Lady Almina and the real Downton Abby, The lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by the Countess of Carnarvon
I just finished this great book by the current Countess of Carnarvon, of Highclere Castle which is where the series Downton Abby was filmed and the story is loosely based upon. I say loosely because there are as many differences as similarities. For instance, in the show Downton Abby, the countess portrayed is a rich American heiress whose inheritance saves the estate. The real countess of that period Almina, was a bastard born to a married French woman and her lover Alfred de Rothschild who was one of the richest men in England as well as the first Jew admitted to the House of Lords. Also, in Downton Abby the Earl and Countess had no male heirs and were going to have to turn the estate and Earldom over to a relative, but in real life, the 5th Earl and Almina did have a male heir.
The real Earl and Countess were actually quite an interesting pair. They seemed to be very fond of each other, and maybe even in love, which was unusual for these sorts of marriages. Even though Almina was born outside of wedlock, her dowry was one of the largest in England due to her connection to Alfred de Rothschild. Although no one spoke of it, it was well known that she was his daughter and only child. He showered her with money and did everything in his power to bring Almina and her mother into society. After their grand wedding, Almina and the Earl traveled widely and entertained in high style, spending vast sums on making sure they had the very best of everything on hand when important visitors like the Prince of Wales showed up for a weekend party. The Earl’s enduring passion was Egypt and during his lifetime he spent vast amounts of money looking for ancient treasures.
Almina’s passion was nursing which she threw herself and her fortune into during WWI. First she turned the castle into a hospital then, when it was apparent that the soldiers would benefit from being in London, closer to the best doctors, she purchased a large house and turned it into one of the best most modern hospitals in WWI London. She worked tirelessly until the end of the draining the Rothschild fortune as she nursed thousands of soldiers back to health.
The Earl had to wait until after the war to get back to Egypt, and his partner Howard Carter who convinced the Earl to invest one last time in a new dig that would be in the Valley of the Kings. After years of trying for the rights to dig there, this would be their last attempt to find something really big. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon would go on to discover the tomb of King Tutankhamen, the most famous Egyptian treasure the world has ever known. They were the first to enter the tomb and see the treasures inside, untouched for thousands of years.
As they were removing the treasures and dealing with the press, the Earl became quite sick from mosquito bite. Almina rushed to his side to nurse him back to health, but was ultimately unsuccessful. The Earl died in Egypt and became the first victim of the curse of King Tut’s tomb. The 6th Earl succeeded his father as Lord Carnarvon.