The family feud at Downton Abbey: Earl’s second wife ‘forces his two children to leave estate’

The real-life Downton Abbey has its own family tensions after the Earl’s children left the 400-year-old estate following a bitter feud.   

Lady Fiona, second wife to the Earl of Carnarvon, requested his children leave Highclere Castle, Hampshire, it has been claimed.  

The Earl’s children, Lady Saoirse, 28, and Lord Porchester known as George Herbert, 27, are understood to have left the family home after tensions rose. 

Lady Fiona and the Earl of Carnarvon pictured outside the 400-year-old Highclere Castle in Hampshire, which is home to the Crawley family in the ITV drama Downton Abbey 

Highclere Castle is the famous home of the Crawley family in the ITV hit drama series. 

Lord Porchester known as George Herbert, 27, at the Cartier Racing Awards at The Dorchester, London, in November last year

‘She [Lady Saoirse] has admitted she and her brother have no relationship with Lady Fiona. As a result of the rift, their relationship with the Earl has become more strained’, a source told The Sun. 

Both Lady Saoirse and Lord Porchester moved into cottages on the 5,000-acre estate and Saoirse has now left. 

The family attended the Downton Abbey film premiere in London on Monday night at London’s Leicester Square with stars including Hugh Bonneville who plays the Earl of Grantham and Dame Maggie Smith. 

However an onlooker revealed the couple kept their distance from his children and said: ‘The Earl left without saying goodbye to Saoirse.’ 

A spokesperson for The Earl and Countess said: ‘Saoirse and George each have a bedroom with their father and stepmother and a cottage they can use on the estate.

‘The family were at the premiere and after-party and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.’

Lady Fiona met her husband the Earl of Carnarvon, known as Geordie, in 1996, two years after his first marriage broke down. The couple have a 20-year-old son Edward together.

Lord Porchester (second left) pictured at Albert’s & Sangster Bloodstock Royal Ascot closing party, Ascot, in 2018. He is photographed alongside George Bought (left), Tom Charlton (second right) and Jack Barham (far right)

The Earl’s first marriage was to daughter of racehorse owner Kenneth A. Wilby and Princess Prospero Collona di Stigliano, Jayne M. Wilby, on 16 December 1989, but the couple divorced in 1998.

His eldest son Lord Porchester will inherit the Highclere estate after the Earl’s death. 

His second wife Fiona Carnarvon is a former accountant with Coopers & Lybrand and is the eldest of six sisters. 

Lord and Lady Carnarvon in the grand library at Highclere Castle pictured together in 2011 

Earl of Carnarvon pictured with his first wife Jayne M. Wilby on the wedding day in December 1989. The couple divorced in 1998 

The couple were pictured together ahead of the Hennessy Gold Cup Newbury Racecourse, Berkshire 

She studied English and German at the University of St Andrews, attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in Scotland. 

Her father, Ronnie Aitken, died in 1993 followed by her mother, Frances, in 1999.

She and Geordie inherited the Berkshire estate on the death of his father, the 7th Earl, in 2001, and her first book, published in 2011, recounted how another former countess, Lady Almina – Lady Catherine’s mother-in-law and Geordie’s great-grandmother – turned the castle into a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War.

Lady Fiona and the couple’s son Edward Herbert pictured in 2010 at the Hennessy Gold Cup 2010 at Newbury Racecourse, Berkshire

‘Then lots of people wrote to me asking what happened next,’ says Fiona, ‘so I used Highclere’s archives and staff diary entries to piece together Catherine’s story for the second book.’

But it was Downton Abbey that put Highclere on the map in 2010, when scriptwriter Julian Fellowes, a close friend of Fiona’s and Geordie’s, used it as both the inspiration (Downton’s fictional chatelaine Lady Cora was loosely based on Almina) and the setting for his award-winning ITV drama.  

Six series and a premiere in, film crews and costume designers take over the castle for months at a time, creating the heady world of butlers and balls and upstairs-downstairs shenanigans presided over by Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith.

Lady Fiona told You Magazine: ‘Initially we thought it would be a bit of fun and might help our marketing. (After all, the house has ‘between 50 and 80’ bedrooms to maintain.)’ 

She added: ‘We had no idea it would be so successful.’

The family live at Highclere while filming continues around them. But they share our national obsession with the fictional family that inhabits their historic house on Sunday evenings. 

