Downton Abbey: full series one recap

Deceased heirs, deadly encounters and slippery soap - all the drama from season one of Downton Abbey

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If you’ve never watched Downton Abbey, you’re probably feeling a little left out. But we’re here to help. We’ve set ourselves the unenviable task of telling you everything that’s happened in Downton Abbey, from that very first episode to the 2013 Christmas special.  Are you ready? On our marks. Get set. GO!

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Downton Abbey, a stately pile in rural Yorkshire, is home to Lord Robert Grantham, his American wife Cora and their three daughters: steely Mary, kind-hearted Sybil and put-upon Edith. There’s also Violet the quick-witted old Dowager Countess, and a whole host of staff who wait on the wealthy family.

Right-o. It’s April 1912 – and at the beginning there’s bad news. The Titanic has sunk and Robert’s cousin, the heir to the Abbey, has perished. With no sons of his own, this leaves Robert in a sticky situation.

Cora’s fortune is legally tied up in the Downton estate, so the women plot to find a way for it to pass to Mary – a marriage to an eligible duke is the first step (obvs). But as soon as said duke learns Mary’s inheritance isn’t secured, he makes a sharpish retreat.

The family are loath to see Downton go to a stranger, but Robert soon realises he has no other option and contacts his third cousin’s son, a solicitor called Matthew Crawley, who is now the heir to Downton. Matthew seems quite pleased at this turn of events.

When Matthew arrives at the Abbey with his mother Isobel, things don’t go smoothly. The families clash over their differing social backgrounds, especially when Matthew introduces Violet to the concept of a “weekend”, and Isobel starts working at the local hospital like some sort of commoner.

Matthew assumes the Crawleys will want to marry him off to one of their daughters (which of course they do) and protests. That is, until he sees the bewitching Lady Mary. She’s not interested, though, especially when a wealthy suitor called Evelyn Napier arrives with his dreamy Turkish friend, Mr Kemal Pamuk.

Mary decides she quite fancies Pamuk. Pamuk quite fancies Mary too and follows her to her room, hoping to stay up all night and get lucky. Sadly, he gets quite the opposite when he suddenly dies in her bed.

Desperate to cover up the scandal, Mary recruits her horrified mother and faithful head housemaid Anna to drag Pamuk’s body back to his own room – but they don’t quite get away with keeping it a secret, because scullery maid Daisy sees them do it.

Lady Sybil starts experimenting with feminism, encouraged by the family’s handsome, politically minded Irish chauffeur Branson. She even buys some bloomers. And there is love in the air downstairs when Anna and the new valet Bates start making eyes at each other. When she makes her feelings known to him, though, he tells her they can’t be together, which makes us all suspicious.

Meanwhile, rumours start circulating about Mary and poor dead Pamuk. After a little persuasion from manipulative lady’s maid O’Brien, Daisy blabs to Lady Edith, who writes a tell-all letter to the Turkish ambassador. Really, Edith. Not cool.

While all this is going on, Matthew and Mary confess their love for each other and Matthew asks the eldest Crawley sister to marry him. Aww. Robert and Cora are delighted, but Mary says he cannot go ahead without hearing her scandalous secret…

In other news, Sybil’s interest in politics takes a turn for the worse when she is injured at a rowdy by-election – and Edith finally finds herself a suitor in the shape of an older man, Sir Anthony Strallan.

Soon, it’s 1914. War is imminent and Mary still is still keeping Matthew waiting for an answer. The fact that her mother, Cora, finds out she is pregnant 18 years after Sybil was born doesn’t help. What if the baby is a boy and Matthew loses his inheritance? This attitude angers Matthew, understandably, who declares her decision should purely come down to whether she is in love with him. He’s a wise chap.

Mary’s distracted, though, when she learns that it was Edith who started the rumours about her and Pamuk. She is cross. Really cross. So cross that she persuades Sir Anthony Strallan, who was intending to propose to Edith, that her sister thinks he’s old and boring – he leaves, never to be seen again (until series three).  

Then, below stairs, while Anna learns that Bates has an evil wife, scheming O’Brien goes a step too far. Thinking Cora intends to replace her, she engineers for Cora to slip up on some slippery, slippery soap and she miscarries.

After that, it seems Mary is ready to tell Matthew she wants to marry him, but she is left heartbroken when Matthew tells her he can’t be sure of her motives any more and plans to leave Downton. Sob.

And to make matters worse, it turns out Britain is now at war with Germany…

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>> Downton Abbey: full series two recap
>> Downton Abbey: full series three recap