Arts & Culture

Discover All Things Regional in Central PA’s art and culture scene. Join hosts Cary Burkett and Joe Ulrich as they make artistic discoveries throughout the midstate. From music and visual arts to theatre, museums, literature and more! Listen every Wednesday and Friday on witf 89.5 and 93.3 for features highlighting the best and brightest cultural happenings in the region.

Historical Inspiration for Downton Abbey

Written by Cary Burkett, Arts & Culture Desk and WITF Host | Jan 10, 2013 9:52 AM

Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of the PBS series, Downton Abbey, has said that the first character he imagined was that of Cora Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern), the wealthy American heiress whose money helps sustain the Downton Abbey estate.  The inspiration for that character came from a book titled To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace. The book details the history of American and English society in the late 1800’s.

Newly-wealthy American families, unable to break into the tightly controlled social structure of New York in the period, found social advancement by marrying their daughters to titled English nobility. The English Lords, in turn, found the dowries of the American wives to be an answer to sustaining their lavish estates. Eventually more than one hundred American heiresses traded dollars for English titles. Among them was Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and became the mother of Winston Churchill.

To Marry an English Lord was originally published in 1989, but has just been released in a new edition. Richly illustrated with period photographs, it gives a behind-the-scenes account of some of the strong personalities, grand houses and most dramatic social events of the time. It also details many of the manners and mores of the Victorian and Edwardian periods and the clash with American social styles.

Below you can listen to our interview with Carol McD. Wallace, one of the authors of the book:


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