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

( 87 )

Overview

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes’s Emmy Award-winning PBS show, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of...

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

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Overview

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes’s Emmy Award-winning PBS show, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war.
 
Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart Lady Cora Crawley, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.
 
This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

ITV and PBS's Downton Abbey is one of the most watched, acclaimed, and awarded television shows in the world, but story of its real-life inspiration is just as captivating as the British period drama. In fact, as the present Countess of Cararvon tells it, the saga of Highclere Castle's Lady Almina reads like a full-bodied prospectus for a Masterpiece Theatre series. Lady Fiona Cararvon uses diaries, family letters, and photographs to illuminate the eventful life of a Rothschild daughter who rose above her class with brave and selfless action.

From the Publisher
"Gives the juicy back story behind last year's Emmy-winning Masterpiece Theater drama." —-The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780770435622
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 46,683
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

LADY FIONA CARNARVON married the current Earl of Carnarvon in 1999, and they took over Highclere eight years ago.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Lady Almina’s wealth contributed to her social success, but far more was required to achieve prestige in her husband’s circles. What special traits and wisdom did she possess?

2. How does Downton Abbey’s Lady Cora Crawley compare to Almina? Is Cora at a disadvantage because she is American, or did outsiders perhaps have the upper hand in Edwardian England?

3. When Lady Almina opened Highclere Castle to wounded military officers, she wanted to deliver more than first-rate medical treatment; she understood that a beautiful environment would enhance the healing process as well. What can twenty-first-century medicine learn from her?

4. The author describes heated Edwardian debates over taxing the wealthy, reforms to the House of Lords, immigration, and the National Insurance Bill—issues that remain controversial today. Lady Almina was a vocal conservative. If you had been a member of the landed gentry, would you have sided with the Liberals or the Tories? How did Aubrey balance his election as a conservative with his liberal beliefs?

5. What inspired Lord Carnarvon and Aubrey to immerse themselves in worlds far removed from the English countryside? What was at the root of Lord Carnarvon’s enthusiasm for Egyptian antiquities? What surprising details did the book provide about foreign affairs in the early twentieth century?

6. Were you enticed or dismayed by the role of aristocratic women from Almina’s generation? How did they gain power? How was their power limited by their husbands and by social custom? If you were the widow Almina, would you have remarried as she did?

7. As the author provided vivid descriptions of the wardrobes, interior decorations, and feasts that marked Highclere Castle, which aspects captured your imagination the most? Was Almina’s lavish spending a good investment?

8. How did you react to the parenting protocols of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras? Was it reasonable for children of the aristocracy, whose lives were woven with royalty, to be held to a higher standard of behavior? How were the expectations for raising Porchy different from those for raising Eve?

9. Discuss the solid marriage that Almina and Lord Carnarvon enjoyed. How were they able to make a good match despite the strict courtship methods they had to follow? What accounts for the way they balanced freedom and mutual support throughout their marriage?

10. Is nobility a burden or a blessing? How would you have fared at Highclere as a servant, or as an administrative aide such as Mary Weekes?

11. How do the woes of Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham compare to those of Lord Carnarvon? How does the history of Highclere enhance your appreciation for the show? What might Almina and Lord Carnarvon think of Downton Abbey?

12. The author notes that it was the economic fallout of the Second World War, combined with new tax structures, that made it impossible to maintain the opulence of previous generations at Highclere Castle. Why is it important to preserve the building and its history, if not the lifestyle, in contemporary times?

13. Discuss your own family legacies that are tied to this time period. How did status and class affect your ancestors? Did any of them serve in the Great War? Which of your family legacies—financial or otherwise—were formed a century ago?

