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Posts Tagged ‘Edwardian Country House’

Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey was a beautiful setting

Now that the last episode of Downton Abbey has aired, I can reflect back on the series and revisit some of the most surprising scenes. Indeed, the unexpected plot developments, which kept the viewers on their toes,  helped to make this series so unforgettable. Throw luscious costumes into the mix, stunning locations, a wealth of detail about Edwardian life, and great acting and you get one of the best costume dramas in recent years. Oh, the series had its faults with one or two too many stereotypical characters, but overall I give it a grade of A.

Reader alert: Spoilers!!

Surprise #1: Thomas kisses the Duke

Thomas (Rob James-Colier) and the Duke of Crowborough (Charley Cox)

This scene, which upset parents watching with their children, helped to seal the character of Thomas, the first footman, and clued the viewer into the the Duke’s motives for hightailing it to Downton Abbey when he thinks Mary will come into a boatload of money.

The duke learns the true situation of Lady Mary's finances from Lord Grantham.

The Duke finds and burns Thomas’s letters, which were the footman’s only means of blackmailing him, and then he scurries away the moment he discovers that Lord Grantham’s estate is entailed to the closest male heir, making his chance to marry into the Grantham fortune less than zero. Thomas goes on to demonstrate his sleazy character in many more ways, but his move on the Duke packed a real punch.

Surprise #2: Lady Mary is not just another cookie cutter heroine

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley

From the moment we meet her, Lady Mary comes off as a cold, calculating, and complex woman, whose vulnerability does not come into full view until the third episode. When the viewer meets her, she worries about having to wear black after the death of her fiance on the Titanic and only mourns the fact that she cannot mourn him. Haughty and immodestly aware of her attraction to men, her pursuit of a wealthy and titled husband begins to take on a hint of desperation, which is why her fall from grace with Evelyn Napier’s attractive Turkish friend, Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), is even more shocking.

Surprise #3: Lady Mary, Lady Cora, and Anna share a terrible secret that cannot be contained

Lady Mary is in deep trouble after Pamuk dies in her bed.

The scene in which Pamuk dies in Lady Mary’s bed and the women secretly carry him back to his bedroom could have descended into slapstick comedy, but it did not due to great directing and acting. As I watched, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or whoop it up. All I knew was that in no way did I anticipate this plot development, which would affect Mary’s story arc and uneasy relationship with her mother for the rest of the mini-series.

Consequences of Lady Mary's fall from grace. Anna and Cora carry Pamuk back to the bedroom.

Handsome Pamuk is reduced to a limp corpse. And Mary? What on earth was she thinking? When Matthew finally proposes, Cora reveals to Violet that Mary wants to confess about the circumstances of Pamuk’s death, prompting the dowager to exclaim:  “She reads too many novels. One way or the other, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden!”

Surprise #4: The Enjoyable Saga of One Upmanship Between Two Well-Matched Battle Axes

Violet, the dowager countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Matthew's mama

Violet and Isobel: Two strong-willed women, both firm in their belief that they are right, one with modern notions, the other clinging to old-fashioned ways, provide a colorful but minor story line. Isobel Crawley, despite her comparative lack of social status (when matched against the Dowager Countess), manages to make her will known and felt. Violet can only sputter and rage at Isobel’s interference, and she finds scant satisfaction in proving Isobel’s diagnosis and treatment of Molesley’s skin condition wrong. But Isobel was not born yesterday, and at the Flowershow Death Match she shames Violet into giving the trophy for best roses to Molesley’s papa, instead of appropriating it as her own for the umpteenth time.

Violet graciously gives this year's prize to old Mr. Molesley.

In their scenes together,  Penelope Wilton  gave the incomparable Maggie Smith a run for her money. The enjoyable interplay between these two marvelous actresses was as surprising as it was worth watching.

Surprise #5: Cora’s Pregnancy

Lord Grantham's surprise at learning of Cora's pregnancy. (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Did you see this scene coming? I did not, although it made sense, for this unexpected pregnancy explains much about the entail and why Matthew Crawley was only the presumptive heir and therefore essentially helpless in changing his situation. As long as the earl could possibly sire a son, Matthew’s claim to the inheritance would remain tenuous. The entail could not be broken for the Grantham was still  a healthy and virile man, as this scene shows. The pregnancy led us to discover…

Surprise #6:  O’Brien’s True Malevolent Impulses

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) holds the fatal bar of soap

O'Brien shoves the bar of soap in harm's way.

