18
   

Downton Abbey

 
 
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:05 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
This is not strictly true. A nobleman, or a high-ranking church official, might own, or have the management of more than one manor. The manor house was the center of the property which was attached to the grant of land or of a religious foundation. A man might found a religious house, or give lands to one, in return for the inhabitants praying for his soul. If a grant or bequest went to a monastery, or to a bishop or archbishop, for which there was already a residence, then the manor house was the center of that property. The monks or the bishop would not actually live there. In such cases, the manor house would probably be very modest--an undercroft, sometimes of stone or brick-lined, which was used for storage and to shelter livestock at night or in winter. Above that would be a timbered hall, with perhaps a separate bedroom if the occupant was of a sufficiently elevated social rank. When the manor house was occupied by the owner of the attached properties, it could be quite substantial--a central hall above the undercroft, a separate bedroom, and a solar, which was room for the family of the lord of the manor, in which they would have some privacy, and in which the children would sleep at night. The servants (those apart from the serfs) and any men at arms would sleep at night on the floor of the hall.

When the owner of the property was not resident, the manor would likely be quite modest, and its inhabitant would be the reeve, the agent of the owner. The reeve would be responsible for managing the use of the estate lands and livestock, and would conduct the manor court, where peasants would bring complaints against one another, or be called upon to answer charges against them. Many endowments to monastic orders or to powerful churchmen would be compounded for the delivery of certain specified goods, so that a wise estate manager, a wise reeve, could meet the requirements of the endowment and still realize a profit for his master. Such documents were very specific--so many quarters of grain (a quarter of grain is eight bushels), so many swine, or sucking pigs, so many geese, ducks or chickens, so many cheeses, so much butter, and so forth.

Most manor houses in the middle ages, at least in England and France, were of this more modest nature. Most manor house were not inhabited by the owner of the estate.
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:24 pm
@JPB,
Oh! I'm sorry. I posted that bit in the opening thread. The news was in my paper before season 3 started so I assumed everyone knew he was leaving.
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:28 pm
@MontereyJack,
Good idea! If the show doesn't take too much artistic license we could just investigate the history of Canada's railroads and find out what happens!

I thought the lawyer said they were on the verge of bankruptcy and that he would probably lose it all.

Your story about your dad riding on that railroad gave me a dreamy, romantic feeling. (Sigh)
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:30 pm
@JPB,
I hadn't heard the Jewish theory.

That will make the upcoming war very interesting.
Finn dAbuzz
 
  3  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:44 pm
Sorry for the digression, although Cyclo does remind me of a melding of Thomas Barrow and Tom Branson, with the overwhelming influence being Barrow's.

I'm hooked on this show, but then I was, long ago, hooked on Upstairs Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Lillie, to name but a few.

I'm a conservative; it's expected of me to be enthralled by a series that glorifies the British aristocracy. After all, I long to be his lordship, the Earl of Finnage. What amuses be is how the appeal of this show crosses ideological barriers and has progressives as goosey about the Crawleys as any would-be aristocrat.

With some sour grape exceptions, we all long to be Lord or Lady Grantham, and why shouldn't we?

It's not as if they don't have a heap of their own personal problems (as the show ably demonstrates), but they reside in what most of us feel is a very enviable fantasy land of grace and style.

Our modern world cannot produce a Downton estate unless it is commissioned by one of the relative few multi-billionaires of our time. Which, if any of them, are capable of the style that is the product of a class that has for generations given no regard to cost? Carlos Slim Helu, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet? I don't think so.

This is not to say that the world is better off when ruled by familial dynasties (because clearly it is not), but, as always, transformation loses something, no matter how much it gains.

It is a better world than doesn't limit people's potential by virtue of their "class" and yet how many of this series' fans found it difficult to hope that Sybil would run away with Tom?

I recall a UK assignment in the late 80's in which I was asked to consider a British organization in light of its American sister.

Perhaps the most startling of my findings was how deeply entrenched was the class system. I interviewed a number of people who impressed me as very talented, but who were delighted that they had risen to a Class C and had absolutely no intention of pressing for further advancement.

This was more than 20 years ago and perhaps the UK has done away with such classist considerations.

In any case the great majority of us can appreciate aristocratic largess and excess in a TV show without feeling we have made a statement.

