Book Review by Luann Rottmann
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
By The Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona Carnarvon, c. 2011
In the prologue of tis book the author herself states that this book is not a history, nor a biography nor a work of fiction. However, this reader did find it to be rich with history of the Edwardian period, set in Great Britain. It features the life of Almina Carnarvon, the wealthy heiress and illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. Almina married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895.
When Almina married she came to Highclere Castle. Highclere lies on the crossroads between Winchester and Oxford, and London and Bristol. It is built on a chalk ridge of high land. The first stone of the house was laid in 1842. It was a purposeful house intended to impress visitors. Today it is an estate complete with gardens that one can tour. It is a popular tourist destination as well as a place for special events. The website is impressive!
The popular PBS drama Downton Abbey is based on life at Highclere Castle during Almina’s lifetime. The real Almina was a woman full of energy who lived generously due to her father’s wealth. During WWI she turned Highclere Castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers. She then opened another hospital in London that was closer to medical doctors.
Almina’s husband, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert had exotic interests and traveled to Egypt each year. He collected Egyptian art and artifacts and in fact with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
Contrary to the prologue, this is a historical biography containing a good deal of information on WWI. For those readers who enjoy this historical period, it is an interesting book complete with pictures. It also has an index!
This book is available at the Havelock Public Library. The library also has dvds of the past seasons of Downton Abbey as well as the PBS special on Highclere Castle.