Beyond Downton: Secrets of Highclere Castle on PBS

January 3, 2013 · 7 comments

in Arts & Culture

Secrets of Highclere Castle premieres on PBS Sunday, Jan 6
Photo: Courtesy of Lord and Lady Carnarvon

As those of us in the States count down the final days until the third season premiere of the spectacularly popular British series Downton Abbey, PBS is offering a real-life look at one of the show’s most iconic stars. Highclere Castle, the phenomenal 1,300 year-old estate which plays the role of the fictitious Downton, is one of England’s most recognizable estates, and it boasts a history as rich and fascinating as the stories embroiling its television counterpart. In Secrets of Highclere Castle, viewers are given an unprecedented tour of the 5,000 acre estate as guided by the castle’s real-life aristocratic inhabitants, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and their dedicated staff. Costing upwards of $1,000,000 per year to maintain, the estate boasts not only the grand castle, but also farmland, woodland, wildlife, gaming grounds, and historic buildings crafted by the home’s aristocratic predecessors, all of which requires its own staff and management in order to see that the illustrious Highclere’s present glory continues for future generations. Secrets of Highclere Castle not only offers viewers an in-depth look at the vast estate, but also a dedicated examination of the proud history of Lord Carnarvon’s ancestors and the castle’s role in an impressive selection of historic events. The estate’s history ranges from ties to the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb to the nursing of wounded soldiers during the First World War under the direction of Lady Almina Carnarvon, the American heiress whose fortune saved Highclere much in the way that the fictional Cora Crawley’s money saved Downton. (The present Lady Carnarvon recently told Almina’s story in her book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.)

PBS Presents Secrets of Highclere Castle
Photo: Courtesy of Lord and Lady Carnarvon

Without question, one of the most alluring elements of British period dramas are the astonishing houses and the grandeur of their styles, from the decorating to the height of standards for living within their walls. I’m constantly enamored with the regality of the estates, and Highclere is certainly one of the most beautiful to be immortalized on film. From the opulence of the estate, watching dedicated butler Colin Edwards set the table with immaculate precision, to learning the stories behind some of the most expensive antiquities in the home, Secrets of Highclere Castle looks easily like a fairy tale. But reality has played an all-too-prominent role in the life of Highclere as well, and the documentary also examines how Lord and Lady Carnarvon realistically balance their budget to preserve the estate for future generations. All the information combined with the natural historic splendor of Highclere makes for a wonderfully well-rounded examination of the edifice we all know and admire thanks to its presence on Downton Abbey. The utterly breathtaking footage of the castle’s sprawling grounds and resplendent interiors are nothing short of enchanting for fans of Downton, and the detailed history of the estate fascinates just as much as the impressive views. This is a program that educates as it entertains, and it will be premiering on PBS just before the first episode of Downton Abbey’s much-anticipated (are you as excited as I am?!) third season. I highly recommended tuning in early for it!

Secrets of Highclere Castle will premiere on PBS on Sunday, January 6th at 8pm EST. As always, find more information and check your local listings on

Disclosure: An screener of the program was provided for the purpose of review


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Au Fil d'Isa January 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Thank you for this very interesting article. I wonder if I can catch this program online since I’m French and I don’t have PBS… Anyway, I’ll probably get a copy of the book you mentioned!


Casee Marie January 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Oh, I hope you get to see it! I’ll certainly keep an eye out for it online. The book’s page on Amazon is here: and there are some videos as well where Lady Carnarvon talks about Highclere and Lady Almina.


Au Fil d'Isa January 4, 2013 at 5:16 am

Thanks for the additional details! :)


Jenmarie January 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I’m wondering if they’ll have this on their website after it airs, I hope so! I’ll have to let my mom know too!


Casee Marie January 3, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I’m not sure if they plan to, but if I find out I’ll certainly let you know! I hope you both get to see it, it’s really fascinating. There were so many things I wanted to mention in the review, but I didn’t want to take away from the experience of watching the program. ;)


Gabbie January 8, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I didn’t get to catch this program, but the fangirl inside me has to gush about Downton Abbey being back on!! Yay!!


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