George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon

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The Earl of Carnarvon

Earl of Carnarvon
George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, reading.jpg
Lord Carnarvon, who was the chief financial backer on many of Howard Carter's Egyptian excavations.
Tenure29 June 1890 – 5 April 1923
PredecessorHenry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon
SuccessorHenry Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon
Other titlesLord Porchester (until 1890)
Known forDiscovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb
BornGeorge Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert
(1866-06-28)28 June 1866
Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Died5 April 1923(1923-04-05) (aged 56)
Cairo, Kingdom of Egypt
BuriedBeacon Hill, Burghclere, Hampshire
ResidenceHighclere Castle

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, DL (26 June 1866 – 5 April 1923), styled Lord Porchester until 1890, was an English peer and aristocrat best known as the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Background and education[edit]

Styled Lord Porchester from birth, he was born at the family seat, Highclere Castle, in Hampshire, the only son of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a distinguished Tory statesman, by his first wife Lady Evelyn Stanhope, daughter of Anne and George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield. Aubrey Herbert was his half-brother.[1] He was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] He inherited the Bretby Hall estate in Derbyshire from his maternal grandmother, Anne Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Chesterfield in 1885, and succeeded his father in the earldom in 1890.[3]

He was High steward of Newbury.[4]


Lady and Lord Carnarvon at the races in June 1921.

Lord Carnarvon married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell,[5] illegitimate daughter of millionaire banker Alfred de Rothschild,[6] of the Rothschild family, at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, on 26 June 1895. Rothschild provided a marriage settlement of £500,000 and paid off all Lord Carnarvon’s existing debts.[7] The Carnarvons had two children:[1]

Horse racing[edit]

Exceedingly wealthy due to his marriage settlement,[7] Carnarvon was at first best known as an owner of racehorses and a reckless driver of early cars, suffering in 1901 a serious motoring accident near Bad Schwalbach in Germany, after which he never fully recovered his health.[9] In 1902, he established Highclere Stud to breed thoroughbred racehorses.[10] In 1905, he was appointed one of the stewards at the new Newbury Racecourse. His family has maintained the connection ever since. His grandson, the 7th Earl, was racing manager to Queen Elizabeth II from 1969, and one of the Queen's closest friends.[citation needed]


Lord Carnarvon was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, and Lord and Lady Carnarvon often spent their winters in Egypt, where they bought antiquities for their collection in England.[9]

Lord Carnarvon, his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert and Howard Carter at the top of the steps leading to the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun, November 1922.[11]

In 1907 Lord Carnarvon undertook to sponsor the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahri, near Thebes. He employed Howard Carter to undertake the work,[12] on the recommendation of Gaston Maspero, director of the Egyptian Antiquities Department.[13]

In 1914 Lord Carnarvon received the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings, replacing Theodore Davis who had resigned, Carter again leading the work. Excavations were interrupted during the First World War, but resumed in late 1917.[9] By 1922 little of significance had been found and Lord Carnarvon decided this would be the final year he would fund the work.[14] However, on 4 November 1922, Carter was able to send a telegram to Lord Carnarvon, in England, saying:

"At last we have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations".[9]

Although a semi-invalid due to injuries sustained in a serious automobile accident in 1903,[15] Lord Carnarvon, accompanied by his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert, returned to Egypt. The tomb was to be officially opened under the supervision of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities on 29 November. However, on 26 and 27 November Carter, his assistant Arthur Challender, Lord Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn made several unauthorised visits inside the tomb[16] and were present when Carter made a tiny breach in the top left hand corner of the tomb's doorway. He was able to peer in by the light of a candle. Carnarvon asked, "Can you see anything?" Carter replied with the words: "Yes, wonderful things!"[17] They then entered the tomb,[18] becoming the first people in modern times to do so. Challender rigged up electric lighting, illuminating a jumble of items, including gilded couches, chests, thrones, and shrines. They also found two more sealed doorways, including one to the inner burial chamber,[16] guarded by two life-size statues of Tutankhamun. A small hole was found in this doorway and Carter, Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn crawled through it into the inner burial chamber.[9]

Lord Carnarvon travelled to England in December 1922, returning in January 1923 to be present at the official opening of the inner burial chamber on 16 February.[19] Before the opening Carnarvon had sold the exclusive newspaper rights to report the excavation to The Times. While this helped finance the work, it created resentment both from other newspapers and from the Egyptian authorities, whose own press was also excluded.[20]

Towards the end of February a rift with Carter, probably caused by a disagreement on how to manage the supervising Egyptian authorities, temporarily closed excavation. Work recommenced in early March after Carnarvon apologised.[20] This was to be Lord Carnarvon's last significant involvement in the excavation project, he falling seriously ill shortly afterwards.


