In six seasons, Downton Abbey — the English drama that takes place from 1912 to 1925— has captured millions of American viewers and won an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
It’s a show about the seismic shifts of society (war, economic changes, politics) that led to declining aristocratic lifestyles in Great Britain. If focuses on the story of one aristocratic family, the Crawleys, as well as the servants working in their estate at Downton Abbey. Money was a common focus of the show, since an enormous estate takes a lot of money to run and was in many ways a local economic engine.
Although Downton Abbey did not favor conservative economic or political principles, there were times when such views surfaced. As the show airs its final episode tonight, here’s a look back at five moments which promoted conservative ideals about free markets and/or limited government.
1. Dowager Countess Considers It a ‘Duty to Resist’ Government Consolidation of Power
Lady Violet, the dowager countess and Crawley family matriarch, is a powerful force on Downton Abbey. Her quips, zingers and burns delivered by actress Maggie Smith are part of the reason people keep watching.
One of the showdowns in Season 6 was over the local hospital and whether to retain local control, or consolidate power and make decisions in the city of York, the county government seat. instead. The battle pitted the Dowager Countess against several family members including her cousin Isobel and daughter-in-law Cora, who think her motive is to “keep the Crawleys in command.”
She tells them all that her concern is actually over the government gaining more power, something she says she’s seen time and again in her long life.
2. When Investing, Common Sense Goes A Long Way
In Season 5, Downton’s cook Mrs. Patmore inherits a good deal of money from an aunt. She asks Mr. Carson, the butler, for investment advice. But ultimately her own common sense compels her to invest in something she can understand, rather than to get in over her head. She buys a cottage to rent out, which will also give her a place to live when she retires someday.
3. Socialist Tom Sees the Merit of Capitalism
Former chauffeur Tom Branson (now-son-in-law to Lord Grantham) is an Irish socialist. But over time as part of the family his attitude towards them has softened.
In a moment of delicious irony in Season 6, Branson and Mary decide to open Downton Abbey up to the public for one day to sell tours of the house as a benefit to the local hospital. After the event raises a tremendous amount of money for charity, Tom asks the family if they could do this regularly for profit to help the estate pay for its keep.
4. Mr. Carson Defends Private Property Rights
In the same Season 6 episode, the servants discuss the upcoming open house benefit. Opinions are divided, but kitchen maid Daisy asks why all estates aren’t open to the public all the time and argues they should be.
Mr. Carson, the butler, delivers the answer with a passionate defense of private property rights as essential to civilization.
5. Lord Grantham Proves No One is Too Big to Fail
Even an aristocrat can go bankrupt on Downton Abbey.
Throughout the show, Robert Crawley, the 7th Earl of Grantham and the Viscount Downton has proven to be a cautionary tale about how to handle money — or more accurately, how not to. His gullibility and lack of diversification of investments nearly ruined the entire family in and lost the estate in Season 3. It didn’t, but only because his son-in-law Matthew was able to come to the rescue.