It's a great show for so many reasons.
0 Replies
 
JPB
 
  2  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:44 pm
@boomerang,
I caught the name "Levinson" right away during the episode. It's currently 1920. I wonder how far forward the season runs?
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:49 pm
I've not seen this show, but i've heard people compare it to Upstairs, Downstairs. Is there anyone here who has seen both and who wishes to comment on that?
Finn dAbuzz
 
  0  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:52 pm
@JPB,
Oh Good Lord, are we to get all up in American Jew fortunes because of this series?

While the UK side of the family has made it clear that they look down on Americans, there hasn't been one iota of anti-Semitism.

Those who introduce anit-Semtism into this series must find it a cause worth advancing.

JPB
 
  3  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 07:58 pm
@Finn dAbuzz,
Huh?

Who is advancing anti-Semitism. The blog I posted is from the Jewish Daily Forward and the Tablet article it references is from a site that calls itself "A new read on Jewish life".


Finn dAbuzz
 
  -1  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 08:02 pm
@JPB,
If you didn't...move along
0 Replies
 
MontereyJack
 
  3  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 11:08 pm
Don't get all Lady Violet on us, Finn.

Here's an interesting backgrounder on the whole American-heiresses-marry-into-British-aristocracy thing, which Julian Fellowes says definitely helped spark his ideas for Downton Abbey, from the NYT. Edith Wharton was doing it a century ago:

Quote:
For Edith Wharton’s Birthday, Hail Ultimate Social Climbers


By PAT RYAN
Published: January 19, 2012
In dramas about the British aristocracy we Americans await with tingly pleasure the inevitable moment when the family learns that there is no more money to run the estate, and everyone must retrench or — worse — the heir must get a job. Then, like the arrival of the cavalry in a western, all is saved — the footmen, the ancestral portraits, even the Georgian silver — by the imminent commingling of fortunes with an American kissing cousin who has daughters and dollars. The “Upstairs Downstairs” details long familiar from novels, movies and television shows, and now from the popular “Downton Abbey,” seem to render us spellbound.

Edith WhartonThe English actor and writer Julian Fellowes, who created the PBS mini-series “Downton Abbey” and wrote the screenplay for “Gosford Park,” told The Telegraph that the idea for the series came from a book he was reading at the time, “To Marry an English Lord,” by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace. It was about “American girls who had come over to England in the late 19th century and married into the English aristocracy.” Mr. Fellowes added, “It occurred to me that while it must have been wonderful for these girls to begin with, what happened 25 years later when they were freezing in a house in Cheshire aching for Long Island?”

One answer comes from a native New Yorker who grew up among such heiresses: “These awful English marriages” tie you tight and “strangle you in a noose when you try to pull away from them,” Edith Wharton wrote in 1937 in her unfinished novel “The Buccaneers.” But she saw both sides of these Anglo-American unions. In an earlier novel, “The Custom of the Country,” she told the scathing tale of Undine Spragg, an American serial social usurper who blackmails her ex-husband to get enough money so her lover can bribe the pope to annul her previous marriage. Mr. Fellowes cited this Wharton book as another “Downton” influence (although Undine lands herself a French nobleman).

Edith Wharton, whose 150th birthday on Tuesday will be celebrated around New York — she was born on West 23rd Street — knew exactly what she was delineating. She was the ultimate insider, born into the New York upper crust, which she called “a group of bourgeois colonials” transformed into “a sort of social aristocracy.”

In “The Old Maid” (one of four “Old New York” novellas) Wharton wrote that in the 1850s New York was ruled by a few very affluent families. These “solidly welded blocks,” a mixture of sturdy English and Dutch genes, “had not come to the colonies to die for a creed but to live for a bank-account.”

In “To Marry an English Lord” Ms. Wallace and Ms. MacColl (who married an Englishman, though not a lord) write that in the 1860s “a whole new group of people began making money in industry — in armaments, in railroads, in preserved meats to feed the soldiers, in harvesters that freed workers from the fields. These enterprises made a lot of men very rich, very fast. And when they got rich, they came to New York.”

But when they arrived, the aspiring nouveau-riche folks were not accepted socially by the vieux-riche clans, so they looked eastward across the Atlantic to England, France and Italy, acquiring titles and lineages they felt would give them prestige, at least for the next generations. In Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” old Mrs. Manson Mingott, the must-be-obeyed matriarch of her line who “put the crowning touch to her audacities” by building a large cream-colored stone house in the wilderness near Central Park, “married two of her daughters to ‘foreigners’ (an Italian Marquis and an English banker).”

