TV's Downton Abbey would be so proud


If you’re ITV, you just can’t pay for this kind of press leading up to the premiere of the new season of your most highly successful series in some time. Scandal = audience in the 21st century.

It’s definitely a case of art imitating life rather than the reverse when it comes to the mega-hit, Downton Abbey. According to a recent book (you knew it was only a matter of time), The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon by William Cross, the scandals at the real Highclere Castle, fake Downton Abbey has got nothing. I feel like I’m getting ready to synopsize the summer replacement series for EastEnders or Coronation Street….

You definitely can’t tell the players without a scorecard…

  • Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, ruled Highclere from 1895 and 1923
  • Her husband, the 5th Earl, was a famous Egyptologist who perished, according to legend, as a victim of the Curse of Tutankhamun
  • Lord Carnarvon’s wealth came from his wife, Almina – which came from the man said to be her father, Baron Alfred de Rothschild
  • Lord Carnarvon’s great expedition to Egypt, which resulted in history’s greatest archaeological find, was paid for with Almina’s Rothschild money
  • Almina’s had an affair with her husband’s best man, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, the Eton-educated son of the Maharaja of Lahore, leading to rumors as to whether or not Prince Victor was, in fact, the father of Almina’s son, the 6th Earl
  • After Lord Carnarvon’s fatal journey to Egypt, Almina married Ian Dennistoun, a Guards officer whose promotion to lieutenant colonel was largely due to his first wife Dorothy’s seduction of Sir John Cowans, the Army’s Quartermaster General
  • Wanting to hire a suitable male companion, the newly divorced Dennistoun would do. He was also useful for money-laundering. Almina often sold jewels and works of art she inherited from papa Rothschild

Still with me?

  • Almina enjoyed the attentions of another lover, Tommy Frost, a friend of her son. Frost was also the lover of Dorothy Dennistoun
  • Carnarvon opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in February 1923 complaining, afterwards, that he had been bitten by a mosquito which, following his death, began the Curse of Tutankhamun
  • His father’s sudden death put the new earl in a bind, ever after inheriting the now cash-guzzling Highclere Castle

What follows is a lurid High Court case filled with some great dirty laundry being dragged out for all the world to see. There were counter accusations of Dorothy either being forced into an affair or sleeping her way across Europe depending on who was in the docket.

When Almina found herself in the witness box, confessing to her money-laundering, her adultery, her bankrolling Dennistoun and to giving him money for his ex-wife, King George V wrote to the Lord Chancellor through his private secretary expressing disgust that the case had been allowed to come to court. Having lost all social standing and broke in the eyes of the society that occupied her entire existence, it was Almina’s son, the 6th earl, who referred to her as a ‘scheming swindler’ and hated her so much that he shut off her favorite room at Highclere where it remained locked until after his own death.

Finally, at the age of 75, the countess was declared bankrupt, largely due to the actions of her son, the 6th earl. She moved to a terrace house in Bristol with no hot water and got by on occasional Highclere handouts.

Hey, I can’t make this stuff up.