13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 43

Ancestral vice

From Mr Francis Johnston

Sir: Earl Spencer (Diary, 6 November) does no justice to his family or to the peerage by flaunting the entirely bogus 'Despenser' ancestry of his family. As J.H. Round showed in 'The rise of the Spencers', in his Studies in Peerage and Family History, the yeomen Spencers were highly efficient sheep farmers in the 16th century and made so much money that they were raised to the peerage — this has always been the normal route. The College of Heralds invented the mediaeval ancestry with arms to match. The truth is, of course, visible to those with knowledge, in the arms of the Spencer tombs in their chapel at Great Brington.

Earl Spencer should be rightly proud of the achievements of his family since 1550: there is no need to pretend to an earlier ancestry.

Francis Johnston