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Book Review

April 26, 2012
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‘Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle By The Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona Carnarvon’


Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Harriet Leitch

Broadway Books

12/21/11

$15.99

320 pp

Many of us have been fascinated by the extremely popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” which recently completed its second season. Here is the story that occurred in the wonderful setting where the series is filmed. Instead of Downton Abbey, the house is named Highclere Castle. Instead of Lady Cora Crawley, we are introduced to Lady Almina Carnarvon, the fifth Countess of Carnarvon. The story behind the story is told by the current countess, Lady Fiona Carnarvon, who has drawn on a treasure of letters, diaries and photographs to bring the real story to life.

There are distinct parallels between the two stories — the marriage by the future Earl to a wealthy heiress; the use of the castle as a hospital during World War I. However, the real story is even more compelling. Lady Almina was the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy Alfred de Rothschild and brought her wealth to the marriage, but World War I changed their life of privilege forever. As in “Downton Abbey,” the castle was converted into a hospital to care for the wounded, but in reality it was Lady Almina, who made it happen, both financially and administratively, providing extraordinary care along with her nursing staff.

Before and after the war, a primary interest of the Earl and his wife was the search for tombs of pharaohs in Egypt. The Earl sold several estates to finance the expeditions with Howard Carter. In the last year in which the Earl could afford to provide financial support, Mr. Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen.

It is a wonderful mixture of history, the world of wealth, the realities of the Great War and the excitement of discovering the treasures of King Tut. CV



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