Since four of my books are set in Regency England, it may surprise you that I haven’t seen any of the Edwardian-set TV hit Downton Abbey. But I may have to change that, after seeing the PBS special the other night on Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed. Being an archaeology buff, I tuned in because of the family’s connection to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, only to be intrigued by other interesting aspects of their real-life history that have inspired events on the show.
The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, great-grandfather of the current owner of Highclere, financed the Tut expedition and was there to ask archaeologist Howard Carter, “Can you see anything?” when he first peeked into the tomb. (“Yes, wonderful things” was the famous reply.) But the Fifth Earl’s wife, Lady Almina, is also fascinating. A super-rich trade heiress, she used her wealth not only to maintain the castle but to set up a WWI hospital, like the one on the show. The family has letters written to her by grateful veterans who recovered there from awful experiences. A bio of her, written by the current countess, is available here.
Not sure why the narration on the PBS special labeled Highclere’s Temple of Diana folly (seen to the left) “pointless.” For a rich family that loves both hunting and archaeological endeavors, having a Temple of Diana makes perfect sense to me! Not to mention that according to these plasterers who did restoration work on it, it once held living space.
Meanwhile, I’ve been editing my Regency time-travel As You Wish for an new print version, and as I revisit the Traymores’ struggle in the book to find ways to maintain their crumbling estate, I can’t help thinking of the Carnarvons, who lucked out in that Downton Abbey is such a hit and will draw visitors and more filming at Highclere. Like the Carnarvons with Tut’s curse, the Traymores also have a legendary curse in the family. And, coincidentally, the famous words of Carnarvon and Carter mentioned above are quoted in As You Wish.
If you’re an anglophile, are drawn to aristocrat-vs-commoner intrigue, or are fascinated with curses, please look for the new trade paperback edition of As You Wish this month or next. Stay tuned for a giveaway on Goodreads to celebrate. (If you read ebooks, the book is already available on Kindle and Nook — links and sample chapters here.)Tweet this