Tom Branson, the chauffeur-turned-son-in-law and manager of Lord Grantham’s sprawling estate in Sir Julian Fellows’ critically acclaimed British costume drama Downton Abbey, was one of the most beloved characters on the show. Branson represented the educated, intelligent common man, who didn’t quite see the point of the aristocracy, even as its last vestiges struggled to survive.
Actor Allen Leech made Tom’s character instantly relatable and went on to stay for the entire course of the series as a rational, level-headed individual whom the Crawleys gradually came to love as their son. But Tom’s life was replete with heartbreaking incidents that he faced bravely. Here are ten of the saddest things about the adorable Tom Branson.
10Tom Lost The Love Of His Life Early On
Undoubtedly one of the most heart-wrenching things about Tom was that he lost his beloved young wife, Lady Sybil Crawley, in childbirth.
Sybil was the most gentle of the Crawley sisters and loved by all and sundry. She died tragically of preeclampsia, a serious condition in which the mother develops high blood pressure, very shortly after delivering a girl child. Sybil’s death remains one of the most heartbreaking deaths of a character on Downton Abbey.
9Circumstances Forced Him To Surrender His Political Principles
After Sybil’s death, Tom was forced to live with his aristocratic in-laws, mostly for little Sybbie’s sake but also because he grew to be fond of the Crawleys.
Tom had been a socialist and had strong political beliefs before Sybil’s death. In fact, it was their political inclination that had brought the two close in the first place. And those principles would never have allowed him to condone the so-called noble and aristocratic classes. So the fact that Tom had to compromise with his principles by living in the sprawling estate of an English aristocrat was sad indeed.
8He Was Sent Away From His Beloved Homeland
As a rebel and a patriot, Tom had been attending meetings in Ireland that appeared to advocate violence and protests against the noble classes. He was also present on the scene when an Irish aristocrat’s house was set alight by Irish rebels.
These unfortunate circumstances caused the Irish police to be hunting Tom down, and he had to flee Ireland leaving Sybil to follow later. Afterward, Robert had to intervene to make sure his son-in-law wasn’t arrested, but that meant that Tom couldn’t set foot in Ireland. To have to give up his beloved homeland couldn’t have been easy.
7Tom Was Left To Bring Up Sybbie All Alone
Tom was genuinely devastated by Sybil’s death and was left all alone with his little daughter Sybbie.
As a young widower, it would have been difficult to figure out how to be both a father and a mother to a little child. In fact, Tom was shown to be torn between his need to take Sybbie back among his own people and to have her close to the Crawleys who loved her. The dilemma surrounding such a crucial decision naturally made him anxious.
6He Had Faced Hostility Even Before Sybil’s Death
Tom’s growing closeness to the youngest daughter of the Earl of Grantham wasn’t looked upon favorably at all by the Crawleys, Robert and Violet in particular, so much so that the latter boycotted their wedding in Ireland, to show their displeasure.
Even after their wedding, Tom wasn’t welcomed with open arms by Lord Grantham who failed to accept his former chauffeur as his son-in-law. Tom hadn’t mellowed completely by then and was still somewhat brazen in his interactions with the family which caused him some heartache, especially as it upset Sybil whom he truly loved.
5He Felt Outcast For A Long Time
After Sybil’s death too, when Tom was trying to get over the tragedy and settle down at Downton Abbey, he found himself outcast for a while, even though members of the family like Mary and Matthew accepted him eagerly.
From making small-talk at the dinner table to being given the cold shoulder by some of the staff downstairs, Tom had a difficult time adapting to this entirely new way of life.
4He Lost His Friend & Brother
One of Tom’s closest friends and confidantes at the house, especially after Sybil’s death, was Matthew Crawley. The two almost became like brothers as Matthew helped Tom maneuver the aristocratic lifestyle which he had himself detested at one point.
This meant that Matthew’s shocking death in the season 3 finale must have been heartbreaking for Tom as well, as he would have lost a true friend who he could open his heart to.
3Tom Faced Complications Due To Sarah Bunting
Remember the presumptuous school teacher Sarah Bunting who seemed to take an interest In Tom, and was possibly in love with him? Sarah shared Tom’s political interests but she immediately got on the wrong side of the Crawley family, especially Robert, by openly criticizing their way of life.
Robert also didn’t approve of Tom meeting Sarah alone in the house, which although perfectly innocent, would have made a lot of sense even otherwise. Tom had been, after all, alone since Sybil’s death. Yet, the family gave him a hard time with Bunting, where they could have been more understanding.
2He Was Lonely & Easily Manipulated
Tom’s loneliness caused him to make some foolish spur of the moment decisions, which made his character flawed and hence more flesh and blood.
Tom was briefly seduced by the manipulative maid Edna who made it her life’s mission to trick him into marrying her. She firmly believed that she could guilt Tom into responding to her as she represented the same working class that he himself had been part of earlier. This, justifiably, turned out to be a much-hated storyline, but it proved how lonely and desperate Tom must have felt at times.
1Tom Stayed Unmarried
Tom Branson stayed an unattached widower until the series finale. He took on the role of a peacemaker of sorts as one of the sanest and most rational individuals on the estate.
For those familiar with Downton Abbey: The Movie, Tom was given a romantic storyline in the film which hinted at him finally moving on from Sybil and finding a partner he could relate with. Yet, in the series, he remained alone with his daughter—the picture of the tragic, romantic hero.