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Winifred, Lady Burghclere (or Baroness Burghclere), was born in London, England, a daughter of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife Lady Evelyn Stanhope. The family seat was the famous Highclere Castle in Hampshire. When Lady Winifred was 10 years old, her mother died, and she and her younger siblings were sent to stay with some elderly aunts. She was very close to her younger brother George Herbert, later 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the Egyptologist and financial backer of the excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. In 1887, she married her first husband, Captain Hon. Alfred John George Byng; he died less than a year later. In 1890, she remarried to Herbert Colstoun Gardner, later Baron Burghclere of Walden, a Liberal politician with whom she had four daughters. The youngest, Evelyn Gardner, became the first wife of author Evelyn Waugh. Lady Burghclere published a number of biographies of famous English historical figures, including George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. She was also a prolific letter writer.
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