Downton Abbey: The Decision Does Not Lie with the Chauffeur

[This contains spoilers – be warned.]

This season seems to hit home that Lord Grantham does not like discussing serious topics, and doesn’t think anyone else should be, either:

Managing his finances wisely? Stop talking, Murray.

Running the estate well? Matthew, let’s discuss this later.

Having a daughter who writes a weekly column for the paper? Edith, you have nothing of importance to say; you’re a woman.

Discussing health care options for his daughter? Sybil’s fine, there is no need to talk about ‘lady’ issues.

It’s getting a bit tedious. Some thoughts on those serious topics:

The fact that a man was making care decisions for a birth complication he knew nothing about, and refused to discuss in detail, was appalling but obviously the norm at the time. Lord Grantham is in charge, even when he is out of his depth.

Lord Grantham and the two doctors during Sybil's childbirth.
Lord Grantham and the two doctors during Sybil’s childbirth.

I read the book, Call the Midwife, earlier this year (which was the basis for the BBC show by the same name). Though written based on a midwife’s experiences thirty years later, in the 1950s, the description of eclampsia in the book was quite vivid.  There were preventative measures that could be taken, but if not caught in the ‘preeclampsia’ stages, women die. The Washington Post had an interesting article with a detailed description of the condition earlier this week. Once that word was uttered in last week’s episode of Downton, I knew nothing good could come of it.

And clearly, the upper classes didn’t always have better doctors. Dr. Clarkson, the simple country doctor who cared for the Crawley family since the girls were babies themselves, had much better intuition about Sybil than Sir Philip Tapsell. And yet, as a society doctor from London, Sir Philip was considered better than Dr. Clarkson. The pecking order was obvious: “I warn you doctor. If you wish to remain you must be silent. I cannot allow you to interfere.” Oh, how we all wish Dr. Clarkson did interfere.

“Don’t bother Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family.” Not anymore! I hope this subplot will become one of the major parts of the Downton story. Edith should seize the opportunity, against her father’s wishes, to write for the paper and make her own (successful) path. I am assuming she will be paid since it is a weekly column, and, if so, this could be just the starting point for her.

Edith is offered a column in the paper
Edith is offered a column in the paper

She should head to an office and get out of that house a little bit more. Advocacy for women’s rights has a long way to go in 1920s Britain, and Edith could do a lot with that newspaper column.

Finances and the Estate
Next week I’ll be diving into more on the management of estates in the 1920s. A great piece on estate costs was posted last year on the blog Edwardian Promenade, and it provides a great background of the way estates were run in the late 1800s.

Matthew tries to explain the inefficiencies of the estate
Matthew tries to explain the inefficiencies of the estate

By the 1920s, land ownership was beginning to shift as more of the landed gentry began to realize that the money isn’t stretching as far as it used to. The aristocratic way of life was changing.  Matthew is ready for it, but the rest of the Crawleys – Mary and Lord Grantham in particular – are not.  Matthew seems intent on reforming the estate finances, but the battle between the old way and new way of doing things is just beginning.

In all aspects of the household, it’s clear that the decisions currently lie with Lord Grantham. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that he is not the best decision maker (now even his biggest supporter, Lady Grantham, wants him out of her sight and is making him sleep in the dressing room). Let’s let some other people make their own decisions for a change.

Who do you want to see standing on their own two feet for the rest of the season?


5 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: The Decision Does Not Lie with the Chauffeur”

  1. Hi Meg

    This is off topic, but I don’t know where else to ask you the question. In my grad school French Revolution class, we were talking about how there began to be a demand to pay tax based on what you can afford–or a progressive tax. This is the first time I had seen any mention of this type of tax in any of my studies and wondered if the French were the first to implement the idea of a progressive tax–my class would love to know your take on this!


  2. Hi Kim! Thanks for the question. From what I can tell, the idea of the progressive tax started in the late 1300s in the UK.

    “Richard II’s Parliament granted a second poll tax in 1379 there was an attempt to make the tax more acceptable by grading the payments according to rank.” visit: to see the full entry.

    This is another website to check out for a (very) brief history of tax:

    This would definitely be interesting to look into further – maybe I’ll write a post on it soon!

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