Downton Abbey: 10 Greatest Betrayals, Ranked

Downton Abbey was full of betrayals, and while some of them were unavoidable and a result of the class rules of the time, others were just plain evil.

The upstairs denizens in Downton Abbey got up and dressed for breakfast, except for Cora whose was served in bed on a tray. Then they milled about until lunchtime. Afterward, they might venture into town. But they couldn’t be gone too long because they needed to dress for dinner, which required assistance from a lady’s maid or valet.

It’s a nice life to float through, albeit a little dull. Every now and then things got shaken up when the Titanic sank or WWI was declared, or much to Carson’s chagrin, the newest technology, such as a phonograph or telephone, showed up, and everyone had something to marvel at for a week. Day-to-day though, this bunch needed something to do, so backstabbing became the other sport of kings.

10When O’Brien Betrayed Thomas

Thomas the mischief-maker is not a guy the audience feels for, so when he does generate some sympathy, it’s clear what happened to him must have been really treacherous. In 1920s Britain, being gay was illegal, punishable by jail time. The too-awful-for-words O’Brien, angry because Thomas wouldn’t mentor her nephew, Alfred (he had his own job to worry about since Bates was back), tells the footman that handsome Jimmy likes him.

Thomas takes the bait and tries to kiss Jimmy, just as Alfred walks in the room. The young servant reports this to Mr. Carson, who subjects Thomas to shameful verbal abuse. It’s one thing to want to help a relative, and another to have someone potentially sent to prison for not doing what you want. She couldn’t just ask another footman to come in?

9When Lady Flintshire Betrayed Rose

Her wild-child daughter Rose is getting married. Any other mother would be excited, but Susan is upset because even though Atticus is handsome, wealthy and successful, he’s also Jewish. The groom’s father is equally not thrilled that his future daughter-in-law is not of his family’s faith.

Lady Flintshire tries to sabotage the wedding by setting Atticus up with a prostitute during his bachelor party. Her plot fails and Rose and Atticus go ahead with the ceremony. It’s one thing to try and save your child from a bad guy, but when his “crime” is being of a different faith? Clearly, there are also mother-of-the-bridezillas.

8When Thomas Betrayed Robert

The Machiavellian footman needed to create a situation to get back into his employer’s good graces, so Thomas hid Lord Grantham’s beloved dog, Isis, in a shed in the woods.

As expected, everyone dispersed to find the yellow Lab, but when Thomas went to bring Isis back and be hailed a hero, the dog had escaped, but luckily found his way home on his own. If the dog had not returned, Thomas’s actions could have caused a lot of undue pain. Would it not have been easier to just go to Robert and say, “I realize I’ve messed up some, I’ll do better”?

7When Vera Bates Betrayed Bates

Mr. Bates is happy. He’s finally found love with the kind-hearted Anna and all he needs is a divorce from his estranged wife. Vera, however, is a miserable and vengeful person who, when she realizes Bates will never come back to her, takes her own life but makes it look like she was killed.

Prior to this, Vera told friends “stories” that her husband had threatened and attacked her, making him the prime suspect in her “murder,” for which he goes to prison. There’s a woman scorned, and then there’s a woman who’s taken it way too far and wants to take others down with her.

6When Edith Betrayed Mary

Middle sister Edith originally had eyes for Matthew, who liked Mary, who had no interest in him. Mary then embarrassed Edith by outing her affection for their cousin. Fueled by shame and hurt, Edith sought reprisal by writing a tell-all letter to the Turkish Ambassador about how the wealthy Turkish diplomat, Mr. Pamuk, died in her sister’s bed.

A myriad of rumors spread like Mrs. Patmore’s jam on toast through English high society, putting Mary, as well as all the Crawleys, at the apex of a scandal. Yes, what Mary did was snarky, but Edith’s punishment outdid the crime, jeopardizing not just her sibling but the whole family’s reputation.

5When Mary Betrayed Edith

The eldest Crawley sister was as haughty as she was beautiful and her favorite target to bully? Her younger sister, Edith. When Edith finally gets a proposal of marriage from the much older man, Sir Anthony Strallan, Mary gets revenge for the letter incident.

On their wedding day, Mary informs the groom that Edith doesn’t really love him and the bride gets left at the altar. In hindsight, Mary did Edith a favor, but that was not her intention, so it doesn’t count.

4When Tom Betrayed The Other Servants

It was a very “us vs them” world that the family and those in service lived in, separated by a staircase. Everyone knew their place, but there’s always one, or in this case, two, who buck the system. The youngest Crawley girl, Sybil, was a rebel. The hospital volunteer believed in helping others and, unlike the rest of her family, in equality, eschewing the whole hierarchy she was born into.

Tom was a real rebel — a socialist fighting for Ireland against England. When they found each other, married, and had Sybbie, life was wonderful, until the former chauffeur had to face his former colleagues, who had to address him as “sir.” There’s no reason people should not try to better themselves, but when one does so by breaking the rules (at that time it was dating out of one’s class), it sticks in people’s craws. There’s likely no fan of the series who thinks that this “betrayal” wasn’t okay, but it would have definitely been seen as such by Tom’s peers.

3When Robert Betrayed Cora

Lucky for the Lord, his wife never found out about Jane the maid. The widow and mother of a 12-year-old boy was only at Downton for a year, but she made the most of it by catching Robert’s eye. He not only reciprocated, but took an interest in her son, who he helped get a scholarship to a fancy school. Seeing that her lover would never leave Cora, Jane quit.

Robert never really appreciated what he had until it was almost taken away. He and Cora were an arranged marriage, he got her money to save Downton, and she, an American, got a fancy British title. Even after having three daughters together, he was still lukewarm about her. Then Cora almost died from the Spanish Flu and suddenly he woke up. Better late than never.

2When O’Brien Betrayed Cora

It was one thing when O’Brien was undercutting her colleagues, but when she turned her evil ways on her employer, it got really bad. Cora got pregnant, giving Robert hope he might finally have a son and heir. This coincided with O’Brien getting the (false) impression that she was going to be replaced.

She plants a bar of soap under her mistress’ bath, causing Cora to slip and lose her baby. The agony she caused to keep a job she wasn’t going to lose in the first place was truly unforgivable. At the start of the fourth season, she left for another lady’s maid job — and was not missed.

1When Edith Betrayed Marigold

Edith holding Marigold as a toddler

Edith had a child out of wedlock with Michael Gregson, who disappeared in Germany without a trace. At first, Edith was going to give up the baby for adoption. Instead, she gave her to a local farmer and his wife to raise, so the middle Crawley daughter could keep an eye on Marigold.

When her mother learns the truth, Cora arranges for Marigold to live at Downton as Edith’s “ward.” With Edith’s marriage to Bertie, Marigold takes his name and no one is the wiser about her background. Unfortunately, Edith lived in a time when being an unmarried woman with a child was a source of shame, so sadly, she had to go through cloak and dagger charades to mother her own daughter. While again, this “betrayal” was fairly unavoidable for the time, it was a betrayal nonetheless and a heartbreaking one for Edith.

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