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Downton Abbey: Historical Notes and Context, Quibbles and Anachronisms


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#31

not Bridget

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 1:51 AM

I wondered if there was a real Dromgoole Castle in Ireland. Why, yes. But its destruction happened long before--and could not be blamed on the wild Irish....

Dromgoole Castle, a portion of which has survived the wreck of ages, and is still to be seen as an evidence of the massive grandeur of the old Irish mansion in- feudal days. When Cromwell made his incursions northwards, he met with a stern resistence in Drogheda from the founder of Dromgoole Castle. Numbers at last overpowered the Irish chieftain, and he was taken out and hanged from the spikes of his own gate, which tradition tells were tipt with silver, and Cromwell drew up his plan of Dundalk comfortably seated in the drawingroom of Dromgoole Castle, while life was fast ebbing in its princely proprietor without.


The whole Irish matter has been handled badly. In the time of series 1, Home Rule for Ireland was impending & the Ulstermen were revolting; this would have been discussed! Later, the Easter Rising would have been more than mentioned. The Irish were expected to arise in response but it took a couple of years for the revolution to really begin. O'Brien is Irish & Bates had an Irish mother & wife--why didn't we hear what they thought?

Branson rants about ancient wrongs but doesn't discuss the specific issues of the day. And what "group" did Branson attend? There were several... Oh, well. I enjoy doing the homework, even if Fellowes can't be bothered.

Edited by not Bridget, Jan 21, 2013 @ 1:54 AM.

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#32

Kate the Cursed

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 3:16 AM

We known that Downton Abbey has indoor plumbing--remember the event involving The Fatal Bar of Soap in series 1?


Did we see taps? I really can't remember the scene in that much detail. Pre-plumbing there would have been baths, it just would have involved servants hauling water.

I know the family is far too familiar with the staff, but I figure they would know who Daisy is what with the death-bed marriage and class-shaking-up of the war.
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#33

ladongas

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 8:22 AM

Cosmo Lang, the "toffee-nosed" archbishop who was dining at Downton, later became Archbishop of Canterbury and was deeply involved in the abdication crisis.

Edited by ladongas, Jan 21, 2013 @ 8:23 AM.

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#34

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 11:46 AM

Did we see taps?


I think there were taps. I've read that the aristocracy was slower than the middle and upper classes to adopt modern conveniences, like electricity and telephones, because they were mostly convenient for the servants. It was just one more way to show conspicuous consumption.
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#35

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Posted Jan 21, 2013 @ 7:13 PM

I Netflixed my way through the Fatal Bar of Soap episode. We saw no taps or pipe's in Lady Mary's bathroom--the camera avoided those areas. But the tub looked like porcelain. The ones filled by servants rather than faucets seemed to be metal--because they had to be emptied. Parade's End showed burly "watermen" hauling hot water for a lady's bath; the tub was metal. In that very old-fashioned house, the same lady bitched that there were no water-closets; she called one of the housemaids rather than have her lady's maid need to empty a chamber pot.

Perhaps some of Cora's money went into plumbing. Even if I didn't have to empty it, going back to a chamber pot after being raised with a bathroom would be disgusting. One of Robert's comments about Ser Richard's plans for remodeling his estate; there would be one bathroom per bedrooom. How vulgar!

I, too, read that modern plumbing was not designed to put servants out of work. Most of the rich had no problem with The Old Fashioned Way--but fewer young folks wanted to begin working their way up in a life of service by emptying chamber pots...

Edited by not Bridget, Jan 21, 2013 @ 7:18 PM.

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#36

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 12:46 PM

Have I missed any reference Lord Grantham may have made regarding the House of Lords, of which he would have been a member? Also have not heard mention of King George V at all in this series?
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#37

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 1:50 PM

Have I missed any reference Lord Grantham may have made regarding the House of Lords, of which he would have been a member? Also have not heard mention of King George V at all in this series?