Cora’s fatal flaw was in thinking that she and O’Brien had developed a mutual friendship and trust. While Cora receives glimpses of O’Brien’s true character, she never fully understood the anger and insecurity that her ladies maid harbored. O’Brien’s pang of conscience about shoving the broken half of the bar of soap from under the bath tub came too late, and Cora slipped and fell, losing the male heir that she and Lord Grantham so desperately wanted.  O’Brien’s dark impulse was for naught. Cora wasn’t actively looking to replace her, but only helping her mother-in-law in hiring a new ladies maid. This surprising news hit the viewer at the same time as it did O’Brien.

O’Brien’s momentary second thought comes too late. (Siobhan Finneran)

Surprise #8: The Spiteful Tug of War Between Two Sisters

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) realizes that her sister Mary was behind Lord Strallan's cool departure.

At first the viewer felt a great deal of sympathy towards plain Lady Edith, who was only to happy to go after Lady Mary’s leavings. But as the mini-series progressed, the viewer came to understand just how much animosity the two women felt towards one another and how far they would go to extract their revenge, Lady Edith writing the Turkish embassy about Mary’s part in Pamuk’s death, and Lady Mary sabotaging Lady Edith’s happiness with Sir Anthony Strallan, who was about to propose.

Lady Mary salutes her triumph over Lady Edith.

In the end, neither sister came up smelling like a rose. The surprise was that their story line was written so well that many viewers came away feeling sympathy towards both women.

Surprise #9: Lady Sybil’s Firm Stance Behind Women’s Rights

Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) urges Gwen (Rose Leslie) to keep trying to find a job as a secretary

Lady Sybil’s story arc did not truly begin until the second episode and reached its full glory in episode four, when she is struck during an election rally and is carried from the scene bleeding.

Matthew Crawley and Lady Sybil at the election rally

A smart, independent, and kind woman, one can only hope that Lady Sybil’s character gains traction in the second series that is currently being filmed. The surprise here is that quiet, sweet Lady Sybil is truly the most daring and courageous of the three sisters. Jessica Brown-Findlay has true star status, and any time she came on the small screen, she lit it up.

Lady Sybil's daring new harem pants.

 

The family reacts to Lady Sybil's harem pants. Priceless.

Surprise #10: The ending

 

Lord Grantham, "I regret to announce we are at war with Germany."

Obviously a second series is in the works, for the story line is left hanging. World War I has broken out, causing consternation among the group.

Matthew refuses Lady Mary's acceptance of his proposal after her baby brother's death, and vows to leave Downton Abbey to make his own way.

Lady Mary accepts Matthew’s proposal, but he refuses her, unsure of whether the baby’s death had anything to do with her acceptance, and he declares his intention to leave Downton Abbey and make his own way in the world. Lady Mary, in a Scarlet O’Hara moment, realizes too late that she waited too long to accept Matthew.

Lady Mary understands she has made a mistake in waiting so long to accept Matthew's proposal.

Bates,  who cares for Anna as much as she cares for him, refuses to discuss his wife’s whereabouts with her.

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggat) find themselves in the throes of bittersweet love.

And so, the viewer must wait an entire year to see what will happen to the characters in Downton Abbey, testing our patience sorely.

None too soon, Thomas announces his resignation to Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes

In addition to my ten choices, there were other surprises and great story arcs in Downton Abbey: Cook’s failing eyesight and the operation that saved it, Daisy’s blindness towards Thomas’s true character, which leads her to lie,

Daisy is haunted by what she saw in the corridor and her lies about Bates.

Mrs. Hughes’s longing for her own family, which made her momentarily receptive to an old flame’s advances, and Mr. Carson’s past as a performer, of which he is ashamed.

Mrs. Hughes says no to Joe, an old flame (Bill Fellows).

For those of you who missed certain episodes or who would like to watch the series again, PBS has made it available for online viewing until February 22. DVD’s are also available for sale.

My question to you is this: Of all the characters and story lines, which was your favorite? Please feel free to leave a comment.

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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:


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Downton Abbey, presented on PBS Masterpiece classic this month, is one of the most expensively produced mini-series for television next to Brideshead Revisited. The sets and costumes are lavish, and the viewer can readily see that everything possible has been done to recreate the Edwardian world.

But even huge budgets have their limits, for creating new costumes for every character in the production would have been prohibitive. The website, Recycled Movie Costumes, and an article in the Daily Mail point to a few outfits that were worn in other productions.  This custom is common, and has been pointed out on this blog before in Recycled Fashions in Emma 2009.  Around 2/3 of the costumes used in Downton Abbey were used before, but only a few have been expressly identified so far.

The dress worn by Laura Michael (Lady Edith) was also used in A Room With a View, 2007. At left is Elizabeth McGovern as the Countess

Elaine Cassidy in A Room With a View, 2007

Compare the necklace worn by Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary to ...

