Looking and Seeing

Looking and Seeing

Turning the pages of Highclere Castle’s leather bound and engraved visitors’ books is always riveting. They tell their own stories about who was staying here and, as I sit by the fire in the Saloon where the guests must have gathered, I wonder what their conversations were, who told the jokes and anecdotes or what amused them during a weekend visit. Of course their weekends were somewhat more extended than ours are today: most guests left on a Monday not a Sunday and clearly some stayed for a week.

I have been looking through these books for years, long recognising names such as Robert Browning, Salisbury, Peel, Howard Carter, Voisin, Harold Macmillan, TE Lawrence, Charles Rolls,  (as collected together above) or members of the Royal family and yet each time I look again, I see new names.

Sir John A Macdonald and the 4th Earl of Carnarvon

My latest book is about entertaining at Highclere and is based around four real weekends which took place at Highclere during the 19th century and early part of the 20th.  The first one, which makes up the first story in the book, was one of those histories which became ever more interesting the deeper my research led me and forms part of the history Canada’s celebrations of independence this year.

I had chosen that weekend because of its gathering of great Victorian statesmen but at the end of that particular visitors’ page in 1866 are three further names:  J A Macdonald, George Etienne Cartier and Galt. The names at the end of the page were far from footnotes: these names were in fact the prologue to an extraordinary story as they were  the men who were to become the founding fathers of Canada. They had arrived in London in time for the conference led by their host, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon who, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, helped draft the British North America Act.

There are many letters and diary notes charting their progress, as Lord Carnarvon and the leader of the Canadian delegates, John A Macdonald, steered the discussions and clauses through to the creation of a constitution. John A seems to have been a charming man, a dapper dresser, intelligent and determined, above all he was able  to mediate and lead. Both he and Lord Carnarvon had much respect and  developed a lifetime friendship for each other.


Just before Christmas 1866, “John A” returned from Highclere to the Westminster Hotel near Buckingham Palace in London. One night he inadvertently set fire to his bedclothes and only just escaped very serious injury. He was however confined to bed and could not immediately return to Highclere.  Meanwhile Charles Francis Adams (the US ambassador in London) had been asked to stay for Christmas. The son and grandson of two USA presidents, Mr Adams was renowned for a formidable intelligence. Perhaps the idea had been to sit around a fire in the Library, or at the dinner table, to discuss relationships and hopefully find a way forwards. The British Provinces of North America were concerned about US intentions and John A Macdonald and the British cabinet thought that they needed to act swiftly if they were to unite the provinces and create an independent union.

 Lord Carnarvon’s diaries show the concern for  the balance of  authority    between the provinces and central government (there are lists of which powers  and rights he thought belonged where) and he  was keen to protect minority  religious rights in the different  provinces, (Section 93), as well as promote education.





The bill was duly drafted and Lord Carnarvon took this to Parliament in    February 1867. In March it received the Royal Assent and on July 1st 1867    Canada became a Dominion. Thus a whole new and amazing story developed  from a few signatures in an old book.It was fascinating research and I hope, as the years roll on, I shall find other, equally interesting histories.

59 Responses to “Looking and Seeing”
  1. Lorrie says:

    How lovely to read of this connection between my country and Highclere. John A Macdonald was known, not only for his charm, but also for taking a little too much to drink at times. I wonder if that contributed to him setting fire to his bedclothes.

  2. Tracy McNeill says:

    I love reading your blog, and reading the real stories of Highclere. So much history and significance, it’s overwhelming!
    I so want to visit Highclere when we are over in May, even just to see the grounds but we are just out of your opening dates. We arrive on 7th May, and leave on the 22nd of May. If there is any chance for us to be able to just visit the grounds at all? It’s a long way from New Zealand, and also my first trip overseas, and Highclere is my dream, it was the first on my list. I just wish I had looked at the opening dates before we had booked.
    Thank you for your blog, and thank you for taking care of history x

    • Julia Welbon says:

      Dear Ms McNeill, As a fellow enthusiast not connected to the Castle, I don’t know if it will be possible for you to visit, but, for sure, you must phone or email the office directly to see what might work. Perhaps they would be having one of their charity events that you could attach to. Or you might informally be put in the care of a gardener or other staff member for a couple of hours of their regular duties, given how far you will be traveling. Good luck and safe travels.

  3. Brenda Hattie-Longmire says:

    Good morning,

    It is early in the morning here in Atlantic Canada, and I have just finished reading your blog post. Of course, being Canadian, I found his entry fascinating. I was not aware (or, if we learned this in school, I forgot this detail) of the role Lord Carnarvon played in creating the Canadian constitution. What is particularly striking to me is his desire to protect minority religious rights. This and the many rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes me grateful to be a Canadian, especially given what is transpiring in the U.S. As I write, a record number of refugees – most Muslims – are fleeing across our border to Canada, in freezing temperatures, due to fears of discrimination based on their faith. I therefore have a particular appreciation for the information conveyed here, and for Lord Carnarvon’s role in helping to shape the constitutional landscape In which I live. I am even more appreciative of my visit to Highclere in 2014. Thank you for this entry.

    Brenda Hattie-Longmire

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you for your thoughts – Lord Carnarvon the approached the task with fairness. I have a lot to read through!

  4. Catherine Splane says:

    As to the prior post mentioning “what is transpiring in America”, please keep in mind that every nation has its problems, especially Canada. I am American, I love my country, and expect the United States to eventually overcome its problems. Wherever there are lots of people living, there are going to be issues. Every nation experiences problems. Thank you.

  5. Catherine Splane says:

    Correction to my prior post: “what is transpiring in the U.S.” . No country is without problems. Certain groups of people are known to cause problems in every nation. Thank you.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      No journey is smooth it merely preparing for the challenges. Reading letters and diaries however you can glimpse the considered arguments and discussion. I like the way they sat down together – to talk, to dine, to share a glass of wine.

    • Catherine Splane says:

      Yes. To talk. To dine.To share a glass of wine. To soothe life’s bumps and curves. Companionship and discussion are lights in the darkness. My regards to you, your family, your beloved animals.

  6. Matthew Boyd says:

    When a group of people and their ideology believe they are above the law/constitution of the land they live in they forfeit the right to live in that land….. ones religion does not trump the constitution……

    • Catherine Splane says:

      You are correct. No religion trumps the Constitution, none. Expecting people to abide by the law, even when they enter or leave a country, is not “thoughtless”. It is the cold hard truth. I prefer to face it.

  7. Karen Withers says:

    To Brenda Hattie-Longmire: You are correct and thank you for your thoughts about America. I, too, am an American and pray that the current climate of thoughtless recklessness will not last.

    To Catherine Splane: “Certain groups of people are known to cause problems in every nation.” Oh, really? Which groups might they be?

    • Catherine Splane says:

      Every country is burdened with keeping watch over its population from a national security standpoint and private citizen standpoint. Law and order. Groups entering or leaving a nation are scrutinized. We all are scrutinized. Problems will be dealt with. Just the facts. We all would guard our private homes, families 100%, regardless of who (groups, otherwise) might be threatening us, regardless of who enters or leaves.

    • Catherine Splane says:

      “Thoughtless recklessness” emanates from everyone, everyone. No one is exempt. Thank you for your thoughtful (?) comment.

    • Matthew Boyd says:

      It’s obvious to even a child that a certain political movement calling itself a “religion” says that sharia is above the constitution… if you believe that .. fine .. go to a country of your choice that believe’s that…leave behind all your human rights that western constitutions provide … and please do your homework before you post Karen .. ignorance is NOT BLISS…

  8. Vivien Greenley says:

    Thank you Lady Carnarvon for recognising the 150th birthday of Canada and for sharing how Highclere and it’s ancestory have played a part in the events leading up to July 1st 1867. I was born and raised in Canada though now live in England. I remember the centenary celebrations in 1967 and though not in Canada this year to celebrate the 150th birthday, am so pleased to have read your blog. This has helped bring the celebrations a little closer to me here :0)) Canada is so very young in comparison the Britain though it’s always lovely to read how very close we’re connected. Many thanks for the information.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Fascinating. I will be visiting your beautiful home next month with my sister and dear friend. Very much looking forward to your new book. Thank You!

  10. Barbara Warren says:

    So very interesting! Lady Carnarvon I am so very glad that you are so interested in this history and are so willing and able to share it with others! How much you have added with your desire and determination to explore Highclere’s past. Thank you so much! Barbara

    • Barbara Warren says:

      PS I love the art work at the heading of this post!

    • Kim says:

      I agree with you whole heartedly Barbara. Lady Carnarvon is an inspiration, and I enjoy reading anything she cares to write.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you – the sketch is from a Visitor book here . Duncan my computer colleague helped me find a a few signature scans and add them in!

  11. Jeffery Sewell says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    Congratulations on the publication of your latest book. I am very much looking forward to reading it. I very much like the idea of being transported to historically significant events, all set against the backdrop of the resolute calm and charm of Highclere.

    Also, thank you for sharing those amazing photos of extracts from the Visitors Books, diaries and letters. Some historically important documents there and what an amazing story they tell.

    I also should add that it would be remiss to conclude without commenting on the absolutely beautiful photograph of you at your desk, which I assume has been taken to promote your new book. Stunning!

    Finally, for overseas (ie non- UK) purchasers, like me, do you recommend purchasing through amazon or will it be available online through the Highclere Online Shop? Are there any autographed copies available to purchase?

    Thank you and again congratulations on the book release.

    Jeffery Sewell

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you Jeffrey. I am signing books for here and the book will be on sale in bookshops/Amazon UK and then bookshops/Amazon USA in June. It is quite a big book so I was thinking that I might also produce a large postcard, with a photo/extra recipe that I can sign and post the card to those who have bought the book from Amazon /bookstores – I thought that might be a nice thing to do – what are your thoughts?

    • Jeffery Sewell says:

      That sounds like a wonderful idea and a very kind gesture on your part.
      My order has now been processed through Amazon.
      Best wishes for the release of the book tomorrow.

  12. Lisa says:

    Oh, I love the collection of old signatures! They show glimpses into each personality, with the flourishes and little drawings. Reading those books by a fire, in the same room where such recognized personages had gathered, sounds like a slice of heaven to me. Deciphering some of that script – not so much, haha! But what fascinating stories there must be, and thank you for sharing this one about the founding of Canada. Highclere’s tendrils have always seemed to span the globe! By the way, you look spring-fresh and gorgeous in that shade of blue! 🙂

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I find Lord Carnarvon’s handwriting easy to read but Sir John A’s much harder! You are right signatures are so interesting – the steadiness of hand or the emphatic underline.

  13. Josee hawkins says:

    I am so glad you are researching all this fascinating stuff ! Gosh, just think it would have withered away and been lost. I have been told that history was dominated by Macaulay and that there were other stories out there..but your research gives a much broader picture of fascinating times and people.. Thank you.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am not sure the journey to 1st July 1867 for Canada is all explored. I enjoy the detail: Lord Carnarvon confirming with the Royal household what Mr Galt should wear…

  14. Jean says:

    Wow – Highclere becomes more and more amazing every time you post. I grew up in Rochester New York and have always loved Canada. My Mom had a tradition of visiting the Canadian falls once each year as far back as I can remember into the 60’s. Our family also had a tradition of fishing for smelts along the St. Lawrence river each Christmas. Hockey, maple syrup, great cheese and stunning scenery. We are blessed to share this border with you all.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Lord Carnarvon’s speech about Canada as he introduced the bill fro the Dominion of Canada is inspiring and full of the promise of a great and bountiful land and yet I then find the signature of Charles Adams (and wife and daughter) – such a respected American with whom he discussed the US constitution.

    • Kathy Stewart says:

      Hi Jean! I grew up in Hilton, NY, live in Rochester, too. I agree with your comments about the products in Canada and your description of Canada in general. We are, indeed, blessed to share the border with this wonderful country. My grandparents came from England and I look forward to Lady Carnarvon’s blogs as well. I don’t expect to ever see Highclere Castle, but her blogs give me a great deal to research. Hoping you and everyone have a great day.

  15. Chrissy says:

    Love Love Love your attention to history – can’t wait to read the book when its out! Keep up the great work – I appreciate all the digging and finding …..

  16. May I say how wonderfull it is to look back in time to see and kind of feel how others used to live, from the times gone by I have been looking at the life and times of Watkin Williams Wynn of North Wales, there was one feast that was laid on for many of his tenants of his land, now the food and drink that was transported from Liverpool by horse and cart was tremendous. May I say Lady Caernarvon I love reading your blogs and hope I could pay a visit to Highclere soon. Regards J Davies.

  17. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you – I need to find time, that is the one thing …

  18. Britta Johansson says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon!
    This is most interesting to read! Important discussions, shaping a new world, taking place in front of the logfire and at the diningtable in your home! These glimpses of history we did not find in our schoolbooks. That is why your research is so fascinating. I am very much loooking foreward to your next book! Then I have an appeal. Can you find out if Winston Churchill had some important meetings at the castle, which could be of interest, maybe in a new book? I read everything I can find about this extraordinary and important man – for Europe and I would say, for the world. For the moment I dive into “Assignment Churchill” by his lifeguard Thompson. Churchill had many strings to his bow and cannot be compared to any man in history or nowadays.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I believe Winston Churchill came here – although after the Second World War- i think I have seen a photo somewhere.. I found some great stories during WW2 whilst writing “Catherine” but I could not include them all in that book and I just need to figure out how to share them. I hope people might enjoy this latest book and that will then give me direction on the next one.

  19. Victoria Greene says:

    Love your writing! Looking forward to picking up your latest.!

  20. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you – the modern story of a weekend is very much in the style of this blog although I must quickly add the page layout and typesetting is very good whereas I sometimes struggle to lay out each blog!!

  21. Vicki Duncan says:

    The idea of such important diplomatic work being done as friends before an open fire in the comfort of your home is an idea whose time should be revisited! After recently rewatching Season 6 of DA I was reminded again how very forward I look to visiting Highclere in the future. The history of your home is quite alive…

  22. Maria Morton says:

    I have read and thoroughly enjoyed your two books “Lady Almina” and “Lady Catherine” and I am looking forward to your new book. Thank you for these wonderful blog entries.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you – I hope again the short stories are in the same tone as the earlier books and the photos share some of the beauty and the quirky corners!

  23. Amy Hunt says:

    This is a fascinating and beautiful post. I, too, find the artwork and guestbook pages wonderful to see. Have all of these pages been transcribed into a readable format or is that happening as you go through them? Thank you for taking the time to unearth and to flesh out these guests of yesteryear. But, where to find the time! Thank you for including the lovely picture of yourself! Looking forward to the book.

  24. If the walls of Highclere Castle could speak…what tales they would tell! Always a joy to read your blogs and delve into the history of Highclere and the Carnarvons. Can’t wait to purchase your new book. Interesting to read the writings and see the signatures in this blog, thank you for posting them, so fascinating really! And I noticed there is a “Carnarvon” in Australia, what might be the history behind that place?

  25. Manuela says:

    Very intetesting histories. Thanks for share! Is anazing read olds papes about the family.

  26. Lady Carnarvon says:

    It is amazing – I wonder what we will all leave..

  27. Lori says:

    Like always I enjoy all of your blogs.Although I don’t live in England.Your blogs sure make me feel like I was there.I love the opportunity to read your blogs about the castle, as well as the research you’ve done l.It was interesting to read about the connection between my country (USA) and your country (England ).Please don’t give up on your blog writing, as I enjoy all of your blogs.Pleasantly concluded from Peoria, IL.

  28. Kim Elliott says:

    This brings such relevance and excitment as we celebrate our 150th birthday this year!
    thanks SO MUCH for sharing this with us!
    A Proud Canadian who had the privilege to visit Highclere Castle last summer,
    Brantford Ontario Canada

  29. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Thank you – I was rather amazed to find Charles Adams here in December 1866 – it then leads me into other lives and moments in time. He was a key envoy for Lincoln as the USA emerged from its civil war.

  30. Linda Olds says:

    I’ve read your books about Lady Almina and Lady Catherine and found them interesting and informative–history that reads like novels. I’m looking forward to reading your new book.
    It must be fascinating to live in a place with so much history. If I were there, I’d probably spend too much time looking at it all and never get the books written! I’m looking forward to reading your new book.
    I’m from the U.S., and I have been to Canada dozens of times, mostly Nova Scotia and Ontario. I love Canada, even if some Canadians think that they’re “kinder and gentler” than us! LOL

  31. Amy Smith says:

    Thank you SO much for including the photos of the signatures, the letters, and the fantastic sketch at the top of the post. I believe I would be a hermit in your attic, never to be seen again! You asked about ideas for gathering some of this into new books, and I would like to say that photos of parts of the castle and outbuildings, showing wonderfully historic things that we (in younger nations) do not see, would be fantastic! And old photos, showing the tools ladies used to get dressed/made up/hair done, photos of their closets (if any exist?), VERY old letters back and forth describing elements of being at Highclere for a weekend, etc… I,for one, would LOVE to see the stables and barns, and old photos of the horses, and grooms, and tack rooms, and guests going out with these, and the dogs, and the carriages that must have been in use there over the years. I had the honor of visiting HIghclere three years ago, and I also have the guidebook, but I have never seen any mention of the stables or barns or horses there (except your current beauties – I love those blog posts especially), or carriages. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cat, either, but we all love your doggies! Thank you so much for all you share – it is a joy! And I would love to know – whose music is that at the top right of the signature page? I could not read the writing.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      There are quite a few old photos in the new book – that was why I have done a larger format one with beautiful photographs. I will really look forward to seeing what you think of it!

