Highclere Castle is one of England’s most beautiful Victorian Castles set amidst 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland. The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679, and the current Castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which in turn was built on the foundations of the medieval palace owned by the Bishops of Winchester for some 800 years.
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon, is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. She is a former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand. Together, they manage a range of businesses at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey. They are instrumental in the custodianship of the Castle and its park. They created an Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the Castle to explore the legacy of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon; Lady Carnarvon has a never ending restoration and refurbishment programme both within the Castle, of cottages, of gardens and landscape. They have also hosted many special events at Highclere for charity.
Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon has written two guidebooks to Highclere and to the Egyptian Exhibition. She has then written two historical books following the real people upstairs and downstairs who have lived here during the First and Second World Wars.
Both have been New York Times Bestsellers: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere (2011), is an amazing tale covering the same period as the first two series of Downton Abbey, beginning in 1894 with the marriage of 19-year-old Lady Almina into the Carnarvon family and continuing through the Great War.
The follow-up ‘Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey'(2013)moved the story into the 1920’s and focuses on the remarkable and beautiful American heiress who came to reign at Highclere Castle. Glamorous and wealthy, Catherine became the toast of London society when she travelled across the Atlantic in 1920 to marry the Lord Porchester, or ‘Porchy’, as he was known. At just 19 Catherine had to learn how to organise and host the lavish banquets and weekend house parties that ‘Porchy’ so loved. In 1923, her father in law died and her husband became the 6th Earl. She found herself suddenly in charge of the more than eighty staff working in and around Highclere Castle.
When World War Two broke out, there was yet more turbulence, with Highclere transformed a home for evacuee children from London. Drawing on rich material from the archives at Highclere, including beautiful period photographs, Lady Carnarvon transports us back to the thrilling and alluring world of the “Real Downton Abbey” and its inhabitants.
In March 2017 she will publish a new book about entertaining at Highclere Castle over the years entitled ‘At Home’: Entertaining at the Real Downton Abbey. This looks at how the Castle has been at the centre of drama, music and laughter, as well as high politics through the years. The 8th Countess explains the domestic arrangements, showcases recipes, and reports the anecdotes and letters, which surround the living history of Highclere Castle. Each Chapter takes a particularly special visit as its jumping off point-in 1866 the political drama as the 4th Earl and John A Macdonald negotiated the Canadian Constitution which created the Dominion in 1867, in 1886 as Henry James spent time completing two novels, in 1898 when His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales-later King Edward VII-came for a traditional but suitably extravagant shooting (long) weekend, and 1936 when Malcolm Sargent was a guest, reinforcing a history of association between Highclere and the musical word that continues to this day. The book brings the reader up to date with modern day entertaining here to reinforce what blog readers already know-that Highclere is not only a film set and a beautiful historic treasure house but a family home and a working estate, where history is alive and the phrase ‘what is a weekend?’ seems to be more appropriate than ever.