Red Flags In Charles Spencer And Karen Gordon's Relationship

The following article contains references to child abuse, sexual abuse, and eating disorders.

Charles Spencer has, perhaps unwittingly, lived much of his life in the limelight. Known for his close relationship with his older sister, Princess Diana, Charles Spencer infamously condemned the royal family while giving a eulogy at the late princess' funeral in 1997, thereby becoming a tabloid fixture. But it wasn't just his admonishments of the Windsors that led to him being clouded by bad publicity. The earl's complicated love life has also generated significant intrigue, with Spencer having gone through two failed marriages.

But when Spencer wed Canadian philanthropist Karen Gordon in 2011, it appeared his luck was changing. In a joint interview with The Times in 2020, Gordon said that she was acutely aware of preconceptions that arose out of her being the earl's third wife. But she wouldn't want it any other way. "I've been a first wife and a third and — trust me on this — you really want to be the third because men are so motivated at this point ... The most appealing thing about Charles for me was how willing he was to work on himself, and continue to do so," she said.

However, the two announced their shock divorce in June 2024, with Spencer ironically hiring the same lawyer who represented King Charles III when he divorced Diana. Considering some of the major warning signs in the couple's relationship, this announcement may not have been such a big surprise after all. Here are all the red flags in Charles Spencer and Karen Gordon's relationship.

Charles Spencer allegedly cheated on his first two wives

Charles Spencer is no stranger to divorce, with his first two marriages ending acrimoniously. He wed his first wife, Victoria Lockwood, in 1989. Their marriage was anything but happy; Spencer allegedly cheated on Lockwood multiple times, starting just six months after the birth of the couple's daughter Lady Kitty. "It turned me overnight from a deeply contented, first-time mother to a hurt, scared and devastated woman," Lockwood said, per the Irish Independent. Despite this, the couple stayed together, had three more children, and moved to South Africa in the hopes of mending their damaged relationship. However, Spencer allegedly continued to be unfaithful to Lockwood — potentially cheating over a dozen times — and the two divorced in 1997.

In 2001, he married his second wife, Caroline Freud, but this union lasted just six years. When Freud filed for divorce on the grounds of "unreasonable behavior," she hinted that Spencer may have been unfaithful, telling the judge that the earl was continuing with his bad habits.

Due to his traumatic childhood, Spencer is the first to acknowledge that he wasn't exactly emotionally mature during his early relationships. "Put it this way," he told The Guardian, "I don't think I developed emotionally in those early years as would have been the case in a loving home with actively loving adults." Though there is no evidence to suggest that Spencer also cheated on his third wife, Karen Gordon, his numerous past infidelities are undoubtedly a red flag.

Charles Spencer left his second wife when their daughter was months old

As with his first wife, Charles Spencer strayed from Caroline Freud shortly after she gave birth. When Freud was pregnant with their second child, Lady Lara, Spencer was interviewed by American reporter Coleen Sullivan. In 2006, when Lara was 4 months old, Spencer left his family to be with Coleen, who moved in with him almost immediately. Yet again, Spencer found himself in the midst of a bitter divorce; he made headlines when his daughters with Victoria Lockwood sided with Freud during divorce proceedings. However, Lady Kitty later saw her dad's side of the story.

From the outset of Spencer's newfound whirlwind romance, Coleen's father, Michael Sullivan, was seeing red flags. "Several things gave me cause for concern," Michael told the Daily Mail, "so the second time I met him, when we were alone together for two hours over coffee, I got it off my chest ... I discussed these highly personal matters with Charles and I did tell him, 'Don't mess with my daughter.'"

His relationship with Coleen also ended abruptly, with the reporter moving back to the U.S. in 2008. An insider told the Daily Mail that it was a mystery why Spencer had left his lady love so abruptly, with the earl apparently telling pals that he had suddenly lost interest in Coleen. "The only difference between this and his previous break-ups is that at least he won't have to pay out a divorce settlement," a friend told the outlet.

Charles Spencer was reluctant to meet up with Karen Gordon

When they were first set to cross paths, neither Charles Spencer nor Karen Gordon felt particularly enthusiastic. The two were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend in 2010. In their joint interview with The Times in 2020, Spencer confessed that he didn't exactly trust his friend's judgment. "I thought little of it because 20 years earlier she'd set me up on a blind date with a woman who was older than my mother," he said. "But I turned up at a restaurant in Los Angeles and there was Karen."

At the time, Gordon had been using crystals to try and find the love of her life. But when her friend set her up with Spencer, she wasn't so sure that her wish had come true. By her own admission, it wasn't love at first sight. "It wasn't instant," she once remarked on a podcast, according to The Royal Observer. "It took a minute. I mean, obviously he's very handsome, interesting and charming, but I was a jaded 38-year-old by the time I met him."