...Monica Belluci's in Brotherhood of Wolves

 

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockerey, between Maggie Smith and Laura Michaels) wears the same dress as ...

... Radha Mitchell in Finding Neverland

You can look for Regency costumes that have been recycled in this link. The Daily Mail mentioned that one certain brown dress has been used in seven productions in the past 15 years, including Pride and Prejudice and Little Dorrit. I wonder which one it is?

As you watch Downton Abbey tonight, perhaps you can spot a few recycled outfits on your own and inform Recycled Films of your find. Learn more about the series on PBS Masterpiece Classic.

More posts about Downton Abbey on this site:

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Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey’s connection to Jane Austen is through Lord Carnarvon, whose descendents still own Highclere Castle, where the PBS Masterpiece Classic mini-series’ interior and exterior shots of the fictional country house were filmed. (Read about Andrew Lloyd Weber’s recent attempt to purchase the castle.) In Jane’s day, Lord Carnarvon was Henry, the 1st Earl. Jane wrote in a letter to Cassandra Austen, Saturday25 – Monday 27 th,  October 1800 :

“This morning we called at the Harwood’s & in their dining room found Heathcote & Chute for ever – Mrs Wm Heathcote & Mrs Chute – the first of whom took a long ride in to Lord Carnarvons Park and fainted away in the evening…”

Highclere Castle as it looked in Jane Austen's day

The 5th Earl

Lord Carnarvon’s park, which Jane writes of, is the grounds to Highclere Castle. The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679, although the Castle as we see it today sits on the site of an earlier house. (Click here to view a short film about the Castle’s history.) A beautiful 6,000 acre park designed by Capability Brown between 1774-7 surrounds the Castle.

In 1842, the 3rd Earl commissioned architect Sir Charles Barry (also responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster) to redesign the Castle.

One of the most interesting fact about Highclere Castle is that the golden death mask of King Tutankhamun is featured in its gallery today.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in Egypt

Lord Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame (George, the 5th Earl) was an Egyptologist who sponsored Howard Carter,  the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. It is said that when Canarvon and Carter broke into Tut’s tomb, they unleashed the mummy’s curse. But the story goes more like this:

 

Howard Carter cleans the second coffin. Image @Harry Burton

This popular legend was born when Lord Carnarvon, the English Earl who funded the Tutankhamun expedition, died less than six months after the opening of the tomb. Despite the fact that Lord Carnarvon was a sickly individual, and that no such “hieroglyphic curse” was found inscribed on the tomb, this legend persists today. . . Lord Carnarvon had been in a car accident many years earlier and had never fully recovered. About a month after entering the tomb, he cut open a mosquito bite while shaving and infection set in. Blood poisoning and pneumonia quickly followed, and within a few weeks, he passed away. Newspapers reported that mysterious forces unleashed from the mummy and its trappings had caused his death. – King Tut

This image of Howard Carter’s grave was taken by Tony Grant, who lives near the cemetery in London. (Thank you, Tony, for the photo and for the quote from Jane Austen’s letter!)

Howard's grave. Image @Tony Grant

Watch Downton Abbey at your local PBS station Sundays, January 9, 16, 23, and 30, 2011 at 9 PM. Read my other posts:

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At the start of Downton Abbey, the Earl of Grantham sadly learns of the death of his cousin and cousin’s son on the Titanic. This event places the Earl and Countess of Grantham in a tragic and unexpected situation, for both men – the heir and the spare – were in line to inherit Downton Abbey.

The earl (Hugh Bonneville) reads about the Titanic

The earl had never anticipated such a tragic turn of events. He had married Cora, an American heiress, in a marriage of convenience in order to maintain his landed estate in the manner in which it had been run for centuries. During the marriage negotiations, the old Earl of Grantham struck a hard bargain and Cora’s fortune became completely tied up in the entail. This  was no great matter to the young couple, who were certain they would produce an heir. While the earl eventually fell in love with his beautiful bride, they were unable to produce a son, their union resulting in three daughters.

The countess (Elizabeth McGovern) learns of the tragedy.

And so the plot of Downton Abbey thickens, for lovely Lady Mary, the earl’s eldest daughter, was engaged to the younger heir, Patrick. But Patrick died and now Matthew Crawley, the earl’s third cousin once removed, stands next in line to inherit. Unlike the previous heirs, who were accustomed to the ways of the upper classes, the very reluctant Matthew must learn how to run a great estate from the ground up … and Lady Mary, by dint of being a woman and as the result of an unbreakable entail, is left out in the cold.

