Synopses & Reviews
"This follow-up to the well-received Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is an excellent depiction of English aristocratic life, notably of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, Lady Catherine, during the years leading up to and during WWII. A 'flirtatious and fun' beauty, American-born Catherine Wendell married Lord Porchester, nicknamed Porchey, who became the 6th Earl of Carnarvon after his father, a renowned Egyptologist credited with discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun, died in 1923. Catherine and Porchey partied during the carefree Roaring '20s with other British nobility until the war encroached, bringing air raids, crumbling infrastructure, death and food shortages; their home, Highclere Castle, became a sanctuary for London's young children, and its expansive property-a troop training ground. Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey is Highclere Castle's fictional 'alter ego'; much of the 8th (and current) Countess of Carnarvon's genealogical and historical research-diaries, letters, and photographs-is from Highclere's archives, which create a compelling portrait of the era's lives, deaths, politics, scandals and the war's impact on Porchey and Catherine's family. Lady Carnarvon's narrative is a vivid time-stamp of a tempestuous period in history, aptly incorporating its political situation and social structure, to satisfy history buffs and Anglophiles.
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About the Author
A lively follow-up to Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
, Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey
tells the story of Catherine Wendell, the beautiful woman who married the married the man who would become the 6th Earl of Carnarvon and presided over Highclere Castle. Catherine first met Lord Porchester (Porchey), the son of Lady Almina, in Gibraltar. At just nineteen and utterly entrancing, she had already received many proposals of marriage and immediately caught twenty-three year-old Porchey's discerning eye.
They married in 1922, and after the unexpected death of Almina's husband, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, they moved into Highclere Castle, the central character for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey. Beset by death duties and money problems, the Earl and Countess were unsure if they could afford to keep Highclere. Thanks to the sale of the decade at Christies Auction House, hundreds of cherished paintings went under the hammer, from a Leonardo da Vinci to works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney. Porchey even sold the famous family pearls. By 1926 Catherine and Porchey knew they could stay.
Over the next few years, the young couple entertained at Highclere, sharing it with royalty and friends from London society. Catherine was much loved by the staff and adored by her husband and two young children. Although Almina still occasionally came to stay, Catherine’s own American mother, Mrs. Jacob Wendell, was the most regular visitor.
By 1936, Catherine and Porchey’s marriage had become increasingly troubled. Devastated, Catherine bravely unravelled her marriage. Porchey hastily travelled to New York to marry his new lover, who, however, ran off the night before the wedding with a Hollywood mogul.
Now in London with her children, Catherine fell in love with a handsome and charming man, whom she married in 1938. Porchey continued at Highclere, having to find new staff (the old staff accompanied Catherine to London) and marrying the famous Austrian actress Tilly Losch on the day war broke out in 1939. Catherine’s husband joined the navy while Porchey’s new wife quickly left for America.
Highclere Castle and the Estate were turned into homes for evacuee children as well as lodging for soldiers. Porchey joined the war effort as an army adjutant (later a liaison officer) and was commended by the Americans stationed near Highclere. Catherine and Porchey’s son Henry also joined the war in 1943 and fought in Italy. Like other wives and mothers, Catherine endured the unbearable stress of waiting for news of two beloved people in her life.
Using copious materials – including diaries and scrapbooks – from the castle's archive, the New York Times Bestselling author the Countess of Carnarvon brings alive a very modern story in a beautiful and famous setting, paying particular attention not just to the goings on upstairs, but also to the butler, footmen, and other staff whose lives downstairs kept the Castle moving forward into the twentieth century.
Reading Group Guide
FIONA, the 8th Countess of CARNARVON married Geordie, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon in 1999, and they acceded to Highclere ten years ago upon the death of Geordie’s father. Highclere has become one of the most famous houses in England as the location for the PBS series Downton Abbey.
Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey
tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the setting for Julian Fellowes’s Emmy Award-winning PBS show Downton Abbey
, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Catherine Wendell.
In this transporting companion piece to the New York Times
bestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey,
Catherine, a beautiful and spirited American woman who married Lady Almina’s son, the man who would become the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, presides over the grand estate during a tumultuous time for the British aristocracy. Following the First World War, many of the great houses of England faded as their owners fortunes declined in the new political and social world of the 1920s and 1930s. As war loomed, Highclere’s survival as the family home of the Carnarvons was again in the balance—as was peace between the nations of Europe.
Using copious materials—including diaries and scrapbooks—from the castle’s archives, the current Countess of Carnarvon brings alive a very modern story in a beautiful and fabled setting, paying particular attention to the staff who provide Highclere Castle with continuity between generations.