The phenomenal miniseries on PBS, Downton Abbey, is much more than just a soap opera or telenovela with British accents. The superbly-written, well-crafted and well-acted show presents a highly detailed and realistic look at life in an English manor during the early 20th century. And it turns out that Downton Abbey offers a number of useful life lessons for all of us.
Because rich or poor, royalty or commoner, people are people, and they all gossip, connive, break hearts and have their hearts broken, and make some really, really bad decisions.
Here are our favorite Downton Abbey rules to live by:
1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
In other words, diversify your investment portfolio. At the beginning of Season 3, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, finds out he’s lost the family fortune because he invested heavily in some railway scheme in Canada that didn’t work out. Ouch.
2. Love conquers all. Maybe.
Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley appear to have it all. But is trouble brewing on the horizon? Lady Sybil Branson and former chauffeur Tom Branson broke convention with their nobility/working class romance and seem to have a real shot at happiness. Hmm, must be too good to be true.
3. Wear a condom.
If you have sex out of wedlock, even once, and don’t use a condom, you could get pregnant and it could ruin your life. It happened to one of the maids at Downton. Ethel Parks had a “thing” with Major Bryant who was convalescing at the Downton during WWI. Then he left and Ethel was left alone with the baby, lost her job and became destitute. But wait: condoms were not widely available in the early 20th century…poor Ethel never stood a chance!
4. Don’t talk badly about your estranged wife.
Especially about how you would rather she were dead. Just look at what happened to John Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet. His wife wouldn’t give him a divorce so he could marry Anna. He expressed that he wished her ill, and suddenly his wife was found dead of an apparent suicide. But the evidence and testimony made it look as if he killed her.
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5. Never underestimate Grandma.
Sure, Downton Abbey is as much about personal dramas as it is about changing times. Grandma, in this case Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, is the old fashioned, tradition-bound and manipulative mother of Robert Crawley. While she seems deeply preoccupied with maintaining control of her family, she has also proven to be wise and helpful, to the surprise of everyone. Who do you think sent money to Lady Sybil and Tom Branson when they left for Ireland?
6. Keep gossip to yourself.
While the “upstairs” folks live in the lap of luxury and debate their insignificant dramas, everyone “downstairs” is battling for position. There’s plenty of gossip to go around, and he or she who possesses the most damaging tidbits wields a lot of power. That is, until someone else has the goods on you. Just look at Thomas Barrow, who manipulated his way into becoming Robert Crawley’s new valet. Now he’s playing tricks on a new footman, who in turn is playing tricks on him. This isn’t going to end well.