(SPOILER ALERT—Although everybody who cares has seen it by now, haven’t they?)
My little world was rocked last week by the death of Matthew Crawley in the Season Three finale of Downton Abbey. For a Downton fan girl, it was a rough evening.
And it reminded me of an interesting fact I stumbled across during research for my work in progress, a connection between the Edwardian-tinged aristocratic life of Downton Abbey and my tale of four modern kids who travel through time to ancient Egypt—the reign of Tutankhamun, to be specific. Surprising, right?
Downton Abbey is a fictional creation, but Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed, is very real. It’s the hereditary seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, and many details of the show are drawn from its history. And like Lord Grantham’s fictitious heir, the real 1920’s Earl of Carnarvon met a stunning end.
Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb is legendary. The world had never seen such a rich collection of burial goods, and the newspapers of the day exploded with tales of exotic adventure and ancient treasures. When several of the people connected with the tomb died over the next few months, stories of a Mummy’s Curse began circulating that still live in our collective imagination.
What does this have to do with Downton Abbey?
Lord Carnarvon funded Howard Carter’s expedition and was present when the tomb was opened. A few months later, he died in Egypt from an infected mosquito bite—a death many attributed to the Mummy’s Curse.
Just imagine Lord Grantham supporting the efforts of a determined archaeologist, traveling to Egypt to witness the opening of a newly discovered tomb and then dying, sparking whispers that he’d succumbed to the Mummy’s Curse. We’d think the writers had lost their minds, which is why truth is stranger than fiction.
Then again, the way the show’s been going, who knows? If Lord Grantham develops a sudden interest in Egyptology, I’m going to be worried. Season Four begins in 1922, after all.