Downton Abbey: a bluffer’s guide to the Crawleys

Get reacquainted with the family ahead of the start of series three


Robert, Earl of Grantham 


He may be the most benevolent aristocrat in the whole country, but even Robert is finding his patience tested: first he must deal with the fact that youngest daughter Sybil is now pregnant and married to chauffeur Branson, then his custodianship of the estate comes under scrutiny thanks to financial concerns. Thank goodness then that the heir to Downton has now been secured – “I feel my chest will explode,” he beams as Lady Mary prepares to wed Matthew Crawley.

Cora, Countess of Grantham

In many respects, the most chilled out of the clan, Cora is less hidebound by the existing social order thanks to her American upbringing. The fact that her blood is less blue is emphasised by the arrival in series of three of her mother Martha (Shirley MacLaine), a progressive who sets no store by tradition. Less afraid of what lies ahead in the ever-changing post-war world, Cora would also like her husband Robert to accept Branson as part of the family before the arrival of her first grandchild.

Lady Mary Crawley

Once the frostiest of the Earl’s three daughters, Lady Mary has now had her icy heart melted by Matthew Crawley’s Christmas proposal. It’ll come as some relief to those who thought she had an unfortunate taste in suitors – think Kemal Pamuk who had a post-coital heart attack and newspaper proprietor Sir Richard Carlisle who had more of an eye on blackmail than romance. But she’s not out of the woods yet – plans for a life with Matthew will be put to the test when Downton’s future comes under threat.

Matthew Crawley 

He may be the heir to the estate and engaged to Lady Mary, but Matthew Crawley is also a walking mass of guilt. Convinced that the death of his former fiancée Lavinia was hastened by the fact that she caught him kissing Mary, Matthew’s conscience is further pricked in series three over matters of money. He’s also reluctant to be drawn into the finer details of estate life, something that causes added friction in his current relationship.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham 

She may be the Dowager Countess of Grantham but more importantly she’s the Queen of the Putdown. “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” she’s pondered in the past, a gripe that’s sure to be exacerbated by the arrival of Cora’s mother Martha, whose plain-spoken observations about where the world is headed immediately puts her at odds with Violet and her traditionalist instincts.

Lady Edith Crawley 

During the Great War, Lady Edith finally stepped out of the shadow cast by her sisters by caring for officers in the convalescent home and helping out on the farms. Unfortunately, post-war life seems empty and unfulfilling by comparison, while potential husbands are thin on the ground thanks to the loss of life on the battlefield. No wonder the weirdly gurning Sir Anthony Strallan is looking more and more like an attractive option.

Lady Sybil Crawley

Also known as The One that Got Away. Lady Sybil has largely renounced her life as an aristo and has settled into her life as Mrs Branson in Dublin following marriage to the family chauffeur. Finances are strained now that she’s expecting a child but Sybil is just as concerned about her husband being accepted at the family home. Unfortunately, this seems less likely following some mealtime solecisms that leaves “the Irish Queston” looming large.

Isobel Crawley

Her progressive politics have caused her to clash with Cora over the running of the convalescent home and with the Dowager Countess over just about everything else. And Isobel’s passion for good causes is undimmed in series three as she starts working with fallen women in York, helping them to find alternative employment and teaching them skills. She is also very pleased that her son Matthew is marrying Mary and is keen for him to make his mark on Downton. Perhaps he can now wrestle the estate in the 20th century?

Martha Levinson

Let battle commence! In one corner we have the Dowager Countess, who represents tradition and continuity, while in the other we have Cora’s mother Martha with her lack of deference and eye to the future. Sweeping into Downton for Mary and Matthew’s wedding, her arrival causes a stir when she advises the family to not hold onto the past when they are bound to be defeated. It becomes immediately apparent that her views set her in complete opposition to Violet.

Tom Branson 


The clan has never seen his like before – a republican with a rabid hatred of the British Empire who longs to destroy all the Establishment stands for. But now Tom Branson is breaking bread with the family following his marriage to Lady Sybil. How can he reconcile his love for her with his forthright political views? And will this contradiction be his undoing?