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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

(The Women of the Real Downton Abbey #1)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  19,624 ratings  ·  2,373 reviews
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes's Emmy Award-winning PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, l ...more
Paperback, 310 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Broadway Books (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  19,624 ratings  ·  2,373 reviews

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Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm of two minds here. On the one hand, as someone who not only likes Downton Abbey, but also really likes pretty much anything British and Victorian/Edwardian (think: Mitfords, Sackville-West, Waugh), this was a whole lot of fun. On the other, it was a little disconcerting just how much the author fawned over her subject. Perhaps this is because she's followed in her footsteps, is also the Countess of Carnarvon (married to the 8th Earl; Almina married the 5th), and is clearly using this book to ...more
Jason Koivu
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Yeah, I read this. Why? Because I'm a lady, you see. Please, pay me no heed.

This is the story of Highclere Castle at its prime. Specifically it focuses on Lady Almina, her husband Lord Carnarvon and their family.

As the subtitle suggests, Highclere is the impressive house better known to the world these days as Downton Abbey, and that is why this book exists.

There are marked similarities between what viewers of that hit television show will recognize and what actually happened at Highclere, esp
The Lit Bitch
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book 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! 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!!
See my full review here
Although I enjoyed this book it was lacking in many respects for me. But let me start with what I did like.

I enjoyed the glimpse into the life and world of Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. They lived and managed Highclere Castle from the late 1800s until the Earl’s death in 1923. I knew of Earl Carnarvon because of his discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, but I never connected him to Highclere. Lady Almina was someone I was not familiar with, and I enjoy
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Are you at a loss after viewing the Season 2 final episode of Downton Abbey wondering how you will make it until Season 3 airs??? Then pick up this book and snuggle in for a great read. I think you will enjoy reading about the "real" people and recognize those who have lived and loved beautiful Highclere. Almina inherits gobs of money from Albert Rothschild and becomes a real catch in the late 1890s Victorian/Edwardian society of London. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon picks her and they make a love m ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, historic
I loved this book. LOVED it. If you read it looking for Downton you will be disappointed. If you read it as the story of the life of an amazing woman and an amazing time it is brilliant.

Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, was the illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild. She inhabited a world of luxery and convenience that even a modern woman will be awed by. Her marriage to the 5th Earl was to wash clean her background and to remove the debt from the family. Her dowry included Rothschild p
Will Cross
We should know our betters : know that toffs will not be transparent. They will only tell you what they want you to know and to minimise the scandal they will painfully minimise the accuracy. Despite pointing out the howlers in the captions on several photographs, and the historically flawed text in Highclere’s “ Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” ( after the hardback came out in the UK, last September ) the transformation of this book into it’s new “ First US Edition”, with the inners unch ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I was captivated by the Downton Abbey drama on PBS and so when I discovered this book on Highclere Abbey ( where it was filmed) and Almina, Countess of Caernarvon, I knew I wanted to read it and I was not disappointed. The book is written by the current Countess, Fiona Caernarvon, who became interested in researching the subject when the script for the TV series was being written. The result is a fascinating account of how a large Estate is organised and the activities of the family who owned it ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This title is certainly a lovely find... especially for anyone who enjoys digging up intriguing history. You don't have to be a fan of the TV show to enjoy the book, as there is maybe only mention to the show, at the beginning of the book, and that's it. From there on, it's pure and actual history.

