It is a fictional family in a television series I have never watched. I found family trees online, read summaries of the show and characters, and mapped out connections. Could I use only the internet to figure out a family history, I wondered. I think I did, and it made me want to get to know them better.
I will meet the Crawleys on DVD. Those watching on television will end their acquaintance with them in 2016. The sixth, and final, season on PBS begins January 3rd. The series is set between April 1912 and December 1925.
The Crawley family was given the Earldom of Grantham around 1772 for deeds unspecified. A subsidiary title is Viscount Downton. The earl’s heir may use this as a courtesy title. The title and estate are entailed, meaning inheritance can be passed only through the legitimate male line.
Grantham Family Tree
The house and lands of Downton Abbey came into possession of the Crawley family through the unnamed daughter-in-law of the 3rd Earl, great-grandmother of the ‘present’ earl, Robert Crawley. Presumably, she inherited her family home or received it through the will of a previous husband.
Jessica Fellowes, author of companion books to the series, refers to Robert Crawley as the 7th Earl of Grantham. Other sources call him the 6th. Observant viewers noted a publicity shot of the gravestone of Sybil, Robert’s daughter. Carved on it is “daughter of the 5th Earl of Grantham”. The series does not fully explain the line of inheritance.
Robert had no son and no brother so after he inherited the title, his heir presumptive became his first cousin James, the son of his father’s unnamed brother. James had a son Patrick, who would inherit in turn. However, both men died on the Titanic in 1912. The male next closest in the family line was Matthew Crawley, Robert’s 3rd cousin once removed. The presumably deceased Reginald was Matthew’s father.
While daughters could not inherit, strategic marriage could keep it in the immediate family. Robert and his mother Violet had sought marriage between Robert’s daughter Mary and Patrick, son of then heir presumptive 1st cousin James Crawley. After their deaths, Mary wed the new heir Matthew and they had a son, George. Matthew soon after died, making George heir presumptive.
Through the marriage of his daughter to the heir, Robert’s grandson will be earl after him. Mary, daughter of one earl and mother of the next, will never be countess. She would have held that title only through her husband had he lived to become the next earl.