Yes, the London Season is suspiciously missing from DA. Not only is George V missing in action, so are his sons. The Prince of Wales was the perhaps the most eligible bachelor in the world and would have been on the "who can our daughters marry list". Same goes with his brother, Prince Albert who was later George VI. And their various cousins.
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#38

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 4:52 PM

Yes, the London Season is suspiciously missing from DA. Not only is George V missing in action, so are his sons. The Prince of Wales was the perhaps the most eligible bachelor in the world and would have been on the "who can our daughters marry list". Same goes with his brother, Prince Albert who was later George VI. And their various cousins.


Was Albert courting Elizabeth by 1920 or am I wrong to say that?
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#39

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 5:38 PM

Yes, starting in 1920, and they married in 1923. With the inclusion of archbishop Cosmo Lang and mention of the Duchess of Marlborough's divorce, it's not like Fellowes has eliminated all mention of real-life events, strangely...
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#40

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Posted Jan 22, 2013 @ 9:03 PM

I second the earlier mention that the word "pregnant" probably wouldn't have been used to describe Sybil ... my 89-year old U.S.-born and bred mother can barely say it; she says "expecting." It threw me to hear characters in DA use the word.
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#41

Shanna Marie

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Posted Jan 23, 2013 @ 1:07 PM

I recently read the current countess's book about the real events at Highclere, and I recommend it. That story would have made an interesting movie or miniseries. Lady Almina sounded like quite a character. She didn't have to be convinced to turn her home into a war hospital, though. She'd learned nursing while helping her husband recover from a car accident, and I suppose at that time it wasn't a career option for a countess, but she really loved it, so the moment it looked like there might be war, before war was even declared, she was already making hospital plans and getting things set up. However, she was totally in charge of her hospital, with no military oversight, so there was no former footman coming back to be the hospital administrator. In fact, the horrible thing was that it sounded like the military had made no preparations whatsoever for dealing with casualties, and if it hadn't been for these hospitals opened up by various society ladies, there's no telling what would have happened. They funded all this out of their own pockets (or in Almina's case, Rothchild's pockets).

The part I found amusing was the role of the dowager countess. She went to Egypt to see off one of her sons and ended up becoming the harbormaster at Alexandria, coordinating the hospital ships coming from Turkey and the hospital ships going back to England. It was one of those things where it wasn't being coordinated, she stepped in to handle it and soon was officially in charge. She was much younger than Violet, since all of these people were younger than their Downton counterparts and she was the late earl's second wife, so she wasn't that much older than Almina, but I still found myself picturing Violet running the harbor in a war zone.

Then there was the earl's half brother, who should get a movie made about him. He traveled extensively and was a linguist, and he was so popular in Albania that before the war there was even a movement to try to make him king of Albania. His eyesight was too bad for him to get into the army when the war started, but he had his tailor make a perfect replica of the uniform, and when the unit his friends were in marched past on the way to the station to head to France, he just fell in with them, and the higher-ups didn't notice he was there until he was in France and it was too late to send him back. He got wounded and they had to just load him up with morphine and leave him there when they retreated, then the Germans took that area and were surprised to find a groggy Englishman speaking perfect German to them, and then he was rescued when the English took that area back again. He became best buds with Lawrence of Arabia, and they worked together. If you wrote this character in fiction, he'd be called a Gary Stu.
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#42

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Posted Jan 24, 2013 @ 4:03 PM

One of the things I've puzzled over since S1 is How does every one know a carriage or car is coming up the drive - as in when a guest is arriving (i.e. Violet) and how do they all assemble so fast? I mean do they have a "look-out" up in one of the towers who alerts everyone? Small thing - but everytime it happens, I keep asking myself this.
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#43

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Posted Jan 24, 2013 @ 7:22 PM

I think that most big houses had a gatehouse which might be able to communicate somehow with the main house (particularly in 1920, but before then by bell or runner). If a car had been dispatched to the train station to pick up passengers on a particular train, the arrival time could be calculated. Since Violet is family and visits so often (if not daily) I doubt they assemble for her. As for Martha's arrival, I have no idea, except she probably wired or phoned them when she intended to arrive, so pre-cell-phone, they might well have a watcher as well as a best-guestimate, so everyone would be ready to drop everything with clean aprons at the ready. Just my guesses.


