How Historically Accurate Is “Downton Abbey?”

Published August 18, 2015
Updated February 28, 2018

Romance Downstairs

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One of the show’s most memorable moments was when a downstairs romance resulted in a ring. Image Source: Giphy

Upstairs and downstairs love stories have abounded throughout the series, whether it be between Mary and her parade of suitors or the tormented but pure love of Anna and Mr. Bates. But the most striking and, perhaps, daring foray into servant-style romance came during the Christmas Special, where stolid butler Carson proposes to the benevolent housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.

Here’s the problem: it was prescript that the individuals holding these positions remain unmarried. Housekeepers were always Mrs., an honorific title given as a form of respect, differentiating them for lesser ranking female servants.

In fairness, it wasn’t altogether uncommon for former butlers and housekeepers of these grand estates to set off into the sunset together, but they would likely do so as business owners, not as husband and wife. If the latter happened while they were still employed, it would be grounds for firing one or both of them (the butler, because he’s male, would slightly outrank even the housekeeper and as such, it would most likely be the woman who would be sacked).

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Image Source: Giphy

When two megaliths of a life of service did decide to join forces, romantic or not, they could only hope to end up as famous as Samuel and Sarah Adams. The Adamses were, in fact, a married butler and housekeeper duo in Regency England who, together, penned what became the ultimate totem of life downstairs: The Complete Servant.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.