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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle Paperback – December 27, 2011
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“Almina was a woman of great charm and courage.”
—New York Times Book Review
“The more interesting and entertaining book is Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Written by the castle's current countess, Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Eighth Countess of Carnarvon and great-granddaughter-in-law of Lady Almina, the book is a fascinating look at the woman of the house who turned her castle into a hospital for wounded British soldiers returning from World War I. (It corresponds perfectly with this season's war story line on Downton Abbey.)”
“Gives the juicy backstory behind last year's Emmy-winning 'Masterpiece Theater' drama.”
—New York Times
“If you can’t wait for the new season of ‘Downton Abbey’...this one’s for you....a revealing portrait of the changing times.”
—New York Post
“[A] fascinating insight into how the seriously rich once lived.”
—Newsweek Daily Beast
“The present Lady Carnarvon, who tapped the family archives for her comprehensive research, dramatically captures the estate during the pre-war and war years, and paints a compelling...portrait of Lady Almina.”
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
The author of this book, the current Countess of Carnarvon, drew largely from primary sources in the Highclere archives. She also examined contemporary periodicals and previous family memoirs and bios. The focus of the book is, as the subtitle indicates, Almina's connection with Highclere. So, it begins with her wedding to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and ends with his untimely death in 1923, as that event marked the end of Almina's time at Highclere.
There is a concise discussion of Almina's pre-countess life, including her paternity (that Almina was in all likelihood Alfred Rothschild's natural daughter is stated plainly). There is also some background on the 5th Earl: his parents and childhood, and a short history of the Highclere estate. The 5th Earl was in debt when he met Almina and in need of a large infusion of cash, which Rothschild provided.
The book goes on to cover Almina's arrival at Highclere as a 19-year-old bride and her triumphant success as a society hostess, which was something Edwardian women aspired to and were admired for. The visit by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) for one of Highclere's famous shoots in 1895 was a major event at Highclere and it is appropriate that it should be included here, even if written of previously in other works.Read more ›
Any biography is a story being told, and each story has a unique voice. In this case, the voice is a member of the Carnarvon family. She seems to draw from source documents such as journals, letters, and other historical references to create a picture of Almina Wombwell who became the wife of the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon. (Yes, this was the same Lord Carnarvon who worked with Howard Carter and discovered King Tut's tomb in Egypt.) This book is told primarily as Lady Almina's story after her marriage, although it can't help but touch on the story lines of many of the other principle players.
While the book is historical in nature, that doesn't make it dry reading. There is scandal (Almina was most likely the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy Alfred de Rothschild), wildly fabulous wealth (Almina lived a lavish and luxurious lifestyle prior to WWI), Egyptian adventures, and ultimately heartbreak as WWI touched almost every family in Britain.Read more ›
I purchased the book not knowing just how much it was going to reveal about Downton Abbey which I have been following avidly.
As it turned out, it was fabulously written and told me so much more than I had ever expected. Thank the author profusely. Needless to tell that I highly recommend this to all who are enchanted by the TV series of Downton Abbey; It takes nothing away from this TV drama but greatly enhances the protrayal with so much background not out there for the average person.
Again, I am indeed glad that I took up on the whim and purchased this particular book when I was browsing the Amazon selections.
I didn't know a lot about Lady Almina so as much as anything that connection with the Downton characters pulled me in. I wanted to see the story of the real hospital started by Her Ladyship.
I was a little disappointed. Not just in the read - more on that in a moment, but in the hospital. The hospital at Highclere averaged between 12 and 20 patients at any given time. That's all. Over 24,000 British casualties a month were coming back to England. But Lady Almina's patients were special. All were officers, many of her social class. Lady Almina made sure she had a representative in Southampton screening prospective patients. She insisted also that her nurses be attractive on the premise that it made the boys more cheerful thereby healing quicker. Imagine that in a diversity context today.
The biggest complaint about this book is the author's clear worship of Lady Almina. She is a candidate for sainthood in this book. She does no wrong.
Many years ago, as a young man in college, I was taught to read critically, to look for bias in an author, to try to discern what ideology he/she is selling the reader. Works showing only gushing admiration in a biography leave out the human side of real people. In that respect Fiona Carnarvon does Lady Almina a great disservice.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love the tv series Downton Abbey, so getting to read the real story was a pleasure. The author keeps the reader engaged and includes historical photos of the original count and... Read morePublished 3 days ago by Hannah Bowers
Her dedication to serve during WWI is admirable: setting up a private hospital within the castle and providing medical care to the war wounded. Read morePublished 10 days ago by corJ
I love this book, having come fromBritain many years ago, I love the history of the old castles and mansions, a very good readPublished 14 days ago by Anne Doubleday
This is a great read. History, romance, adventure...its all in there.Published 17 days ago by lilyann
Interesting , factual, yet very dramatic and story driven like Downton Abbey. Loved it.
Highly recommend to all, especially Downton fans.
Enjoyed this account of the history of Highclere and the photos as well. A little dry bit worth it to readPublished 19 days ago by C. Johnson
The story is well written and researched. The Countess of Carnavon is an engaging writer who brings the people and the history of their times to life. Read morePublished 22 days ago by M. Goodwin
Very good book. Has a lot of history of WWI. If you love Downton Abbey you will enjoy this book. I have known of this family for many years because of the connection with Howard... Read morePublished 26 days ago by Denise