Arguably the most successful period drama of the modern era of television, Downton Abbey ran for six critically acclaimed and highly beloved seasons from 2010 to 2015. Following the lives of the Crawley family who inhabit the illustrious estate known as Downton Abbey, as well as the downstairs workers who tend to the high-class family’s needs, Downton Abbey was truly as gripping and emotional as a high prestige drama could get, no matter its occasional soapiness.
As both a period drama and a saga infused with incredibly soap opera-like elements, the show was no stranger to the conventions of romance. Courtships for the Crawley family’s three daughters—Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil—took up much of the series’ run, and downstairs romances blossomed and faded, too. Here we take a look back at the best and worst couples the series produced.
10Hated: Edith And Strallan
Lady Edith Crawley, as the middle child on the series, is often overlooked, and also often saddled with some of the series’ worst storylines. By far one of the most upsetting of them all, however, was the ultimately failed romance between Edith and the much older Sir Anthony Strallan. Despite their considerable age difference, Strallan and Edith connected from the moment they met, but when he returned after the first World War, he did so burdened by the fact that he had suffered a disabling injury in the War.
People looked down on their relationship, and the prospect of their future together. But despite it all, they were engaged to be married, and made it all the way to the altar on their wedding day. But it was there that Strallan seemed to think better of their relationship, feeling that he couldn’t hold Edith back in any way, and breaking her heart by leaving her at the altar.
9Best: Mary And Henry
Lady Mary Crawley was one of Downton Abbey‘s most beloved characters. In the wake of the loss of her husband, Matthew Crawley, it was clear that the series would inevitably pair her up with someone new once again in order to complete the period-appropriate marriage plot narrative. Failed attempts at love interests included the likes of Charles Blake and Anthony Foyle, but it wasn’t until the series introduced professional racer Henry Talbot that Mary finally found her match.
In many ways akin to her past love with Matthew, Mary and Henry had the initial spark of attraction mixed with disdain. She didn’t approve of his lifestyle, and he struggled to get through to her when she was keeping him at bay. But in the end, their undeniable bond won out in the end, culminating in a wedding and announcement of a pregnancy by the series’ end.
8Hated: Daisy And William
Downton Abbey was known for its tortured romances, but in the case of young Daisy and William, it was a tortured romance that never should have happened and remained unrequited for as brief as it lasted. Daisy was arguably one of Downton‘s more frustrating characters, always self-interested and oblivious to what was going on around her. By contrast, poor young William was one of the kindest men to ever set foot in Downton Abbey.
After suffering tragic injuries in service during World War I, William returned to the Abbey for his care. Realizing his end was near, he asked Daisy to marry him, resulting in one of the series’ most heartbreaking moments as he would succumb to his injuries soon afterward. But while Daisy would go on to grow close with William’s father, and benefit from the rights of marriage, the love between them was never real—and it just makes everything so much worse.
7Best: Anna And Bates
Downton was never exactly kind to most of its couples, at least not for very long. But no couple on the series endured more hardships than poor Anna and Mr. Bates. During their years of courtship, Anna and Bates were forced to contend with his estranged marriage, his estranged wife’s sudden death, Bates’s arrest and death sentence, Anna’s horrific rape, and much more beyond that.
It seemed for quite some time that the series would never let them be happy, despite being two of the kindest characters in the entire show. But in the end, Anna and Bates finally received the happily ever they deserved. They were married and would go on to welcome a newborn son—whose name we never learn—right as the series ends. Happy endings in period dramas don’t get more conventionally satisfying than that.
6Hated: Bates And Vera
During the course of its six-year run, Downton Abbey was quite skilled at developing complex, fully realized characters. Almost no one was wholly good or wholly bad; almost everyone had their faults and flaws, but also their highs and positive traits. One character who was decidedly not nuanced, and nothing but an absolute villain, was Mr. Bates’ first wife, Vera Bates. Despite their estrangement, Vera refused to let her husband move on.
She went to great lengths to prevent Bates from achieving the happiness he deserved—truly making one of the most shocking, villainous decisions in the entire series. She committed suicide by eating a poisoned pie she made herself just so that Bates would wind up accused of murdering her and be sent to prison for a crime he never committed.