Guide written by Amy Clements

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 87 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(35)

4 Star

(27)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 87 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    Biographies JG

    It is the opinion of one reader, Will-Cross, that this biography of Lady Almina has been cleansed of some of the more unpleasent facts about the lives of this women and her family. Biographies are almost always about the very rich, powerful, famous, or infamous men and women of history. To regular readers of biographies and autobiographies, it comes as no surprise that not all is revealed within pages of books about historical or notable persons. Few of us would be naive enough to belive in the total objectivity on the part of authors of this genre. However this does not diminish the value of biographies for most of us. Lady Almina did some good in this world, and this book recognizes her good works. The book is not an apology, nor is it meant to be an apology, about how different and inequitable were the lives of those who lived above and below stairs. It does, however, make the reader pause and ponder how those class differences play against the background of the world in which the reader lives.

    26 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Very Interesting!

    Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is an interesting biography about the residents of Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. This book follows the life of Lady Almina, an extraordinary woman who lived a very full life. Lady Almina had a scandalous parentage that people in the Edwardian period frowned upon but her large dowry made them overlook it. She caught the eye of Earl of Carnarvon and married young. She made Highclere her home and entertained everyone from royalty to famous authors. During World War I she opened the doors to Highclere and made this luxurious house into a hospital. Lady Almina found her calling in nursing. She spent countless hours tending to the wounded, writing to their families and offering words of comfort to the soldiers.
    The Earl of Carnarvon is most famous for the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb along with Howard Carter. Although the discovery came late in his life, the Earl had a lifelong appreciation for history. Lady Almina supported him in his ventures and often accompanied him on various trips to Egypt.
    There are many similarities to the show Downton Abbey and the life at Highclere Castle. The contents of this book are taken from journals, letters, and visitor accounts. The Countess of Carnarvon has included many photographs that help put names to faces. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is a great biography. It's really enjoyable to read. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy getting the scoop on the factual events behind the show. Fans of history will enjoy getting a inside look of what it was to live in a fine house during the Edwardian era.

    22 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Lady Almina Deserves More Than A Nice Book Cover

    We should know our betters : know that toffs will not be transparent. They will only tell you what they want you to know and to minimise the scandal they will painfully minimise the accuracy. Despite pointing out the howlers in the captions on several photographs, and the historically flawed text in Highclere¿s ¿ Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey¿ ( after the hardback came out in the UK, last September ) the transformation of this book into it¿s new ¿ First US Edition¿, with the inners unchanged, confirms that view.

    The book does have an attractive new cover but it¿s still the content that counts.

    It¿s all another instance of Herbert history repeating itself. There is already a less than honourable pile up of Carnarvon-family scribes who put their heavy-handed gloss on the accuracy regarding past members of the clan. Elsie, the second 4th Countess of Carnarvon, rigorously controlled and censored the posthumous biography of Henry, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a notable Victorian politician and Cabinet Minister. Lady Winifred Burghclere, the sister of George, 5th Earl of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame ( Almina¿s husband ) did exactly the same, stopping the leak of any embarrassing fall out about ¿Lordy!¿ ( the name the Egyptian natives gave Lord Carnarvon in the Valley of the Kings ). In 1923, Lady Winfred crafted an elegant and impeccably worded posthumous sketch of her adored brother, George, but as seen through her very rose tinted glasses, and it made no mention, of faults, or George¿s darker proclivities. Almina was demolished by Winifred¿s blast of the trumpet in a single, dull, sentence. Then there was the womanising 6th Earl¿s ghosted memoirs that stopped well short of fact about his catalogue of carnal cavorting. And, unsurprisingly, the ghost writers have done it yet again with this book, portraying Almina as a saint. This lady was no saint!

    But there¿s a lot at stake in only offering up a sanitised edition of Almina¿s life with the rake-in being synonymous with the public popularity of Highclere Castles¿ expansive ( and expensive ) use as the backdrop to a television programme called ¿Downton Abbey¿.

    People actually believe in, and follow this TV series as mesmerised as grazing sheep watching car headlamps flicking in the winter darkness of night. But the same extremes between fiction and reality portrayed in ¿Lady Almina¿....¿ are at best an attempt to confuse the masses to make them actually believe the fiction, much as Orson Wells first deceived half of America into leaving their homes as they thought the men from Mars were about to land.

