Who’s who at Downton Abbey – your blagger’s guide

Missed series one, or just have a bad memory? Here's what you need to know before the second series premiere...

It’s nearly a year since we first met the lords and ladies of Downton and there’s quite a lot of them hanging about at the Abbey.


Just in case your memory is a little dusty, or you’re new to the show, here’s our top drawer guide to the characters who matter, in time for the second series.

The setting

The first series opened in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and ended with the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914.

It was an era when everyone knew their place and the British aristocracy were having a high old time on the wealth of the Empire. But change was in the air.

At Downton Abbey, home to the Crawley family since 1772, some people were getting a bit fed up of being at the bottom of the pile and, to be fair, some weren’t too happy at the top.


The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)

Robert to his wife, and lord and master to just about everyone else, the Earl is, as far as Edwardian aristos go, a good egg.

The Earl’s main concern, however, is to ensure the vast Downton estate and the elevated position of the Crawleys remain intact – for ever.

Unfortunately, next in line to inherit is third cousin, trainee solicitor Matthew Crawley.  The inhabitants of Downton don’t believe in working for a living, so it’s all very troubling for the Earl, who’s not sure if Matthew can cut it as a member of the idle rich.

The Countess of Grantham – Cora (Elizabeth McGovern)

Having married into the British establishment, laid-back American heiress Cora has to contend with all its dreary rules and restrictions.

Kind, pragmatic and just about the only person who can put up with the domineering Dowager Countess, Cora spends a lot of her time conspiring with the old lady to fix up daughter Lady Mary with Matthew Crawley and thus ensure the cash stays in the family.

The Dowager Countess – Violet (Maggie Smith)

Dreaded by her family, the overbearing Dowager Countess unwittingly advances the cause of female emancipation while strenuously supporting the status quo.

Like everyone else over 20 at Downton, the Dowager is obsessed by what happens when the Earl dies. By the end of series one, she’s reconciled to the idea of Mary and Matthew marrying – even if they aren’t.

Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery)

Lady Mary rarely smiles. Her role in life is to marry well, which should be easy given her looks, but lack of money places her in the humiliating position of being rejected by wealthy chinless wonders who have the pick of the crop when it comes to tasty, young heiresses.

It takes Mary the whole of series one to realise she’s in love with Matthew, but when she finally tells him, he doesn’t trust her motives and the whole relationship is up in the air again – much to the frustration of everyone else.

Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)

Probably the only character who isn’t keen on a marriage between Mary and Matthew, plain Edith has had to deal with Mary’s dismissive remarks in the past, and the fact that she secretly loves Matthew, who only has eyes for Mary.

After a particularly spiteful comment from Mary, Edith becomes her sister’s number one enemy.

Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown-Findlay)

The pretty family rebel has already got caught up in female emancipation and befriended the chauffeur, Tom Branson (Allen Leech). Could be destined for acts of heroism in the War.

Mezzanine Level:

Isobel and Matthew Crawley (Penelope Wilton and Dan Stevens)

The mother-and-son duo have all the brains and enterprise to take Downton into the future but snooty relatives aside, they both have rewarding careers already and a life of endless shootin’ and fishin’ isn’t that enticing.

Matthew would probably have dodged the inheritance offer if Lady Mary wasn’t quite so gorgeous. Will they ever get together?

Down Below:

Mr Charles Carson – the butler (Jim Carter)

The Earl’s number one fan, Carson is deeply conformist and would defend the class system to his last breath. A model of respectability, he’s got a showbiz past he’d like to keep quiet about, so he’s more than up to the task of safeguarding “the family’s” embarrassing secrets.

He’s supported in his mission to maintain the rarefied existence of the Crawleys at all costs by loyal housekeeper Mrs Elsie Hughes (Phyllis Logan).

John Bates – the Earl’s valet (Brendan Coyle)

A painful war wound doesn’t stop John feeling grateful to the Earl for allowing him on board to perform such essential tasks as put paste on his toothbrush.

Bates upset below-stairs baddies footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and sour-faced lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) when he got the valet post. They tried, and failed, to frame him for theft.

Head housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is in love with gentle Bates but it took much tea and sympathy, and a bit of snooping into his past, on her part to unlock the mysteries of his heart.

Mrs Patmore – Cook (Lesley Nicol) sees it as part of her job to harass ditzy scullerymaid Daisy (Sophie McShera). Problems with Mrs Patmore’s sight gave new meaning to cook’s specials.

 Bottom of the heap:

Second footman William Mason (Thomas Howes) may spend the rest of his life working up to first footman, even though scheming Thomas (see above) gets him to do his work anyway.


William is in love with Daisy, who’s sadly in thrall to Thomas. Poor old Daisy hasn’t noticed that Thomas is gay.