Lord Carnarvon's tomb on Beacon Hill

On 19 March 1923, Carnarvon suffered a severe mosquito bite which became infected by a razor cut. On 5 April, he died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo caused, according to contemporary reports, by blood poisoning progressing to pneumonia.[21] On 14 April Lady Almina Carnarvon removed Lord Carnarvon's remains to England.[22] His tomb appropriately reflects his archaeological interest, nestled within an ancient hill fort overlooking his family seat at Beacon Hill, Burghclere, Hampshire.[23] Carnarvon was survived by his wife Almina, who subsequently remarried, and their two children.

After Lord Carnarvon's death, the Egyptian government took ownership of the artifacts in the East Valley of the Kings and in April 1930 provided a grant of £35,000 to his heirs.[24]

Legends and speculations[edit]

Encouraged by newspaper speculation,[20][25] the "Curse of Tutankhamun," or, the "Mummy's Curse," entered popular culture and was fuelled further by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's suggestion that Carnarvon's death had been caused by "elementals" created by Tutankhamun's priests to guard the royal tomb.[26] Daily Mail correspondent Arthur Weigall had reported six weeks before Carnarvon's death, that he had watched Carnarvon laughing and joking as he had entered the tomb, and had remarked to nearby reporter H. V. Morton, "I give him six weeks to live."[27]

Some of the stories were clearly fabricated, including that a curse had been found inscribed on the wall of the tomb,[20][28] while a study showed that those involved in the tomb's discovery and clearance did not, on average, have a lower than average life expectancy.[29] A study of documents and scholarly sources led The Lancet to conclude as unlikely that Carnarvon's death had anything to do with Tutankhamun's tomb, refuting another theory that exposure to toxic fungi (mycotoxins) had contributed to his demise. Although he was one of the men to enter the tomb, on several occasions, none of the other 25 from Europe were affected in the months after the entries. The cause of Carnarvon's death was reported as "'pneumonia supervening on [facial] erysipelas,' (a streptococcal infection of the skin and underlying soft tissue). Pneumonia was thought to be only one of various complications, arising from the progressively invasive infection, that eventually resulted in multiorgan failure." The Earl had been "prone to frequent and severe lung infections" according to The Lancet and there had been a "general belief ... that one acute attack of bronchitis could have killed him. In such a debilitated state, the Earl's immune system was easily overwhelmed by erysipelas".[15]

In popular culture[edit]



  • Earl of Carnarvon; et al. (1912). Five years' explorations at Thebes: a record of work done 1907-1911. London: Henry Frowde.