    What good features there are in the book ¿ and there are some genuinely interesting and worthy parts ¿ albeit only carefully selected examples from Highclere¿s Secrets Archives- are lost in the colossal wave of hypocrisy by the painfully irritating plotters. Almina¿s true-life experiences are often scuttled, just as assassin or assassins scuttled an earlier biography of her in the 1990s¿ the reason being that on that occasion evidence was found that Almina had ¿strayed¿, the 6th Earl¿s paternity was in very great doubt. The gene pool of Porchey Carnarvon¿s father is mentioned in the narrative but in the wrong places, to bring him out with any meaningful recognition. But you will find this confronted in another biography of Almina, Countess of Carnarvon in addition to the rest of her secrets.

    Besides the paternity issue, which remains an o

    14 out of 82 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2013

    Excellent read! I learned so much about the England of WWI, medi

    Excellent read! I learned so much about the England of WWI, medical procedures advanced during that war (Highclere was converted to a hospital for wounded soldiers just as its fictional version was in Downton Abbey), the discovery of King Tut's tomb...this book is a very pleasant surprise in terms of the depth of the content and stories of some truly interesting people in history!  I read a few of the reviews posted here - particularly the one that is highly critical of the book due to what the reviewer felt as a sanitized view of the Carnarvons. I did not select the book with the intention of discovering the family's secrets - I am sure there are other ways to find out more about those. I wanted to learn more about life in an estate like Highclere during that period. The book delivered exactly that and more.    

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    Highly recommended

    An easy read,excellent background for those interested in the Downton Abbey BBC series. Lady Almina was a women ahead of her times. The writing is easy to follow and makes you want to read just one more chapter.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    fascinating background

    How facinating to learn the real background of the castle. Enriches the whole Downton Abbey experience

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Jolly good read!

    Can't wait to visit Highclere next year. I feel as if I got to know the Earl and Lady Carnarvon through this book. Really wonderful glimpse into life at Highclere.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2012

    Five stars

    I loved it. The book was almost has good as watching the show. That world was so fascinating. The two worlds. So different and yet so much the same

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2012

    Interesting Peek Inside the Edwardians

    A very interesting insider's view of the comings and goings of the real family at Highclere Castle during the Edwardian era - which thanks to Downton Abbey series is no longer the forgotten era between the Victorians and WW1

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    If you like Downton Abbey this gives a wonderful background.

    To read about the life of people in this period was very interesting. How selflessly they gave of resources and time to help their country both during war time and in discovering King Tut's tomb.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    Thoroughly enjoyed this historical account of the people and eve

    Thoroughly enjoyed this historical account of the people and events of Highclere Castle during the World War I era. So many things I did not remember (or perhaps never knew) regarding World War I, especially the family dynamics involving the heads of so many of the European countries who went to war against each other. Very, very readable book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2013

    Awesome story. I am catching up on my reviews. A very good read

    Awesome story. I am catching up on my reviews. A very good read and couldn't put it down once I started. Recommend,

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2012

    Very nice - indeed...

    Very nice - indeed...

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    The Real Dowton Abbey

    This was an interesting look at the real people of Highclere, the setting for the show Downton Abbey.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Excellent parallel of the fictional Downtown Abbey and the factual Highclere Castle. Very well written. Lady Almina was an amazing women. She and her husband contributed so much in their time. Fascinating read!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    Fine history

    Excellent historical account

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2012

    wouldn't recommend

    very dry.Whated to read a book to see if I wanted the series but just couldn't get into it

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2013

    wonderful

    Great background on the real "Downton Abbey". There also seemed to be several similarites between the real family and the tv show eg Lord Carnevon's money worries

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Sample Inspired Purchase!

    I just finished reading the Free Nook sample. I will purchase the book because I enjoyed the sample and am enchanted. Of course I am a fan of the fictional BBC drama Downton Abbey. The television show is wonderful and I want to know more about the real story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    worth reading if you like history

    I really liked the book it became more interesting as it went along.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 87 Customer Reviews

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