It’s hard for me to realize that I haven’t posted all summer!! What have I been doing? Going to the beach? Nope. On vacation? Nope. Long, lazy, relaxing days of doing nothing? Nope. But, somehow the summer has now come and gone, and some of you have been wondering where I’ve been. I’ll be darned if I know. What I do know is that I’m back!
I have, however, caught up on some reading over the past few months. One book which I found quite fascinating is LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY, written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Herbert. Fiona is married to the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Herbert. The current Earl and his family live in what fans of the award-winning PBS period drama series now refer to as “Downton Abbey” but in reality is Highclere Castle. Downton Abbey might have been a fictitious television program, but the 5,000 acre estate in Hampshire, England, does exist in all its splendid glory.
In her book, Fiona takes us on a journey through the tumultuous lives of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, Lord Porchester aka “Porchie”, and his American wife, Catherine. From the glamorous, high-style living of wealthy aristocrats in the free-spirited 1920s through, in vivid heart-wrenching detail, to the impact both the first and second World Wars had, not only on Great Britain, but on Highclere and the people associated with it. It’s an engrossing book detailing characters and a past lifestyle, which many of us may find hard to comprehend, but in the end, captures us and tugs at our hearts.
Julian Fellowes, the creator, writer and producer of Downton Abbey, was inspired by the original events of Highclere for his storylines. He and his wife, Emma, are actually close friends of the Earl and Countess. ‘Obviously we talk around the dining table when Julian and Emma stay,’ stated Fiona, who moved to the estate when she married her husband Geordie in 1999. ‘They ask questions and later we notice the characters saying things we’ve said.’
The revenue brought in from the commercial success of the tv series has been a financial boon to the cash-strapped estate. The original home, a large, classic squared-off mansion, was built around the 14th century. The first major remodeling was in the early 18th century, representative of the House of Parliament. The last redesign Highclere underwent was in the 19th century. You can only imagine that 200 years later, Highclere Castle … a modest home of 200 or 300 rooms, 80 of which were bedrooms … was in drastic need of major repairs.
The castle was unlivable. At least 50 of the rooms were completely uninhabitable with only the ground floor and first floor rooms usable. The Earl and Countess had to live in a modest cottage on the estate’s grounds. Water damage had caused the stonework to crumble and the ceilings to collapse. Estimates for repairs on the estate were around £12 million.
Although the series has ended, fans continue to que up to see the great hall, the dining room, the drawing room, library and music room, as well as any bedrooms which were used for filming. And now because of the high number of paying visitors, Lord and Lady Carnarvon have made the necessary major repairs. Although the family now lives in Highclere during the winter months, when the castle is open to the public in the summer, they return to their little cottage.
Even Queen Elizabeth was a fan of the tv series and is also frequently mentioned in Fiona’s book. Having been a frequent guest at Highclere as a child, Queen Elizabeth was a very close friend of “Porchie”, the 6th Earl, about whom the book is written. On the Netflix series, The Crown, Queen Elizabeth tells Prince Philip ‘not to be jealous of her friendship with Porchie because he is just “part of the furniture.’”
This was not meant to be a post about the fictitious Downton Abbey, but about the real and factual Highclere Castle, home of the Carnarvon family. The stories have been taken from the private archives … all richly detailed, including beautiful period photographs … in the Countess of Carnarvon’s book, LADY CATHERINE AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY.
A fascinating read!