My favorite parts of the story are about how Highclere was turned into a hospital during World War I. There's a lot that Lady Almina had to do to keep it up and running -- but it seems like a very wort
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read!! I couldn't put it down. ...more
Sally Wessely
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
The book is interesting in many ways. It gave me great insight into the life and times of Lady Almina Carnarvon and the castle we all call Downton Abbey, but I also found the book lacking in many aspects. It is not written particularly well. In fact, I found a number of errors in the book that caused me to wonder if the author had an editor. I also found that I was sometimes confused about events and people that were discussed in the book. It seemed almost as if the author was looking at the gue ...more
Rebecca Huston
A very entertaining look at the real Downton Abbey -- Highclere Castle -- and one of the countesses that lived there. Almina Wombwell was pretty, but also very wealthy. Where it gets unusual is who Almina's real father was -- Alfred de Rothschild, and his wealth is what got Almina accepted by England's aristocracy. She grew up wealthy, privileged, and would marry the Earl of Carnarvon. She bore children, supported her husband, modernized Highclere, and would help back the event that launched Car ...more
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I thought this would be fluff, but it turned out to be the very opposite. Through photos and excerpts from family archives, the focus is primarily on Lady Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon after her marriage to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Highclere Castle may be the setting for the popular TV series, Downton Abbey, and there are some similarities in events that took place in both the fictional family seat of the Crawleys and the Carnarvons, but this generation of the Carnarvons made contributions ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
First of all, let's just address the fact that Downton Abbey (the awesome BBC series that has swept the nation) should carry the message "based on a true story" somewhere in each episode. Yes, the series is fiction, but I was truly surprised by the similarities between the show and what actually happened in history.

Even more amazing about reading this book is how incredibly strong and courageous the lady of the house proved herself to be. Lady Almina Carnarvon was a kind, generous force to be r
Apr 29, 2019 rated it liked it
3 fairly dry but fairly interesting stars. It suffers unfairly in comparison with the popular experience of Julian Fellowes.
Aug 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
Disappointing! While the setting for this book - England in the era leading up to and including WWI WWI - is one of my current favorites for non-fiction reading, the execution of the book left something to be desired.

I found the writing to be not horrible, but distracting. Overall, a professional writer (maybe ghosting the Countess) could have avoided some of the writing issues encountered in the book, including sentence construction, verb tenses, topic transitions, and repetitiveness. For exam
Jan 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I haven't watched Downton Abbey yet, though apparently I must. This biography of Almina, the 5th Countee of Carnarvon, written by Fiona, the 8th, is not brilliantly written. However, it is a time period I find interesting and I did learn a lot about the years leading up to WW1 and the war itself. How a country recovers from something like that is beyond me. How the survivors were able to carry on is also beyond me.

Hard to imagine the vast amounts of money and leisure some people had while others
Suzanne Mccandless
I was surprised by how much I learned from this book. I had expected a good deal of fluff about house parties and social events in the early 20th century. there was that but also a great deal about WWI and about the discovery of King Tut's tomb. ...more
Lisa - (Aussie Girl)
I found this really interesting, no doubt because I'm a fan of the show and just recently visited Highclere Castle.

Can't wait for the movie in September 2019.
Ghost of the Library
I have a confession to make - i am not a member of the DA fan club..maybe because after awhile it all started too much to sound like a soap opera to me...and i have always been one to prefer facts.
So, it was with a good deal of curiosity and interest, that i borrowed this one from the local library and, somewhat to my surprise, loved it!
The present Countess of Carnavon may not be a professional writer but she does a splendid job of bringing to life the fascinating 5th Countess, Lady Almina.
Of co
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Watchers of "Downton Abbey."
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by The Countess of Carnarvon. Those of us who have claimed “Downton Abbey” as our most important hour of TV, EVER, will love this non-fiction history of Highclere Castle. Centered on the 1895-1925 era of wealth, fame, travel, extravagance beyond imagination and living in the highest of high styles, this story will keep visions of the TV story flashing in your mind as the real lives are interwoven in your mind with the fictional lives. There are names in th ...more
Sarah (needs a break from reviewing)
13/11 - You can really see Fellowes' inspiration for Downton Abbey in the true story of Lady Almina and Highclere Castle. I love that the book was written by the current Countess, and she is quite the writer, not in the way of writers whose words are described as 'lyrical' or 'beautiful', but in the way that you just want to keep reading. Her storytelling is accessible and she makes what could be dry facts into a compelling, and sometimes enthralling story. To be continued...

