An intriguing afternoon with Lady Carnarvon about The Real Downton Abbey Highclere Castle

An intriguing afternoon with Lady Carnarvon and her insight into life at Highclere Castle, have led us to consider whether the price of grain caused Anglo-American marriages to become popular amongst the British Aristocracy?  

What was the impact of these of ‘Special Relationships?’ Did they  play a significant role in the shaping of society between the late 19th and early to mid 20th century and beyond?

What was the ramification and historic consequence of these liaisons, starting with one Winston Churchill by way of illustration, half American by birth. The introduction to the life of Lady Almina has pointed-us towards an area we will want to explore further. We would not want to spoil Lady Carnarvon’s tale but a little of what we enjoyed might let you consider whether you too would like to hear her speak or read her book.

The Real Downton Abbey at Highclere Castle was charmingly introduced to us by the current Lady Fiona Carnarvon and has sparked much thought and some intriguing further lines of enquiry.  Definitely some great resonance for anyone interested in family, local, social and special interest in British History of the last 200 years or more. What more could you ask from a lovely lunch, nice wines and a great venue.

Quite Illuminating and quite an inspiration: Lady Carnarvon’s compelling presentation to the Ladies Lunch  at The Vineyard (a great long-lunch treat by the way, for any ladies in the Berkshire area)  much could be gleaned, connected and learnt from her colourful and personal insights into Lady Almina and Highclere Castle. It definitely got us thinking…

Just to give you a flavour of the afternoon…Connections include the Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter’s Discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun as an intriguing backdrop to the story of Lady Almina. We were treated to the background to the discovery of the tomb and the circumstances that led to Lord Carnarvon’s death. His collaboration and friendship with Howard Carter was important and sustained. It was closely connected to the insights into the marriage, life and the character of Lady Almina. This makes for both fascinating listening and /or reading.

Take the chance to hear the lady herself (Lady Fiona) speak, do not miss out and/ get a copy of her book ‘Lady Almina & The Real Downton Abbey.’ The book is now available in paperback and an easy flowing, enjoyable read. There is a further book to come we are reliably informed.

Lady & Lord Carnarvon’s current role is not that dissimilar to their ancestors. Their  current life’s work to preserve and keep Highclere (as a home ) as a going concern, in the family, shared ,accessible and self-liquidating so that it can sustain  it’s own community and be enjoyed by the wider public is a tough challenge for any family. The Carnarvons are just adapting and adopting (in true Darwinian spirit) to try and do a great and hard job in a recessionary climate. They aim to make the most of the opportunity presented by the worldwide success of Downton Abbey and why shouldn’t they! It was only, back a  few years in 2009, that the financial future of the castle and estate was in question due to the substantial funding needed to keep it all  in one piece. We all do what we can to both  to protect and hopefully enhance the future for our own families after all.

From listening carefully we got a sense that this mission even to someone marrying in, can be all consuming and it was overwhelmingly clear that it is an authentic passion of the current Countess Fiona.

Sparking some thoughts, potential connections and lines of enquiry to explore this summer: we were intrigued by the fascinating connection between history and the need for aristocratic estates to fund their endeavours to survive through the centuries.

This sparked a series of questions to explore further and desire to discover more facts and evidence as to the social impact of transatlantic marriages on British society and culture over the last two hundred plus years. Almost a project in itself…

The impact of the phenomena of these Anglo-American marriages, how that connects with the traditions and need for Anglo-Colonial marriages to sustain the development and survival of the British Empire, may sound a tad far-fetched but let’s try and find out at least what some of the patterns connections and derived insights might be?

  • How might this have influenced changing our society from the top down?
  • Did these financially judicious marriages as well as funding perhaps a substantial proportion of our surviving landed estates  and the aristocracy, impact on what was to follow in the development of wider British society?
  • In parallel to the ‘Special Relationship’ between our nations which continues to be debated between America and Britain what was the impact in the corridors of power?
  • Whilst we speak the same language when these two cultures fuse, what happens in the families that have joined together and how does that perhaps underpin what transpired in the relationship between our two nations before during and after two world wars?
  • Is there a connection at all?

It was one such marriage that gave us Winston Churchill! By way of illustration as to why the connections between grain prices and anglo-american marriages might just be a little intriguing:

  • The Prussians invaded France, which led  the American Jenny Jerone’s wealthy father to install her and her family in Brown’s Hotel London. 
  • Jennie Jerone made her London debut in 1872, she spent the summer with her mother and sisters at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.
  • August the same year she attended a ball, met Lord Randolph Churchill, the fascinating 2nd son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough who was known for being ‘ill-disciplined.’
  • Within 4 days and without the consent of parents they became engaged
  • As the 2nd son Randolph had little money of his own and the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough felt they could not contemplate marriage into ‘vulgar money’
  • But Cupid in the form of Edward Prince of Wales intervened, and persuaded the parents by expressly endorsing the match himself, arguable why someone of his characters opinion held such sway would seem unwise as well but eventually the match was agreed.
  • In between were intense negotiations about MONEY and Jenny’s dowry. We see the early advance of women’s rights in the US where as a device to protect his own fortune perhaps Mr Jerone argued that he could not see the wisdom of his daughter’s endowed capital becoming in the sole control of her husband should she die childless.
  • This was starkly contrasted by the British view, even her future husband siding with his father on this requirement. Eventually the terms were agreed and we can see in just this one instance much of the Downton factor in real and historically significant life.
  • Jenny and Randoph married 15 April 1874 at the British Embassy in Paris, without his parents in attendance.
  • Despite not being the first son, their duty was still to ensure the future heir to their particular branch thankfully as history may give quite a good account of their eldest son. Winston Spencer Churchill born 30th  November 1874.

An accident of fate? Just a coincidence or a turning point in history as they say ‘only time will tell’ and hindsight is a wonderful thing. In any event it will be a good way to take a look at how powerful and influential families were gearing up for the explosive events of the early to mid 20th Century (circa 1900-1945.)

Watch out for further posts and references thought this summer connecting strands of people and personalities and their family connections and significance to the development of Britain as we know it today and how that impacted on our all our family social local and national history.

Some further food for thought and exploration over the summer season :

  • Did the Price of Grain Really Cause Americans to Marry British Aristocrats?
  • Can  the price of grain credibly be traced to illustrate the circumstances that led to the abdication of our King?
  • What were the historic consequences of note to British society of these transatlantic marriages?
  • Did these marriages pave the way for the establishment of a new class of nobles, the Industrialists and Businessmen, that were to become ‘self-made’ men during the Victorian and Edwardian eras?
  • After two world Wars was the poor treatment of GI brides partly a kick-back to the invasion of American Heiresses that had proceeded them?
  • What insights and connections can this exploration reveal for those of us researching our family social local and special interest history projects?
  • What does this all mean for the Anglo-American Alliance and the Special Relationship?
  • Winston Churchill is seen as a key British figure in our history, quintessentially English even, but let’s not forget he would have qualified for dual passports.

There are some great resources and snippets for connections to Highclere we will be posting in the coming weeks and more on the History of Berkshire that connects to this theme and strand of investigation.

Why not get involved subscribe and browse around these snippets on Intriguing History’s People and Personalities Theme and more on the connecting narrative here it is easy and free to subscribe to both.


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