between wealthy yet then-upstart Spencers with the more established Howards whose FitzAlan ancestors had been the Earls of Arundel since the 13th century. During a warm debate in the House of Peers, Lord Spencer was speaking something in the house that their great ancestors did, when suddenly the Earl of Arundel cuts him off and then said "My Lord, when these things you speak of were doing, your ancestors were keeping sheep". Lord Spencer then instantly replied, "When my ancestors as you say were keeping sheep, your ancestors were plotting treason."
The Spencers later joined the Churchills upon the marriage of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland and Lady Anne Churchill, daughter of the most celebrated Duke of Marlborough. From them descends the current line of the Spencer family which was divided into two branches. The senior line are currently the ducal line of the Spencer family who holds the Dukedom of Marlborough. The 5th Duke of Marlborough later changed their surname to Spencer-Churchill to emphasize their descent from the first duke. The junior line are currently the comital branch of the family who holds the title Earl Spencer.
The comital branch of the Spencer family can trace their ancestry to most of Britain's nobility as well as to most of Europe's royal houses. The Spencers are direct descendants albeit illegitimate of the House of Stuart, with the family boasting at-least five line of direct descendancy from the Stuarts, and from them, the Spencers can trace their ancestry to other royal houses such as the Bourbons, the Medicis, the Wittelsbachs, the Hanovers, the Sforzas, and the Habsburgs. More-so, the Spencers are one of the very few British noble families to be the heirs body of a once sovereign family, being the senior female-line descendants of John Churchill, the once sovereign Prince of Mindelheim.
Members of the family 
Spencer Knight 
- Sir John Spencer, Kt. of Snitterfield & Wormleighton (1447–1522) married Isabel, daughter of Sir Walter Graunt, of Snitterfield
- Sir William Spencer, Kt. of Wormleighton & Althorp (1483–1532) married Susan, daughter of Sir Richard Knightley, of Fawsley, Northants
- Sir John Spencer, Kt. of Wormleighton & Althorp (1517–1586) married Katherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Kiton, of Hengrove, Suffolk
- Sir John Spencer, Kt. (1546–1599) married Mary, daughter of Sir Robert Catlyn, of Berne, Dorset
Barons Spencer 
- Robert Spencer, 1st Baron Spencer of Wormleighton (1570–1627), married Margaret, daughter of Sir Francis Willoughby (1547-1596), Kt.
- William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer of Wormleighton (1591–1636), married Penelop, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
Earls of Sunderland 
- Henry Spencer, 1st Earl of Sunderland (1620–1643), royalist in the English Civil War
- Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland (1640–1702), politician
- Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland (1675–1722), politician
- Robert Spencer, 4th Earl of Sunderland (1701–1729) (elder brother of 3rd Duke)
Dukes of Marlborough 
- Charles Spencer, 5th Earl of Sunderland, 3rd Duke of Marlborough (1706–1758), general and politician, second son of the 3rd Earl of Sunderland
- George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739–1817), politician
- George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766–1840), elder son of the 4th Duke, changed his surname from "Spencer" to "Spencer-Churchill"
- George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough (1793–1857), eldest son of the 5th Duke
- John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822–1883), eldest son of the 6th Duke (and paternal grandfather of Winston Churchill)
- George Charles Spencer-Churchill, 8th Duke of Marlborough (1844–1892), eldest son of the 7th Duke (and uncle of Winston Churchill)
- Charles Richard John Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough (1871–1934), only son of the 8th Duke
- John Albert William Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough (1897–1972), elder son of the 9th Duke
- John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough (b. 1926), elder son of the 10th Duke
- Heir apparent: Charles James Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (b. 1955), eldest surviving son of the 11th Duke
Earls Spencer 
- John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734–1783), a grandson of the 3rd Earl of Sunderland through his third and youngest son
- George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758–1834), politician
- John Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782–1845), better known as Lord Althorp, politician
- Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer (1798–1857)
- John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835–1910), politician
- Charles Robert Spencer, 6th Earl Spencer (1857–1922)
- Albert Edward John Spencer, 7th Earl Spencer (1892–1975)
- (Edward) John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer (1924–1992), father of Diana, Princess of Wales
- Charles Edward Maurice Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer (b.1964), younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales
Other members 
- Spencer Baronets who descended from younger sons of Sir John Spencer, Kt. of Wormleighton & Althorp (1517–1586).
- The Barons and Viscounts Churchill, who descend from a younger son of the 4th Duke of Marlborough, including
- Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), daughter of the 1st Earl Spencer
- George (Ignatius) Spencer (1799–1864), son of the 2nd Earl Spencer
- Lord Randolph Churchill, née Spencer-Churchill (1849–1895), son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and younger brother of the 8th Duke
- Winston Churchill, née Spencer-Churchill (1874–1965), son of Lord Randolph Churchill
- Randolph Churchill, née Spencer-Churchill (1911–1968), son of Winston Churchill
- The Princess of Wales (1961–1997), later Diana, Princess of Wales, daughter of the 8th Earl Spencer.
Notable marriages into the family 
- Sir Richard Brydges, Kt. married Lady Jane Spencer.
- His Grace William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire married Lady Georgiana Spencer.
- Sir Anthony Eden married the niece of his prime ministerial predecessor, Winston Churchill.
- Consuelo Vanderbilt, member of the prominent American Vanderbilt family, married Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough and became an international emblem of the socially advantageous, but loveless, marriages common during the Gilded Age.
- Lady Cynthia Hamilton, daughter of James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, married Albert Spencer, Viscount Althorp on 26 February 1919.
- The Honourable Frances Ruth Roche, daughter of Maurice Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy, married John Spencer, Viscount Althorp in 1954, and later Peter Shand Kydd in 1969.
- The Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981. After her marriage, Diana became the Princess of Wales.
- Catherine "Kate" Middleton married Prince William of Wales on 29 April 2011. After their marriage, William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
- Round, pp. 292–309
- Round, J.H. (1901) Studies in Peerage and Family History, A. Constable and Company, London.
- Spencer Family Tree, Althorp.com
- Origins of the Spencer family
- Family tree and information – Archived link