Ask Alex: Downton Abbey


Alex Belt

Alex Belt

Alex Belt is a mom, business owner and all around in the know kind of gal. Friends call on her relentlessly for advice on how to plan a party and what trend is “in.” In honor of the ending of the television show Downton Abbey, we’re doing what everyone else does – asking Alex!

Q: What is the storyline of Downton Abbey?

A: Downton Abbey is a British historical period drama by Julian Fellows. Its original air date in the United Kingdom and Ireland was September 26, 2010. It is about a fictional Yorkshire country estate inhabited by the aristocratic Crawley Family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era during the reign of King George V.

Q:  What is the history of the Abbey?

A: Highclere Castle, the Victorian-era English manor, was built in 1839 and is where the PBS series is shot. It is an actual working estate in the Hampshire Country. Highclere Castle currently is maintained by a staff of 70, and the estate is valued today at more than $240 million dollars.

Q: How authentic is the set and the etiquette of the actors?

A: Masterpiece Theatre and PBS have come out with a DVD entitled The Manners of Downton Abbey hosted by the show’s historical advisor Sir Alastair Bruce. He is on set daily to make sure every single aspect on set is accurate of the post-Edwardian era. Bruce explains the differences between “upstairs etiquette” and “downstairs etiquette” of these topics: how to dine, how to marry, how to behave, how to dress and how to make money.

Q: Why did the Crawleys’ property not go to Lady Mary, the firstborn?

A: Family today usually refers to spouses, children, parents and grandchildren. But in the early 20th century, “family” was a much broader concept with individuals as interchangeable commodities. How else can you explain making sure that property goes only to a male heir, including probably someone you’ve never met? The present owner or occupant was merely a temporary custodian for the next family member.

Matthew Crawley is related to Robert and Mary Crawley through Robert’s great-great grandfather, who may have been the 3rd Earl of Grantham. Patrick Crawley is related to Robert and Mary through Robert’s grandfather, who may have been the 5th Earl of Grantham and was higher in line of succession than Matthew to the Earldom of Grantham.

Matthew Crawley is the heir presumptive to the Earldom of Grantham and would be the 8th Earl of Grantham after the demise of Robert, the 7th Earl of Grantham. Matthew is the Earl’s third cousin once removed. This means that the Earl’s great-great grandfather is Matthew’s great-great-great grandfather.

After Matthew’s death, his son, George, became the heir presumptive, not Mary. He can still be displaced by the birth of a male son to Robert and Cora. This law of only male heir was demolished by the end of the century.  Did you get all of that?

Q: What is the difference between a butler, footman and valet?

A: A butler was originally in charge of the wine, but at the time of Downton Abbey, he also organizes the maids and footmen and serves at dinner. The footman originally rode on the footplate of a carriage. Their main duty is to serve at dinner. A valet looks after clothes for the males, and the lady maids looks after clothing for the female.

Here are some more fun facts about Downton Abbey:

1. Gillian Anderson, Scully from The X-Files, was offered the role of Lady Cora Grantham, Lord Robert Crawley’s American
heiress wife.

2. Downton Abbey is the highest-rated PBS Masterpiece series of all time.

3. The Turkish diplomat storyline was based on true events.

4. Maggie Smith, who plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, hasn’t watched a single episode.

5. Queen Elizabeth is a fan and likes to point out errors.