ETA: Just Wiki'd and according to them a "gatehouse" is fairly enormous gatehouse that guarded the entrance to castles, while I was thinking of something more modest that I've seen in any number of films (fiction and nonfiction) where there were smaller outbuildings, and often a gate near the entrance of an estate. By 1920, electricity would make a buzzer entirely possible, even some sort of in-house phone, if anyone was willing to pay for one. I don't think we've seen much down the drive to Downton, I don't remember seeing a gate or a house or anything.

Edited by susan sunflower, Jan 24, 2013 @ 7:59 PM.

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#44

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Posted Jan 25, 2013 @ 9:08 AM

I agree that it had to have something to do with knowing the train schedule and how long the trip back to the house in the motor was. Since it was just senior staff and family that assembled, it would be fairly easy for family to be waiting in the library and senior staff in the main hall until someone saw or signaled that the car was coming up the long drive.

I'm also basing this on the Upstairs, Downstairs episode "Missing Presumed Killed," in which Daisy, Rose, Edward, and the visiting nurse in effect assembled for Major James's transport home. They were shown kind of loitering in the main hall until they saw the ambulance pull up out front, and then they sort of came to attention as Edward answered the door. I'm assuming something similar happens in a manor the size of Downton, only perhaps with more use of bells or speaking tubes as necessary to get people quickly assembled from behind where ever the green baize door is located.
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#45

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Posted Jan 26, 2013 @ 1:24 AM

Here's what I'm wondering: Given that eight years have elapsed since the first season, how old are the daughters supposed to be? If Mary was of marriageable age in 1912, she'd have had to be, what, at least 17? But that would mean that Edith and Sybil were 14 or 15 back then, and they seemed much more grown-up than that.
And if Mary were 19 or 20 in Season 1, then she would be pushing 30 in Season 3, and that seems shockingly old for a first-time bride in that era (even with the "blot on her copybook" or however Lady Rosamund put it).
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#46

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Posted Jan 27, 2013 @ 6:26 AM

If Mary was of marriageable age in 1912, she'd have had to be, what, at least 17? But that would mean that Edith and Sybil were 14 or 15 back then, and they seemed much more grown-up than that.


Wikipedia lists them as being born in 1892, 1894, and 1896 so about 20/18/16. I'm not sure where those numbers come from, but it did seem like Mary and Edith were in the market for a husband in the first season while Sybil was a bit too young.

And if Mary were 19 or 20 in Season 1, then she would be pushing 30 in Season 3, and that seems shockingly old for a first-time bride in that era

Well, a war started when she was still a pretty prime age for marriage. Plus, there were always women who got married later. One of George V's sons married a 34 year old and an another married a 28 year old, though that was the mid 30s. I think part of the whole "on the shelf" thing had to do with who was unmarried in their late 20s, the plainer, poorer, less charming women.
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#47

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Posted Jan 27, 2013 @ 12:40 PM

Thanks clevernamehere; that makes a lot of sense. I guess WWI changed the playing field in many ways. I think maybe Julian Fellowes made a bit of a mistake by having the show span eight years in the first three seasons. No one has aged in the slightest in all that time; the only way to tell the passage of time is through the fashions and the mention of what year it is.
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#48

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Posted Jan 27, 2013 @ 1:17 PM

I disagree that they don't have aged. I actually watched season 1 yesterday and was amazed how much older Cora looks now than she did in season 1. Also Mrs Hughes. The young women haven't changed that much, but it's like in real life. You don't look so much different in your 20s, but there's a huge difference between 35 and 45.
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#49

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Posted Jan 28, 2013 @ 9:11 AM

Borrowed an interesting book from the public library over the weekend :"Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants" by Alison Maloney. It's a thin-ish book that talks about the servant hierarchy, job descriptions, salaries, menus for upstairs, etc.

