Thursday, May 28, 2015

Let's talk about: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon

As you can see from the below pictures there was a lot I wanted to remember about this book.

The book is written by the current Countess of Carnarvon ( Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the 8th Countess) about the life of Almina Carnarvon and what Highclere Castle was like during her time there.
Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild which made her a very wealthy heiress. She married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. 
He was a very interesting man. He was very interested in books, travel, and exploring. 
He is most famous for having discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, along with Howard Carter. 

I found so much of this book so interesting. 
In chapter 2, she details Almina's arrival to Highclere castle. 
She states, "Highclere Castle was the family home of the Earls of Carnarvon, but the Castle was also the servants' Castle, and the family their family."
It was impossible to read this without thinking of Downton Abbey. 
This passage made me think of Mr. Carson on Downton and his special familial relationship with Mary and the pride he takes in the home. 

When Almina arrived and became the 5th Countess of Carnarvon she was only nineteen years old. 
She was a teenager!
From the book we learn that she was high spirited and sure of herself but also possibly a little overwhelmed and afraid. 
It talks about how she had gone from being a special child lavished with love from her mother and money from her father to realizing that here at Highclere she was not the "center of the universe". 
In fact, it mentions that everything in the home, the paintings, the furniture, do not belong to her or even to her husband but to the house itself.
(This also reminded me of Downton and how the Earl of Grantham has to worry about making sure the house survives after he is gone.)

Almina was very extravagant. She spent a LOT of money. This is detailed in the book. But she was also generous with her assets which helped her to not feel like a spoiled, irresponsible person as you were reading about all the money she spent on dinner parties and furniture.
On page 64 it reads, "Lord and Lady Carnarvon upheld a tradition that Highclere should be a 'househould of kindess'. 
And I believe it was. 

Lord Carnarvon was a man full of wanderlust and a need for distraction and diversion. I can relate to that so I felt somewhat akin to him throughout the story which helped to pull me in.
It tells us that every year from 1902, after Christmas, they would set out for Egypt. with only some exceptions. 

All of this was very interesting to read about but my favorite  parts of the book were the chapters that dealt with the first World War. 
Almina had an idea. 
She talked about it with Lord Carnarvon who wasn't as excited about it as she was but eventually agreed to the possibility. 
This was to turn Highclere into a hospital. 
(Yes. Just like on Downton!)
The first patients arrived in the middle of September. 
It says that she wanted it to be a therapeutic space where the library and the cooking were as important as the services of the medical personnel. 
It is reported that the first patients said they felt as if they had arrived in Paradise. 

Lady Carnarvon greeted everyone at the front door, made sure they got settled in, and then would immediately send telegrams to their families to let them know where they were and that they were safe. 
It says later that she gained so much respect with how hands on she was and how much she was learning that when she went to the authorities about a patient saying he was not yet well enough, they believed her. 

There was one interesting man mentioned in these chapters. 
He was a tall, broad man that regardless of his care was lame for the rest of his life and had to use a stick to get around. His name was Bates. 
It makes you wonder if Julian Fellowes knew about this guy, right?

There are so many instances of Lady Carnarvon going above and beyond what must have been expected from her. At one time rather than just send a wreath to a family that 's son was killed, she showed up to the funeral. 

I learned things I didn't know about the first world war and the people involved as well. 
I won't give it all away because you really should read this book!

My next favorite part was the detailing of how Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter came to be the ones that found the tomb of King Tut in 1922. 
There are some very sad events that happen around this time in the family but it is still so interesting to know more about these explorers and what they went through to make this special discovery. One that is still the only Ancient Egyptian royal burial site ever found intact. 

In conclusion, it made me even more excited to visit Highclere Castle. 
Not to just see the set of Downton Abbey. 
But also the home of incredible people that have done incredible things in real life. 
A place steeped in history!

The current Lady Carnarvon did a great job!
She has written a few other books about Highclere's family and I can't wait to read them as well!


Donna said...

I've seen some PBS shows about Highclere Castle's past and that feature the current Lady of the house. She seems like a lovely person and I didn't know she wrote this book. I have it on my bookshelf and I need to read it! I can't wait to go to Highclere Castle someday. You're so lucky to be going next year!

cheryl said...

I can't wait! I hope I can get tickets. I emailed them already and they told me that next year's slots for spring should open up around November so I have to check back then.
She does seem like a really lovely person. She has a blog too which I have a link to on the bottom of the sidebar.

The Kings said...

I need to borrow your book and read it before we go!

cheryl said...

I actually don't own it. I got it from the library. But if I buy it before the trip you can borrow it or if you need me to I can get it from the library again and you can read it and then get it back to me.