All about Lord and Lady Grantham…
Lord and Lady Grantham are the bedrock of the Crawley family. As the heir to the Downton Abbey estate, Robert Crawley married Cora Levinson – a young, forward-thinking American, partly at the will of his father who wanted to secure the financial future of the great house with her family’s money. However, after years of marriage, the pair now happily presides over Downton Abbey in partnership.
At the beginning of Series 1, we meet the pair amidst a rather serious family drama. As Cora reads about the sinking of The Titanic in The Lady magazine, Robert reveals the bad news that his cousins Patrick and James were on the passenger list and are now most likely to be dead.
Believing her daughter, Mary, loves Patrick, Cora is extremely worried on her behalf; meanwhile, Robert is concerned that James and Patrick were the heirs to Downton Abbey so it is now unclear who the actual heir is.
As women are not allowed to inherit the estate, Robert decides not to break the entailment and so the money and Downton Abbey will fall to Matthew Crawley – a distant relative. An awkward introduction ensues, with Cora attempting to welcome both Matthew and his mother Isobel to the household; but Robert is concerned and impresses upon the pair the importance of Matthew accepting the inheritance and the responsibility of running Downton Abbey.
Maintaining the Crawley family connection to Downton Abbey is of the utmost importance to Robert, as it was to his father. Indeed, the reason why Robert and Cora married in the first place was to ensure that Cora’s inheritance would supplement Downton Abbey and continue its survival.
Thus, Robert is delighted when it seems that Mary and Matthew are considering marriage. Mary has different ideas from her father, though, and throughout the series she tells Cora that she isn’t certain about her feelings for Matthew. This comes to a head when Mary confides in Cora about Mr Pamuk’s death in her bed, prompting Cora to swiftly arrange a ‘cover up’ and help her carry his body back to his room.
Ever the doting mother, Cora always wants the best for her three daughters and continues to think of suitors for Mary, including Evelyn Napier. When Lady Edith meets Lord Anthony Strallan, Cora champions the relationship far more than Robert who is hesitant about Strallan’s age in comparison to Edith’s.
Consequently, it is during Series Two that Cora and Lord Grantham become characters in their own right. Robert shows his deep held allegiance to the country in his dismay and guilt at not being allowed to serve on the front line in the First World War, while Cora takes charge of Downton Abbey as it is turned into convalescence home. Although separate in their roles and duties, the pair remains a strong team throughout, often maintaining a united voice on matters of the family (even if one of the pair concede defeat to the other).
During the series, Matthew is seriously injured in battle and returns to Downton Abbey to recover. It is during this period – when Mary is helping him to recuperate – that Cora and Robert notice her love for him starts to blossom. Cora has always wanted them to marry and so the announcement of their engagement at the end of the series delights her no end. Meanwhile, Robert and Matthew have formed a firm friendship over Estate matters, and although Matthew is more forward-thinking than traditionalist Robert, he concedes defeat on a few occasions, maintaining equilibrium between the pair.
The major moment of weakness in the couple’s marriage is shown during this series. Jane Moorsum, a housemaid who came to work at Downton after Ethel Parks was forced to resign, develops feelings for Robert – which he returned – and the pair kiss. The affair is short-lived, however, as Jane swiftly leaves Downton Abbey. Interestingly, Cora has never found out about this brief encounter.
It is during Series Three, that we first meet Cora’s mother – the exuberant Martha Levinson. Visiting from America, Martha soon picks up on the traditional habits of Downton Abbey and her impatience towards The Dowager Lady Violet is plain. The couple mediates between the mothers, while Cora learns that Lady Mary is planning to ask Martha for money to save Downton Abbey since it is in danger of collapse.
The most difficult event for the couple, however, is the death of their daughter Sybil. Having had a tumultuous relationship with Sybil’s husband Tom Branson – previously a chauffeur at Downton Abbey – Robert had welcomed the pair to live at the house during the final stages of Sybil’s pregnancy. The pair had fled Ireland after Tom was involved in an attack on an aristocratic building. Cora, who had warmed to Tom more quickly than her husband, is now very fond of the pair and is delighted to have her daughter at home once more.
Her delight is tragically short-lived, however, as during labour Sybil becomes gravely ill and dies soon after giving birth to her daughter. An overwhelming sense of loss then permeates the entire Crawley family as well as the staff. Robert in particular is ravished with guilt as it was his decision to agree with Sir Philip Tapsell and ignore Dr Clarkson’s advice about Sybil’s treatment – a decision that ultimately contributed to her death. For the first time throughout the series, Cora cannot abide Robert and blames him for the death of her beloved daughter. The couple then faces a difficult period of mourning that is further exacerbated when Matthew dies in a car accident at the end of the series.
Finally, during Series Four, the couple returns to their roles as steadfast, dependable and reliable parents and grandparents. Dear baby Sybbie has grown and as Mary is still heavily in mourning for Matthew, baby George needs looking after.
Cora soon takes charge of her grandchildren’s care, firing the nanny after hearing her insult Sybbie for being the daughter of Tom Branson – a man of lower class. Meanwhile, Robert and Tom are settling into their roles running the estate in the way that Matthew championed. Soon, discussion turns to Mary’s involvement in the estate. However, Robert doesn’t want her to become involved before she is ready and able – a thought-process which Tom and Cora feel to be a little overbearing. Robert’s attitude is shown most poignantly following the discovery of a letter from Matthew. In it, Matthew has outlined his wish for Mary to take over the running of the estate in the event of his death. Cora defends Mary’s desire to become involved and contradicts Robert’s protestations at dinner – she is after all a Levinson and never shies away from sharing her opinions.
Similarly, the pair disagrees over Lady Edith’s new love interest – Michael Gregson. Following Lord Strallan’s dramatic abandonment of Edith at the alter, Robert fears for her in this new relationship but keeps his opinions to himself. It is Cora to whom Edith shares her concerns about Gregson’s whereabouts when he goes missing in Germany. However, surprisingly, Edith chooses to confide in her aunt Rosamund about her pregnancy and the series finishes with neither Cora nor Robert knowing about Edith’s baby.
While their journey together has been anything but easy, Robert and Cora remain the backbone of Downton Abbey into the fifth series, where many more dramatic events will undoubtedly occur….