Lady Sybil, Lady Mary, and Lady Edith

The plot line of Downton Abbey weaves the stories of the privileged who live upstairs with the lives of those who serve them, and involves the intricacies of the entail and running the estate. Of the three sisters, only Lady Mary plays a major role. But the other two, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil, faced challenges that were typical of upper class women of the era. As Jane Austen astutely observed, “ There are not so many men of fortune in the world as there are pretty girls who deserve them,” a fact that the middle sister, Lady Edith, comes to know too well, and one that Lady Sybil ignores, for she has modern notions of a woman’s place in Society.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Upon learning of the death of her fiance, Patrick, Lady Mary is not as sad as she should be.

Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockerey)

The eldest of the three girls, and the most beautiful and self-assured, is Lady Mary Crawley who knows her worth. Upset that the entail cannot be undone, she realizes that her only way to marry “up” or to financial security is to find a wealthy man with (preferably) a title. The new heir, Matthew Crawley, in no way interests her. From the moment they meet, snobby Lady Mary looks down her patrician nose at the upstart heir, who, she doubts, even knows how to hunt. (Lady Mary might have no use for Matthew, but he has more than a passing interest in her.)

Lady Mary meets Matthew and ... is not impressed

Ever the opportunist when it comes to snaring a suitable mate, Lady Mary sets her sights on a duke, as well as Evelyn Napier, a gentleman who is besotted with her.  But then a handsome and exotic visitor catches her eye and makes her heart flutter uncharacteristically,  and Lady Mary’s safe and secure world will never be the same again.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Lady Edith reads Lady Mary's private letter

Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)

Lady Edith can hardly contain her jealousy of Lady Mary’s beauty, her easy popularity with men, and her status as elder daughter. As the second daughter, she feels invisible. Lady Mary barely mourns her fiance, which triggers Lady Edith’s resentment of her older sister and her cool reaction to his death. Not that she is entirely to be pitied, for her jealousy drives her to snoop on her sister, and tattle tales that should never be shared.

Lady Edith looks hopeful as she is courted unexpectedly

The complex, nasty relationship between the two sisters is a result of the keen pressure that women still felt to marry up and well in the Edwardian era. Upper class women, as Amanda Vickery pointed out in her excellent series, At Home With the Georgians, were raised to live passive lives and accept the fact that they were second-class citizens. While Lady Edith plots and schemes to find a husband (if even from her older sister’s romantic leavings), Lady Sybil, the younger sister, is forging a role for herself.

Lady Sybil helping Gwen, the housemaid

Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown-Findlay)

Lively, upbeat, and compassionate, Lady Sybil plays no role in the spiteful drama of her two older sisters. She is too busy admiring suffragettes, supporting Gwen, the housemaid, in her ambition to become a secretary, reading political tracts and attending forbidden rallies. Even her taste in clothes is flamboyant, and one suspects that as Lady Sybil matures she will become a character with a capital “C”.

Lady Sybil shows off her new frock

In Downton Abbey, Lady Edith and Lady Mary demonstrate the dependent role that women still played in the early 20th century. But Lady Sybil was another creature altogether.  After the end of World War I,  she would no doubt be dancing the Charleston in flapper clothes, and after turning thirty, exercising her right to vote and earn her own living.

 

Edith, Mary, and Sybil

More about Downton Abbey, to air on Masterpiece Classic, Sunday, January 9th at your local PBS station:

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Inquiring readers, from now until the U.S. airing of Downton Abbey, this blog will explore the facets of living in an English country house during the Edwardian era, and drawing upon the similarity and differences between the Edwardian and Regency eras.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servants await the arrival of guests. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Many of us today cannot understand why servants in country manors such as Downton Abbey would consider catering to the whims of others as a desirable occupation. In reality, service in great houses was preferred over other jobs that were available during the 18th and 19th centuries, such as tedious and often dangerous labor in factories or backbreaking work on farms.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, the countess’s ladies maid, Rose Leslie as Gwen, housemaid, and Joanne Froggatt as Anna, head maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike their poorly paid counterparts, servants were housed and fed by their masters. They had the ability to save a large portion of their salaries, or send money to support their families back home. At the end of their stay with their hosts, guests paid servants a tip for their services. Housekeepers, as Jane Austen famously showed in Pride and Prejudice, served as tour guides when the family was absent. Mrs. Reynolds no doubt received a tip from the Gardiners after showing the public rooms of Mr. Darcy’s great estate.

Jane Austen's World

Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, escorts Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners through Pemberley

Although servants began their careers at the bottom, working menial jobs and catering to the upper servants as well as their masters, they could move up in the servant hierarchy. It was not uncommon for a scullery maid to be promoted to kitchen maid and eventually up to a cook.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The registry office

A good and reliable servant was a prized commodity. Young, able servants were in a constant state of flux (they worked on average for 2-3 years before moving on), always looking for a better position, which they could acquire as long as their masters gave them good references. Servants found new work in registry offices, where they would enter their name in the registry book, or through word of mouth. (Read more about this topic in my post, Hiring Servants in the Regency Era and Later.)

