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on 23 November 2011
Fascinating book. Well written. She was an incredible woman in the way she was able to organise her life particularly in the use of Highclere for treating wounded soldiers from the Great War. 300 pages with interesting photographs, it could have done with a family tree because I became a bit confused on who was related to whom and how in the early stages. Thoroughly recommended whether or not you are have been follower of Downton Abbey.
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on 8 November 2011
I really enjoyed the extraordinary stories of the real people, upstairs and downstairs, you couldn't make it up! What a woman Almina was. It is part of the attraction of Downton Abbey, the sense of family, the house which holds so many different lives together. I loved all being taken through the Frist World War through the eyes and experiences of real people. A great read.
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on 2 December 2011
I have just finished reading what I think is a very well written account of the lives of the people that occupied Highclere Castle during the period from the late 19th century to around 1925. It is the story of Almina Countess of Carnarvon, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Highclere, during this pivotal period in history that saw in the first world war and the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.

In this sense is it is not so much a biography as telling of the events that had a great influence on the TV series Downton Abbey - this does not detract from the enjoyment in anyway for if you have seen the series you will recognise many of the events and characters that appear in the series. So don't buy the book if you are expecting an in depth biography of Almina, as there are other books that provide that, but see this book as a worthy complement to other books on her life.

The main attraction this volume offers is that it is written by the Countess of Carnarvon and as such there are anecdotes, photographs and events that only she and her family are privy to. I have read most of the books on Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovery of the the tomb of Tutankhamen but there are "behind the scenes" episodes in this book that have not been captured anywhere else. The story of the Earl's death in Cairo, is very well told and moving. The story of Highclere is also moving, when you think of the oppresive taxes that were levied on the landed classes after the war it is indeed a miracle that the house survived, and as Fiona observes, it was probably the longevity of the 6th Earl that preserved the house from attracting those ruinous inheritance taxes that were in place.

In summary a very well written and enjoyable read.
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on 5 November 2011
This book is slick and has many glossy images. But as a comprehensive biography of Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon it's lacking in substance, facts seem to fall from the wind. Among the nice pictures about a dozen images are repeated from a previous Highclere hack entited " Carnarvon and Carter". Sadly, several of the Almina images aren't of Almina at all.

What irks is that it hardly amounts to Almina's half-life - and much of it is only half- told. And as the cut off point in time is 1924, the rest of Almina's life, of almost fifty years is abandoned. Almina's financial skulduggery, her offences against her own children and her carnal affairs (outlined in another recently published biography of the Countess) are, of course, not mentioned. Her relationship with Lord Carnarvon in this portrait lacks any kind of sure grasp of either personality. Both were complicated human beings. The Highclere ghost writer obviously could find nothing to say, and could not expose the truth that the parties were not in love or lovers and that they simply despised each other. Their near thirty-year marriage was the ultimate sham marriage.

There are some good elements to praise, individual soldiers' stories from Almina's term as the matron of Highclere Military Hospital and 48 Bryanston Square, a Royal Flying Corps hospital, during the Great War. It was noteworthy to read the names of a few of the surgeons who operated at Highclere and Bryanston Square hospitals. Whilst it was interesting-ish to read of the endless exploits of Carnarvon's half-sibling Aubrey and his wife Mary and the Dowager Elsie and the Burghcleres (Almina despised them all, except Aubrey, whom she loved and wanted instead of being saddled with the Earl), this alas greatly overshadows Almina's own story. The Highclere ghost writer slips in casual, matter of fact references about Almina here and there - when the narrative is already top heavy with these much lesser figures from her time period. For Downton fans there's dross on real life servants including one called Bates (a name of a servant also in the Abbey). That said, the insight into downstairs has merit. Almina spent long periods down in the servant's quarters at the start of her marriage- hiding from Lord Carnarvon - as she was so scared of him!!

The book is crammed with multiple fact fillers, which would be better in history books relating to the era, the Great War sagas or Tutankhamun but not in a biography of the Countess. The book skates over with frivolity (in a mere sentence) the important trip by the Carnarvons to America in 1903 and much else of importance is omitted. The narrative also replicates the monumental error of placing Lord Carnarvon's serious motor car accident in Germany EIGHT YEARS before it actually happened and citing this incorrectly as the catalyst for him first digging in Egypt.

Reference to Almina's personal staff including her secretary Mary Weekes is worthy and that of one Charles Clout - whom Mary married and it seems Almina acted as cupid. But these two people are bystanders. .

But where the book disappointed most iwas regarding evidence (and thus exposing the complete lack of it) on Alfred de Rothschild (the ghost writer irritating refers to him, as " Sir Alfred") as Almina's biological father. Here the official testimony offers NO evidence whatsoever to support Alfred as Almina's father, indeed the ghost writer declares ". the question of Almina's paternity can't be conclusively determined with any certainty...." Indeed, well how about a DNA test, then?

The man named on Almina's birth certificate as her father, Fred Wombwell (who might well have been Almina's real father), was a rakish figure, but the book sticks the knife in much further than justified - just to make sure Fred's memory is totally expunged - he's branded as a drunkard and a thief.

A much deeper slur on the Wombwells is that the book makes no reference to the loving relationship between Almina and her brother, also named Frederick Wombwell, a devoted sibling that she raised a memorial window to after his early death in 1912. This window (dedicated in 1913) is to be found at St Michael and All Angels Church, Highclere. Of course there's no mention of this in the book. Shame on them!

