Category: History

King Charles I of England

King Charles I

The portraits in the Dining room at Highclere tell the story of the English Civil War. The most magnificent painting, dominating the room, is that of Charles l on horseback at the gates of Paris by Anthony van Dyck. Painted around 1633, there is a wealth of detail, largely symbolic, in the drama of the scene. It projects the image of a wise leader, a powerful warrior and one who embodies the divine right to rule. In reality, he was, perhaps, not so wise. He failed to listen and compromise, catapulted England into civil war and sixteen years [...]
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Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun

In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. It could be considered the first global world media event. It was, and is, a marvellous story about treasure, tragedy and of course, a curse. Despite the significance of the discovery, the first biography of Howard Carter was not written until 1972 and I have yet to write one about Lord Carnarvon!

So I sat down to watch last night’s  TV programme about the discovery of Tutankhamun with some anticipation. The problem for Highclere is that the 5th Earl was a real, not a fictional character. [...]
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Philosophy in Wine

Riding along the chalk downlands two miles to the south of where the Castle stands, it is easy to distinguish the prehistoric field lynchets and terraces which must have been part of an intensively settled and farmed landscape. Three thousand years later we still farm this part of the estate, although these ancient fields are just grazed by sheep to conserve the visible remains of the past.

There are crop marks, boundaries and platforms where small homes- huts- may have been built. They lie around the monumental remains of the fort on Beacon Hill and hence can be dated from Iron [...]
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The Somme

Several summers past, I sat down in the study in the Castle to write “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey”: a story about Highclere before, during and after the First World War. By the end of June, I was writing about the Battle of the Somme which was actually launched on July 1st 1916.

Historical statistics relate that one million men were killed or wounded, but how can we imagine the lost sons, husbands and brothers?  I was also writing about Almina’s hospital at Highclere, the nursing and the world of medicine, the attempts to heal. I read that 400 [...]
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Trade Winds

I have been going into some detail researching the 4th Earl of Carnarvon as he appears in my next book. As usual, I get easily distracted. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, to give him his full name, was deeply involved in Victorian politics and held the post of Colonial Secretary in two conservative governments, initially under Lord Derby and then under Benjamin Disraeli. As Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon decided to buy himself a yacht in order to carry out his duties.

 

 

It was called the “Marcia”, 165 tons, 94 ft 5” long, 20 ft 5” broad, 10 ft 6” deep; designed and [...]
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The House on the Hill

I have just returned from a beautiful historic house built on a hill in Farmington, Connecticut to our own home, Highclere, built on an even larger hill. It was incredibly busy at Hill-stead with teas, talks, lunches, gala dinners and various interviews for press or PBS.

Additional requests for a few words over dinners always make me pause because I end up thinking about what is at the heart of the event. Hill-Stead is a gem, a house designed by an architect who was a woman, around an outstanding art collection. She was a contemporary of Almina, the 5th Countess of [...]
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Sheep and Tax Collecting

One thousand acres of Parkland lie around Highclere Castle, and of course the best mowing machines are sheep. We have about 1,600 ewes and theoretically, this year, about 3,000 lambs.  The ewes are North Country Mules  and are good at surviving the cold winter winds and weather on the downland beyond the Park. The lambs are mostly born in March inside the old lambing barns under Beacon Hill, two miles south from the Castle. Caz is, as ever, in charge of the lambing operation and she does a great job running the shifts through the night. It is an intense [...]
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Balancing The Books

One of the hats I wear is that of treasurer to Highclere church.  My husband helps me by counting the incoming money which always takes much longer than you think it will. There are piles of coins all over his desk, nothing quite adds up but we seem to bank more on God’s behalf than should be there which, I suppose, is at least the right way round. Now the time of year approaches when I have to produce the year end accounts (December 31st) and the prospect hangs over me. I keep meaning to sit down but so far have [...]
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From Paris to Billiards.

Everyone at Highclere has been touched and heartbroken by the terrible tragedies that unfolded in Paris. The destruction and grief that has been continuing around the world in the wake of these endless attacks is awful as people live afraid, “strangers … in a world they never made” to quote A E Houseman. It is the merciless and random nature of the violence. At the same time, there have been some amazing moments of unity and kindnesses which it would be wonderful to “bottle”.  Let us hope they continue.

In between everyday life here at Highclere, I still find moments to [...]
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Highclere Plane Search Team

10.30 am and the Highclere plane search team had congregated by the Castle tearooms for our next expedition. This time we were joined by an eye witness: Colin had lived at Highclere as a young boy throughout the Second World War and actually seen some of the planes go down into the hills and woods over the Estate.

His father, Jack, was something of a legend and had held on to the ropes of Geoffrey de Havilland’s plane as it was preparing to take off for the first time here at Highclere in 1910. I was watching Colin as we drove [...]
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