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Anna (Head maid) and Gwen (house maid) in their room. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Upon rising, servants would labor first and eat only after the family had risen, dressed, and breakfasted. When Downton Abbey opens, the camera follows the servants as they rise and ready the house for the day. The earliest rising servant was the scullery maid, or tweeny, who sat lowest on the pecking order. She would stoke the kitchen fire for the cook and boil water. The kitchen maid would perform these offices if there were no tweeny or scullery maid.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, the kitchen maid, lays a fire in the library. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Housemaids would tread silently up the servant (back) stairs unseen and unheard with fresh water and carrying covered slop pails. Quietly, so as not to wake their masters, the servants – maids and footmen – would empty chamber pots, remove cold ashes in the fireplace, carry up coal and stoke a new fire, and tidy any messes away from the previous day.

The servant stairs. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downstairs they would continue making preparations for the day, opening drapes and shutters, dusting and polishing, and sweeping floors. The only time that the servants might be visible to family or guests was when they cleaned and polished the main halls and stairway. At all other times they were expected to remain invisible as they worked around the house, using the servant’s stairs and working in a room when the family was not expected to use it.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

With or without guests, the daily routine for a family at its country house was unalterable, due in part to the servants, whose meal-times were rigid, and in part to Edwadian era tradition. At nine 0’clock, housemaids and valets arrived to draw bedroom curtains and deliver a cup of teac as ordered by the hostess the night before.” – The End of High Society

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servants quarters. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servant’s dining space and table, Downton Abbey

The hierarchy among the servants was strictly defined. At the top stood the butler and housekeeper. Dowton Abbey, the series, highlights eleven servants who ran the household, but in 1912, Highclere Castle, where the exterior and interior shots were filmed, used the services of 25 maids, 14 footmen, and three chefs. Although Downton Abbey follows only 11 of the upper servants closely, one can see other servants (housemaids, a scullery maid, young boys, coal men, and the like) in the background going about their business.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Back of the house. In the background, a servant scoops coal.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In addition to the main house, servants worked in the service buildings, such as the stables, garage, dairy, bakehouse, laundry, gun room, and pantry. The kitchen in these great houses often sat away from the house (to prevent cooking smells from wafting up to the public and private rooms) and were connected to the main house via underground passages. This meant that the food often arrived at the dining table cold or, at best, lukewarm.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servant bells behind William, the second footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the lower common area, servants were summoned by the family via a system of bells connected to each room. In theory, even when servants had finished with their duties and were finally sitting down to eat their breakfast, they were subject to be called at a moment’s whim. But was this always the case? While the servants of Downton Abbey are shown to be loyal and proud of their positions, the Punch cartoon below shows a group of shiftless servants who are slow to respond to their master’s summons.

‘Oh, ah, let ’em ring again!’ by George Cruikshank

The servants of Downton Abbey worked hard, but as shown in the series, they knew their place and were proud of their positions.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the Butler. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Butler: Jim Carter, who you may remember as Captain Brown from Cranford, portrays Mr. Carson, the butler, with grave dignity. He is as protective towards the Crawley family as he would have been to his own. While Mr. Carson is fair, he does not hesitate to reprimand a servant or even fire one if he thinks it is for the benefit of the house. Mr. Carson was not only in charge of the male servants, but also of the wine cellar and the butler’s pantry, which contained the family plate and silver. In addition to his managerial duties, he is shown in several scenes either polishing the silver or pouring over the books and counting the bottles of wine.

