Born into one of the great Whig families, John Poyntz 5th Earl Spencer had been Viceroy of Ireland from 1868 -74, until his ally William Gladstone lost the 1874 general election. He felt that as Lord Lieutenant he had left Ireland more peaceful than when he went to Dublin. Spencer was Master of the Pytchley Hunt when Elisabeth rented Easton Neston and Cottesbrooke and celebrating their days’ hunting over dinner at Spencer’s homes, they became close friends. In return Sisi invited Spencer to visit her at Godollo. He and Middleton encouraged Elisabeth to try the greater challenge of hunting in Ireland.
Spencer was in the government when Elisabeth made her first hunting trip to Combermere in 1881 but by the time she returned in 1882 he had returned as Viceroy in Ireland. His experiences in Dublin led him to support Home Rule for Ireland, the issue that split the Liberal government in the 1880s. He came back to government office in 1892 as First Lord of the Admiralty and lived to see the Liberals return to power in 1905. In the 1860s Spencer grew a great bushy beard earning him the name ‘the red earl’.