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Customer Review

595 of 609 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpse of a country house and its lady, January 12, 2012
This review is from: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle (Paperback)
I received this book as a Christmas gift and enjoyed it very much. I think the other reviewer's review is off the mark and it's duplicitous of "William" not to mention is that he is the author of a self-published bio of Lady Almina.

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. The author describes Almina's extensive redecorating for the occasion (the green silk drawing-room walls were hers) and, using record books from the Highclere archives, the food purchased for the visit and what it cost - noting that the bill came to four times the annual salary of longtime butler (the position was known as "house steward" at Highclere), Streatfield. The author discusses how all this entertaining created extra work for the staff, especially before Almina had electricity and bathrooms with hot and cold running water installed. Of equal interest to me was the chapter on life below stars at Highclere during Almina's time. She describes many of the indoor servants, outdoor servants, and estate workers, their duties, living and working conditions, interaction with "upstairs," romances and marriages between staff, leisure time, etc.

A large section of the book is devoted to Highclere and the family during WWI and its immediate aftermath, including Lady Carnarvon's conversion of the castle to a hospital. The great library served as a relaxing room for the men, who were waited upon by footman and generally treated as invited guests at one of the prewar house parties, giving them a chance to forget the horrors of the war for a little while. Of all the stately homes to serve as hospitals, probably only Highclere had fashionable nurse's uniforms of crushed-strawberry-pink wool. Almina later moved the hospital to London at her own (that is, Rothschild's) expense where they had more room, better equipment and greater access to specialists.

The final chapter covers Almina's life after widowhood, but the theme of the book is Highclere and as she was no longer directly connected with it except as an occasional visitor, this section is brief. As I am not the least interested in Almina's love life, I was not at all disappointed that the lurid details "William" is so anxious for us to hear about are not included.

It's written in a breezy, personal style. The Downton connection is not exploited; other than the title (which is often the publisher's, not the author's, choice), Downton is mentioned only in the prologue (1 sentence) and in acknowledgements. I would guess, though, that Downton fans interested in how the real-life place where the series is filmed actually operated during roughly the same time period will enjoy it. The photos are marvelous. A family tree from, at least, the 4th Earl through the 6th Earl would have been useful.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2012, 5:01:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2012, 5:01:59 AM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2012, 12:35:47 PM PST
dudnpad says:
Me too, and why poor William gets such a shafting. For authenticity, he does surpass our Countess.

Posted on Apr 5, 2012, 4:34:27 PM PDT
BookBabe says:
I'm not sure that William's failure to mention that he wrote a book on the same topic is "duplicitous." It seems more modest, considering the book doesn't currently appear to be in print and therefore is not directly competing with this one. He has a wealth of knowledge as to what is missing from this book, and demonstrated why it is a shallow account.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2012, 6:17:14 AM PST
Paseo says:
Perhaps because Jill does not consider it pertinent to the history of the house. Why would it be?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013, 8:37:26 AM PDT
pjf says:
As this book is supposed to be also a bio of the women, and not just the house, I would say it is pertinent.

Not that I really care to read details of her love affairs. But I agree with some other reviewers that this book presents itself as an overly sanitized and biased fluff history published by a vanity press.

Posted on Mar 31, 2016, 9:52:17 PM PDT
Sidney Orr says:
It was not a "likelihood" that Almina was Alfred R's daughter. The Rothchilds
regarded all their children, even "illegitimate" - a tad more than your typical Brit aristocracy,
and gave Almina a £500,000 dowry, thus rescuing Carnarvon-Highclere-Downton,
and providing financing for the Carter-Carnarvon adventure. Fiona lays it all
out. ...which itself was the subject of a good PBS documentary, which the Downton producers
chose to ignore the juiciest parts of.... However, it was well-known, but not very well-publicized until Fiona, given endemic Brit antisemitism.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2016, 9:18:59 AM PDT
Maybe because some of us feel that one's love life should be a subject of discussion between one and those who share it ONLY. (IOW, It should be no one else's business.)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2016, 9:22:29 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2016, 9:26:43 AM PDT
If someone were negatively critical of a work of yours, without acknowledging at the same time, their own work of the same nature, or on the same subject, would YOU then be quite so generous? While such an acknowledgement would alert those receiving the criticism of an author's possible animus towards a competing work (in print or not), it could also serve to bolster the value of that author's criticism. I should think both to be of some value to those reading a review.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2016, 9:25:24 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2016, 9:26:42 AM PDT
Agreed- except that this is now "history," and with particular attention to the Queen's friendship with Porchy.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2016, 9:27:17 AM PDT
And you know this how?
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