Lords, Ladies & Mummies: The Story of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey

Although famous today as the country house depicted in the television series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Berkshire has a rich and fascinating history that goes far beyond its television fame.

Home since 1672 of the Herbert family, later earls of Carnarvon, the English Renaissance Revival house seen today was created in the early 19th century by architect Charles Barry, designer of the Houses of Parliament. Highclere is noted as the home of the 5th Earl, who financed the 1922 expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tut (the Earl’s sudden death, after discovering the tomb, led to the legend of “the Curse of the Mummy”). The 5th Earl’s wife, Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, also brought great prominence to Highclere. Through the generosity of her natural father (one of the richest men in late 19th century England), she was a pioneer of military hospitals and set standards of care that are still followed today.

Architectural historian Curt DiCamillo explores Highclere Castle, linking it to other historic houses, and explaining how the fictional Downton plotline has unexpected echoes to Highclere’s history.

If you’d like to see a virtual presentation on YouTube that Curt gave of this lecture in May of 2020 for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, click here.

Downton Abbey and Downton are registered trademarks of Carnival Film & Television Ltd.


I always enjoy Curt so much. His enthusiasm is infectious, and while the photos dazzle my eyes, his approach to the topic brings a smile to my lips.