Lady Fiona previously said she ‘had no idea’ the ITV series of Downton Abbey ‘would be so successful’ 

Speaking about the ITV series Lady Fiona said: ‘We always sit down at 9 o’clock for Downton. It’s very odd seeing them on the television in a particular part of the castle when you’re sitting ten yards away.’

In April this year, the Queen attended the funeral of the Earl’s mother, Jeanie, Countess of Carnarvon, who was the widow of the 7th Earl of Carnarvon and former custodian of the castle. She died aged 83. 

Jeanie met her husband Henry Herbert, or Lord Porchester, at Uckfield House in Sussex – the residence of her cousin Lady Rupert Nevill, a childhood friend of The Queen. 

The Queen, pictured with The Earl Of Carnarvon and Lady Fiona, at the funeral of her close friend Jeanie, Countess of Carnarvon at Highclere Parish Church of Saint Michaels and All Angels 

Her husband, Lord Rupert Charles Montecute Nevill, was a member of the aristocratic Nevill Family and Treasurer and subsequently Private Secretary to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, between 1970 and 1982.  

Jeanie and Henry married in 1956 in St James Episcopal Church, Madison Avenue. 

They returned to the UK and went on to have three children – George (Geordie), the current Earl of Carnarvon, in 1956; Henry (Harry), born in 1959, and Carolyn, born in 1962, who is married to John Warren, current bloodstock adviser to the Queen with his son Jake. 

The 93-year-old monarch greeted Jeanie’s son and her godson George Herbert, the current Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife Fiona, Lady Carnarvon, outside the church

The Queen, pictured beside Jeanie holding her eldest son George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Herbert – her 17th and final godchild – at his christening in 1956. To her left is Jeanie’s husband Lord Porchester

On Monday night the cast of Downton attended the glittering red carpet event for the world premiere in London’s Leicester Sqaure. 

Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael led the star-studded glamour as they arrived at the Downton Abbey Movie premiere on Monday night. 

Michelle, 37, dazzled in a sequined gold gown as she ensured all eyes were on her while making an entrance on the red carpet alongside her co-stars. 

The actress, who stars as Lady Mary Crawley in the franchise, opted for a stunning one shoulder gown which hugged her svelte physique and teamed it with a pair of simple good hooped earrings.  

Wow! Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael lead the star-studded glamour as they arrived at the Downton Abbey Movie premiere on Monday night

Looking equally glamorous was Lady Edith Crawley actress Laura, who put on a leggy display in an elegant asymmetric black gown which displayed her toned pins to perfection.

Elizabeth put on a showstopping display during her turn on the red carpet, as she opted for a striking hot pink gown with a pretty sweetheart neckline and puff sleeves.

The actress, who plays Cora Crawley in the series, looked sensational in the form-fitting gown which featured ruffled detailing on the back of the floor-length number.

Stars of the show! The women caught up with their co-stars on the red carpet including (L-R) Hugh Bonneville, Allen Leech and creator Julian Fellowes

The cast of the hit ITV drama Downton Abbey which had its film premiere in London’s Leicester Square on Monday 

The history of Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, which became colloquially known as Downton Abbey thanks to the ITV hit series

The current Lord and Lady Carnarvon reside full time at the stunning Highclere Castle where the six series of the hit ITV show Downton Abbey were filmed.

The first written records of the estate date back to 749 when an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester. Bishop William of Wykeham built a beautiful medieval palace and gardens on the park.

Later on, the palace was rebuilt as Highclere Place House in 1679 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II and James II and direct grandfather of the current Earl.

In 1771, ‘Capability’ Brown made plans for the alteration of the grounds, water and symmetrical Georgian house at Highclere for the 1st Earl of Carnarvon.

In 1842, Sir Charles Barry – who was also working on the Houses of Parliament at the time – finished his final designs for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon, transforming Highclere Place House into Highclere Castle.

The Countess’ research has revealed that, in 1867, the Constitution of Canada was drawn up in the British North America Act by 4th Earl of Carnarvon and John A. Macdonald, later the first Prime Minister of Canada.

Highclere was used as a hospital for two years until 1916 but as the war gained momentum, the medical equipment was moved to London to cope with rising casualties. 

In 1922, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamen’s Tomb with trusted colleague and friend Howard Carter.

Throughout WWII, Highclere Castle was home to evacuees, whose names you can see etched into the roof lead. During the conflict, military planes from four nations crashed on the Highclere Estate whilst on active service.

The current Earl’s father was the Queen’s racing manager from 1969 until his death in 2001.

Today, the Castle is home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. 


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