Another agonising stream throughout the book are the references to show Almina as the dutiful wife, and even more absurd, of her constantly nursing the 5th Earl and that it was this wife driven dedication that led to her taking up nursing as a vocation. That never happened. Almina rose to take up nursing to do something useful (it was her sole decision, after years of frustration as a show-wife) and to get out of the reaches of Carnarvon's hysteria and fretting about not being able to go to Egypt because of the Great War. The Earl had his male helpers, his valet, and physician. The book is a real missed chance at using sources inside Highclere.
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on 4 September 2012
I bought this fabulous book as I loved watching Downton Abbey and love our English Heritage and these amazing castles.

The book is simply amazing and surpassed expectations. If you love the TV show Downton Abbey you will simply adore the book on Lady Almina and Highclere and want to know more about the Carnavon family and Highclere. I love the way it is written and easy to read with fabulous historical detail about the war, which I have to say, I did not know. I've also never been interested in historical accounts and am now considering finding something else along these lines (any suggestions welcome). I loved the facination Lord Carnavon had with Egypt and would have liked more detail, but I guess there is only so much you can put in one VERY VERY readable and thoroughly enjoyable book. I hope the Countess of Carnavon has read the reviews and taken the comments on board and might well be considering putting pen to paper again! Although I guess its very hard work! I just finished this book in time to watch the next series of Downton Abbey coming soon. Sept 2012.
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on 1 February 2012
Received this wonderful book for Christmas and read in two days over the holidays. I, like many others love Downton Abbey-yes it is abit of a historical soap but so what it's just relaxing lovely t.v. I admired highclere castle from the tv series and knew nothing of the history of the house or of the many owners. The story of Lady Almina and her husband was simply fascinating - I almost felt as if I was transported to another time. I'm not sure if the Countess of Carnarvon has written anything before, or if she used a ghost written and just put her name to it. Personally I found the book very well written, entertaining, engaging the descriptions were fascinating the detail of Almina's life her family all blended together to make a very easy and enjoyable read. I would have liked to learn more about the house but perhaps thats her next project. More about the house, other owners and staff please-the downton craze hasn't ended yet!

A recommended read for all fans of well written historical biographies and of course for lovers of downton abbey.
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on 24 June 2013
Lady Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon,was a formidable lady, not unlike Bess of Hardwick, whose biography I recently read. "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey" was written by Fiona, current countess of Carnarvon, and it makes a compelling read.

At times in this book I felt, too, that Lady Almina was a bit like Florence Nightingale; she was a brilliant gem of hope during the horror of World War I, running her hospital for wounded soldiers at Highclere Castle, and ensuring that the highest standards were observed,and that the patients had the best of everything, using her enormous fortune from her father, Alfred Rothschild.

Almina, we are told, was "sustained... in the enviable position of being both well loved and also gifted with every material thing she desired". Although she clearly loved good living, extravagant party-giving, and spending money, yet she ultimately used her great wealth for the good of humanity.

This is a wonderful book, containing a moving story of dramatic changes, from the world of aristocratic Edwardian wealth and prestige, through to the nightmare of World War I, amazing and courageous work by Lady Almina and her hospital staff, caring for wounded soldiers; and with the additional fascination of the story of her husband's discovery, together with Howard Carter, of Tutenkhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings... and of his tragic death not long after.

I thoroughly recommend this book not only to those who love Downton Abbey, but to all those interested in history and culture.
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on 4 January 2012
Not being a huge fan of Downton I wasn't sure what to expect of this book, but found myself completely engrossed from the title if I am honest. Lady Almina was an incredible woman what a fascinating life she had and from day dot. Having been fortunate enough to speak briefly with the Countess after one of her talks, she told me that she wrote the book herself and all her research has come from Highclere archives and direct conversations with family and friends of Lady Almina which are all very reliable sources, therefore I don't agree at all with the first review from 'William' who I am guessing may well be William Cross writer of a 'non-published' and 'non-official' book about Lady Almina. I am now going on to read another title referenced in the book called Forward the Rifles by David Campbell, who was nursed wonderfully nursed by Lady Almina. I can absolutely recommend this book to anyone who wants to disappear into a different world, full of glamour, drama and love, very much like a Downton Abbey story line!!
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on 28 February 2015
I have to admit I've never even seen one episode of Downton Abbey but the subject matter itself of this book appealed to me. Whilst the first part is fairly interesting, I think the story really takes off when the Great War starts and Highclere is turned into a hospital. The author has made a good job of bringing home how much it meant to those soldiers and their families and also of explaining what was going on - in basic terms - in the various theatres of war at the time, giving the situation more gravitas. I'm sure there is far more that could be told about Almina, and her life. This seems rather a potted history - the war years alone could fill an entire book easily - but it's a good place to start. I enjoyed the read and would recommend it.
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on 23 January 2012
My name is Angie and I'm an Abbey Addict. I received this book for Christmas and once I started it, I could not put it down. It was interesting to not only learn more about Almina, but the Canarvon family and the roles they played in the Great War. I also enjoyed that it was a true story. The current Countess' passion for the Canarvon line is evident and contagious. Should you choose to read this book, be prepared to be called "anti-social" because you'll hardly be able to pull yourself away.
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