Thursday, February 16, 2012

how stands the abbey?

I haven't seen the tv show Downton Abbey, but I see that the first season is now on DVD, so maybe I'll borrow it from the library when the time pressure is next off. (Which means, I suppose, that I should put my name on the wait list now.) But I'm minded to think of it, partly because I do like Jim Carter, who plays the butler, but mostly because I saw an article on it that noted that its author, Julian Fellowes, is an actual British peer (albeit a life peer, which is not the same thing as a hereditary one at all), and that therefore, "if there is any puzzling detail in Downton Abbey, Fellowes has probably got it right."

That's what I want to find out. I have yet to see an American novel with British nobility as characters that didn't get the nomenclature totally wrong, and even some British life peers don't know where the "Lord" goes in their names, and it annoys me. Will Fellowes get it right?

From what I've read at the Wikipedia articles on the show, perhaps he does. The principal noble characters in Downton Abbey are an earl and his wife (an earl's wife is a countess), and their three daughters. The Earl in full is "Rt. Hon. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham". Robert is of course his first name, which only his family and close friends would use; Crawley is his family name; and Grantham is his title. His name in the above form would only be used in things like genealogical directories; he would be known officially as the Earl of Grantham and more generally as Lord Grantham, without further specification, and never as "Lord Robert" anything. In a later day, a casual-minded peer might go in public as "Robert Grantham", but except possibly in signing letters to fairly close friends, not in the 1910s or 20s when this is set. Similarly with his wife, Cora; she is Lady Grantham; more formally, the Countess of Grantham.

Their daughters, however, bear "Lady" before their first names as their courtesy right as daughters of an earl, and their own last names. They are Lady Mary Crawley, Lady Edith Crawley, and Lady Sybil Crawley, and are all Lady [first-name] for short. None of them are Lady Crawley or Lady Grantham, nor are any of them Miss Crawley, and outside the family you'd have to be mightily intimate to call any of them by first name without the "Lady" attached. None of them may inherit their father's title, for as with most the patent is written for heirs male only. When one of them marries, she's Lady Sybil Branson, still Lady Sybil for short, not Mrs. Branson, even though her husband is a plain Mr. Branson. (If she'd married a peer, she'd take the female counterpart of his title and cease being Lady Firstname.)

The same as the Earl and Countess would go with any other nobles - viscounts and viscountesses, marquesses or marchionesses, who show up - except for the Duke of Crowborough. A duke is not called Lord anything, but always the Duke of Crowborough, and you address him as "your grace" instead of "my lord".

If the show gets all of that right, then it will have some valuable lessons to teach everyone else who wants to fool around in this arcane subject, and maybe it will trickle down.

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