Downton Abbey 2010. Jane Austen's World

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes, Housekeeper. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Housekeeper: Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes is Mr. Carson’s counterpart. Head of the female servants, she consults with her mistress daily about the meals, family plans, and any guests that are expected. Mrs. Hughes (even if they are single, which Mrs. Hughes was, housekeepers were given the distinction of being a Mrs.) was also responsible for the linen and china. A kind and observant woman, Mrs. Hughes nevertheless keeps her female team in line. She begins to wonder if, by devoting her life to this household, she has missed out on managing one of her own.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Brendan Coyle as John Bates, the Valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Valet: (Brendan Coyle) In small households, such as Matthew Crawley’s, the position of butler and valet was combined. But Downton Abbey is a great house, and there are servants aplenty. Mr. Bates’s arrival creates a stir that causes the lady’s maid and first footman to plot against him. A stoic and capable man who served the earl as batman during the war, he must perform his duties of dressing the earl and seeing to his wardrobe regardless of the war injury that requires him to use a cane. For Mr. Bates, the flights of steep stairs can be daunting, and he is incapable of carrying large trays or helping with dinner service when more hands are needed.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Joanne Froggatt as Anna, Head Housemaid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Head Housemaid: Joanne Froggatt as Anna is a pretty, quiet, and dependable presence. She works with a positive attitude and champions those who need defending. As head housemaid, she assists the daughters of the house with their hair and wardrobe, but she also performs the duties of a regular maid, dusting, cleaning, and changing the bed linen.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the Cook. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Cook: Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is hiding a secret, one that threatens her very livelihood. The viewer will be struck by the sheer volume and variety of dishes that she creates and oversees daily. Although only her kitchen maid, Daisy, is seen as her regular assistant, there would have been others in a house this size. At the very least, Mrs. Patmore would have needed a permanent person in the scullery, and other assistants to help maintain order in the kitchens.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, Lady’s Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Lady’s Maid: Siobhan Finneran plays O’Brien as a cold, ruthless woman, who trusts no one. When the Countess of Grantham states that she and O’Brien are friends, for they are often in each others’ company,  O’Brien knows better than to disagree, but disagree she does. A lady’s maid caters to her mistresses’ every whim, making sure that not one coat button is missing or one strand of hair is out of place. Such a close daily association often develops intimacy over time. The countess mistakenly thinks that O’Brien is as fond of her as she is of her maid.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rob James-Collier as Thomas, First Footman.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The First Footman: Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is a piece of work. An ambitious man, who cares only for his own advancement, he will use anyone to achieve his goals, even if it means destroying another’s reputation. A first footman will serve as valet to the male guests if they arrive without a male servant. Footmen are expected to wear livery and are generally tall and handsome. Only the very rich could afford footmen, and thus they were a form of status symbol.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the Chauffeur. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Chauffeur: Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the chaffeur, demonstrates how very different Edwardian England is from Regency England. Carriages are being replaced by automobiles, but the infrastructure for maintaining cars is not yet in place. A chauffeur not only drove the family around, but he was also its mechanic, keeping the car in top shape, acquiring parts when they were needed, and making sure there was enough petrol on hand to satisfy the family’s needs. This chauffeur can also read and has been given permission by the earl to check books out of his library.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Thomas Howes as William, the Second Footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Second Footman: (Thomas Howes) William’s position among the upper servants is low, for he must answer to the butler, housekeeper, and first footman. Young, fresh-faced, and just starting out, William misses his loving family. Yet service allows him to better himself and someday work his way up to the position of butler. One wonders if William will ever achieve that ambition, for times are changing and the aristocracy will be hard pressed to hang onto their lands and houses after the second world war.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rose Leslie as Gwen, House Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The House Maid: (Rose Leslie) Young Gwen is a housemaid with a goal – that of becoming a typist. Towards this end, she has been secretly taking typing courses. When her secret is uncovered the other servants are astounded – how could anyone prefer working in as some faceless office over service in a great house? Yet Gwen represents the future, in which political and socio-economic changes for women will end their dependency on the men of their family and force many to start fending for themselves.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Sophie McShera as Daisy, Kitchen Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Kitchen Maid: (Sophie McShera) Poor Daisy is at the bottom of the status ladder. Subject to the cook’s every whim (and to the housekeeper’s and anyone else who happens nearby) she goes about her duties cheerfully. When disaster strikes, Daisy not only steps in but demonstrates that she is more than ready to step up the servant hierarchy.

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Downton Abbey, a PBS Masterpiece Classic mini-series, is as much a tale about the servants below stairs as about the noble Earl of Grantham and his family who employed them. With the recent airing of the updated version of Upstairs Downstairs in Great Britain, I am sure a debate will long rage about which series portrayed their eras and class differences better. In both cases, the viewer is the winner.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle, an “Elizabethan Pile”) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

No matter how expertly this mini-series of Downton Abbey tries to portray this bygone era, it is nearly impossible to capure life in an Edwardian country house exactly as it once was. The viewer should be aware that we can glimpse only a faint, musty, museum shadow of the complex and thriving community that a great English estate once supported.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Crawleys and the servants of Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

It is a well-known fact that grand country houses could only be run with a great deal of help. As early as the 18th century, Patrick Colquhoun estimated that there were around 910,000 domestic servants (in a population of 9 million). By 1911, the number of domestic servants had risen to 1.3 million. Eighty percent of the land during the Edwardian era was owned by only 3% of the population, yet these vast estates were considered major employers.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl (Hugh Bonneville) and his heir, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), survey his vast estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the grander and larger houses, the ratio of servants (both indoor and outdoor) to the family could approach 1:7 or 1:10, but as the industrial revolution introduced improvements in laundering, lawn maintenance, and cooking, the number of servants required to run a great estate was greatly reduced.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The earl and his heir, Matthew Crawley, survey the cottages and outer buildings on his estate. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After World War One and the rise in taxes for each servant employed, many great families no longer kept two sets of house staff. They began to bring servants from their country house to their house in Town, leaving only a skeleton crew behind to maintain the family seat in their absence.

