America’s own Downton Abbey: Five history lessons based on the series by Katherine Howe

Historians in the News
tags: Katherine Howe, Downton Abbey, Gilded Age, aristocracy

With the American premier of Downton Abbey, season three, here are five history lessons based on the popular television series provided by Katherine Howe, author and lecturer of American studies at Cornell University. The paperback of Howe’s novel, “The House of Velvet and Glass,” takes place in the same time period and will be released on Jan. 29 by Hyperion/Voice.

The real women behind Cora, Countess of Grantham and her mother, Martha Levinson

Many Gilded Age American families, long on wealth and short on pedigree, attempted to match their daughters with wealthy European aristocrats. One of the most notorious of these matches was the one brokered by Alva Vanderbilt, a socially ambitious belle from Mobile, Ala., who had married into a New York City railroad fortune, for her beautiful only daughter Consuelo. Consuelo was forced to marry Charles Spencer-Churchill, the ninth Duke of Marlborough in 1895, though both were in love with other people, and the New York girl reportedly wept throughout the wedding ceremony. Consuelo had been secretly engaged to another man, and Alva kept her daughter from eloping by locking her in her room. Upon the occasion of the marriage, the Duke was given $2.5 million in railroad stock - the equivalent of about $67 million today. Whereas Cora, Countess of Grantham and her husband Robert, Earl of Grantham, eventually come to love each other, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough separated in 1906, eventually divorcing in 1921....

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