14/11 - There were a
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
During the Edwardian Age, many British aristocrats had titles and owned large estates, but had very little money. Marriages were often arranged in order to acquire wealth. Oftentimes, the marriages were not happy ones. Alfred de Rothschild adored his beautiful illegitimate daughter, Almina, and sought to arrange a marriage for her that would provide her with social acceptance as well as happiness. Her future husband would acquire untold wealth. When Almina married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, this ...more
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Ehh...I guess I was expecting an interesting history or biography, but I wouldn't call this book either. In fact, toward the beginning it is stated that this is not an historical account or fiction...which leads one to wonder what it is. I think the author just stumbled upon some old ledgers and/or letters (based on the the lists of employees and gifts that she includes), did a tiny bit of research (to flesh things out, but you can tell she didn't dig too deep), and choose a time period that is ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bios-true-life
Disclosure: Review copy received via Goodreads First Reads.

Even though "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey" is written with an eye towards fans of the ITV/PBS series, I believe even those who haven't watched the show will enjoy this history of the inhabitants of Highclere Castle. However, those fans hoping for plot-point by plot-point parallels between the show and the real history may be disappointed. That being said, it's easy to see where Julian Fellowes may have drawn inspiration from th
Tonight I finished up the book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. I read this book because I enjoyed Downton Abbey and I love biographies. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be caught up in such a wonderful story. The vast amount of knowledge I obtained about the Great War (WW1) was astounding. The family was a huge part of serving Britain during the war, both on the frontlines and in opening the house as a hospital (as the TV series portrays). As an added bonus, I learned that her husband w ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, mainly because I'm a fan of Downton Abbey, but also for the glimpse into the life of Almina and her family. I was disappointed that the book basically ended with her husband's death. Even though the author talked about her life after her husband's death, it felt incomplete and brief. It was interesting to see what life was like, not just for Almina, but for all the inhabitants of Highclere. ...more
Donna LaValley
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I’m happy the author wrote this book because after enjoying the BBC series “Downtown Abbey” I wondered what the castle-like structure, which was the story’s location, had become in the 21st Century. It is Highclere Castle and still the private home of the current Earl of Carnarvon. [The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was famously -or infamously- one of the principals in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.]

This is a work of non-fiction based on Lady Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Although she was the
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lady Almina of Carnarvon had a life worthy of a big-screen adaptation. She played numerous roles; active socialite, host to kings, pioneering caregiver, influential political activist (though she couldn't vote) and devoted wife and mother. She even had a scandalous past; her biological father was not her mother's husband! She was a conscientious, engaging woman who spared none of her considerable fortune in helping and pleasing others.

She also had a well-cast co-star in her husband, George Herbe
As a publicized tie-in to DOWNTON ABBEY, this book was styled as providing a historical account of Highclere Castle (setting of DOWNTON ABBEY), its inhabitants, and the style of the Edwardian era. Written by the current Countess of Carnarvon, LADY ALMINA gives an insiders view into a world seldomly seen, but thanks to Julian Fellowes, is now becoming a rich area history of interest.

Written in a chatty and breezy tone, the book concentrates heavily on Lady Almina, her works and family and less o
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Why all the hate? 15 84 Jun 24, 2018 06:46AM  
Arters AP Literat...: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey 4 2 Apr 23, 2017 06:53PM  
What makes Downton Abbey so good? 22 427 Aug 07, 2014 01:43PM  
Goodreads Librari...: 1 author, 2 different names 3 39 Mar 10, 2013 12:09PM  
Ravelry Knitters: January 2013- Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey 20 135 Jan 23, 2013 04:40PM  
Laurie R. King Vi...: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey - VBC May 2012 25 65 Jun 04, 2012 01:04PM  

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Note: This is the Goodreads listing for the 8th Countess of Carnarvon.

A former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand, Lady Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Today, she manages affairs at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many special events such as the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of

Other books in the series

The Women of the Real Downton Abbey (2 books)
  • Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey

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