Grounds of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle)

Country estates were designed to showcase the owner’s wealth via collections of art, furniture and other luxurious possessions, such as carriages, lawn tennis courts, and the like. The main house sat at the end of a long and winding drive through acres of beautifully landscaped park lands.

Downton Abbey.

The Duke is greeted by both the family and the servants. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The spectacle did not end there, for approaching the house, guests would see a grand facade or an equally imposing flight of stairs that led to the first floor (or both). In Downtown Abbey, the family awaited the arrival of the Duke of Crowborough (Charlie Cox) along with their servants, who were arrayed in line according to their station.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The servants await their new masters at Norland. Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Such a display of staff was also evident in the 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, when Fanny and Robert Dashwood arrived to claim Norland Park.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Grand interior hall of Downton Abbey, floor leading to the private rooms. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Once introductions had been made, the guests would ascend the imposing stairway and enter an equally impressive high-ceilinged hall that contained yet another grand staircase, which led to the private rooms upstairs. The ladies customarily brought their own maids, who would also require lodging. (In Gosford Park, a poor female relation had to make do with one of the hostesses’ house maids to help her with her dress and hair.)

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Thomas (Rob James-Collier), the first footman, is chosen to act as valet to the duke. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The guests’ servants were expected to enter the house through a separate, back servant’s entrance, and shared quarters with the regular staff. The host supplied his own butler or footmen to help serve as valet to his male guests.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Earl of Grantham’s impressive library/study. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

A host’s willingness to lavishly entertain his guests did not necessarily reflect the family’s daily schedule:

In 1826 a German visitor to England remarked that: it requires a considerable fortune here to keep up a country house; for custom demands… a handsomely fitted-up house with elegant furniture, plate, servants in new and handsome liveries, a profusion of dishes and foreign wines, rare and expensive desserts… As long as there are visitors in the house, this way of life goes on; but many a family atones for it by meagre fare when alone; for which reasons, nobody here ventures to pay a visit in the country without being invited, and these invitations usually fix the day and hour… True hospitality this can hardly be called; it is rather the display of one’s own possessions, for the purpose of dazzling as many as possible.(3)” – The Country House: JASA

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Travel in winter, Henry Alken, 1785

Guests stayed for a long time for a variety of reasons. In the 17th and 18th centuries, travel over a long distance was laboriously slow and difficult, for roads were notoriously poor and dangerous. Long visits, such as Cassandra Austen’s visits to her brother Edward in Godmersham Park, became a custom. Even during the Edwardian age, when travel was much improved, guests tended to stay for the weekend (Saturday through Monday). In Downton Abbey, the Duke of Crowborough arrived amidst much hope and anticipation, until he discovered that the estate had been entailed to a third cousin not the earl’s daughter, whom he had come to woo, and he cut his visit to one short day and evening, making an excuse that did not hold water.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

Catherine Morland (Katherine Schlessinger) and Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey), Northanger Abbey 1986

Even during the 18th century, when long-term guests were expected, some overstayed their welcome, like Jane Austen’s anti-heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, whose hostess (sister-in-law) despised her but was forced to tolerate her because she was ‘family.’ Desirable guests, like Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, were invited to extend their visit. In Catherine’s instance, Eleanor Tilney, a motherless young lady who lived without a female companion, found the young girl’s company delightful. By the time General Tilney discovered that Catherine was no heiress, she had been with the Allens in Bath and the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey for a total of 11 weeks. As previously noted, Edwardian hosts, while generous, expected house guest to stay for only three days. During this time every luxury was lavished upon them, but it was considered bad form if they stayed longer than arranged or without invitation.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast was a substantial meal served at 9:30 a.m. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

At set times, Edwardian guests would congregate in the common rooms, which included the drawing room, music room, dining room and breakfast room, the library or study, the gallery (where ancient family portraits were hung), the billiard room, and the conservatory. Vast lawns and gardens were laid out for promenading; guests could ride or walk through the parklands to view picturesque follys or dine alfresco (outdoors), take tea under an awning, or paint a vista or two.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Taking tea alfresco. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The reputation of a host rested on the entertainments, which helped to pass the time – walking, riding, shooting (in winter), and hunting (in fall) for outdoor activities; and card parties, musicales, and dances for indoor festivities. A fox hunt, such as the one depicted in Downton Abbey, required riding skill and stamina, for the chase would take riders over hills and dales, and hedges, and over long distances for much of the day.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The hunt required riding skills and stamina.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Billiards made an appearance during the 17th century, and by the 19th century billiard rooms had become a staple. Private libraries offered a variety of books and periodicals. In the summer, Edwardians enjoyed lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, and golf (by the men).

