Highclere Castle ... Lord Carnarvon ... More ... Much more than Downton Abbey
George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (26 June 1866 – 5 April 1923) was an English aristocrat best known as the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Born at the family home, Highclere Castle, in Hampshire on 26 June 1866, George Herbert was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, succeeding to the Carnarvon title in 1890. On 26 June 1895, at St. Margaret's Church, Carnarvon married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell. daughter of Marie Wombwell née Boyer, the wife of Captain Frederick Charles Wombwell, but her real father was believed to be Alfred de Rothschild, the unmarried member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of England who made Lady Carnarvon his heiress.
Exceedingly wealthy, Lord Carnarvon was at first best known as an owner of racehorses and as a reckless driver of early automobiles, suffering - in 1901 - a serious motoring accident near Bad Schwalbach in Germany which left him significantly disabled.
In 1902, the 5th Earl established Highclere Stud to breed thoroughbred racehorses. In 1905, he was appointed one of the Stewards at the new Newbury Racecourse. His family has maintained the connection ever since. His grandson, Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, 7th Earl of Carnarvon, was racing manager to Queen Elizabeth II from 1969, and one of Her Majesty's closest friends.
The 5th Earl was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, undertaking in 1907 to sponsor the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahri (Thebes). Howard Carter joined him as his assistant in the excavations. It is now established that it was Gaston Maspero, then Director of the Antiquities Department, who proposed Carter to Lord Carnarvon.
Lord Carnarvon received in 1914 the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings, in replacement of Theodore Davis who had resigned. It was in 1922 that they together opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, exposing treasures unsurpassed in the history of archaeology.
On 5 April 1923, Carnarvon died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo, in the Kingdom of Egypt. This led to the story of the "Curse of Tutankhamun", the "Mummy's Curse". His death is most probably explained by blood poisoning (progressing to pneumonia) after accidentally shaving a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas. His colleague and employee, Howard Carter, the man most responsible for revealing the tomb of the young king, lived safely for another sixteen years.
Carnarvon's tomb, appropriately for an archaeologist, is located within an ancient hill fort overlooking his family seat at Beacon Hill, Burghclere, Hampshire.
Carnarvon was survived by his wife Almina, who re-married, and their two children:
The curse of the pharaohs refers to the belief that any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh is placed under a curse.
There are occasional instances of curses appearing inside or on the facade of a tomb as in the case of the mastaba of Khentika Ikhekhi of the 6th dynasty at Saqqara. These appear to be more directed towards the ka priests to carefully protect the tomb and preserve ritual purity rather than a warning for potential robbers. Though there had been stories of curses going back to the nineteenth century, they multiplied in the aftermath of Howard Carter's discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. There was no actual curse found in the Pharaoh's tomb. The evidence for such curses relating to King Tutankhamun has been considered to be so meager that it is viewed as "unadulterated clap trap" by Donald B. Redford.
Curses relating to tombs are rare, perhaps through the idea of such desecration being unthinkable and dangerous to record in writing. They most frequently occur in private tombs of the Old Kingdom era. The tomb of Ankhtifi (9-10th dynasty) contains the warning: "any ruler who... shall do evil or wickedness to this coffin... may Hemen [a local deity] not accept any goods he offers, and may his heir not inherit". The tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi (9-10th dynasty) contains an inscription: "As for all men who shall enter this my tomb... impure... there will be judgment... an end shall be made for him... I shall seize his neck like a bird... I shall cast the fear of myself into him". Curses after the Old Kingdom era are less common though more severe in expression, sometimes invoking the ire of Thoth or the destruction of Sekhemet. Zahi Hawass quotes an example of a curse: "Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose."
Modern accounts of curses
Hieroglyphs were not deciphered until the beginning of the 19th century by Jean-François Champollion so any reports of curses prior to this are in the domain of perceived bad luck associated with the handling of mummies and other artifacts from tombs. Louis Penicher wrote an account in 1699 in which he records how a Polish traveler bought two mummies in Alexandria and embarked on a sea journey with the mummies in the cargo hold. He was alarmed by recurring visions of two specters and stormy seas that did not abate until the mummies were thrown overboard.
