The Actual Historical past Behind the Downton Abbey Film


Warning: Comprises spoilers for the Downton Abbey film

Over the course of its six seasons on tv, the present Downton Abbey supplied followers a excessive dose of drama — and an opportunity to study in regards to the real history of the English aristocracy within the early 20th century. From royal scandals to technological advances, Downton usually drew on the reality to create the world its characters inhabited.

Now Downton Abbey is again (type of), with a big-screen model that continues the story. It’s set in 1927, and revolves round King George V and Queen Mary and their daughter Mary, the Princess Royal, staying with the Crawley household at Downton in Yorkshire.

Whereas the story is a piece of fiction, the creators as soon as once more turned to the previous for inspiration. Right here’s a information to the actual historical past behind the largest plot factors.

The Royal Go to to Downton

There’s a lengthy historical past of British monarchs popping in for a go to at aristocratic households’ nation properties. Within the 16th century, Elizabeth I’d make the rounds within the countryside on excursions generally known as the royal progress. These visits grew to become much less frequent over time, as they had been very costly to tug off, however they didn’t disappear totally. For instance, Edward VII, who was identified for having a wandering eye, stayed at distinguished English countryside properties throughout his reign from 1901-1910. “If Edward VII was coming to your house for a weekend house party, you had to make darn sure you invited his current mistress,” Adrian Tinniswood, creator of The Lengthy Weekend: Life within the English Nation Home Between the Wars, tells TIME.

The royals featured in Downton Abbey—King George V, who reigned 1910-1936, and his spouse, Queen Mary—loved the customized, because the King cherished to go searching. The largest haul was on Dec. 18, 1913, when the King and his searching social gathering shot 3,937 pheasants, three partridges, 4 rabbits and one unknown animal categorised as “other,” in response to Tinniswood’s e book.

Specialists inform TIME that the monarchs’ family workers in all probability wouldn’t completely exchange the family workers of house homeowners, however a handful of the workers would doubtless come alongside. Queen Mary would normally journey with a footman, a web page, two dressers, two chauffeurs, one lady-in-waiting, a maid for her lady-in-waiting and a detective.

The royals would even have a number of very specific requests. To remain at Holker Corridor in Lancashire nation, Queen Mary introduced her personal sheets and pillow instances, however anticipated her hosts to offer a chair positioned exterior her bed room (for her web page to take a seat on), “fresh barley water placed in her bedroom at two-hour intervals during the day” and 6 clear towels every single day, according to Tinniswood’s e book.

The royal go to depicted within the movie, nonetheless, could also be a composite of various visits, fairly than taking inspiration solely from one particular instance.

Queen Mary and King George V (each within the heart) are flanked by the Mayor of Rotherham Alderman P Bancroft Coward (far proper) and his spouse throughout their July 8-12, 1912, go to.
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Belief

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has said the royal go to within the movie is partly primarily based on King George and Queen Mary’s July 1912 go to to Wentworth Woodhouse, one of many largest estates in Europe; within the Downton Abbey movie, the scene of the ball is shot there. In line with the historian of the South Yorkshire property, David Allott, highlights of the five-day go to included tea at Conisborough Fortress, excursions of native companies and watching ballerina Anna Pavlova at Wentworth Woodhouse’s Marble Saloon as after-dinner leisure. Nonetheless, the journey was overshadowed by an explosion on the close by Cadeby Main Colliery coal mine that killed almost 100 folks on the second day of the deliberate go to. The monarchs shifted gears and went to consolation the injured on the web site. The city was so grateful that crowds flocked to Wentworth Woodhouse on the night of July 11, waving torches as a choir sang patriotic songs.

However Alastair Bruce—a historic advisor to the movie, the Governor Normal of Edinburgh Fortress and a descendant of Robert the Bruce—stated he had his circle of relatives historical past in thoughts when providing counsel to the filmmakers: King George V and Queen Mary visited the Bruce household in 1923 at Broomhall Home, the house of his nice uncle, Edward Bruce, who was then the 10th Earl of Elgin. The archives at Broomhall supplied key sources for shaping his recommendation for the Downton Abbey showrunners about how such giant institutions had been run.

Princess Mary’s Marriage

The 1922 marriage of George V’s solely daughter, the Princess Royal, Mary, to Viscount Henry Lascelles, later the Sixth Earl of Harewood, was the first royal wedding to be lined in Vogue. The journal described Mary as “a fairy Princess with Youth, Beauty and Happiness as her attendants.” Lascelles was thought-about particularly fascinating as he had inherited a fortune of £2,500,000 (about $270 million right this moment) from his great-uncle, the Marquess of Clanricarde.

And but, the movie depicts Mary occupied with leaving Viscount Lascelles.

