Why is it called Downton “Abbey”

It has been a very eventful few weeks. I am now married to a beautiful and amazing lady, we have just completed a move halfway across the US, and am finally getting our library unpacked from storage.

She has also introduced me to Downton Abbey. I’m greatly enjoying it so far (we just started it), and it brought to mind some of the research I did a while back at A&M on English culture and the middle class. She enjoyed it, so I thought some of you might as well.

When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church he confiscated the vast land holdings the church had in England. With the Church of England being a state institution, all these lands belonged to the crown. Henry, and his daughter Elizabeth I, both ran large deficits and were in constant need of cash to provide for their lifestyles and their military.

To raise money, they sold off many of the holdings they had seized from the church. Many of these were Abbeys such as… you guessed it…Downton Abbey.

The interesting thing for me was who these lands were sold to. The traditional nobility at the time was as cash poor as the monarchy. There was however, a group overflowing with newfound wealth. The merchant class came into it’s own during Elizabeth’s reign. They had vast amounts of money and were looking for ways to move up in the world. Buying large estates and building mansions was an excellent first step.

The paper I wrote several years ago focused on hunting manuals and their role in establishing the gentry. Hunting was one of the activities that separated the ‘real’ gentry from the pretenders, and there were lengthy and specific rules on protocol and etiquette, even down to which parts of the game was given to the dogs. In the second episode of Downton Abbey this is mentioned as Mary asks the new heir if he hunts. The snide remarks that they are a hunting family and the new heir is not is meant as a put down, insinuating that he is uneducated.

This was the rise of the gentry class in England, and was the origin of families like the Darcys and Bennets in Pride and Predjudice as well as those in Downton Abbey, families who lived off the interest on fortunes often built as far back as the reign of good queen Bess.

So, there’s your nerdy fact for the day. I’m getting settled in and starting to poke at the next segment of Oath Bound which will be up this coming Wednesday. I’m having lots of fun with it and I hope that you’ll all enjoy reading it as much as I’m enjoying writing it!

What are some interesting facts about your favorite shows? Do you like to look up the history behind your shows, or do you prefer to glean things as the show presents them?

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