The couple's relationship got off to a rocky start; Spencer, who had been in therapy for 20 years, was understandably still reeling from childhood trauma caused by being sexually abused at school. "Karen told me that if I hadn't done as much work as I have to understand the damage, she'd have run a mile," the earl admitted to The Times.

Before he proposed to Karen Gordon, Charles Spencer was engaged to someone else

Charles Spencer and Karen Gordon's budding relationship was complicated by the fact that the former was already engaged to another woman. Soon after breaking things off with Coleen Sullivan in 2008, Spencer had another whirlwind romance, this time with Lady Bianca Eliot. The widow of Jago Eliot (an eccentric aristocrat who died in 2006), Bianca moved in with Spencer shortly after meeting him at Groucho Club in London, her three young kids in tow. By March 2010, Spencer proposed to Bianca.

The engagement was called off in September 2010, and there's some serious overlap between the earl's respective relationships with Bianca and Gordon. In Spencer and Gordon's joint interview with The Times, the earl noted that the two met around Midsummer's Day 2010, which occurred in June. At the time, sources told the Daily Mail that Spencer and Bianca had a tempestuous relationship and engaged in a number of heated rows, while others claimed that Spencer felt uneasy about adding a third wife to his repertoire. "Charles has not got a good track record for marriage," the source said. "It didn't seem a good idea to have any more divorces or any more heirs." Despite these reservations, Spencer and Gordon were engaged just months later, in February 2011.

Charles Spencer may have viewed Karen Gordon as his savior

In the couple's interview with The Times, Charles Spencer repeatedly indicated that Karen Gordon was his salvation from the troubled life he led. Spencer, who acknowledged that he previously had a propensity to take on somewhat of a savior role over women, revealed that he was immediately drawn to Gordon due to her charitable work, indicating that this time he was the vulnerable one in the relationship. "The thing I've learnt through all the stuff I've tackled is that very few people set out to be destructive," he said. "It left me with a predisposition for rescuing people. But by the time I met Karen ... I realized I no longer needed to go for someone who was vulnerable."

Likewise, Gordon argued that Spencer was more likely to work on the couple's marriage because the pair were destined to be together, citing the similarities between Spencer's mom's charitable endeavors and her own NGO work. "There were always women who would have been a good match for him, but he wasn't interested," she added. "It was the ones who couldn't love him back who were magnetic for him. When you're damaged, you look for damage."

But, as Psychology Today points out, victim-savior relationships are highly problematic, as they tend to be clouded by toxicity and an absence of individual responsibility. Similarly, The Telegraph argued that Spencer had a flair for making women pity — and thus fall for — him.

Charles Spencer publicly insulted Karen Gordon

Charles Spencer has a history of being mean to his ex-wives. Despite his sister, Princess Diana, suffering from bulimia, Spencer was seemingly unsympathetic when his first wife, Victoria Lockwood, struggled with anorexia. "Those of you who know Victoria know that she's thick and she certainly is thin," he once joked, per The Independent.

But such inexplicably cruel barbs were not reserved for his exes. In 2015, Spencer publicly insulted Karen Gordon while promoting his book "Killers of the King." "My wife is Canadian, so she has absolutely no knowledge of British history," he said at a lecture, his bizarre remarks going down poorly with the audience, per the Scottish Daily Mail.

Speaking to the Daily Mail in 2008, a friend of Spencer offered some insight into his tendency to be cruel to his ex-partners. "He gets bored with a woman the moment he realizes he has total control over her," the insider explained. "It is not a pretty characteristic, but there it is. I'm sure it goes back to his childhood when his mother ran off with another man. He loves the chase of women, and seducing them, but he can be ruthless with them." Undoubtedly, insulting one's partner, particularly in the brazen public manner in which Spencer did it, is a glaring red flag.

Karen Gordon found it difficult being a stepmom

Inhabiting the expansive Althorp House estate, which has been in his family for 19 generations, Charles Spencer lives an extremely lavish life. Though Karen Gordon settled nicely into Althorp, adding her own personal touches to the 500-year-old stately home, there's one aspect of marrying the earl that she struggled with: his bountiful brood.

Charles Spencer has seven children with his three ex-wives, including his only child with Gordon, Lady Charlotte, who was born in 2012. Gordon, who has two children from her previous marriage to Hollywood producer Mark Gordon, found it difficult to adjust to being stepmom to Spencer's children, and ended up not adhering to the boundaries that her husband put in place when it came to his kids. "I'm a fixer. I'm hugely overconfident and I probably underestimated the complexities of being a step-parent," Gordon told The Times. "Charles gave me the best advice ... I don't get to have an opinion about his children. I can have an opinion and give it to him, in our bedroom, but not to them. I just wish I could say I'd adhered to it the whole time." She argued that being a step-parent played to her weaknesses, but said that in time she was able to work on these issues.