  1. ^ a b George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon
  2. ^ "Herbert, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux, Lord Porchester (HRBT886GE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ Zoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner; Nelson, James (2007). "3". The Curse of King Tut's Mummy. Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0-375-83862-0.
  4. ^ "Queen victoria Memorial at Newbury". The Times (36920). London. 8 November 1902. p. 13.
  5. ^ Barnard Burke, 1914, p.387
  6. ^ Seymour, Miranda (15 September 2011). "Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon – review". The Guardian.
  7. ^ a b William Cross. Carnarvon, Carter and Tutankhamun Revisited: The Hidden Truths and Doomed Relationships. p. 31 Published by author. 2016. ISBN 9781905914364.
  8. ^ a b Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003).
  9. ^ a b c d e Bill Price. Tutankhamun, Egypt's Most Famous Pharaoh. pp. 119–128. Published Pocket Essentials, Hertfordshire. 2007. ISBN 9781842432402.
  10. ^ "Architecture". House and Garden. Condé Nast Publications, Ltd. 160 (1–4): 54. 1994.
  11. ^ Harry Burton’s photos of Tutankhamun’s Tomb, Griffith Institute Archive.
  12. ^ Winstone, H. V. F. (2006). Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (rev. ed.). Manchester: Barzan. ISBN 1-905521-04-9.
  13. ^ A letter of Maspero dated 14 October 1907, in his archives in the library of the Institut de France says: You have been kind enough to say to me that you could find a man who knows Egyptology to survey my works. Have you thought to anybody? I will leave the question of payment in your hands but I think I would prefer a compatriot (Manuscripts 4009, folios 292-293). On 16 January 1909, Carter writes to Maspero: Just a word to tell you that Lord Carnarvon has accepted my conditions. He will be there (in Egypt) from 12 February to 20 March. I have to thank you again... (Manuscripts 4009, folio 527) - from Elisabeth David.
  14. ^ Carnarvon, Fiona (2011). Highclere Castle. Highclere Enterprises. p. 59.
  15. ^ a b Cox, A. M. "The death of Lord Carnarvon", by Ann M. Cox; The Lancet; 7 June 2003.
  16. ^ a b "Howard Carter's diary entry for 25-27 November 1922".
  17. ^ Lord Carnarvon's description, 10 December 1922, quoted in: Reeves, Nicholas; Taylor, John H. (1992). Howard Carter before Tutankhamun. London: British Museum. p. 141. ISBN 0-7141-0952-5.
  18. ^ Reeves, C. N. (1990). Valley of the Kings: the decline of a royal necropolis. London: Kegan Paul. p. 63. ISBN 0-7103-0368-8.
  19. ^ "Howard Carter's diary entry for 16 February 1923".
  20. ^ a b c d Bill Price. Tutankhamun, Egypt's Most Famous Pharaoh. pp. 130–132. Published Pocket Essentials, Hertfordshire. 2007. ISBN 9781842432402.
  21. ^ "Carnarvon Is Dead Of An Insect's Bite At Pharaoh's Tomb. Blood poisoning and ensuing pneumonia conquer Tutankhamun discoverer in Egypt". New York Times. 5 April 1923. Retrieved 12 August 2008. The Earl of Carnarvon died peacefully at 2 o'clock this morning. He was conscious almost to the end.
  22. ^ "Howard Carter's diary entry for 14 April 1923".
  23. ^ Carnarvon's Tomb
  24. ^ "Egyptologist Howard Carter dies - archive, 1939".
  25. ^ Pappas, Stephanie. Curse of King Tut's Tomb Turns 90, Live Science. retrieved on 10 June, 2020. " 'As with all celebrity deaths, the story rapidly gathered its own momentum and soon there were reports of sinister goings on,' Tylsdesley said. 'At the very moment of Carnarvon’s death all the lights in Cairo had been mysteriously extinguished and at his English home Carnarvon’s dog, Susie, let out a great howl and died.' "
  26. ^ Hamilton-Paterson, J Mummies: Death and Life in Ancient Egypt, James Hamilton-Paterson, Carol Andrews, p. 197, Collins for British Museum Publications, 1978, p. 196. ISBN 0-00-195532-2
  27. ^ Winstone, H.V.F. Howard Carter and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, H. V. F. Winstone, Constable, 1991, p. 262. ISBN 0-09-469900-3
  28. ^ Pappas, Stephanie. Curse of King Tut's Tomb Turns 90, Live Science. retrieved on 10 June, 2020. " After Carnarvon died, Corelli spread the false rumor that the phrase 'death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh' was carved on King Tut's tomb. "
  29. ^ Bill Price. Tutankhamun, Egypt's Most Famous Pharaoh. pp. 137–138. Published Pocket Essentials, Hertfordshire. 2007. ISBN 9781842432402.
  30. ^ "Carnarvon (Character)". Archived from the original on 9 October 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2008.
  31. ^ "Radio 23 Nov 2016 Did Howard Carter and Evelyn Carnarvon have a romantic relationship?". Retrieved 14 January 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • with Howard Carter, Five Years' Explorations at Thebes - A Record of Work Done 1907-1911, ed. Paul Kegan, 2004 (ISBN 0-7103-0835-3).
  • Five Years' Explorations at Thebes
  • Fiona Carnarvon, Egypt at Highclere - The discovery of Tutankhamun, Highclere Enterprises LPP, 2009.
  • Fiona Carnarvon, Carnarvon & Carter - the story of the two Englishman who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, Highclere Enterprises LPP, 2007.
  • Elisabeth David, Gaston Maspero 1846-1916, Pygmalion/Gérard Watelet, 1999 (ISBN 2-85704-565-4).
  • Cross William, Carnarvon, Carter and Tutankhamun Revisited. The hidden truths and doomed relationships, Book Midden Publishing, 2016 (ISBN 978-1905914-36-4).
  • Cross William, Lordy! Tutankhamun's Patron As A Young Man , Book Midden Publishing, 2012 (ISBN 978-1-905914-05-0).
  • Cross William, The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon : 5th Countess of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun Fame , 3rd Ed 2011 ( ISBN 978-1-905914-08-1).
  • Cross William, Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives: The Tragic Tales of the Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon, Book Midden Publishing, 2013 ( ISBN 978-1905914-25-8).

External links[edit]

Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Henry Herbert
Earl of Carnarvon
Succeeded by
Henry Herbert