Noviembre 2022


Much is known and has been written about the popular British series, created by Julian Fellowes, first broadcast in the UK in 2010 and winner of numerous awards including several Emmys, Golden Globe and BAFTAs. However, there is one aspect of its location that is still not widely known.

Highclere Castle today

The fictional Downton Abbey, which chronicles the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, is set in Yorkshire. However, the exterior shots and much of the interior filming took place at Highclere Castle, a stately country house in Hampshire. A visit to the mansion motivated by an interest in visiting the location for the series, which in itself does not disappoint, also allows the visitor to unexpectedly enter the world of Ancient Egypt. What is the connection?

Carter and Lord Carnarvon at the entrance of Tutankhamun’s tomb

Highclere Castle is the Country Manor of the British aristocratic Earls of Carnarvon, whose ancestors lived there since 1679. Among the whole saga of the Earls of Carnarvon, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, is the most famous and the main character of this story. It was under the patronage of Lord Carnarvon, as he was known, that the excavations of British archaeologist Howard Carter led to the discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, an event that is celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

Lord Carnarvon inherited Highclere Castle from his father, as well as Bretby Hall in Derbyshire from his maternal grandmother. His marriage to Alamina Wombwell, supposedly the illegitimate daughter of millionaire banker Alfred de Rothschild, made him an extremely wealthy man, thanks to the marriage settlement and Rothschild’s generosity to his daughter. A great enthusiast of motor racing, Lord Carnarvon was forced to give it up by an accident that took its toll on his health for the rest of his life. After a long convalescence, and on medical advice, he often went to Egypt with Lady Alamina for the winter. It was there that he became a passionate amateur Egyptologist, investing vast sums of money in acquiring Egyptian antiquities for his collection in England and sponsoring several archaeological excavations, the most successful of which the one that led Howard Carter to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun, the only one to date to have been found intact. The support of Lady Alamina was crucial for Lord Carnarvon, who, thanks to their long and happy marriage, was able to pursue his passion. That support continued even after the Earl’s death when she continued to fund Carter until all the work of excavating the tomb and recording all the objects had been completed. For the times in which she lived, Alamina was an extraordinary woman who, during World War I, devoted great efforts to helping others and turned Highclere Castle, like Downton Abbey, into a hospital for wounded officers.

Lord Carnarvon was one of the earliest car owners and drivers and over the course of his life, the 5thEarl owned more than 60 cars

That is why a visit to Highclere Castle today allows the visitor to find, in addition to the exteriors immortalised in the series, the gardens designed by Capability Brown and the rooms where the life of the televised Crowley family unfolds, the lesser known but no less interesting Egyptian Exhibition. This consists of six rooms where part of Lord Carnarvon’s private collection of antiquities is exhibited alongside a recollection of the events that led to the discovery of the most famous of Ancient Egyptian tombs.

To find out more::

  • “Lady Alamina and the Real Downton Abbey. The lost legacy of Highclare Castle” by the Countes of Carnarvon. Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.
  • https://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/

All the images form Lady Carnarvon’s blog (https://www.ladycarnarvon.com/)