The male guests in Regency House Party (2004) could pretty well behave and move around as they pleased.

Ladies and gentlemen tended to spend the day apart. Male guests were more active and could engage in almost any activity during the day, except at the time reserved for dinner, when they were expected to show up. In an Edwardian house, men did not escort their female dining partners into the dining room. Rather, after the host served cocktails in the drawing room a half hour before the meal, the group moved to the dining room where they were seated according to a set pattern, with guests sitting between members of the family and their neighbors.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The new heir of Downton Abbey (Dan Stevens) sits next to his hostess, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern). Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

After dinner, the ladies would remove to the drawing room, which became increasingly larger and more feminine over time, while the gentleman relaxed at the dining room table, drinking port, smoking their cheroots, and discussing manly topics.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The drawing room at Downton Abbey was large and feminine. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

While an 18th century gentlemen would have talked about horse flesh and carriages, Edwardian guests would have included automobiles and their rapidly changing technology, road improvements, and the availability of petrol as well.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Transportation was changing rapidly at the turn of the 20th century. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike the gentlemen, a lady’s day was more restricted and confined. She spent her day following a set routine, starting with breakfast, and wearing appropriate outfits and getting into them and out of them. Mothers spent some time overseeing the nannies and the care of their children (if they were brought along). Ladies, married or not, would also receive visitors, sew, gossip, read, walk, participate in charity work, observe the men at sport (if invited) or take a ride in the carriage. They did join in on more active, outdoor games at set times during the appropriate season, such as cricket, croquet, lawn tennis, lawn bowling, and the like, but they would have been properly dressed for the occasion.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The head maid (Joanne Froggatt) dresses Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) hair for dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Imagine poor Eleanor Tilney in the late 18th century, alone in a grand house without female companionship, having no-one to talk to and forced to live a constricted life. No amount of walking, charity work, practicing the piano, or overseeing the household would have made up for her boredom, and thus Catherine Morland’s companionship was so welcome.

Manor House (2002), dressing Lady Olliff-Cooper. Image @PBS

In Regency House Party (the 2004 mini-series), the modern women who portrayed Regency ladies chafed under the strict rules of protocol, forced chaperonage, and daily tedium. A lady’s routine did not much improve during the Edwardian era, although towards the end of this period changing one’s gown for afternoon tea became obsolete.

Tea gown, circa 1908. Image @Vintage Textiles

In Manor House, the 2002 mini-series set in the Edwardian era, Lady Olliff-Cooper’s spinster sister, the lowest-ranking member of the family, had so little to do and so little say in how she could spend her time, that Avril Anson (who in real life is a professor) left the series for a few episodes to maintain her sanity.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) eye their rival before dinner. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Lady Olliff-Cooper … [needed] to change her clothes five or six times a day. And very few of these dresses would be what today we’d call practical. Not only did each meal carry its own dress code, but if she needed to receive a visitor, pay a call or go riding, she’d have to change both her clothes and often her hairstyle as well.” Manor House, clothes

Anna Olliff-Cooper, who portrayed the lady of the house in Manor House, spent an enormous amount of her day changing into new gowns and having her hair dressed. She would stand passively as her maid did all the work. Anna noted how constricting the dresses were, and cried as she described how the tight sleeves of her gowns prevented her from raising her arms above her shoulders or from closely hugging her eleven-year old son. Even the fashions conspired to keep a women passive!

The Dinner Party, 1911, Jules Alexandre Grun

After they had finished their cigars and port, the gentlemen were obligated to rejoin the ladies for cards or music, or both, to while away the evening. The Duke’s behavior in Downton Abbey was egregious, for instead of joining the group for the rest of the evening, he went to bed early. The house party would stay up until 10:30 or so (unless a grand ball had been arranged, and then the guests would stay up until the wee hours of the morning).

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Male conversation after dinner over port and cigars. The duke and earl have a frank conversation. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In either case, the last people in the house to retire for the night would be the servants, but their lives and schedule will be described in another post.

Look for Downton Abbey, Part One to air on PBS Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, January 9th! Once again PBS will host a twitter party! Stay tuned for details.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

End of the day at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

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Images of Downton Abbey Season 1: Credit Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

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