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Conversations That Matter

Lady Almina: The Real Countess of Downton Abbey

April 6, 2016

Conversations That Matter features Lady Fiona, current Countess of Carnarvon, who is an historian and author of Lady Almina, about the woman whose real-life story formed the basis of Downton Abbey. The real story is even more fascinating than Downton Abbey. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, and would have been shut out of British society were it not for her father’s position and money.

Lady Fiona says, “When he launched Almina into society, he wanted her to have the chance of marrying into society. I've got a contract in the castle archives — the real, bound copy. The contract is a marriage contract between Lord Carnarvon, Alfred de Rothschild and Almina Carnarvon. And the Earl of Carnarvon was practical — he wasn't going to marry for money but there's a very good Jane Austen line that goes ‘It would be foolish to marry without money’.”

Over the course of their marriage, Lady Almina transformed Highclere Castle into one of the great party houses of all time. When war broke out in 1914, she poured her father’s resources into transforming the castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers. She quickly realized the need surpassed the estate’s capacity. Employing her father’s wealth, she leased a big building in London on Harley Street and opened Lady Carnarvon's London Hospital. Lady Fiona, shares, She carries on with that until the end of the war. After her father's death she then opens a subsequent hospital in London called Alfred's House, in memory of her father and she runs it until 1941.”

Lady Almina's marriage to the Earl of Carnarvon was storied, and it includes a fascinating footnote related to the richest archaeological discovery ever. Working with Howard Carter, the Earl funded and joined in the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Stuart McNish

Stu McNish is a trainer, speaker, video producer and award-winning television reporter. Over the course of his career Stu has taught countless professionals how to prepare for media interviews and to speak in public. As a television reporter with Global TV, Stu won numerous awards for his work, ended the careers of politicians, spoke out on behalf of those who didn't have a voice and made a difference.

In 1998, Stu left reporting and created Oh Boy Productions, a production company producing truly compelling videos for TV, corporate clients, government agencies and not-for-profits.

More stories by Stuart McNish

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