Zahi Hawass recalled that as a young archaeologist excavating at Kom Abu-Bellou he had to transport a number of artifacts from the Greco-Roman site. On the day he did so his cousin died, on the anniversary of that day his uncle died and on the third anniversary his aunt died. Years later when he excavated the tombs of the builders of the pyramids at Giza he encountered the curse: "All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it may the crocodile be against them in water, and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land." Though not superstitious, he decided not to disturb the mummies. However, he later was involved in the removal of two child mummies from Bahariya Oasis to a museum and subsequently reported how he was haunted by the children in his dreams. These phenomena did not stop until the mummy of the father was re-united with the children in the museum. He came to the conclusion that mummies should not be displayed though it was a lesser evil than allowing the general public into the tombs. Hawass also recorded an incident relating to a sick young boy who loved Ancient Egypt and was subject to a "miracle" cure in the Egyptian Museum when he looked into the eyes of the mummy of King Ahmose I. Thereafter the boy read everything he could find on Ancient Egypt, especially the Hyksos period.
The idea of a mummy's curse was developed in The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an early work combining elements of science fiction and horror, written by Jane C. Loudon and published anonymously in 1827. Louisa May Alcott is thought to have been the first to use a "mummy curse" plot in her 1869 story "Lost in a Pyramid".
Opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb
The Anubis figure which guarded the entrance to Tutankhamun's treasury room.The belief in a curse was brought to many people's attention due to the deaths of the members of the team of Howard Carter, who opened the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) in 1922, launching the modern era of Egyptology.
The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted worked with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb. He reported how Carter sent a messenger on an errand to his house. On approaching his home he thought he heard a "faint, almost human cry". On reaching the entrance he saw the bird cage occupied by a cobra, the symbol of Egyptian monarchy. Carter's canary had died in its mouth and this fueled local rumors of a curse. Arthur Weigall, a previous Inspector-General of Antiquities to the Egyptian Government, reported that this was interpreted as Carter's house being broken into by the Royal Cobra, the same as that worn on the King's head to strike enemies (see Uraeus), on the very day the King's tomb was being broken into. An account of the incident was reported by the New York Times on the 22nd December 1922.
The death of Lord Carnarvon six weeks after the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb resulted in many curse stories in the pressThe first of the "mysterious" deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and later slashed the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted. Two weeks before Carnarvon died Marie Corelli wrote an imaginative letter which was published in the New York World magazine in which she quoted an obscure book that confidently asserted that "dire punishment" would follow an intrusion into a sealed tomb. A media frenzy followed with reports that a curse had been found in the King's tomb, but this was untrue. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested at the time that Lord Carnarvon's death had been caused by "elementals" created by Tutankhamun's priests to guard the royal tomb and this further fueled the media interest. Arthur Weigall reported that six weeks before Carnarvon's death he had watched the Earl laughing and joking as he entered the King's tomb and his saying to a nearby reporter (H. V. Morton), "I give him six weeks to live." The first autopsy carried out on the body of Tutankhamun by Dr Derry found a healed lesion on the left cheek, but as Carnarvon had been buried six months previously it was not possible to determine if the location of the wound on the King corresponded with the location of the fatal mosquito bite on Carnarvon.
In 1925, the anthropologist Henry Field, accompanied by Breasted, visited the tomb and recalled the kindness and friendliness of Carter. He also reported how a paperweight given to Carter's friend Sir Bruce Ingham was composed of a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence." Soon after receiving the gift, Ingram's house burned down, followed by a flood when it was rebuilt.
Howard Carter was entirely skeptical of such curses. He did report in his diary a "strange" account that in May 1926 he saw jackals of the same type as Anubis, the guardian of the dead, for the first time in over thirty-five years of working in the desert.
Skeptics have pointed out that many others who visited the tomb or helped to discover it lived long and healthy lives. A study showed that of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died within a dozen years. All the others were still alive, including Howard Carter, who later died of lymphoma at the age of 64 in 1939.
Arthur Conan Doyle speculated in the press regarding the death of Lord Carnarvon so soon after opening of Tutankhamun's tombSome have speculated that deadly fungus could have grown in the enclosed tombs and been released when they were open to the air. Arthur Conan Doyle favoured this idea, and speculated that the mold had been placed deliberately to punish grave robbers.
A newspaper report printed following Carnarvon's death is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King" – a phrase which does not actually appear among the hieroglyphs in KV62, even though it was said to appear in several different places.
