The end has come for American fans of the much-loved period drama Downton Abbey. For the aristocratic family and their dedicated staff, happy endings didn’t come often and the ties that bound were often, err, loose. If anything, the show completely dispelled any notion that the upper crust of early 20th century Great Britain was devoid of salacious, inconstant behavior. While a select few of the Downton residents were regular perpetrators of misdeeds, others were usually caught in the warpath of scheming. In the Crawley home, “bad things happen to good people” was more like “bad things continually happen to good people.”
While the instances of treachery enacted on each other by the Downton could fill a book, some certainly showed the characters experiencing growth, however minor throughout the series. Regardless, for the Crawley women and their many suitors, personal betterment always trumped good behavior. And for the staff, attack of character was just a daily activity.
Here are some of the most despicable backstabbing moments from Downton Abbey‘s entire six-season run.
O’Brien Drops the Soap
Always out for revenge, ladies’ maid O’Brien betrayed her close relationship with Cora after receiving some misinformation about her career stability – to horrific results. Under the notion that Cora was going to fire her, O’Brien placed a wet bar of soap next to the Countess of Grantham’s bath during season one. The mom-to-be lost her balance on it, and ultimately miscarried. While O’Brien felt guilty for double-crossing her boss, the male heir-to-be was still lost.
The entire incident showed how easily the staff’s perceptions of the Crawleys could shift. If job stability felt at all threatened, any affection toward their employers went out the window and class-divide crept in. Sharp-tongued O’Brien didn’t necessarily learn her lesson, however; you’ll even see her again on this list. Despite vowing to protect Cora after the soap incident, in season four she literally snuck off into the night in pursuit of a larger paycheck.
Lady Mary Kisses, and Edith Tells
The Pamuk incident happened early on in Downton Abbey, making it immediately obvious that the series wouldn’t be your run-of-the-mill historical exploration. Lady Mary is coaxed into sleeping with a visiting Turkish diplomat (played by Divergent‘s Theo James) who then unexpectedly dies mid-coitus. The polished aristocrat recruits maid Anna and her mother to carry the dead body back to the appropriate quarters. Scandalized Daisy witnesses the entire tableau, eventually spilling the beans to Lady Edith who, in turn, reveals the truth in a letter to the Turkish Embassy in London. Mortified, Mary confronts Edith in the seventh episode of the first season and vows to enact revenge on her sister… which she does.
Mary Serves a Cold Dish
Still bitter over the publicizing of her midnight tryst, Mary ensures sister Edith’s relationship with suitor Sir Anthony Strallan is short-lived. Just as Edith begins to find happiness, the scorned Mary convinces Strallan not only to not propose, but also to leave her sister all together. Telling the older man that Edith finds him boring quickly sends him packing. While Edith’s relationship with Strallan is far from over (i.e. the left-at-the-altar incident), her bond with Mary remains irreparably damaged. The sisters regard each other as adversaries and competitors, rather than family – a jealous attitude that colors their interactions for years to come, and even comes into play during the finale.
Vera Bates and the First Wives Club
When Bates finds love with Anna, he’s ready to take the plunge – save for one, pesky problem: After the valet pays wife Vera to grant him a legal split, he thinks he’s free of the revenge-seeking lunatic.
Not so fast, buddy. Vera goes above and beyond to stab her ex in the back, literally killing herself to Gone Girl the soft-spoken man. Vera ingested poison in season two, but purposely made sure that, instead of a suicide, all signs pointed to murder at the hands of Bates. Bates was subsequently arrested and thrown in jail on a life sentence, but, with the aid of wannabe legal-eagle Anna, ultimately granted freedom. The lover scorned was a theme that popped up often throughout Downton, painting many of the characters’ significant others as selfish and emotionally stunted when it came to moving on.
He’s Just Not That Into Thomas
O’Brien is back at it, again. Motivation mostly unknown, O’Brien takes it upon herself to play matchmaker in a scenario she knows is doomed to fail. During the third season’s seventh episode, the maid convinces Thomas that Jimmy would be interested in his romantic advances. Subsequently, Thomas makes an ill-advised decision to sneak into the footman’s room and plant a kiss on him. Unfortunately, Jimmy is certainly not interested, and Alfred witnesses the whole ordeal. Even worse: Despite Jimmy’s decision to keep quiet about the ordeal, a disturbed Alfred takes it to the police, forcing Lord Grantham to step in.
Throughout the series, Thomas, who eventually rises in the ranks at the Abbey, has horrible gaydar. His interactions with mostly closeted or straight men perfectly exemplify the hush-hush handling of sexuality during that time period. And, the few characters who are aware that Thomas is gay use his preferences as an Achilles heel.
Sorry, Miss Baxter (Oh!)
Thomas is on the opposite end of the misdeed here, using knowledge of unpleasantness to better himself – a frequent form of career advancement in Downton. Miss Baxter’s criminal past is outed, prompting Thomas to try to take the news to Cora after the former refuses to be his spy. Following a foiled attempt to out the lady’s maid, Thomas instead shares the gossip with Molesley, temporarily upending a blossoming romance. Despite a family relationship with Baxter, Thomas will stop at nothing to end her once he learns she’ll not play his game.
Lady Flintshire Spoils the Nuptials
Rose has finally found happiness with an appropriate suitor, Atticus. As the couple prepares to make their way down the aisle, their meddling folks intervene. The naive beauty’s mother, Lady Flintshire, is opposed to the union – as is Atticus’ father – on the basis of religion. Atticus is Jewish, Rose is, obviously, not.
Lady Flintshire takes it upon herself to handle the situation, and attempts to sabotage their wedding by anonymously sending Rose photographs of the groom and prostitute. After causing minor unrest among the hoi polloi, it’s revealed that the images are staged. Mother always knows best, right? This is another situation where the importance of class and perception supersede personal happiness for the characters.