Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle: by Lady Fiona Carnarvon

If you haven’t heard of Downton Abbey you may be living under a boulder, but if you haven’t watched it yet or haven’t had an interest, it follows a fictional family who are landholders in the early 20th century in Britain, and the equally full and changeable life of the servants ‘downstairs’, both of whom face many challenges and change during the first world war and into the 1920s.

Thankfully the sweeping success of the PBS series Downton Abbey has so far avoided an annoying flood of all things commercial related to Downton Abbey like personalized coffee cups and aprons, but I suspect people would buy them! One pleasant result of the popularity of the show is a book by the current Countess of the real Downton Abbey, actually called Highclere Castle.

The real current Countess!

Although not being a professional writer that I know of, the Countess draws upon numerous letters, pictures, visitor books and household accounts to tell us the story of a truly extraordinary woman named Almina Carnarvon and the family she married into, the people who worked there, and the actual time period the Castle went through during the first world war when it actually did become a hospital!

Almina was a hugely wealthy heiress who married George Herbert (the 5th earl of Carnarvon) who is most well known for his love of travel and Egypt, and his discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun with Howard Carter. Almina may have been a small woman (just over five feet tall), but her spirit and her generosity more than made up for it. The story takes us through her life with a surprising amount of detail on her actual life and feelings as well as the entire landscape around her. Reading it will be familiar for watchers of Downton Abbey, as you can now easier visualize the descriptions of the great estate and the people within. Much of the book is focused on her husbands obsession with Egypt that eventually landed him in his grave. Looking at the pictures of Almina and George in full regalia, it could be easy for these people to feel remote and inaccessible to the modern reader, but somehow it never feels snobby or forced and that may be a testament both to an author who really cared about her subject and the personality of Almina herself.

I wouldn’t call this a literary marvel, and it may be a bit boring for all but those clearly interested in Edwardian England, but it is still a well-written cosy read and well worth your interest.

About Deanne

I was born and raised out on the fringes of the rainy Pacific Northwest on fishing boats and cold beaches with only a dog and kittens for company, and so my love of reading and creating stories started very early. My dad would illustrate my early stories and I would listen to him ramble about European history and warfare, eagerly asking questions about Kings, Queens and our own family history. In my adult life I am wife to a brilliant and hilarious web designer and mother to two wonderfully weird children whom I am trying to pass on to my love of learning about the world. I'm an amateur genealogist, amateur photographer and amateur history major haha. I'm good at doing amateur stuff lol. During the last couple years I finally turned my life-long urge to write into a serious endeavor and finished my first novel called (for now) The Stone and the Stars, about a dying dystopian society, and one girl trying to escape it before it collapses. While I finish cleaning up the edges on my novel for the umpteenth time, and before I send it out into the world, I've lately begun a novel about utopia, this time on Earth. I'm finally living up to the nerdy book-worm title my family 'lovingly' pinned on me from the time I was small, and finally doing that one thing I feel like I was born to do. Cliche and silly? Yes!
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