5Best: Matthew And Mary
Downton Abbey had plenty of love stories throughout its run, but arguably the most popular and hotly discussed was the back and forth will-they-won’t-they romance of Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley. They despised each other as soon as they met due to their class differences and perceived personalities, but with time, and with their gradual increasing closeness, they soon fell deeply in love. They always had poor timing, however, with their romance kept at bay by failed relationships on both their parts.
In the series’ third season, Matthew and Mary finally wed, and a baby boy was soon on the way. But the series suffered a major blow at the end of the third series when Dan Stevens decided to exit the show, and Matthew was unceremoniously killed shortly following George’s birth. The show struggled heavily in Matthew’s absence, and took its time finding a proper suitor for Mary’s next period of life.
4Hated: Branson And Edna
After the loss of Sybil, Branson never really moved on, focusing instead on caring for young Sybbie and doing his part in the care and keeping of Downton Abbey. However, as resolute as he may have been to not seek love again, that didn’t stop the series from literally forcing someone on him in one of the worst storylines the series ever undertook. Edna Braithwaite joins the series as one of Downton’s many maids, and as soon as she enters the picture, she hones in on the unsuspecting Tom.
Although he clearly rebuffs her interest, Edna is relentless, going so far as to take advantage of a very drunk and upset Branson one evening and engaging in clearly non-consensual sex with him. She then tries to manipulate him further, making him think that she could be pregnant and that he will then be trapped into marrying her. Her schemes quickly unravel, and she practically flees from Downton as soon as they do. But the poor taste the storyline leaves remains.
3Best: Sybil And Branson
While Matthew and Mary may have been the most hotly discussed romance on the series, no romance was more breathtaking, more beautiful, or more lovingly crafted than the love story between the fiercely independent and outspoken Lady Sybil Crawley and the Crawley family’s driver, the Irishman Tom Branson. Sybil and Branson grew closer through their shared political beliefs and desires for a more independent future for women and Irish people alike.
Their moments of passion occurred in conjunction with some of the series’ most gripping political drama, particularly during World War I. They would go on to marry following the end of the war, with Tom gradually winning the snobbish members of the Crawley family over. Sybil would become pregnant, too, and it seemed like things were truly heading in the right direction for them. But given Jessica Brown Findlay’s decision to leave the series, Sybil was tragically killed after childbirth, leaving Tom widowed and a single father to their new daughter, Sybbie.
2Hated: Mary And Carlisle
Long before Iain Glen was winning hearts and breaking them at the same time as Game of Thrones‘ Ser Jorah Mormont, Glen recurred on the second series of Downton Abbey as the truly selfish and despicable Sir Richard Carlisle. As the owner of a successful newspaper, Carlisle is an incredibly powerful man with a great deal of influence. He wields control to some of the most sordid secrets in the Crawley family history—including the tale of how Kemal Pamuk died in Lady Mary’s bed.
From the very beginning, their relationship is fueled only by Mary’s desperate need to get over Matthew. But it becomes all the more twisted and sinister when Carlisle learns the shocking secrets of Mary’s family and begins subtly—and later, unsubtly—threatening her with the knowledge he wields.
1Best: Carson And Hughes
Sometimes, the best love stories are the slowest burns of them all. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are two of the most beloved characters in the series, and two of the most beloved and treasured people in all of Downton within the series’ universe as well. As the heads of the downstairs part of the home, they are always prioritizing others’ needs above their own, seldom thinking about their own happiness.
Within the series’ first few seasons, it was clear that these two had a very strong friendship and a great deal of respect for one another. By the time the series’ fourth season came around, the friendship became something much more, allowing the series to fully explore a romance between two older individuals in a truly beautiful, tender way. One of the series’ most romantic moments of them all merely consists of the two of them walking, barefoot, into the water at the beach, holding hands. By the time they finally married in the series’ final season, it was almost as if it were more symbolic than anything else. They had been Mr. and Mrs. for far longer than that.