While there is no evidence that such pathogens killed Lord Carnarvon, there is no doubt that dangerous materials can accumulate in old tombs. Recent studies of newly opened ancient Egyptian tombs that had not been exposed to modern contaminants found pathogenic bacteria of the Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas genera, and the moulds Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus. Additionally, newly opened tombs often become roosts for bats, and bat guano may harbour histoplasmosis. However, at the concentrations typically found, these pathogens are generally only dangerous to persons with weakened immune systems.
Air samples taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hole showed high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide; these gases are all toxic, but are easily detected by their strong odours. Hydrogen sulfide is detectable at low concentrations (Up to 100PPM) beyond which it acts as a nerve agent on the olfactory senses. At 1000ppm it will kill with a single inhalation.
Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. Built on an ancient site, the original house was recorded in the Domesday Book.
The present day Castle was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect also responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
The Castle’s history also includes a fascinating connection with ancient Egypt, as the 5th Earl, with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The Castle now houses an exhibition that commemorates this historic event, including some rare antiquities from the 5th Earl's earlier Egyptian excavations.
We welcome many visitors each year to view the Castle, the Egyptian Exhibition and the surrounding Grounds and Gardens.
This unique setting is also available for private events, corporate events and film locations. We welcome individual enquiries regarding weddings, parties and other celebrations.
We hope that the photographs, videos and information on our web site inspire you to visit us or to enquire about an event.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Castle.
Remembering The Egyptian Exhibition in 2009
Egyptian Exhibition opens at Lord Carnarvon's Highclere Castle
Submitted by Ann on Fri, 07/24/2009
Highclere Castle where since July the Egyptian Exhibition is open to the public. Photo by JBUCK PlanetLord Carnarvon, the man who funded the discovery of KV-62 - the tomb of Tutankhamun - and died five months later in mysterious circumstances before he could actually see the mummy's face, was a superstitious man who wore the same lucky bow tie all his life. Such anecdotes are part of the 'Egyptian Exhibition' at Highclere Castle.
Rising in the Berkshire Hampshire countryside south of Newbury, England, the castle kept many secrets on its own. As the old Earl did not want to talk about Egypt, the collection was hidden away until 1987. But the long-hidden collection of Egyptian antiquities is now presented in its full glory - bigger room, better lighting, new cabinets - in the cellars of the castle, along with hundreds of unpublished photographs taken by Lord Carnarvon between 1907 and 1914, photographs from the discovery in 1922 of the Tomb of Tutankhamun and letters, notes and drawings from Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. They were discovered two years ago in the family archives by Fiona, the Eighth Countess of Carnarvon who recently published 'Egypt at Highclere' and has also written 'Carnarvon & Carter'.
"These pictures reveal the enormous scale of excavations that Lord Carnarvon and Carter carried in the decade before their most sensational finding. They tell the story of two amazing men, who have never been fully recognized in England for the discovery they have made," the Countess of Carnarvon told Discovery Channel News.
Among the antiquities on display, are a splendid 3,500-year-old painted coffin of a woman named Irtyru, from Deir el-Bahri, a calcite shabti showing the head of Amenhotep III, silver bracelets from the Delta, faience bowls, a 5,000-year-old calcite dish used in priestly offerings, coffin faces carved in wood and alabaster vessels found at the entrance to the tomb of King Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II and the razor that caused the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon's death.
Does the Highclere castle looks strangely familiar to you? Don't worry, this could be perfectly normal, as the castle's front was used for exteriors of the orgy scenes in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut. We do advise to adhere the rules of proper and decent behaviour when visiting! ;)
Highclere Castle, it's Grounds, Gardens and the Egyptian Exhibition are open Sunday to Thursday each week the 3rd of September 2009. From 11am until 4.30pm. Last admission is at 3.30pm.
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon
Author and Expert on Ancient Egypt
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon is no ordinary peer. Born Fiona Aitken, she has already had a colourful career encompassing a number of positions and professions. She is married to George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon; thus making her the 8th Countess.
A former auditor at Coopers & Lybrand, Fiona is perfectly suited to running affairs at Highclere Castle, where she and her husband reside. Fiona has also runs her own fashion label, Azur, which operated in the States from 1995 to 2004. Fiona's guardianship of the estate extends to its grounds and gardens, events and the Egyptian Exhibition - around which she and her husband regularly take visitors.
Fiona has also written two books on the most famous character in her lineage - the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. The first, Carnarvon & Carter, examines the illustrious duo, their early work together and the extraordinary tale of their relationship and search for the hallowed tomb.