Downton Abbey: full series three recap

Two weddings, two births and two shocking deaths - all the drama from the third season of Downton Abbey


It’s March 1920. A few months have passed since Matthew’s proposal and it’s time to start throwing confetti. 


Cora’s outspoken mother, Martha Levinson, has arrived for the occasion, causing much offence to the Dowager Countess. And Sybil is back with Branson, who is immeasurably uncomfortable having to stay upstairs.  

With preparations for Mary and Matthew’s big day in full swing, Lord Grantham learns that the Downton estate is (shock, horror!) bankrupt after an investment of his went wrong.

It then transpires that Matthew has handily just inherited a large amount of money from Lavinia’s now-deceased father. All looks well for a while, until Matthew decides he can’t possibly take the money. Morals, eh?

It’s almost enough to call off the wedding – you know how Mary likes the good things in life – but the lovebirds ignore their financial situation and walk down the aisle. Thank God!

The future of Downton might be hanging in the balance, but Edith has more important things than money on her mind as Anthony Strallan makes his reappearance. After she throws herself at him the pair become engaged, despite protestations from the rest of her family that Strallan is too old and doesn’t have enough working arms for her.

Just when it looks as if the Crawleys are going to have to downsize from Downton, Matthew receives a letter from Lavinia’s late father (damn post service, it was so slow in those days…) saying that he knew Matthew broke Lavinia’s heart and he still wanted him to have his money. Panic over! Matthew quickly becomes joint master of Downton and the estate is saved.  

Edith’s wedding day arrives, but all does not go to plan. Strallan, under pressure from the Crawleys, changes his mind at the altar and scarpers, leaving Edith distraught and set on a life of bitterness and spinsterhood.

Downstairs, Mrs Hughes has a cancer scare (she’s fine) and new staff Alfred (O’Brien’s nephew), Jimmy and Ivy begin work, starting Downton’s ongoing kitchen-based love-quadrangle. For reference: Daisy loves Alfred, Alfred loves Ivy, Ivy loves Jimmy, and Jimmy’s a hard book to read.

Soon enough, Lady Sybil goes into labour. Robert hires a fancy famous doctor, upsetting Cora and Dr Clarkson – and when the baby’s birth doesn’t go smoothly, the two doctors disagree, with Clarkson believing she needs immediate hospitalisation. A healthy baby girl is born, and all seems well, but during the night, Sybil becomes gravely ill and dies. We know. It’s awful. We didn’t see it coming either…

In the aftermath of Sybil’s death, the family are in shock, a devastated Cora blames Robert for their daughter’s death, and Violet intervenes to save their marriage (desperate times and all that) by getting Dr Clarkson to lie about Sybil’s prognosis.

In jail, Bates is all mean and moody. There are drugs, missing letters and sharpened implements all over the place. We start thinking he might actually have murdered Vera after all… But Anna, sure he’s innocent, goes all Miss Marple. And her investigations prove vital when she uncovers something that gets Bates released from prison.

Matthew, worried the estate is being mismanaged, dreams up a modern plan for Downton, and when widowed Branson is given a role helping out, a farming dream team is born.   

Meanwhile, O’Brien persuades Thomas that Jimmy fancies the pants off him, just for fun, and Thomas takes a misguided midnight trip to Jimmy’s room, creepily watches him sleep and steals a kiss, much to Jimmy’s disgust. To add insult to injury, O’Brien tries to get Thomas fired without a reference (what a lovely woman) but Bates comes to the rescue with a secret that shuts her up – and, in a strange twist of fate, Thomas gets promoted to under-butler. Score! It seems watching your colleagues sleep really does pay off. Lesson learned.

Then, Edith decides she wants to pursue a career as a journalist and goes to London to meet a magazine editor. She’s rather smitten, until she discovers that he is married. He claims that his wife is mad and can’t be divorced, which leaves Edith in a tricky situation…

Edith’s not the only one venturing down south. Matthew and Mary are in London, secretly seeking medical advice because they are yet to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet. Also there is Lady Rose, who makes her Downton debut by dancing to jazz, drinking cocktails and engaging in hanky-panky with a married man. Naughty, naughty.

A whole year later it’s September 1921 and the Crawleys are staying in Scotland with Lady Rose’s parents. Mary is pregnant, Branson is almost seduced by new maid Edna (she’s quickly fired by Mrs Hughes) and Edith’s editor (who just happens to be holidaying in the area) professes his love for her.

Back at Downton, Lady Mary goes into labour and Matthew soon arrives to meet his baby, a boy and the new heir to Downton Abbey.

But, on his return to Downton (and in the closing minutes of the 2012 Christmas special) Matthew is in a car accident and… he dies.

Happy Christmas.


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