Originally published January 3, 2013 at 12:04 p.m., updated July 16, 2013 at 12:18 p.m.
It may be more famous now than any time in its 1,300-year history as the setting of the hit drama “Downton Abbey,” but England’s Highclere Castle has its own extraordinary stories to tell. The country estate is the subject of "Secrets Of Highclere Castle," part of an ongoing series by Pioneer Productions that looks at life in stately British homes.
“We are pleased to give Highclere a starring role,” says Beth Hoppe, Vice President of Programming for PBS. “This fascinating program gives our loyal viewers and all ‘Downton’ fans more of what they love. Not only can one find amazing entertainment on PBS, but also the context and surprising stories behind the entertainment.”
In its heyday, Highclere was the social epicenter of Edwardian England, playing host to royalty, nobility and celebrity alike. "Secrets Of Highclere Castle" shows how all the inhabitants of Highclere lived, from the aristocrats who enjoyed a life of luxury and indolence for centuries in the castle’s rooms (on an estate as large as New York City’s Central Park) to the army of servants toiling endlessly “below stairs” to make the lives of their lords and ladies run as smoothly as possible.
"Secrets Of Highclere Castle" reveals the intersections of Highclere’s real history with the narrative arc of its fictional doppelganger. For instance, the castle actually served as a WWI military hospital, replete with an aristocratic resident who tended to the wounded. In real life, as in drama, historical events truly changed Highclere and its residents forever.
No one knows Highclere better than its current inhabitants, the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon. "Secrets Of Highclere Castle" follows these modern royals to find out how their $1 million in annual upkeep funds is spent and what life in a fairytale castle is like many generations past the age of extravagant parties and opulence.