That’s primarily based on one thing actual, too: Princess Mary was identified for being heat, and was a lot beloved — particularly for sending World Conflict I troops care packages full of tobacco, a pipe, cigarettes and a lighter in a brass field with an image of her face. However Lascelles had a really completely different fame. Although their son George Lascelles remembered him in a memoir as an excellent father, there have lengthy been rumors that he married Mary to win a guess. Liz Trubridge, one of many Downton Abbey producers, says the filmmakers had been working off longtime rumors that Lascelles suffered from shell shock because of serving throughout World Conflict I. As well as, the age distinction may have in principle made issues troublesome; Lascelles was 15 years older than his wife.

“It’s always been passed down by word of mouth that he’s difficult, and the general line was that he was old brute,” says Hugo Vickers, who edited the lately re-released biography The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy. “But it’s hard to find evidence. Some people called him cold and hard; Princess Mary, she would never ever have considered doing anything out of line.”

Precisely how they bought alongside is difficult to inform, however simply as they keep collectively within the film, they stayed collectively in actual life. The Princess Royal had a “terribly shy” aspect, and spent most of her time in Yorkshire, particularly at Harewood Home, the place a number of scenes within the Downton Abbey film had been shot. The Princess Royal died at Harewood Home in 1965.

Get your history fix in one place: sign up for the weekly TIME History newsletter

The Assassination Try

The brand new, shady character Captain Chetwode (Stephen Campbell Moore) latches onto Tom Branson (Allen Leech), whom he sees as a fellow Irish Republican with a little bit of a rebellious streak — and entry to the King.

In actuality, there have been positively tensions between Eire and the crown, however the worst violence happened earlier than the interval by which the Downton film is ready.

Irish calls for for independence for Britain led to the Anglo-Irish Conflict from 1919-1921, which resulted in a treaty that acknowledged an unbiased authorities referred to as the Irish Free State that might nonetheless be a part of the British Dominion. The 1920 Authorities of Eire Act partitioned six counties and allowed them to stay part of the UK — turning into what’s now generally known as Northern Eire. Irish nationalists who wished to struggle for a completely unbiased republic catapulted the Irish Free State right into a civil struggle within the early 1920s. The battle “destroyed the economy, so for the rest of the ’20s, they were still trying to recover from that,” says Kevin Matthews, historian and creator of Fatal Affect: The Influence of Eire on British Politics, 1920-1925. “By 1927, most of Ireland had moved on to other problems.” The Republic of Eire wouldn’t be established till 1949.

Plus, George V was not identified for enjoying an energetic function in Irish affairs. The assassination-attempt thought might need been barely extra believable, says Matthews, if it concerned a British politician extra concerned in Irish politics, equivalent to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin or Winston Churchill, who was the struggle minister throughout the Anglo-Irish Conflict and was concerned within the partition situation.

Chetwode’s rebellious spirit is partly impressed by somebody actual, in response to Trubridge: Robert Casement. King George V knighted Casement in 1911 for exposing the abuse at Belgium’s rubber plantations within the Congo, however he later bought concerned within the Irish nationalist motion and was hanged for treason in 1916, effectively earlier than the Downton Abbey movie takes place.

The State of Downton

Maggie Smith (left) stars as Violet Crawley and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in the 2019 movie Downton Abbey.
Maggie Smith (left) stars as Violet Crawley and Michelle Dockery as Woman Mary within the 2019 film Downton Abbey.
Jaap Buitendijk—Focus Options

Past the royal fuss, the Downton film returns to a central query of the unique tv present: how a spot like Downton Abbey may match into the trendy period. As Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) asks Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), within the movie, “Are we right to keep it all going, when the world it was built for is fading with every day that passes?”

Although Downton Abbey isn’t an actual place, that matter could be very actual, and there have been a number of causes for the shift.

At the moment, there was certainly extra class consciousness within the U.Okay. The working lessons had been rising more and more vocal, and the 1926 General Strike in Britain was an instance of that. After working in fashionable factories throughout World Conflict I, many ladies caught to these sorts of jobs as a substitute of going again to family workers roles.

“These homes had been designed to be served by an army of cheap labor and positively by 1930, there’s an issue in getting home workers for a home,” says Tinniswood.

Aristocrats’ estates like Downton had been being closely taxed, and inheritance tax was excessive too, so these homes had been turning into dearer to function by 1927, and even tougher within the ’30s when the Melancholy hit. Many properties that couldn’t be maintained had been demolished; some estimates say more than 1,000 had been demolished within the 20th century.

Right now, the modern-day analogues of the Crawleys have advanced to maintain up with the occasions. “The aristocracy on this nation does maintain going, however all of them need to open their homes now and need to have sights—live shows, training departments, Churchill speaking competitions,” as Vickers places it.

In reality, Highclere Castle, the real estate featured within the Downton Abbey TV sequence and movie, is not any exception: it has been inundated with guests, and is now even on Airbnb.

Write to Olivia B. Waxman at


Facebook Comments

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More