Part Ten: Highclere Castle, continued
Highclere Castle, continued
We make our way into the library through double mahogany-painted columns. The walls are lined with beautifully gilded bookcases and deep red curtains, giving the room a distinctly masculine feel. I mention that I have read somewhere that this is the favorite room of Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Granville. “Yes, it’s a nice room,” the Earl says, in classic English understatement.
Others have admired this room besides the famous British actor, including Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, Princess Margaret and the Prince of Wales.
Lord Carnarvon pauses in front of a portrait of Henry Herbert, the first Earl. Henry initially gained the favor of King George III by helping to defuse anti-Catholic riots in London in 1780. For his continued loyalty to the crown, he was created the 1st Earl in 1793. Lord Carnarvon mentions that Henry was a skilled politician. The subject of politics prompts me to ask the Earl if he sits as a hereditary peer in the House of Lords. “No,” he says with some feeling. “That has not been possible since 1999 when Tony Blair initiated reforms.”
We enter the elegant Music Room, which is bathed in afternoon sunlight. A woman in coveralls is standing on a ladder next to the window, busily working on a damaged wall panel. “Don’t mind Edith. She is one of our conservators.” I ask about the estate’s upkeep, and the Earl sighs. “There is always something to fix. A few years ago, for example, we replaced 15 tons of lead roofing.” He goes up to the window. “See up there on Siddown Hill? That’s Heaven’s Gate, one of the follies. Fifteen years ago, it was about to fall down so we had to stabilize and restore it. We are undertaking projects like that all the time.”
This reminds me that I had read somewhere that the Earl had applied to sell fringes of the estate’s land to raise $18 million to fund repairs. Apparently, Andrew Lloyd Webber got wind of the Earl’s need for cash and offered to purchase the entire estate. The Earl responded that it was not for sale, which doesn’t surprise me at all. This is very clearly the Earl’s beloved family home, steeped in memory, tradition, and history.
I ask the Earl if he sees parallels between himself and Lord Grantham, who struggles to keep Downton Abbey solvent and in family hands. I invoke the scene where Lord Grantham responds forcefully to the dowager’s assertion that he is too willing to give up the estate to Matthew Crawley. “I have given my life to Downton,” Lord Grantham says passionately. I restate my question: “Do you find that you have to give your whole life to Highclere?” Perhaps the question is too personal or requires too long answer, but, in any event, the Earl responds vaguely.
Coming up next: Visiting the rooms used in "Downton Abbey"