A Candid Biography of Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon, of Tutankhamun Fame
4th November 2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the discovery by Howard Carter and the legendary 5th Earl of Carnarvon of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.
This new book charts the colourful story of Carnarvon's widow, Almina, who lived for almost 50 years after the Earl's famous death from a mosquito bite in 1923.
As frequently happens with wives of famous men, the woman's own story is overlooked. This is a sketch of the 5th Countess that adddresses the biographers' neglect, to date, and offers insight to Almina's world through a close, detailed study of newspapers, letters, diaries, testimonials and references to her and her circle in private and national archives. There are also first hand recollections of Almina from a number of people, including her godson, who lived with her from 1945 until 1969.
The book comprises 258 pages, with 54 photographs of Almina's nine decades, revealing her extraordinary life and times.
Copies of the book are available directly from the author, William Cross, FSA Scot.
For further details about the book please e-mail Will at
A Brief Synopsis
"every inch a Countess, every sinue a Lady, she gave generously to many causes, and to those in her own class, but she was also a bit of a monster......"
Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon, 1876-1969, has left behind a curse as deadly as the one that overshadowed her legendry husband, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, co-discoverer with Howard Carter of the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
The Countess ploughed through a King’s ransom, inherited from one of the Rothschild family, leaving her playboy son enraged.
In the Great War she reigned supreme as a High Society leader who abandoned her very comfy drawing room to treat wounded Officers at her own expense. Her later plush Nursing Homes served the rich, famous and privileged, earning her celebrity status.
Almina loved men and she hated women. She controlled men like a puppet master and they did her bidding.
Despite her colossal wealth she lost everything to bankruptcy.
The book, the only published biography of the Countess ( which also contains unique material on Lord Carnarvon and the Tutankhamun timeline ) offers an insight into Almina’s life and times and discloses many of her startling, intimate secrets. Who were her lovers? Why has no previous biography appeared before about her?
The narrative reveals a riches-to-rags story over nine decades of how the barely 5 feet high, Pocket Venus was plunged into an artificial marriage with a boorish, craggy faced Earl, ten years her senior, a virtual invalid who failed her as a companion and lover.
Almina reinvented herself several times, she married twice, in the same year as Lord Carnarvon's death choosing a bounder of all bounders, named Lt. Colonel Ian Onslow Dennistoun.
The Colonel's first wife proved to be Almina's nemisis. Dorothy Dennistoun dragged the Colonel into the law courts in 1925 in an
alimony suit dubbed by Punch magazine "The Dustbin Case".
The seventeen days of mud-raking and lurid sex scandal cost Almina upwards of £40,000. Another £30,000 had to be paid to an actress in a breach of promise case against the Colonel.
After Dennistoun's demise Almina lived secretly with a business partner for 20 years, entirely undisclosed to her family, who walked in the highest echelons of Society.
Almina even swindled her own son. She ended her days in an ordinary terraced house in Bristol, England, perishing aged 93, in a horrendous “accident” in 1969.
Scandals and secrets aside this is a serious study of an exceptional woman, who made a major contribution to the field of pioneering nursing homes, before the National Health Service. She was a very much a one-off. An eccentric aristocrat who often didn't give a damn!
Even forty later after her death this is a tale to rock the old world establishment.
Porchey Carnarvon, Highclere Castle’s Sixth Earl of Carnarvon married twice. First, in 1922, he wooed an American-born beauty named Catherine Wendell and secondly, in 1939, he persuaded the well-known Austrian ballet dancer, turned actress, Tilly Losch to the altar, well, at least to the Registry Office. When they married Porchey, ( who was a life long flirt and sex pest ) the two women were vulnerable and penniless. Their marital capitulation into the chore of being Porchey’s bed mate was nothing to do with his looks or magnetic sex appeal or of being wonderfully romanced, it was instead all down to acquiring a husband who was better off than they were financially. Socially both women made an impact on many men, they were no angels. Whilst Porchey made reasonable husband material on grounds of title, money and property neither relationship was a love match and both women were duped by their family and friends into risking the holy state of matrimony. The marriages proved hell holes for the women. Porchey was an egotist and regularly unfaithful and cruel. Catherine turned to alcohol and suffered a series of nervous breakdowns. She tried to kill herself. Tilly escaped to America after just ten weeks as Highclere’s chatelaine, whilst Porchey lined up his next Countess. This is the story of how these two women caught in the trap of being Porchey’s wife overcame the abuses, and their own personal tragedies and health scares, to find inner happiness. Catherine eventually found peace with a man who loved her. Tilly
(always the more public and charismatic of Porchey’s wives) became an amateur artist, whilst continuing to ply her trade as one of the iconic symbols of the 20th Century.
For details about the New Book ( due out 18 November 2013) please e-mail the author William Cross
PHOTOGRAPHS AT THE LAUNCH OF THE BOOK ON 20 JULY 2011
William Cross launches his biography of Almina, Countess of Carnarvon 20 July 2011
William Cross shares a moment with Almina's godson, Tony Leadbetter. They raise a cheer together at the launch of The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon on 20 July 2011.
Tony's late mother, Anne, was Almina's housekeeper for almost thirty years.
Tony grew up in Almina's succession of houses in the West Country from 1943-1969.
With thanks to John Briggs for the photographs.
With thanks to Keir Cross and Tom Dart for the photographs.