The second episode of Tutankhamun features hints of a blossoming romance between moustached archaeologist Howard Carter (Max Irons) and his patron’s daughter, Evelyn Carnarvon (Amy Wren) – but did the pair really fall into each others’ arms in 1920s Egypt?
We did a little historical digging of our own to find the answer…
Lady Evelyn Leonora Almina Herbert was born to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, and his wife Almina in 1901.
She accompanied her father on his visits to Egypt, spending much of her time in the company of Howard Carter and developing what appears to have been a friendship with the archaeologist. She was present when Carter and Carnarvon made their first foray into the tomb of Tutankhamun in November 1923.
She’s also referenced in 1999 film The Mummy. Rachel Weisz’s character, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Carnahan, is named in tribute to Lady Evelyn.
Did Howard Carter and Evelyn Carnarvon actually have a romantic relationship?
“My goodness, no,” says the current Lady Carnarvon, who was taken aback at the suggestion when Radio Times interviewed her earlier this year. “There is no evidence for a romance between them whatsoever. Carter was absolutely dedicated to Lord Carnarvon [played in the drama by Sam Neill] and to their work, nothing else mattered.”
Her husband, the current Earl, also emphatically denies that his great aunt had an affair with the Egyptologist, but the show’s writer, Guy Burt, has defended his interpretation
“I’ve taken a degree of creative licence but it’s not a random speculation – it comes from reading between the lines of the letters, the notebooks and the diaries”,” he told The Telegraph.
“To say categorically that there was no chance of a romance between Carter and Evelyn is to dodge some of the evidence of the time”, he added, referencing those same notebooks and diaries, which include a journal entry by English Egyptologist Arthur Mace, who describes Carter and Lady Evelyn as “very thick together”, and one of Evelyn’s letters to Carter signed with a “bless you dearest Howard”.
“I am saying that the story of the romance is emphatically not a writer’s invention” Burt explains, “it is an elaboration of an existing, persistent rumour which if not proven by the evidence, is certainly not contradicted by it either.”
What happened to Lady Evelyn?
Evelyn went on to marry a British politician, Sir Brograve Beauchamp, in October 1923. The pair had a daughter, Patricia Evelyn Beauchamp, who was born in 1925.
The Carnarvons insist Evelyn (who passed away in 1980) definitely didn’t have a relationship with Carter (who died in 1939) and the show’s writer says it’s entirely possible, but without asking the pair for their own take on their relationship we can never actually know for sure what happened.
The answer, much like the tomb they searched for, lies buried in the Egyptian sands.