The Earl and the Pharoah

Countess of Carnarvon

In November 1922, a new door to the ancient past was opened. The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun would be the most astonishing of the young century, revealing the ruler’s sarcophagus and a treasure trove of artefacts: chariots and model boats, board games and paintings, a coffin made of pure gold. On the face of it, the objects were astonishingly splendid. On further study, they changed the world’s understanding of how the Egyptians had lived, transforming overnight what had been formed through centuries of history and myth.

Howard Carter was the lead archaeologist, but the years of excavations were funded and engineered by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, whose country house Highclere Castle is today known as the set of Downton Abbey.

In dramatic detail, calling on Highclere Castle’s archives to throw new light on the lustrous settings and striking characters, this book reveals the true story behind the thrilling discoveries made in Egypt – as well as those twists of luck and tragedies that shaped Herbert’s life. Across the early 1900s, Highclere saw no less drama than the fictional Downton Abbey, with early tragedies for the Earl, highs of exorbitant wealth and trials of punishing debt. Then, there were the love affairs. First, Herbert fell for travel as an escape from a restrictive life. Then with the woman who would become his wife. Lastly with Egypt, where he funnelled his attentions over a period of decades, never quite realising how great the fruits of his labours would prove.