Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
By: The Countess of Carnarvon
Published: 2011
# of pages: 292

Official description: 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.
My opinion:  I saw this book at a small bookstore I visited in a town near Chicago.  I was intrigued since I had just started watching the series "Downton Abbey" on Netflix.  I had heard a lot about it for months and when I finally started watching it I fell in love!!  So this book caught my eye and I checked it out at the library when I came home.

I started reading it while reading a novel and it was hard for me to get into.  I figured it was just a boring history book and put it on the back burner.  But after a couple of weeks it was the only book I had left so I gave it my full attention.

Like I said, it took awhile, but I ended up really enjoying it!  It's not how I thought it would be, more of a day to day "story" of the family and servants.  For some reason I expected it to be more like the TV series, just with real historical figures.  But it's more like a history book and covers an extensive time period.  However, the Carnarvons' lives were filled with drama.  The entire family was involved in WWI and then Lord Carnarvon and Almina were involved in Egyptology, especially the discovering of "King Tut's" tomb along with Howard Carter.  I used to love reading about ancient Egypt and the discoveries of the Valley of the Kings.  It's neat to think that I once read about Carnarvon, but don't remember his name (instead Howard Carter's stuck in my memory).

It's kind of odd to think about this being the inspiration for "Downton Abbey."  I don't really get it.  Besides the fact that Lord Carnarvon married Almina for her money to save Highclere just like the Earl marries Cora for her money to save Downton, there doesn't seem to be much of a connection.  Of course, I haven't watched Season 2 yet...which I gather takes place during WWI.

I recommend this book to lovers of history and those who want to read an overview of WWI.  I think this would be an interesting way for high schoolers to learn about the time period.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting record of historical events, especially WWI and the discovery of "King Tut."  Sometimes frustrating when it discovered people that were unrelated to the Carnarvons or their stories.  

Other reviews:  
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

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