Downton Abbey has been one of the most popular dramas to hit TV screens over the past decade, drawing in devoted fans all over the world. The drama is set in a fictional Yorkshire country estate between 1912 and 1926, depicting the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family. Several historical events – such as the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War 1 and the Irish War of Independence – are covered.
But Highclere Castle, the real country estate where Downton is filmed, has a fascinating history of its own.
Built by architect Charles Barry in the 19th century, the estate is in Hampshire rather than Yorkshire – as seen in Downton.
It is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon with links to Anglo-Welsh nobility.
Long before ITV bosses chose it as the setting for Downton, it was used as a film set for Nineties comedy series Jeeves and Wooster.
But arguably of most interesting historical significance, it played a key role in the founding of present-day Canada.
Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, drafted the British North America Act of 1867 at the castle alongside the first prime minister of Canada John A Macdonald.
The 4th Earl presented the Act to Parliament in February 1867 and what the two men agreed at Highclere became law.
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The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist and so the castle became host to a treasure trove of priceless historical artefacts.
He later accompanied archaeologist Howard Carter as he discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
And in World War 2, the castle played host to dozens of evacuee children who were fleeing the Blitz.
The Queen was also a “frequent visitor” to the castle, as she became “great friends” with the 7th Earl when he became her racing manager in 1969.