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Set in 1912-1928, the Downton Abbey series tells the story of one household over the years. Though it includes servants, tenants, and many others, everything in the drama surrounds the Crawley family, from the day-to-day activities in their house to the often salacious rumors circulating about them. The core family and many extended relatives play a big role, especially when it comes to the all-important matter of inheritance. The series starts with a family death and an unknown distant relative becoming heir. The story continues for six seasons and two sequel films as the family grows and changes. With four generations of Crawleys on screen and distant family members introduced throughout, it becomes a complex thing to keep up with, especially when keeping track of how they are all related and how Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is supposed to inherit the title. But despite the number of family members, it’s fairly simple.
The reigning matriarch of the Crawley family, Violet (Maggie Smith), is a force to reckon with. The wife of the 6th Earl of Grantham, Patrick Crawley, and mother of the 7th, she is the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Though technically, her son is in charge, Violet runs the family in a more subtle way. Despite her dignified attitude, the series and subsequent movies revealed Violet’s mysterious past, including love affairs with the Russian prince, Igor Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia), and the French Marquis de Montmirail. But whatever her history, she fully committed to Downton and her family. Though Downton Abbey: A New Era reveals Violet to be sick and soon to pass, her presence looms large in the series and always will.
Robert and Cora Crawley
The 7th Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), has a straightforward role in the family. He inherits the title and estate from his father, as is expected. However, due to financial issues, he marries Cora Levinson (Elizabeth McGovern), a wealthy American heiress able to bail out Downton. This union resulted in a lovely marriage with three beautiful daughters, but they lost their only son in a miscarriage. With no living sons to take Robert’s title, the next Earl was expected to be his cousin, James.
James and Patrick Crawley
Robert’s first cousin, James, was intended to inherit the title and estate, passing it to his son, Patrick, in turn. Patrick would have married Robert’s daughter, Mary (Michelle Dockery), and everything would have been neat and tidy. But that’s not how it turns out. Both James and Patrick die on the Titanic, and the tragedy sends the family into chaos. Though a man called Patrick Gordon (Trevor White) briefly appears, claiming to be Patrick suffering from memory loss, this is disproved.
Next in line after Patrick is Matthew Crawley, the lawyer the family never met until he became the heir. Descending from the 3rd Earl of Grantham, Matthew is Robert’s third cousin once removed. Initially, he is met with distrust, especially by Mary, who felt she was thrown over for a stranger. Eventually, Matthew married Mary, restoring Cora’s wealth to her descendants and setting things right in the eyes of the family. Though it wrapped everything up nicely, Matthew and Mary didn’t have a marriage of convenience but fell in love with each other. Matthew invested his own money in Downton as well, bailing the estate out of bankruptcy and becoming co-owner of the estate while Robert was still alive. He worked to modernize Downton. But his death in a tragic car accident changed things, giving his half of the estate to his once-passed-over wife.
Mary and Henry Talbot
Mary, the eldest daughter of Robert and Cora and wife of Matthew, was initially unable to inherit Downton because of her gender. But, when Matthew left his portion to her specifically in his will, she became co-owner with her father, although she couldn’t hold the title. Mary worked tirelessly to protect Downton and save it for the generations of Crawleys to come. After Matthew’s death, she remarried Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) and continued to grow the family.
George and Caroline
Mary has two children, George (Oliver and Zac Barker) and Caroline (Bibi and Olive Burr). George is from her first marriage and, through Matthew, the heir to his grandfather’s title. He will also inherit Downton from both Robert and Mary, reuniting it with one owner. Caroline is Mary’s daughter with Henry, so technically a Talbot and not a Crawley, but she is still a much-loved member of the family.
As Matthew joins the family, so does Isobel (Penelope Wilton), his mother. Married to the doctor, Reginald Crawley, she is considered middle-class by her posh relatives, but she adapts and eventually becomes friends with them, even her usual sparring partner, Violet. Later, Isobel marries Richard Grey (Douglas Reith), Mary’s godfather, officially bringing him into the family. Though she outlives her son and, therefore, her closest connection to the family, Isobel is accepted into their hearts as family, and that’s what matters to the Crawleys.
Edith and Bertie Pelham
The second daughter of Robert and Cora, Edith (Laura Carmichael), is often met with the worst luck. After being jilted at the altar and falling for a married man who disappears, it seems Edith may never be married. Luckily, she finds Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), initially a lowly agent but becomes the Marquess of Hexham, giving Edith the most desirable marriage of the Crawley sisters.
Marigold Gregson and Peter Pelham
Officially, Edith’s ward, Marigold (Eva and Karina Samms), is the daughter of Edith Crawley and Micheal Gregson (Charles Edwards). After her father moved to Germany to get a divorce from his estranged wife, he was killed. Marigold was born after Michael’s death and was originally adopted by a Swiss family. Edith later brings her to Downton as the adopted child of Mr. Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), a farmer who works closely with the family. But living so close to her daughter doesn’t help, and she eventually takes Marigold in as the family’s ward. Edith’s second child, Peter Pelham, is the heir to his father’s title.
Sybil and Tom Branson
The youngest Crawley daughter is Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay). The spirited Sybil is unlike her sisters. She marries their chauffeur, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), who is far from their world. Though this angers her father, in particular, Sybil eventually makes up with the family, and Tom gains acceptance into the family even after Sybil’s death in childbirth.
Syble’s only child, Sybil “Sybbie” Branson (Fifi Hart), is born the same day her mother dies. Cora insists on caring for the baby for Sybil’s sake, so the Crawleys take in Sybbie and her father. Sybbie is the oldest of Robert and Cora’s grandchildren. Though she and her father briefly move to America, they soon return, claiming to miss their family, much to the Crawlys’ delight.
Rosamund (Samantha Bond) is the daughter of Violet and Patrick and sister to Robert. Though married to the deceased Marmaduke Painswick, she never had children and often hosts her nieces in London. She has a notable relationship with Edith, helping her keep Marigold a secret for several years.
The youngest daughter of Robert’s cousin, Rose McClair (Lily James), stays with the Crawleys for a time and is generally recognized as a close member of the family, though technically, she is distantly related. Her mother, Susan (Phoebe Nicholls), is more closely related but spends much less time with the family. Though Rose has siblings, she is by far the closest to the Crawlys. She and her husband, Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber), move to America and have a daughter named Victoria.
Maud Bagshaw and Lucy Smith
Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) is the first cousin of Patrick Crawley. As the descendent of Robert’s great-uncle, she inherited Brampton Estate from the Crawleys. Violet believes that Robert should get Brampton once Maud dies. However, Maud intends to leave everything to her maid, Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), who is truly her daughter. When Violet discovers this, she accepts Maud’s decision, especially as Lucy and Tom Branson grew close. Later, they marry and have a son. Though Tom is not her blood, Violet loves him as her own grandson and is happy for his children to inherit what she claims is owed to the Crawleys.