In Britain these Americans all seemed simply “rich,” with no qualifying adjectives. In an interview last year on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Mr. Fellowes estimated that 350 free-spirited heiresses made transcontinental marriages from 1880 to 1920. Hermione Lee, in her biography of Wharton, put the number who married into the British peerage at about 100, “several of them connected to Wharton.”

There are vestiges of these heiresses all over New York.

One of the most famous of the gilded girls was Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, who became the mother of Winston Churchill. Her father, Leonard Jerome, a financier and avid horse-racing fan, took Jennie and her sisters, Clarita and Leonie, abroad, where Jennie soon crossed paths with Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. They were engaged three days later, which caused some raised eyebrows, as did Winston’s birth about seven months after the marriage. Clarita married Moreton Frewen, son of Thomas Frewen, M.P., and Leonie married Sir John Leslie, an Irish baronet.

Then there were “the Marrying Wilsons,” as they became known in New York and Newport high society as a result of all their similarly advantageous alliances. The former Caroline Schermerhorn (the Mrs. Astor, a legendary founder of the elite “400”) saw her daughter married to Marshall Wilson. Marshall was the son of Richard T. Wilson, whose five children married British royalty and American millionaires with last names that included Goelet and Vanderbilt. Marshall’s niece, Mary Goelet, became the Duchess of Roxburghe, and at the time of her marriage in 1903 she was one of the wealthiest American heiresses of the pre-World War I era, rivaling Consuelo Vanderbilt, the only daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt, a New York railroad millionaire. Consuelo unhappily married the Duke of Marlborough in 1895, and her father’s millions helped bail out a leaky Blenheim Palace. The marriage ended in divorce and, later, annulment.

Consuelo’s namesake, Consuelo Iznaga, a Cuban-American heiress and dear friend of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s mother (the suffragist Alva Smith), married Viscount Mandeville, the future Duke of Manchester, in 1876. Consuelo Iznaga, an acquaintance of Wharton’s, was the basis for the character Conchita Closson in “The Buccaneers.” Poor Conchita ended “head-over-ears in debt,” in love with one man “while tied to another.” As for the real-life couple, the duke was “a feckless philanderer who squandered her money,” Ms. Lee writes in her Wharton biography.

The early Fifth Avenue Vanderbilt mansions are gone, but the reminders of the old world of Wharton and the heiresses include Grace Church, where the baby Edith Newbold Jones was christened and also where Consuelo Iznaga married her duke in waiting. Consuelo Vanderbilt married her own duke at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue (though not the current building), even though the Vanderbilts traditionally attended St. Bartholomew’s Church. As Ms. Wallace explained in an e-mail on Wednesday, in 1895 St. Bart’s “wasn’t big enough to hold the 50-piece orchestra and 60-piece choir that Consuelo’s mother, Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt, wanted, so the wedding reception took place at Sherry’s restaurant.” Ms. Wallace added, “This was really unusual — wedding receptions were normally at home, but Consuelo’s mother had divorced Consuelo’s father and didn’t have a big house at the time. (Can you imagine the scandal? Huge!)”

The fictional Lady Cora in “Downton Abbey” (played by Elizabeth McGovern), another monetarily well-endowed American, married the fictional Earl of Grantham. And as money is the root of all plots, the “Downton” estate itself (played by Highclere Castle, home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon) is also a character in the show. “They serve the house,” Mr. Fellowes says of his people.

The act of acquiring and spending (and owing), and the fine details of renovating and decorating, are integral too. Wharton, who was an expert on interior design and published “The Decoration of Houses” in 1898 with the architect Ogden Codman, denounced with a moral zest any room with overstuffed furniture, heavy curtains or Victorian whatnots. “If only I could do over my aunt’s drawing-room,” Lily Bart says in “The House of Mirth,” “I know I should be a better woman.”

The present Countess of Carnarvon has written about Highclere’s own money-for-title swap (though not American money this time) in “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.” An ancestor, Almina Wombwell, the countess says, was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred Charles de Rothschild and Marie Wombwell, née Boyer. In 1895, she writes, with a marriage contract from Rothschild granting the Earl of Carnarvon a “stupendous” payoff, “Almina went into St. Margaret’s the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish banker and his French kept woman,” but she emerged the fifth Countess of Carnarvon.

