Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle tells the story of Highclere Castle, the setting of the BBC series Downton Abbey, during the time-period that the show takes place. It was written by Fiona, the (current) Countess of Carnarvon, and she makes use of many primary documents to tell the story of her home and its family.
Almina Wombwell became the Countess of Carnarvon despite her questionable parentage. She was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild and a French mother, who at the time was married to an Englishman. Her different circumstances in a way parallel the American origin of Lady Cora, the Countess of Grantham in the television series Downton Abbey. The book, however titled, does not deal with the show at all, but tells the real story of Highclere Castle. I assume that the publisher chose this title in order to draw in readers who may pass by the book if they didn’t know its connection to their favorite television series.
I found the writing to be somewhat dry and I was often disappointed when the author mentioned a photograph and I couldn’t find it in the book. I do not know if this is a flaw of the paperback, or if it is an oversight. It took me a long time to read this book because, as I mentioned, despite the juicy details, the writing was dry. However, on into the 1920’s period of the book, I got much more interested as I was reminded that Lady Almina’s husband, Lord Carnarvon, sponsored and accompanied the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter. The discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun is treated a great deal, and I’ve been a sucker for Egyptology ever since I read Aliki’s Mummies Made in Egypt back in the first grade. I even wrote a paper about Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in sixth grade, which was lost in my locker the day I was to turn it in, causing me to be exceedingly late for class and have a crying fit in the hallway (so becoming for an eleven-year-old who thinks she’s supposed to be grown up)… but that’s another story.
All in all, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is interesting, but I found it hard to get through.