In Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey:The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle,Fiona,Countess of Carnarvon,has capitalized on the success of the ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey to relate the history of the house it’s filmed in,Highclere Castle,and the family who own it,the Carnarvons. In particular,the Countess focuses on her predecessor,Lady Almina Carnarvon,the 5th Countess,who presided over Highclere from her marriage in 1895 (at the age of 19) to her husband’s death in 1923.
Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Sir Alfred de Rothschild. Blessed with incredible wealth but dubious social standing,Almina gained acceptance by marrying the 5th Earl,George (called “Porchy”),and he gained the influx of her fortune to help sustain the estate. Despite this less-than-romantic arrangement,Countess Fiona describes the marriage as a happy and loving one. She outlines the early years of Almina adjusting to her new life,the birth of her children Henry (“Porchy” again) and Evelyn (“Eve”),and the running of the house and the servants who worked there. The account progresses through the challenges and sorrow of the First World War and Almina’s transformation of Highclere into a hospital for injured officers,to her lifelong connection to nursing. Also detailed are the lives of those who interacted with Almina,from housemaids,soldiers,her personal assistant,her children,and,most notably,her husband,Lord Carnarvon,the famed “gentleman archaeologist” who financed and assisted with Howard Carter’s discovery of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
Lady Fiona writes with the confidence and detail of extensive research,often citing her sources within the text or reprinting entire letters,but in such an intimate manner that the book reads more like a novel than a biography. She includes how she suspects people might have felt at various times and a wide selection of photographs that help bring the people and Highclere to life. Fans of Downton Abbey will notice remarkable similarities between characters and events in the show and real people and events described in the book. A treat for enthusiasts of early 20th century history and Downton Abbey alike,Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey serves up an intimate and easily enjoyed view of the lives of one of the most intriguing families in recent British history.
About the Author: Fiona,8th Countess of Carnarvon,is a former auditor at Coopers &Lybrand and ran her own fashion label,Azur. Fiona’s guardianship of the estate extends to its grounds and gardens,events and the Egyptian Exhibition –around which she and her husband regularly take visitors.