No, the title of this blog entry doesn’t refer to Lady Mary’s unfortunate interlude at Downton Abbey with the handsome foreign diplomat. What I lust for is the house where the encounter took place.
Other viewers may devour Downton Abbey for its upstairs/downstairs intrigue. I just want to see the house where the series is filmed. I love every part of the upstairs (the downstairs, not so much), from the extraordinary library to the lavish saloon (below) to the cozy morning room and bedrooms. The real name of the house is Highclere Castle, and it is infinitely larger than the TV program makes it seem. The fictional Earl and Countess have fewer than a dozen servants, and some of those are personal maids, footmen, drivers, and the like, who have little to do with the running of the household. They seem to leave all the cleaning to a couple of young maids. Yet everything always looks gorgeously spic ‘n’ span.
The real house, Highclere, has roughly 60 bedrooms, plus all the general use rooms, such as a state dining room, a men’s smoking room, a morning room, a drawing room, that fabulous library, and so on. It’s kind of a big place. Although the Downton Abbey program frequently shows exterior shots, the story never acknowledges the sheer size of the house. When the Countess of Carnarvon turned Highclere into a hospital for wounded soldiers in 1914, I doubt she had the conflicts over allotment of space that we see in the TV drama. The whole family could have moved into one wing and carried on their lives quite comfortably without ever tripping over a soldier's crutch.
Highclere has a website with an array of pictures and a history of the house and its owners. If you love it as much as I do, you’ll want to peruse http://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/.
I have books filled with photos of the chateaux of France and the manor houses and castles and palaces of Great Britain. I love almost all of them, whatever the architectural style or the era in which they were built. My favorite, though, outranking even Highclere, is the Chateau de Thoiry en Yvelines, 40 km west of Paris.
The chateau, with its 370 acres of land, is remarkable in two ways: the architectural style of the house is Renaissance, with a lavishly decorated exterior on a solid foundation of symmetry and proportion; and 240 acres of the grounds are given over to a wildlife reserve. Many animals, from the big cats to elephants to little red pandas, roam the wildlife park, and visitors can ride
through to observe them from the safety of vehicles.
Thoiry’s website is at http://www.thoiry.net/.
Why do I swoon over places like these? I love their elegance and the echoes of history in their rooms. Imagine the labor and talent that went into creating so much beauty, the number of people required to make the wallpaper, the draperies, the carpets and furniture, as well as the ornate stone ornaments and woodwork. Unless I were fabulously wealthy, I wouldn’t care to live in such a house, although I might be happy in one little section with visiting privileges (but no responsibility) for the rest. I watch all British costume dramas eagerly in the hope of seeing a magnificent house. Films of Jane Austen books leave me cranky. Who wants to look at a vicarage? I’m a total snob when it comes to my vicarious house-hunting.
How do you feel about the house that subs as Downton Abbey? Would you like to live in it?