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The Downton Abbey Heiresses

Joined: 7/24/2012
Posts: 29
The British drama, Downtown Abbey, this season’s new passion for television, tells the story of the privileged family of the Earl of Grantham and of his retinue of servants. It is 1920 and the cash-strapped Earl is married to Cora, a super-rich American. With the arrival of her mother, Martha Levinson, we realize that Cora is Jewish and that their union rescued the magnificent property where the Earl was born and hopes to die. A self-confessed fortune hunter, he again needs aid to rescue him from financial failure. His new aim of investing with Ponzi is an indication of his financial expertise.

Such transatlantic arrangements were commonplace at the time as men of title were purchasable, a way for some of the 4000 millionaire American families to find places for themselves in British and European aristocracy.

The most notable was Jennie Jerome, daughter of Wall Street trader Leonard Jerome. Jennie married Lord Randolph Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough’s younger son, and became the mother of Winston. There was some disagreement over the pre-nup, but love and money won out. For another huge sum, the Vanderbilts managed to snag the Duke himself for their 18 year old daughter Consuelo.

Some girls went abroad, like the Singer Sewing Machine heiress, Winnaretta, who became the French Princesse Edmond de Polignac, and Alice Heine, who married Prince Albert decades before Grace Kelly bagged Rainier. There is evidence that even Grace’s father came up with a enormous dowry. Mary Leiter, daughter of a Chicago department store owner, financed the career of George Curzon, becoming Britain’s Vicereine of India alongside her husband.

A constant theme from old English history centers on the need for a royal male heir. Unfortunately, Downtown Abbey’s Lady Cora gives birth to three daughters, who are raised Protestant despite their mother’s DNA, and the property seems destined to fall into other hands. Another problem arises when a younger daughter marries the Catholic chauffeur and then dies, leaving him to insist their daughter be baptized in his faith. A Jane Eyre plot variation describes a second daughter who falls in love with a man who cannot divorce his insane wife. The final hope lays with Lady Margaret and new heir-apparent Matthew, a distant cousin, producing a son.

Against this background is the true story of Lady Almina Wombwell, who once lived in Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed. Like Cora, she was foreign, rich and of doubtful origin, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, grandson son of the family founder, who indulged her every desire. Her marriage to the 5th Earl of Carnovan gave his family the money to continue their lavish lifestyle. The dowry paid all of the duke’s outstanding debts and gave her a large lifetime income. Her money modernized several of their mansions and financed the duke on his Egyptian adventure to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun.

As the blood of English royalty and that of foreign intruders became intermingled in a suspected plot for social supremacy or some such nonsense, there grew an urban legend that the term “Brit” comes from the time honored Jewish rite and the fact that royal males are circumcised by “mohels.”

Unfortunately, the ending is sad. Matthew is killed in an automobile accident and the widowed Lady Margaret is left to raise the new heir to Downton Abbey.
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Comment by Girlboxer1970

Joined: 1/15/2013
Posts: 79
This sounds like a fascinating show. I hear people talking about it and I'm tempted to watch but I think I'd like to start at the first episode.

Very nice explanation of the program. It is on my "to watch" list now!
Posted: Friday, March 29, 2013 4:05:31 PM
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