Well, it’s not every day that a member of the aristocracy gets in touch. Sadly not by King’s Messenger, herald or even a royal carrier pigeon, just by good old email.
And not just any aristocrat either but none other than Lady Fiona Carnarvon or the Countess of Carnarvon to assign her with the correct title. Yes, the Lady Carnarvon, wife of George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon and the one whose ancestral seat and current home is Highclere Castle, the real life setting for the TV series Downton Abbey.
I actually wrote to Lord and Lady Carnarvon in November 2014 when I was first thinking of trying to get Ethel North’s letters, that I inherited from my grandmother, published as a non-fiction book. I only wrote as a matter of courtesy, really. In places, Ethel is rather disparaging about certain members of the Carnarvon family, especially Almina, the 5th Earl’s wife and the current Earl’s great-great grandmother and I wanted to make sure that the family were OK with me doing this.
I’m quite sure that Ethel only picked up these views from her mistress Lady Burghclere (the 5th Earl’s sister and the current Earl’s great-great aunt) but I still felt it was only polite to let them know. As it happened, I didn’t receive a reply but decided at the time that no news must be good news.
Lady Carnarvon actually contacted me to ask permission to use the image of Lady Burghclere that is on this website and which I was fortunate to obtain from Ethel North’s nephew, Michael Foster. Images of Lady Burghclere seem to be quite scarce as unlike her more flamboyant brother, she doesn’t seem to have courted publicity.
In one of her emails to me, Lady Carnarvon mentioned that she loved reading old letters and found them fascinating. She is an historian and has had three books published herself on key members of the Carnarvon family, including one about Almina. (http://www.ladycarnarvon.com/about/)
I decided that I had nothing to lose and asked her if she’d like to read some of Ethel’s letters that I’d already transcribed. Much to my delight, she said she would.
In the end, I decided to send her what amounted to the sample copy that I had been sending out to literary agents, before I decided to concentrate on trying to find a publisher by another means. I haven’t heard back from her yet but I’m really hoping that she finds the letters as interesting and informative as I have. I’m sure I don’t need to say how helpful it would be to have her on board with the project.
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted and in the meantime, I’m continuing to type up and edit the letters on a daily basis. Ethel and Lady Burghclere are currently in Canada at the moment. It’s February 1925 and 24 degrees below zero. Next stop… America!