Charles Spencer reportedly grew distant from his daughters

Back in 2008, Lady Kitty Spencer spoke highly of her father, Charles Spencer, in a chat with the Daily Mail. "It's hurtful for any daughter to read negative things about her father, but he's someone who remains true to himself," she said. "I am definitely a daddy's girl. I'm more like him than my mother. We share the same sense of humor and have similar interests." But her relationship with her dad appeared to sour during his marriage to Karen Gordon.

Significantly, Charles didn't attend Kitty's 2021 wedding to Michael Lewis, and she was walked down the aisle by two of her siblings instead. At the time, there was speculation that he was unable to fly to Rome, where the ceremony was held, due to an injury. However, a source told the Daily Mail that Gordon was the cause of a rift between father and daughter. "Kitty and Charles were very close when she was growing up, but their relationship has cooled and been more distant since his marriage to his third wife Karen in 2011," the source alleged. "Charles recently suffered an injury and perhaps that will be the reason for him not traveling, but it is just easier for everyone that he is not there." Two years later, he also failed to attend the wedding of his daughter Lady Amelia Spencer and her beau Greg Mallett, fueling further speculation about a family feud.

Karen Gordon didn't attend her husband's book launch

In March 2024, Charles Spencer released his book "A Very Private School," which details the horrific abuse he experienced at Maidwell Hall, a boarding school in Northamptonshire. Signs of a marital rift manifested following the release of the book, with Karen Gordon not in attendance at the book launch. Despite always being a loyal spouse who frequently accompanied her husband to events, Gordon also failed to attend events at Althorp House around this time.

On June 5, 2024, just days before the Spencers announced their divorce, Gordon's father died of Alzheimer's. Interestingly, her Instagram tribute to her father made no mention of Spencer, though she did pay tribute to her mom and brother, while lauding specific characteristics that she admired in her dad. "Children learn by example," she wrote, "and I was privileged to be his child and to learn about the world through the lense [sic] he provided ... He was true to his word, he didn't lie, ever. He never spoke badly about people, and when others did you could feel him wince ... Lucky me to have that example as my normal." Whether Gordon's words were a coded dig at Spencer, who famously has spoken ill of people, remains subject to conjecture.

Charles Spencer may already have a new lady in his life

At the same time that Charles Spencer and Karen Gordon's split was announced, the former was linked to an alleged new lady love: Norwegian archaeologist Cat Jarman. According to a report by the Daily Mail, the publication that first broke the divorce story, Spencer and Jarman started bonding after working on a podcast, and the archaeologist also helped Spencer during some excavation work on his stately home. "Friends say they look very happy together but that it is early days," the outlet noted.

Notably, Spencer and Jarman first met back in 2021, during the aforementioned excavation, which was turned into the Channel 4 documentary "Ancient Secrets of Althorp: Charles Spencer." "Thankfully, before meeting her, I'd written a positive review of her book, River Kings," Spencer told The Telegraph at the time. "Things could have been awkward, otherwise."

Two years later, they began working on their podcast together. Aptly named "The Rabbit Hole Detectives," the podcast may leave listeners tumbling down a rabbit hole themselves. Indeed, the earl's alleged relationship with Jarman eerily echoes his past tendencies; that is, leaving his current wife and immediately throwing himself into a new romance. However, it remains to be seen whether the pair's alleged relationship blossoms into something more serious, or whether they're simply close pals.

Charles Spencer has been struggling with unresolved trauma

When Charles Spencer announced his split from Karen Gordon in June 2024, it was an all-too familiar tale from the now thrice-divorced earl. "It is immensely sad," Spencer said, per the Daily Mail. "I just want to devote myself to all my children, and to my grandchildren, and I wish Karen every happiness in the future." The publication reported that Spencer and Gordon drifted apart due to the former's unresolved trauma over being sexually abused. Considering that Spencer had to relive his abuse via his memoir, released just months before the divorce, it's understandable that he — and by extension, his wife — may have felt considerably overwhelmed.

Charles Spencer has led a tragic life, with the earl using his platform to advocate for greater safeguarding in boarding schools. Following the release of his cathartic "A Very Private School," he acknowledged that he continued to be haunted by memories of abuse, the likes of which he seemingly suggested he would never recover from. "It killed a part of me; it killed the gentler part of me," he told The Times in 2024. "For us to survive in that environment, a small but important part of us had to die ... Sensitivity, empathy, those sort of things must suffer, because otherwise it's too raw. You can choose to make the most of it ... but the damage is still inside."

If you or anyone you know may be the victim of child abuse, or needs help with an eating disorder, contact the relevant resources below: