Love & All That

Valentines’ weekend was different this year. For the last six Februarys, Downton have been parked up with innumerable white lorries crowding the gravel around the Castle. This year the crew and actors have dispersed to follow other paths and Highclere is building a new calendar for itself.


As a result, this weekend, instead of the Downton lorries, we welcomed small groups of visitors for a valentines afternoon tea and then held an evening champagne reception. The oak staircase was decorated with a charming rose garland, champagne flowed and the choir were led by a wonderful soprano who sang “O mio bambino caro” in the Saloon just like Dame Kiri te Kanawa sung for Downton. In fact Dame Kiri was following the fictional steps of Dame Nellie Melba but there is a non-fiction link in that Dame Nellie used to sing at private soirées by request of Alfred de Rothschild, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon’s father.


To mark the occasion I chose and printed a small collection of poems about the many sides of love and companionship for the guests to take as a memento. There were some obvious choices:  Robbie Burns, whose poems reflect his enthusiasm and love for women (he certainly embarked on many romantic relationships), Sir Philip Sidney, Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth and Robert Browning, especially since the latter stayed at Highclere. John Donne’s poems and life have been part of my reading and study since school years and thus I included “The Good Morrow”.   Likewise, I have always loved the poems of Yeats and I chose the one which begins:

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire…”

To counterbalance the poetry I added in some wonderfully acerbic comments by the likes of Mae West and Noel Coward:

“Love thy neighbour – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier” ( Mae West) , and

“Familiarity breeds contempt, but without a little familiarity it’s impossible to breed anything.”(Noel Coward).

I ended with Winston Churchill’s tribute:

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me”


The celebration of St Valentine’s Day is a bright point in a wintry and, in Britain, very rainy month, although the roots of the association with St Valentine are obscure (He was a 3rd century Roman Saint). Our personal celebration relates to our marriage which took place in the Savoy Chapel, a small beautiful church in London. Every year, everyone who has been married in that church is invited back to a special service on a date near February 14th to remember, to give thanks and to repeat their vows.  Some of the congregation are only recently married, some like us can count a good few years and one very special couple were celebrating their marriage in 1940. I am not sure Geordie and I will quite achieve that, although I suppose I could always mummify him to aid preservation , quite appropriate really given his Egyptian heritage from his great grandfather’s association with Tutankhamun!



62 Responses to “Love & All That”
  1. Paul Mc Taggart says:

    Fantastic photos of what was a fantastic weekend had by all who were very lucky to attend Valentines weekend at the Castle, Wonderful words as always Lady Carnarvon, I had the sneaky peeky behind the scenes seeing this all coming together it gave you that warm feeling that Valentines day dose 🙂

  2. Diane Bennett says:


  3. Jane Hrabak says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate your years together, by having a grand party, following a renewal of that which is most sacred. Many Congratulations to you, and best wishes as you begin another year of adventures at Highclere!
    Thank you again for sharing your life with us, wherever we may be, and bringing us together in your world.

  4. laney says:

    …lovely…and blessings…laney

  5. Lauretta McMillen says:

    I look forward to reading your wonderful stories about life at Highclere and loved the description of Your Valentine’s weekend. I especially enjoyed reading about the book of poetry you compiled as a momento of the day. Each time I read about Highclere I fondly remember the wonderful day I spent when I took a tour of Highclere last May. That day was the

  6. Lauretta McMillen says:

    highlight of my trip to England. Thank you.

  7. Elizabeth Bogucki says:

    For many here in the U.S. Valentines Day has become very commercial – just one more excuse to sell greeting cards, flowers and candy. But St. Valentines day is a wonderful time to celebrate all types of love – not just the romantic variety. Love of friends, family, tradition and home should be recognized as well. Reading your story about the Highclere party was so enjoyable. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to gather for a celebration of love.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      It was lovely and the little pearls of poems I hope gave pause for thought. They are a reminder to me of the getting old together bit as well as falling in love part.

  8. Heather L. says:

    Oh that rose garland is just stunning!!!! Would have loved to see it in person. What a special tradition to invite couples back to the chapel they were married in! Wow, that is so impressive to have a couple there married in 1940! We had a lovely Valentine’s Day tea with my extended family and I used the gargantuan silver-plated tea service I was recently given. It is Downton Abbey proportions and almost looks silly (some would say it does look silly!) in our modest home but it was so fun to use and certainly added a note of festivity to the proceedings!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      It sounds as if the tea service made it an occasion and it was fun. Such a service was made to be used not just stored …

    • Marilyn Slagel says:

      Always, always use the “good stuff.” I would love a Valentine tea like that. I agree – the rose garland looks magnificent. I so loved my visit to Highclere in 2014. 🙂

  9. Vickie V. says:

    How wonderful is that rose garland on the stairs, so delicate. But the poems were best. I’m glad you mixed it up. Nice touch.

  10. Catherine from Greece says:

    Love at Highclere Castle for the Valentine Weekend…how lovely it must have been. It is always a joy to read your blogs. Perhaps in the future we may see a published copy of a “Love at Highclere” with the collection of poems. Was not Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 included?
    “…Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove.
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”
    I had a February 10th wedding, and a dear 30 years of marriage, so Valentine’s day remains special as always. It must be so nice to see Highclere filled with friends and visitors for special events , now that the “white lorries” have gone. (though Downton lves on in-spirit) .
    Sorry to see that this year’s Easter Egg Hunt is cancelled due to your very early Easter, (March 27). However, think about having a “First-of-May” event …gather-ye-flowers and Spring wreath making that Sunday. May 1st will be Greek Easter this year, so we will definitely be out in the fields, collecting wild flowers for May wreaths, and also roasting the lamb-on-the-spit ! ‘Sending you some Greek February sunshine now!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am looking forward to your sunshine!! Thank you for reminding me of that sonnet, I have just bought a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets to dip into.
      It was so sad cancelling the Easter Egg hunt but a realistic decision given the paddlling ducks in what should be fields for parking…- next year Easter falls mid April so we can plan for a fun day then!

  11. Cynthia says:

    Your event sounds beautiful!
    That staircase is so beautiful, one of these days I will get to see it in person, hopefully!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      The staircase was a great success – Sally and the gift shop team (her green elves) started making the garlands some time ago.

  12. Lisa says:

    Beautiful! I imagine the house was also filled with the aroma from all of those gorgeous roses. What a nice idea to make a Love book – perfect poems to mingle with the cute quotes. And the church ceremony sounds like a lovely tradition. Does Lord Carnarvon know of your after-life plans for him? hah hah 🙂 Happy Valentine’s to you both and wishes for many, many more happy years together!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      As usual he has not read my blog!!!

    • Lisa says:

      Ha! My husband never reads my writings. If I want him to know about something I have to tell him directly or read it to him out loud. (He especially loves the latter.)

  13. Dori says:

    I hope you continue to write your entertaining adventures at Highclere. (Even though Downton is over )
    Please keep those of us who are interested informed about it’s history and I love the photos of your renovations.
    It’s just a small part of England’s history, I know, but you give such color to the telling.
    Thank you

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I think history works best In the smaller real stories against a larger political or economic panoply- it makes the dates and bigger stories more colourful rather than just schoolbook texts …

  14. Allen G says:

    Dear Lady Fiona,

    Greetings from India! Your family castle is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. I enjoy reading your posts and envision the natural and architectural grandeur of Highclere. Sadly, I just managed to catch a few bits of Downtown Abbey and am looking forward to see the rerun (hopefully) soon. I am an unabashed Anglophile to the core (thanks to my Anglo-Indian mother) and love to see Valentines Day celebrated in a manner that is befitting of the event. I look forward to reading many more of your interesting blogs in the future!! Have a wonderful year ahead!! God Bless.


  15. Carol From Pennsylvania (USA) says:

    How I wish I could have been there! I so admire your commitment to keep Highclere in our hearts and minds!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      We are a business but part of that and the culture here is to think what makes people happy, those who work with us and those who visit us.. And that is so often my default sentence in the office. Having had a discussion where we agree on the purpose, my parting shot is often whatever makes you happy because that will help the detail be delivered at the event.

  16. Alison says:

    I was one of the lucky ones who came to the champagne reception last Saturday evening,had THE most enjoyable time & a chat with yourself Lady Carnarvon .
    Alas this weekend is very different back in Shrewsbury ….drinking my birthday champagne from my new Highclere Castle glasses!

  17. Shawnee From Florida (USA) says:

    How Lovely! Thank you for sharing with us. The staircase is beautiful~

  18. Jill Huerter says:

    Thank you for sharing Highclere with all of us around the world who have fallin’ in love with it through the Downton Abbey series. It is appreciated!

  19. Jessica Flinders says:

    We will be coming to the UK in June, in part to celebrate our 35th. It was lovely to see the Valentines decorations and dream of love and Downton and England. For what it is worth, we have a tiny connection to Downton, being related to Flinders Petrie. I do appreciate, really, continuing to get glimpses of a Castle that has captured my imagination. Thank you.

  20. Angelita Galvan Freeman says:

    Thank you for sharing this poignant and elegant event! My hope is that you will continue to open Highclere for public tours. Congratulations on your romantic anniversary. Am wishing you many more years of good health and joy!

  21. Barbara Warren says:

    So enjoyed this post, as all the others! Thank you so much, and I continue to “spread the word” about the real Highclere and it’s wonderful history in my Downton Abbey program I have been presenting at libraries here. Thanks again for your wonderful sharing!

  22. Lorraine Greenfield says:

    It sounds like a wonderful day was had by all, wonderful photo’s, Roses are my favourite flower, and there are some stunners in your photo’s. Thanks as always for sharing with us.xx

  23. Mary Cartlidge says:

    Loved the Coward/West ditties you added to the poetry, great sense of humour!!!! Totally love the blog and love Highclere ! Never forget my visit! THANKYOU !

  24. Kathy Mullins says:

    We’ve been married 41 years. And my husband is my BOYFRIEND.
    I have a question about the house.
    Do the bedrooms depicted in Downton are they size wise about the same as in your home ?
    And do the bedrooms. Or in Downton…..did the rooms have their own baths ?
    I appreciate your blog I’ll never make it across the pond, but you opening your home to the show and now here is just lovely of you, for us to see what we never will in real life. Thank you

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Many of the bedrooms in Downton are my bedrooms .. They film staircases, landings outside roads, garages gardens , state rooms and bedrooms here. Quite a few bedrooms have bathrooms next door and some share. The baths ae huge with old fashioned plugs (they lift, turn and drop) There is no shower In the castle which might surprise you.

  25. The staircase looks gorgeous, thank you for sharing the lovely photos of Highclere’s staircase. I can see Lady Cora and Lord Grantham coming down the staircase in their 1920s vintage clothing, for dinner!

  26. Jenni Cullen says:

    I wasn’t aware of Dame Nellie Melba’s connection with Highclere.My Mother is buried quite close to her in Lilydale.
    Next month we are going to visit her home which has been opened up to the public in recent times.
    The final season of Downton has finally started,and we are thoroughly enjoying it.
    Thanks for the update.
    I pity you with the inclement weather-we are having 38 degrees Celsius on Tuesday so will have to cover all the plants first thing in the morning.Despite that,there is a real Autumn chill in the air this week.

  27. Jeffery Sewell says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    I read that Blog with a smile throughout.
    What an amazing way to celebrate St Valentines Day. Highclere looked a picture – absolutely stunning.
    Very envious of all the guests who obviously we’re very spoilt by their host and (especially) hostess. Commendations on your wonderful gesture of compiling poems and such witty sayings. Is there any possibility of posting a copy of the pages of that compilation on this blog or elsewhere on the website?
    Sorry to read above about the rain interfering with Easter plans already. Sydney has been bathed in sunshine lately but I won’t rub that in.
    I’m very impressed by the Savoy Chapel holding an annual service to commemorate all marriages there. Marvellous.
    Yours sincerely
    Jeffery Sewell
    PS A favourite Yeats of mine (nothing to do with Valentines or Odes) but a wee verse that appeals to that part of my Irish ancestory:
    “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

    • Jeffery Sewell says:

      I should add to the above that I realise that 2 copies of your collection of poems adorn the 2nd photo in your blog. But for us bloggers that is such a ‘tease’ without being able to admire the entire contents.
      (Your blog also now undoubtedly has lead other fellow bloggers to attempt to access the recesses of memory in search of some of “William Butler’s” finest pieces, including one of my favourites:
      “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
      And say my glory was I had such friends.”)

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I will talk to our web team and see if they can turn the poems into a PDF or something, I very much like your Yeats quotes – the Irish Ambassador here in london is wonderful and a Yeats buff. I try to learn some poetry each week to stop my mind becoming indolent.
      We auctioned London London Lodge for the night for the British Heart Foundation and next year I would like to do something additional for them – thinking of hearts ina different way.

  28. Ricky Patient says:

    Lady Carnarvon…….this had made our weekend reading his…pictures of everyone enjoying themselves on a great nights celebration. ….
    keep up the good work …..

  29. Diane Clavareau says:

    I truly enjoyed it! Beautiful idea for Valentine’s Day and then the chapel… Thank you for the image of the staircase, and yes, it is obvious to imagine Lord Grantham and Lady Mary coming down for the festivities. Thank you very sincerely.

  30. Ysabelle says:

    Merci de partager avec nous vos activités à Highclere. Je peux continuer de rêver au-delà de la fiction Downton Abbey.

  31. Carola Ekengren Stockholm says:

    Dear Lady Carnavaron
    I love your pictures of your decoration at the oak stairs. Wonderful!!!
    I have been twice at your castle during 2015. 14 Nov was the last trip. And I will visit you again. You are very generous with your castle and surroundings for public visitors.

    Yours sincerely
    Carola Ekengren

  32. Edna Blue says:

    AWH! Sweet! A gorgeous place to celebrate love. Thank you for sharing your beautiful home to so many and for offering it for the filming of Downton Abbey. I am mesmerized by the series that brought me to England and will cherish the visit I made to your home in 2014. Hoping to return again to the gorgeous city and country side and the wonderful people that live there.

  33. Andrew Nemeth says:

    Lady Carnarvon, I just wanted to say How I am crying my eyes out on this episode of Downton on Feb.21 Its about 2 romances I have cried this whole entire show!!!

  34. Maggie Rowe says:

    A “Love at Highclere” poetry collection is a fine idea, or a “Love at Downton” collection of poems interspersed with stills from the series, to benefit Highclere estate.
    I lead a drop-in class at a cancer support centre; we find that a good poem restores the spirits and helps everything make sense. Especially with lunch!
    Thank you for your lovely blog.

  35. Cheryl L.Graham says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. February 14th is a special day for my husband and I since it was at a Valentine’s Church Banquet that he and I went on our first date together. I was his Sunday School teacher and wouldn’t date him until his divorce was final, so we settled on that as an alternative. We got engaged on May 18th and married on November18th that same year.

    Through Downton Abbey. we have all got to love your home and the history associated with it. It is with great joy that you continue to share it with us, though the show has ceased. Thank you for your generosity.

  36. Britta Johansson says:

    I enjoy so much to read about traditions in your home and Life and to get some glimpse of history as well. Valentines Day next year I will copy your idea of love poems! When in Scotland I learned “My Luve is like a red red Rose” by heart, in Scottish with Swedish accent! The poem is beautiful as is the picture of your staircase! I love the thought of not thinking it is too much trouble to decorate it!

  37. Lady Carnarvon says:

    It is a good poem and one I look forward to hearing with Swedish accent !

  38. Jessica Rasmussen says:

    I came to your blog only a week or two ago for the first time by googling the name “Thomas Dee Stewart,” who is my great uncle. I was absolutely astounded to find the results of that search led me to Highclere Castle. In 2005 my Mom and sister and I discovered an old box of family records that contained photos of 2nd Lt. Thomas Dee Stewart, a few newspaper articles about his death, and perhaps two dozen original letters he wrote to his parents (my great-great grandparents) in 1943 and 1944, including his last letters just a day or two before his death. I kept the box of his letters hoping to someday locate the crash site and write Dee’s story. I could never have imagined finding it this way. I am filled with excitement to learn more!

    I also have three original letters written by David John Smith of Andover, Hampshire in the 1970’s describing his minimal excavation of the crash site and discovery of Lt. Stewart’s wallet and flight wings which he sent to the family.

    I would very much like to know more about your research and excavation and share with you the pieces of the story that I have.

    Many thanks for the work you are doing in telling the stories of these young men. I cannot tell you how much excitement this is rousing within my branch of the Stewart family. You are becoming the newest “Hero at Highclere.”

  39. Robert Turnage says:

    My wife and I have enjoyed the Downton Abbey series and Highclere Castle immensely. We were thinking of celebrating our 30 wedding anniversary with a trip to London and a tour of your lovely home. However, I don’t see any tours in May. Are there tours in May? Thank you. Robert Turnage

  40. ALISON RUBIN says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    I just stumbled upon your blog, and I have read the one about your Valentine’s Day Celebration. That entry shows not only your dedication to Highclere and to its continuance, but it has also afforded your readers a view of your personality. It seems that you are a true Romantic with a fabulous wit! You are destined to be one of the most important woman to Highclere. My husband and I both loved the Downton Series, and, of course, loved seeing Highclere on TV. Unfortunately, we have hardly traveled throughout our working years ( I am a retired teacher who worked almost year round), but we have had a stroke of good luck! Our dearest friends, the McEwans, born and bred in your historic country, will be going back “across the Pond” and have asked us to tag along! We have booked the Capability Brown tour for a day in May.
    All four of us are “over the moon” with anticipation and excitement! As we wait with bated breath for our upcoming visit, I will share your blog with my husband and our friends. I am looking forward to reading all of it before we leave. What a true treasure you are!

  41. Elizabeth says:

    Hello Lady Carnarvon!

    I love Downton so much, and your home is beautiful! I’m so glad that you can find ways to keep history alive there!

    I just wanted to point out a small typo in your post. I am a classical singer, and the aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, which you had performed and which Dame Nellie Melba performed on Downton Abbey is, “O mio babbino caro” rather than “O mio bambino caro.”

    I look forward to continuing to read this in the future!

  42. Linda Olds says:

    Lady Carnarvon,

    These photos are wonderful; I love roses.

    I recently read your biography of Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon. It was interesting to read about her life, and the times she lived in. It read almost like a novel. I didn’t know much about WWI; she helped many people through a horrible war.

    I’ve only seen a few of the Downton Abbey shows; I’ll have to do a marathon of them on Netflix. I’d love to see the real Highclere Castle the next time I’m in England.

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