Decline on Downton Abbey: Why the Nobles and Gentry Went Broke

Spoiler Alert: This post reveals details of Downton Abbey, through Season 6, Episode 1.

On Downton Abbey, Earl Robert repeatedly faces financial trouble. Many of his fellow nobles and gentry find themselves in even more dire straits. They cope by selling off their birthright — castles, houses, treasures, and land — and living humbler lives. Why do these apparently rich people teeter on the edge of financial ruin?

Inveraray Castle: Shrimpie's estate in Downton Abbey
Earl Robert’s cousin “Shrimpie” is forced to sell his beautiful castle. (In the real world, this is Inveraray Castle, Scotland.)

For most of their history, Britain’s nobles and gentry lived on the profits of farming. And by the early 20th Century, agricultural wealth had been dwarfed by the riches of industry. Farms still made money but proportionately much less. They couldn’t easily support the upper class’ high cost of living or the tax burden of industrial society. And many nobles and gentry could not or would not supplement their income by working. Continue reading “Decline on Downton Abbey: Why the Nobles and Gentry Went Broke”

Downton’s Mr. Bates Must Be an Assassin

I know: this isn’t exactly history. But we’ve covered Downton Abbey before (twice), on more historical topics. And I can no longer keep silent.

[SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals details from Downton Abbey Seasons 1 – 4.]

I think our beloved Mr. Bates is an assassin. He’s quite an expert too, with at least three very subtle murders under his belt.

The cold eyes of a calculating killer?
The cold eyes of a calculating killer?

Two of Downton Abbey’s strange deaths were convenient for Mr. Bates. In Season 4, Mr. Green “trips in traffic” — just after Bates identifies him as his wife Anna’s rapist. And in Season 2, Bates’ first wife “commits suicide” — with no reason to die or prior sign of depression — conveniently releasing Bates from her blackmail attempts and freeing him to marry Anna.

The two deaths suggest a master assassin who can make murder look like an accident or suicide. And we have other evidence for Mr. Bates’ underworld skills. Season 4 reveals that he’s a skilled pickpocket and forger (through the caper surrounding the Prince of Wales’ love letter).

All this suggests an explanation for Downton’s forgotten mystery: the Season 1 death of poor Mr. Pamuk (in Lady Mary’s bed). The Turkish diplomat “dies of a heart attack” — despite the fact that he’s in his twenties and seems quite healthy. We don’t know why Mr. Bates would poison Mr. Pamuk, but his death looks a lot like the others: a sudden plunge off mortality’s cliff with no warning and no satisfying explanation. I think Mr. Pamuk had a role in pre- World War I intrigue among the great powers — the Ottomans, Germany, Britain, etc. — and some government told Mr. Bates to kill him.

That’s why I think Mr. Bates is a professional assassin. He could be a freelance hit man, but that seems unlikely given his sense of duty and need to belong. I suspect Bates is a British secret agent or former agent, possibly trained in the notoriously dirty Boer War.


Photo: Tn-500 brendancoyle.jpg, uploaded to Downton Abbey Wiki (Wikia) by CestWhat

© 2014 by David W. Tollen

Downton Abbey Revisited: What Mary Owns, and Baby George Crawley

[SPOILER ALERT: Details below from Downton Abbey Season 3 + Ep. 1, Season 4.] In a post last year, I explained The Entail, Primogeniture, and Why Matthew Inherits Downton Abbey. But the intricacies of noble (and royal) inheritance never end, and Downton Abbey’s fourth season raised new questions. During Season 3, Matthew invested some money in Downton Abbey, and in exchange, Lord Robert gave him half ownership. So what happens to Matthew’s half interest now that he’s dead?

Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle
Downton Abbey (in real life, Highclere Castle)

Continue reading “Downton Abbey Revisited: What Mary Owns, and Baby George Crawley”

The “Entail,” Primogeniture, and Why Matthew Inherits Downton Abbey

The Downton Abbey TV series begins with a predicament for the Earl of Grantham. Earl Robert has no sons, and an “entail” keeps any of his three daughters from inheriting his great estate and mansion: Downton Abbey. Robert’s heir is Matthew Crawley, a distant cousin. Matthew will someday inherit both the earl’s title and his real estate, thanks to the entail. What is this “entail”? (I’m a lawyer and amateur historian, so this question is just made for me.)

Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England: the Victorian mansion serving as TV’s Downton Abbey

Continue reading “The “Entail,” Primogeniture, and Why Matthew Inherits Downton Abbey”