Mr. Fellowes points out that “in Europe, to get an heiress, you need everyone else in the family to die,” making European heiresses rare, but American heiresses proliferated because they could be created whenever a rich person divided his wealth among the children.

Wharton’s family, though it had solid social credentials — Edith was a cousin to Mrs. Astor — were merely comfortably off, part of a circle of what the author Louis Auchincloss, another Wharton biographer, termed “haute bourgeoisie.”

“Downton Abbey” is growing strong in its second season on PBS’s “Masterpiece” and won a Golden Globe on Sunday for best mini-series. But Lady Cora should watch her step. When Wharton’s Annabel, one of the buccaneers, asserted herself and said, “I think I’m tired of trying to be English,” the dowager Duchess of Tintagel replied:

“Trying to be? But you are English. When you became my son’s wife you acquired his nationality. Nothing can change that now.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”


A version of this article appeared in print on January 20, 2012, on page C25 of the New York edition with the headline: Tales of New York: For Edith Wharton’s Birthday, Hail Ultimate Social Climbers.
0 Replies
 
MontereyJack
 
  2  
Reply Wed 9 Jan, 2013 11:24 pm
There's another British TV series that takes on some of the same stuff as Downton Abbey, the aristocracy and the commoners, as a comedy, in the present day, which PBS also shows periodically, in a similar incredibly stately mansion, called "Monarch of the Glen". A doddering old Scottish laird and his wife lure their son, who's gone to London to be a restaurateur, back to the ancestral castle, which they can't afford to keep up, in hopes he'll be able to save it. Replete with upstairs-downstairs romances (the up versus down distinction is much less marked now). A good, light-hearted show for contrast. Young Scottish guys apparently still wear kilts--but they're not plaid and they wear them with construction worker boots and t shirts (that's apparently the real Scottish fasion--they wear them the same way in the Celtic descendant communities in the Canadian Maritimes).
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 12:16 am
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:
Most manor house were not inhabited by the owner of the estate.
Might well be that I've just visited the exceptions.
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 01:28 am
@Walter Hinteler,
It might well be that the thousands of manor houses that existed in Europe in the middle ages no longer exist for you to visit.
MontereyJack
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 02:07 am
@Setanta,
Most of the manor houses that people visit now were in fact the "stately homes" which very rich nobles (and from the 19th century on, very rich business people and inductrialists) who did live at least part time on their estates built well after the middle ages, from roughly the 1600s through the early 2oth century, after which I believe taxes made them more impractical. I seem to remember the owners get significant tax breaks if they open them to the public for a certain amount of time.
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 02:26 am
@Setanta,
Some of the b&b's where I stayed in France and England were those. And the British Heritage looks after quite a few 'ruins'. Wink
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 02:32 am
@MontereyJack,
Due to the "Great Mortality" or the pestilence of the 14th century (what historians later dubbed the "Black Death"), many manor houses disappeared altogether. The local village was literally wiped out, and the manor house was abandoned because it no longer served a purpose. The stone or brick foundations were scavanged by nearby peasants, and the only thing left would be the parish church, because peasants wouldn't attempt to scavange that. In many places in France and England today, small stone churches sit in the middle of otherwise empty fields--the villages they once served having disappeared in the 14th century, or during later plagues.

In England, many of the manor houses of religious foundations disappeared during the dissolution of the monasteries which was carried out under Henry VIII. The extensive holdings of monasteries were taken over by the Crown, and then sold off at bargain prices, or given outright, to supporters of Henry and his new national church. The manor houses which tended to survive were those of secular lords who had in fact been residents of those manor houses. The manor houses of distant holdings and the manor houses of church holdings largely did not survive.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 03:05 am
@Walter Hinteler,
I didn't say anything about ruins, Walter. Of the thousands of manor houses which existed in England and France in 1300, most have simply disappeared altogether.
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 03:07 am
@Setanta,
I know. And not only in France and England.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2013 03:10 am
@Walter Hinteler,
I don't feel qualified to speak of other countries--what i know of the economic unit called a manor i know about in England or France. I don't know enough to say anything about the manor system in Germany, for example, because i don't even know if it was employed there.
 

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