Downton Abbey is an Edwardian set tale revolving around the family and servants inhabiting a great British Manor house of the same name. Society and the rules of society in Downton Abbey are similar to the Regency era but in Downton Abbey they show the beginning of the end of this type of aristocracy system with its rigid rules and complete superiority over the working class.
And by the end; I mean the end of the more blatant aspects because to this day many of these rules exist quietly.
In season one of Downton Abbey we meet Lord Grantham and his family. Just as the series begins we find out that the Earl of Grantham’s male heirs, his cousins because he and his wife had no sons, were both killed on the Titanic.
This was brilliant and a very real problem many of the noble and aristocratic families throughout British history had. In the beginning of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility we see a (non-titled) father asking his son from a first marriage to take care of his current wife and daughters because as the ‘entail’ was written he could not leave any significant amount to the women. Subsequently, the women in Sense and Sensibility were evicted from the home they’d known as it passed on to the father’s son and the son’s wife.
This type of inheritance happened all the time in England and was only slowly chipped away at over time and through various legal maneuvers.
Downton illustrates this problem well and throughout the course of the series thus far. The eldest daughter, Mary, had been set to marry the cousin that died to retain position and inheritance with Downton. But then the family is thrown into a tailspin, scrambling to secure the future after they identify the next male heir.
The framework for this tale could have been plucked out of any Regency, Victorian or Edwardian romance novel. It is a classic but so incredibly well done with lush settings, fascinating characters and intricate storytelling.
If you have not seen Downton Abbey but love British historicals; I highly recommend it.