Review: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Carnarvon

Don’t we all wish we could wave our magic wands and become the Crawley family living the high life at Downton Abbey?

For Lady Almina Carnarvon that dream was a reality.

With Downton Abbey sweeping the telly waves, fans are salivating at the mouth for more Downton–I know I am! This book was extremely appealing to me for the obvious–a promise of more Downton! When the publisher sent me a copy for review, I was over the moon–checking my mailbox daily in eager anticipation!

I am always a little iffy about non-fiction and biography books because they can often become rather dry and scholarly for my taste…that’s all well and good if I am reading a book for a history class but when I am reading for fun, I want a story.

That was not the case with this book–it was absolutely riveting! I would call this one un-put-downable…it was a smashing read and I enjoyed every page! Books like this make me excited about history! 

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle is written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Carnarvon and chronicles the life of Alfred de Rothchild’s illegitimate daughter, Almina, through the late Victoria era through the end of the Edwardian era into the 1920’s.

Before reading this book, I did not know anything about this family or the history of the house, Highclere Castle. I was drawn in right away to the history of the house and the family.

The Rothchild family has more money than god….Alfred de Rothchild never married but loved to dote on his only child, Almina. When Almina entered the marriage season, Alfred made sure she was well taken care of and married well. And marry well she did–Almina caught the eye of George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. When they married, Lord Carnarvon elevated Almina’s social status while Almina’s money helped secure the future of not only Highclere Castle but the family.

Lady Almina never lacked money and made thus went to work right away as a new wife, making Highclere the crown jewel of Edwardian houses. It was fascinating to read about all the royal visits, upper-crust guests, and parties at the house and also to read about how things functioned below stairs.

The Carnarvon’s lead a very engaging life….Lord Carnarvon was your quintessential adventurer–he sailed the world expeirencing things most people would only read about in books. He saw Italian operas in Argentina, went on African safaris, and most famously….excavated in Egypt. Lord Carnarvon was the financier and partner of Howard Carter and both discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The Carnarvon family and Almina also helped pave the way for medical care and rehabilitation during WWI. Almina’s true calling was nursing and when the country needed help most, Almina answered. Alfred de Rothchild helped bankroll Almina’s conversion of Highclere into war hospital….Almina made every effort to help the war effort and nurse the soldiers back to health–her’s was an example for other wealthy families of the peerage to do all they could for the sounded warriors.

Though Highclere Castle is the setting for Downton Abbey, it is not difficult to draw similarities between the fictional Crawley family and the Carnarvons. But one thing is undeniable, the Carnarvon family left it’s mark on society and history.

One thing that I liked best about this book was how the history was presented to readers. I have studied the literature and history of this time period extensively so I am more familiar with the period than some, however there are things happening in the world that one forgets.

For example, WWI plays a huge role in this book, and though I am familiar with the facts of WWI, it is easy to forget there was also political unrest in the near east and Egypt–not just in France. Lady Fiona Carnarvon does a great job providing the readers with facts and historical reference points which help the reader (historian or not) navigate the time period. I did not find the history overwhelming or dry, it was more like reading fun facts than a history lesson–excellent job with the historic presentation!

The book had all the ingredients of an exotic fairy tale….the rich and famous…war….far away lands….adventure….discovery. I loved the eccentric cast of real life characters (Aubrey was an interesting chap to be sure!!) and the book read much like a fiction novel.

Books like this make me excited about history….because of this book I want to read more about the period–Queen Victoria, Titanic, WWI, the last Tsar and execution of the Russian royal family, the discovery of Egypt….everything!

This books is a must read for uber Downton Abbey fans!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Carnarvon

  • Hardcover, 310 pages
  • Published December 27th 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (first published January 1st 2011)
  • ISBN 1444730827 (ISBN13: 9781444730821)

This book counts toward: Downton Abbey Reading Challenge 

Recommendation: 5 out of 5 (engaging non-fiction book that reads like a fiction book!)

Genre: Non-fiction, history, biography

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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11 Comments

  1. Excellent review! I’ve always been fascinated by history, in particular the WWII era, but Downton Abbey has made me eager to learn more about this era, as well. This sounds like a fun and interesting book!

    Reply
    • You are too kind :), thank you!!! I LOVE history and am especially interested in this time period as well, particularly WWI….I am thinking of reading a book about the Tsars and Princess Anastasia and/or a book about Victoria and Albert sometime this year also. This book was great and if you love Downton as much as I do, you will love this book 🙂

      Reply
  2. Smashing review my friend 🙂 I will definitely be adding this to my TBR pile. I am a huge history buff and to have history presented as a story rather than just a bunch of facts is so great!

    You’ve got me all excited for this book!
    Huggles,
    Isalys

    Reply
    • Awww you are so sweet 🙂 it was really good and since I know you heart Downton like me you will TOTALLY fall in love with this book 🙂
      XOXOXOX

      Reply
  3. Oh, isn’t it lovely when you run across a non-fiction book that is FUN?? I’m personally interested in tsarist Russia and found some awesome books by a guy called Robert K. Massey about Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and the Romanovs – THAT guy can WRITE! I’m glad you found a book like that to your interests! 🙂 I’ll have to check it out!

    Reply
    • Ohhh that book sounds very intriguing 🙂 I really want to read something on the Romanov empire….I am not very familiar with Russian or Eastern Europe history as I would like to be, but the whole last Tsar and Anastasia mystery sound really interesting. My sister got me a book for Xmas on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert….I think it’s called ‘We Two’ or something like that, so I’m going to read that this year :).

      Reply
  4. Susan Stokes

     /  February 28, 2012

    Your Review is Just What I needed..Very much a History Buff,but need the excitement of a Novel…Factural and Beautifully Written…A Must Read in Book Format,..#DowntonAbbeyRehab…: )

    Reply
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