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Britain’s Highclere Castle: The History Behind The Real Downton Abbey Part 2

Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Flickr

With the TV show “Downton Abbey” becoming more popular by the day, the set of the show started to draw in attention, and it’s no wonder why. The marvelous Highclere castle is a pure architectural gem, with a history to match that.

After concluding that he needs to sell some valuables and land to pay up the debt, Lord Porchester was faced with selling one extremely valuable asset, with which he had trouble parting from – the famous Carnavon pearl necklace. It has passed from generation to generation and it can be seen on a painting of the first Lady Carnavon, in her portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

That painting still hangs in the dining room in the castle. Porchester got £55,000 for the necklace. After selling the valuable asset, he had sold two farms bordering Highclere and some of the household’s better silver. Still, it wasn’t enough, so he had turned to his mother, who was happy to help.

Almina gave Porchester most of the racehorses and arranged a sale of the valuable Egyptian collection and some of the pieces from Highclere.

The sale was held at Christie’s and it was one of the most important ones of the decade. Perchester managed to cover the debt, but at the expense of some paintings from the castle, too.

Dusty paintings of relatives replaced the works of da Vinci, Van dyck and Botticelli.

Porchester and Catherine’s life was great. They had 2 adoring children, Henry and Anne Penelope, they were young, wealthy and the house was financially secure. They partied in London, and while there, stayed at the Ritz. Porchester frequently joined Prince George and the Prince of Wales on their party frenzies. The Princes visited Highclere with company often, and great parties were held there often.

Life was bliss until Catherine’s brother Reggie suffered a massive brain hemorrhage during a walk after dinner, at the age of 32. Catherine fell into deep depression and started drinking heavily before lunch, so she could retire to bed for the afternoon, and then drink whiskey at dinner. It was the only way she could dull the pain.

Reggie’s death was a blow to Catherine and Porchester’s marriage, also because Reggie was a mediator between them.

Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Flickr

From 1932 onwards, Porchester was away from home more than ever, partying in London and having affairs. It was common for many men in his era and social status to believe that affairs don’t affect their love for their wife. Catherine had hope for their marriage up until Porchester met Tanis Montagu, and fell in love with that beautiful, confident divorcee with a fixture in Hollywood circles.

He even invited her to a party at Highclere, and Catherine had enough. She left Highclere for the Ritz on May 12th 1934. Porchester visited her the next day and left the Ritz sad, realizing he was to blame.

Catherine suffered a nervous collapse and spent 3 weeks in a nursing home. On 22 April 1936 Lady Carnavon finally got her divorce and custody over their children, with a generous financial settlement from her ex-husband.

She had a house of her own for the first time, to which she brought only a few objects from Highclere after 16 years of marriage, including her portrait, which is now again at Highclere, in her former sitting room.

She married Geoffrey Grenfell in 1938, but after only two years of happiness he was declared missing presumed dead after his ship sank. Tanis rejected Porchester in the most humiliating and public way, and he later married Tilly Losch, a famous ballet dancer.