The author states at the beginning of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey that the book is not a history nor a biography or a work of fiction. However, it’s lovingly written and certainly reads like it belongs in all these genres.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley. 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 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.
I decided to read this book because I was looking for a little history on the story behind the hit show Downton Abbey. I love that show! I love the snottiness of the upstairs elite and the crassness of the downstairs staff. There dependent on each other but separate in more than just living quarters. It makes great television!
The writing in this book is superb. It centers around Almina, of course, and her extended (by marriage) family. It concentrates mainly on two subjects, Almina’s philanthropic works during the war and her husband’s hunt and discovery of Egyptian artifacts, the latter of which included a huge discovery as famous today as it was then.
Almina lived a wealthy, somewhat spoiled life of privilege. She contributed many of her resources, both personal and monetary, to the war effort. Her life was exciting and made a great story.
However, I was looking for something more centered around the house, Highclere Castle, and the day-to-day workings of the estate. This book does not go into detail on the staff or the Carnarvon’s daily life apart from parties and major events.
All in all this book was certainly well worth reading. It’s well written and if you’re a historical fiction lover this is a real story just as interesting as fiction. The glimpse into Victorian era high society was lovely. However, if you’re looking for a more intimate look into the lives of all that lived at Highclere and the drama that ensues, this will disappoint. Just keep in mind this is about Almina foremost, not Highclere, and I think you’ll enjoy it.