I also placed requests for the two Margaret Powell books.
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#50

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

Not sure if this observation goes into this thread or not (although I guess it does qualify as a quibble). I'm finishing up Season 2, and I'm wondering if Vera Bates' resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West is intentional.
She looks a bit like her, with the pale face and the hat, and when she cackled about making Bates come back with her, I half expected her to add, "and your little dog too."
Then, in her death scene, when they panned up from her feet, I could have sworn it was a Wizard of Oz homage.
I know we're supposed to hate Vera, and I do, but a little bit of subtlety would have gone a long way. Not sure how much is the actress, and how much is the way the character is written, but she's the most caricatured and obnoxious of the whole bunch, IMO, and when you consider the many sins of characters like O'Brien and Thomas, that's saying something.
I love "Downton Abbey," but that performance takes me out of the story every time that woman is onscreen.
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#51

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Posted Feb 2, 2013 @ 10:11 AM

One thing that always seemed odd to me is that Cora has three daughters born close in age then no. More pregnancies until the miscarriage. I understand they didn't want to have like eight daughters including young ones but they could have hinted at her having multiple miscarriages or her pregnancy with Sybil being difficult to the point they didn't want her having more children. Otherwise it seems odd that she suddenly didn't become pregnant for a decade and a half after having three close together especially when everything would have been so much easier if she had just had a son.
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#52

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Posted Feb 2, 2013 @ 10:25 AM

I thought that was just a plausible depiction of secondary infertility -- Cora didn't resume ovulation after Sybil's birth until perimenopause gave her hormones a jolt.
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#53

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Posted Feb 3, 2013 @ 6:59 AM

I guess that makes sense especially the hormone surge helping her with that final pregnancy.
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#54

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Posted Feb 4, 2013 @ 11:43 AM

Downton Abbey 2013: Baron with seven daughters loses family estate to distant female cousin....
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#55

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Posted Feb 5, 2013 @ 10:26 PM

They have had at least one London season - I don't remember when because I blew through watching, but they come back and the maids are Carson are talking about opening back up the house. Plus everyone asks Mary how it went. It was Sybils Debutante season, so it had to be before the war. The middle daughter makes a snide comment to Cora after she compliments Sybil on doing so well.
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#56

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 9:06 AM

Somebody in the current episode thread thought "stuff" sounded anachronistic. So I went to Etymology Online

early 14c., "quilted material worn under chain mail," from Old French estoffe "quilted material, furniture, provisions" (Modern French étoffe), from estoffer "to equip or stock," which according to French sources is from Old High German stopfon "to plug, stuff," or from a related Frankish word (see stop), but OED has "strong objections" to this. Sense extended to material for working with in various trades (c.1400), then (1570s) "matter of an unspecified kind." Meaning "narcotic, dope, drug" is attested from 1929. To know (one's) stuff "have a grasp on a subject" is recorded from 1927.


My bold. The word's been used that way for quite a while.
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#57

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 11:14 AM

Edith didn't make a snide comment. She just mentioned that Cora never compliments her like that, which is probably true. No one ever does.

Sorry, just trying to correct the record.
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#58

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 12:50 PM

If Lavinia Swires could snag Matthew, I think it's not unreasonable to think that the lovely Sybil would have had suitors, actually come to think of it, I'm almost surprised Matthew didn't bring a suitable friend or two by for any of the three girls on his oh-so-frequent visits. Not even to mention, as has been mentioned, all of the officer patients.
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#59

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Posted Feb 13, 2013 @ 10:49 PM

There's a whole discussion of 'stuff' in Prochronisms.

http://www.prochroni...awleys-use.html

Bottom line, it may sound weird, but people have talked about stuff for a long time.
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#60

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Posted Feb 14, 2013 @ 12:16 AM

re: Mary's "operation" My grandmother would have been Mary's age. She was married almost 6 years before she got pregnant with my Aunt. She claimed she endured a "hysterectomy" just prior to my Aunt’s conception. 6 years later, she had another “hysterectomy” and gave birth to my Mother. I’m sure there was some kind of “procedure” prior to my Aunt’s and Mother’s births, (but I think we can all agree that it was most certainly not a hysterectomy.) At 14 years old, I tried to explain to her exactly what a hysterectomy was, and was told I was just a little “too bold”. But, I guess my point is that there were some “procedures” for those who failed to conceive, even in the 1920’s, I’m not sure of the name of such “procedures”, but I’m guess I’m proof that something worked.

I love this show, for the stories, the characters, but, I suspect the fact that the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is my Grandmother “come to life” is what really holds my interest!
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