George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon Biography

George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was an English Peer known for his role in financing the search for and excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Despite being partially disabled due to a car accident, he developed a passion for Egyptian antiques and became an amateur Egyptologist. He collaborated with archaeologist Howard Carter and together they discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Unfortunately, Lord Carnarvon passed away shortly after the tomb’s opening.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In June Also Known As: George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon
  • Died At Age: 56
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Almina Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon (m. 1895)
    • Father: Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon
    • Mother: Lady Evelyn Stanhope
    • Children: 6th Earl of Carnarvon, Evelyn Beauchamp, Henry Herbert
  • Born Country: England
  • Archaeologists
  • British Men
  • Died on: April 5, 1923
  • Place of death: Cairo, Egypt
  • Cause of Death: Blood Poisoning: Pneumonia
  • City: Hampshire, England
  • More Facts
  • Education: Trinity College, Cambridge

Childhood & Early Years

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert was born on 28 June 1866 at Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England. His father, Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, was a distinguished statesman and a leading Tory politician. His mother, Lady Evelyn Stanhope, was the daughter of George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield.

Born eldest of his parents’ four children, he had three younger sisters; Lady Winifred Herbert, Lady Margaret Herbert, and Lady Victoria Herbert. From his father’s second marriage, he had two half-brothers; Honorable Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert and Honorable Mervyn Robert Howard Molyneux Herbert.

Little is known about his childhood except that he was enrolled at the prestigious Eton College in 1879 and studied there till 1882. Thereafter, he entered Trinity College, University of Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1886.

In 1885, while he was still a student at Trinity College, he inherited the Bretby Hall estate in Derbyshire from his maternal grandmother. In the following year, he was styled Baron Porchester, a title he held until he succeeded his father in 1890.

Inheriting Earldom

In June 1890, Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, passed away and with that George Herbert became the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. He also inherited four big estates, spreading over 6,000 acres. Also in the same year, he was appointed High Steward of Newbury.

Like many young men of his class, he soon began leading an exorbitant life style. Very soon, he incurred a debt of £150,000 and marrying a heiress remained an only way out for him.

In 1895, he married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell, possibly the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, a Jewish millionaire banker belonging to the well-known Rothschild family. His would-be father-in-law not only paid off his debts, but also provided a marriage settlement of £500,000.

Apart from racehorses, Lord Carnarvon was also passionate about cars. In 1901, while motoring through Germany, he had a serious accident, which left him disabled. He never fully recovered from it.

In 1902, he started breeding thoroughbred racehorses and established Highclere Stud for that purpose. In 1905, he was appointed one of the stewards at the new Newbury Racecourse.


From early 1900s, Lord Carnarvon and his wife began spending their winters in Egypt, since it had warmer climate than England. Quickly, they developed an interest in Egyptian antiques, acquiring number of such pieces to be added to their collection at home.

Over the time, Lord Carnarvon acquired fame as an amateur Egyptologist. In 1906, he started excavating near Thebes (modern day Luxor). But very soon, he realized that it needed expertise and sought the help of Howard Carter, a British archaeologist and former employee at Egyptian government’s antiquities department.

In 1907, he signed a contact with Carter, who agreed to supervise excavation for him. Very soon, they began searching for the tombs of the Egyptian noblemen in Deir el-Bahri, near Thebes, often without any reward.

After working for a long time, they were able to find tombs belonging to the 12th and 18th dynasties. In 1912, they published an account of their work in a book entitled ‘Five Years’ Explorations at Thebes’.

Excavating Valley of Kings

In 1914, Lord Carnarvon received permission to excavate the Valley of the Kings. Located opposite to Thebes on the west bank of the Nile, the area contained many rock cut tombs belonging to ancient pharaohs and nobles.

Shortly after receiving permission, he began the excavation under the supervision of Howard Carter. But the First World War set off soon after that; forcing him to halt the work.

They resumed the excavation towards the end of 1917; but for a long time it yielded no significant result. Eventually in 1922, Lord Carnarvon decided to abandon the project if nothing significant is found within that year.

On 4 November 1922, he received a telegram from Carter, which read “At last we have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations”. It was the tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled over Egypt from 1334 to 1325 BC.

Opening the Tomb of Tutankhamun

By 24 November 1922, Lord Carnarvon was back in Egypt, this time accompanied by his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert. Although it was decided that the tomb would be officially opened under the supervision of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities on 29 November they could not wait that long.

On 26 and 27 November, they made several unauthorized visits. Initially, they peeped into the tomb through a tiny breach made in one corner of its doorway. Later they entered the tomb, where they found two more sealed doorways, one of which led the inner burial chamber.

On 29 November, 1922, the tomb was officially opened in the presence of Egyptian authorities. In December, he went back to England for a short visit, returning to Egypt in January 1923. During this trip he had possibly sold the exclusive newspaper rights to report the excavation to The Times.

On 16 February, 1923, the inner burial chamber was opened in presence of Egyptian officer. But very soon, a rift arose between Carnarvon, Carter and the Egyptian authorities, leading to temporary suspension of the work. Although the matter was later resolved, Carnarvon did not live to complete the excavation.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1895, Lord Carnarvon married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell, officially the daughter of Marie and Fred Wombwell. However, according to available sources, she was born out of a liaison between Alfred de Rothschild and Marie. The couple had two children. Their, son Henry George Alfred Marius Victor Francis Herbert, later inherited his estate as the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon. Younger to him, was a daughter called Lady Evelyn Leonora Almina, who later married Sir Brograve Beauchamp.

On 19 March 1923, while in Egypt, Carnarvon suffered a severe mosquito bite which later became infected. On 5 April, he died of complications arising out of it in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo. His remains were later interred near his family seat in England.

Trivia: After Carnarvon’s sudden death in April 1923, the Egyptian government took ownership of the artifacts found inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. Later however, his heirs were provided with a grant of £35,000.

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