  32. Pauline Taylor says:

    I am amazed and delighted to have found such an interesting blog about Highclere and particularly your interest in the names in the visitors’ book. This is particularly fascinating aspect to me as my relative, Frederick Francis Greenwood, was a regular visitor and was, I believe, well known to Lord Carnarvon at the time, so I assume that his name must appear.

    Frederick Francis Greenwood was the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette 1865-1880, the St James’ Gazette 1880-1885 and the Anti-Jacobin 1891-1892. My records of his connection with Lord Carnarvon, and his visits to Highclere come from the research of J W Robertson Scott circa 1950 and it is obvious that they both shared an informed interest in the politics of the day. When the relationship began I have not discovered but Mr Robertson Scott includes in his book, about the history of the Pall Mall Gazette and its first editor Frederick Greenwood, extracts from letters from Frederick to his daughter, Kate. The earliest of these is dated 1871 and reads: ‘Lord Carnarvon is going to send some venison. What you will do with it I don’t quite know. If Captain E is at home, I should send him some — or all if it is a small joint, wh. it will not be probably.’

    In 1880 he wrote a note from Highclere addressed to ‘My very dear Kate’ and in 1885 he talks of a conversation with Lord Salisbury and Lord Carnarvon. Later the same year he refers to being at Lord Carnarvon’s again: ‘A nice small company, with Sir S and Lady Northcote, Sir Matthew and Lady White Ridley, Lady What’s-her-name who was Mrs Lowe, Sir F. D. Acland, with Mrs Howard ( who was very nice to me, and seems a thorough good homely sort of woman for her rank) and her daughter, and of course Lady Winifred, (who is charming) and one of Lord Portsmouth’s daughters.

    Another letter to Kate written circa 1886 (he is not very good at dating letters) reads: ‘ Here’s a piece of news I got in confidence. But can you believe it? Lord S(alisbury) has offered the Viceroyalty of Ireland to Lord Carnarvon. What on earth it means is beyond my intelligence. Were it known, there would be shouts of laughter all over England — grins of delight all over Ireland.’

    One more extract in 1887 tells us that he is staying with the Carnarvons again and in 1890 he mentions another gift of venison from Lord Carnarvon.

    I am sure that there would have been more references to Highclere amongst the letters but, so far, I have been unable to trace what became of them after the family firm of solicitors in Hastings became extinct, but I hope that you will find these of interest. For me it is delightful to see the lovely photographs of rooms in Highclere and to be able to imagine Frederick and the assembled company enjoying drinks and a cigar in front of a roaring fire. Thank you so much for making that possible and please do keep up the good work.

    If anything relating to Frederick Francis Greenwood should come to light during your searches I should love to know.

    very best wishes,

    Pauline Taylor.

  33. Lady Carnarvon says:

    How fascinating – I will look for him! My 1886 story picks up Ireland – we still have venison and a recipe is in this book!

  34. Dee Payne says:

    Greatings from Newfoundland to you, Lady Canarvon!

    Thank you for this extraordinary post – it is by far one of my favourites, given it is about my home and native land.

    Might I also say Congratulations on the publication of your latest book. Well done you!
    I look forward very much to reading it once it becomes available to us across the pond.

    I had the good fortune to visit you wonderful home last August, and obtained your book on Lady Catherine at that time.
    (Hubby swears he caught a glimpse of Lord Canarvon slipping into a slide room as we went up the servant’s stairs- we would have loved to meet you and he whilst there)

    A heartfelt thank you to you and His Lordship, for not only perserving the brick and mortor of this amazing Estate,
    but it’s history and providence as well.

    Is there any chance you can be swayed to come to Canada and maybe even Newfoundland, at some point, to discuss the connection betrween Highclere and Canada?

    Kindest regards

Leave A Comment

Copyright 2017 Lady Carnarvon · RSS Feed · Website Design by MAXX Design