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Wyoming’s Connection To “Downton Abbey” 

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

“Downton Abbey” is a popular PBS British historical drama television series set in the early 20th century Fans of the series might be surprised to know that the castle that features prominently in the show actually has a strong connection to Wyoming.

Fans of “Downton Abbey” number in the millions. They tuned in every week, from September of 2010 to Christmas Day 2015, to watch the comings and goings of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants during the reign of King George V.

The series is set on a fictional Yorkshire country estate between 1912 and 1926 – but in actuality, filming took place at Highclere Castle, which is home to members of a prominent Wyoming family. 

In the mid-1950s, Jean Wallop, sister of former Wyoming U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop, fell in love with and married a young nobleman named George Reginald Oliver Molyneux Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Highclere Castle is the Carnarvon family home. 

The Wallop Royal Connection 

Malcolm Wallop was elected as a U.S. Senator, serving in Washington from 1976-1995.  Before that he served in both the Wyoming State House and Senate. 

Wallop’s Wyoming roots only went back three generations – his grandfather, Oliver Henry Wallop, was born into a noble family in England. But in 1884, at the age of 28, O.H. (as he was called) immigrated to the U.S., purchasing a homestead near Big Horn in 1890. He raised and trained polo ponies and tandem horse teams. His two ranches, the Polo Ranch and the Canyon Ranch, are still in operation today. 

O.H. became a U.S. citizen in 1891 and even served two terms as a state representative in the Wyoming Legislature. But family soon called him back to England. When his older brother, the 7th Earl of Portsmouth, died, O.H. chose to renounce his American citizenship and returned to Britain, taking his seat in the House of Lords as the 8th Earl of Portsmouth. 

“(O.H. Wallop) was the only person to ever have served first in the Wyoming State Legislature, and then in the House of Lords,” said Kendie Hartman, a former staffer for Senator Malcolm Wallop. 

But it was O.H.’s granddaughter, Jeanie (Malcolm’s sister) who forged the connection to Highclere Castle.  

Jeanie Wallop Moves Into Highclere 

In the mid-1950s, Jeanie met and fell in love with a young man also of noble birth, Henry Herbert, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon (also known by his courtesy title, Lord Porchester). The two were married in New York City on January 7, 1956, and moved across the “pond” to Highclere Castle. 

Herbert’s connection to the crown, though, was unusually close.  He was a personal friend of then-Princess Elizabeth from the time they were teenagers. The Queen often visited Highclere Castle, and in 1969 appointed the Earl as the manager of her racing horses.  

“Porchey,” as his friends and family called him (a nod to his courtesy title, Lord Porchester) was so close to the queen that actors have portrayed him in the television series “The Crown” on Netflix. 

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon had three children – the oldest, George, is the queen’s godson. The Earl died at the age of 77 on September 11, 2001, suffering a heart attack. Earlier in the day he had watched television coverage of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. 

The queen attended the earl’s funeral, but remained a friend of Jeanie. 

“After Porchey died on 9/11, Jeanie and the queen remained very, very close friends themselves,” said Hartman, adding that when Jeanie passed in 2019, the queen went to her funeral as well. 

Highclere Castle 

Built in 1679, the 5,000-acre estate so familiar to television viewers is located in Hampshire, England. 

Prior to its fame as the setting for “Downton Abbey,” Highclere Castle was already a high-profile estate. At the beginning of World War I, a hospital for wounded soldiers was opened there. The Lady of the house, Lady Carnarvon, assisted as a nurse and helped with the organization of the hospital. 

The estate had ties to another major historical event in the early 1900s as well – the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was an amateur Egyptologist who sponsored archaeologist Howard Carter during his search for Tutankhamun’s tomb. Egyptian artifacts were stored at the castle in 1907. 

During World War II, Highclere Castle was the site of several airplane crashes, including a B-17 Flying Fortress. 

In the present day, the estate offers guided tours of the famous film location during the summer months, and is also used as a venue for hire. The current Earl of Carnarvon and his family live in part of the house, while the rest is open to the public. 

The Next Generation of Nobles 

Malcolm’s son, Paul Wallop, who currently operates the Canyon Ranch near Big Horn, has spent significant time at Highclere Castle. 

“I actually worked on that farm when I was a teenager for a little while, right after high school,” Paul told Cowboy State Daily. “When we started our pheasant hunts (here), I went over and studied with their gamekeeper for a while about raising and releasing pheasants, because they’re really good at it.”  

And in his time spent visiting his cousin, the earl, Paul has had the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth on several occasions. 

“One day when I was over, and I was supposed to go and have lunch with my cousin (who’s now earl), I was just about to leave when my aunt said, ‘Hang on for a minute and have a drink before lunch,’” said Paul. “So I stayed. Well, the queen came over for lunch, and I got to meet her briefly then.” 

Because the queen was his cousin’s godmother, Paul had other occasions to meet the beloved monarch.  “She was an amazing, gracious woman,” he said. 

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