Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary was no run-off-the-mill post-Edwardian heroine. From the very first episode, she came across as a decisive, no-nonsense and liberated young woman who refused to unquestioningly go about her social duties. Although she is often referred to as icy or shrewd, Mary is nuanced and grounded enough to know her priorities.
It’s important to know that Mary has always been very aware of her privileges and limitations and was perhaps one of the most worldly people in her family. But she did not have an easy life. She lost her loving husband Matthew to a tragic accident and also experienced quite a few personal setbacks.
10The Trauma Surrounding Pamuk
The Turkish diplomat, Kemal Pamuk, forces himself on Mary during his visit to Downton, telling her that she will be scandalized if she raises an alarm. He then suddenly dies on her bed after a heart attack. Mary, along with her staff and her mum, is able to move the body back to his bed to make it look like he had a heart attack in his sleep.
The entire episode leaves Mary quite shaken, especially since she couldn’t talk about it at all, not to mention the scandal also threatens her future prospects. She is even blackmailed by her then-fiance, Sir Richard, who was a newspaper publisher and threatened to expose her.
9She Felt Suffocated In Her World
Unlike her sisters, Mary could never really make peace with the limitations of her social and financial situation and in the first season, especially, she questioned many aspects of her life, though she only admitted it very rarely. During a conversation with Matthew, she briefly opens up about how suffocated she felt in her world.
“Women like me don’t have a life. We choose clothes, work for charity and do the seasons, but really we are stuck in a waiting room until we marry… my life makes me angry,” she tells Matthew.
8The Unfair Inheritance Rule
Neither Mary nor any of her sisters could inherit Downton, owing to a rather dated and sexist inheritance rule that stated properties could only be inherited by male heirs. Mary was unofficially betrothed to her cousin Patrick, who was set to inherit Downton after her father’s death. But after Patrick dies, Mary and the Crawley family are utterly shocked since it means now Mary would not be able to hold on to Downton and will need to find another suitor.
A lot of Mary’s angst actually stems from this unfair and misogynist legality of inheritance law during her time, which left young women with very few options. Even if a woman is well-educated, progressive and empowered, she has to struggle to find a way to rely on herself for income.
7Could Never Prioritize Love
Mary lived in a world where titles and inheritance came before love, and this became even more prominent during the first season when she was discouraged from saying yes to Matthew’s proposal, even though she wanted to. Matthew was the male heir who was to inherit Downton, but since Lady Mary’s mother, Cora Crawley, becomes pregnant with a male child, Mary’s aunt, Lady Rosamund, tells her that she shouldn’t say yes just yet.
This breaks Matthew’s heart and he joins the war, and while Mary comes across as someone manipulative and calculative, she was simply anxious about her future, since she had very little control over it.
6Her Husband Passed Away
Losing Matthew was definitely one of the most traumatic things to have happened to Mary. Not only had they built a life together, but they just had their baby and for Matthew to die so suddenly in a car accident was a major shock.
“With Matthew’s death, all the softness that he had found in me seems to have dried up and drained away. Maybe it was there only in his imagination,” a grieving Mary tells her grandmother, who advises Mary to choose between death and life.
5Was Made To Feel Like A Black Sheep
In the fourth episode of the first season, Mary shares an intense dialogue with her mother where she breaks down in tears regarding her anger at an unfair world. Mary never really shares her emotions, so this made for a notable moment because the audience could finally understand her.
Mary essentially felt like the black sheep in her family since she had taken a lover without the thought of marriage. To make matters worse, her father had found an heir for her family home and she felt quite displaced. She tells her mother that she knows her father will not fight for her.
4When Matthew Accused Her Of Forging Swire’s Letter
Matthew never wanted to inherit Reggie Swire’s wealth and still bore a lot of guilt over breaking his late daughter’s heart. Though inheriting the money would mean that Matthew could save Downton, he now wanted to take the moral road.
He also refused to read Swire’s letter, which actually relieved Matthew from all guilt. When Mary read the letter to Matthew, he shockingly accused Mary of having forged it since she wanted to save Downton so badly.
3She Was Slut-Shamed
Mary was made to feel terribly insecure about her unsavory experience with Pamuk. This comes up over and over again on the show and is almost a sore thumb because it did threaten Mary’s reputation. Mary was quite hard on herself and had made peace with the fact that she could be ruined in the eyes of society and lose her prospects.
She was even ready to marry a rather sketchy Sir Richard just so she wouldn’t bring shame upon her family. “In mamma’s words I’m damaged goods now, and Richard is, after all, prepared to marry me in spite of it, to give me a position, to give me a life,” she tells her father.
2She Was Blackmailed By Sir Richard
Mary was treated despicably by Sir Richard Carlisle, who practically blackmailed her into an engagement. He expressed an interest in marrying Mary, but it became very clear that he was drawn to her title and social status and did not love her.
Mary opened up to him about her history with Pamuk and entered into an arrangement that she would marry him if he would keep her secret. But Richard was insanely jealous of Mary’s relationship with Matthew and accused her of infidelity, threatening to expose her secret. It was only after Mary’s father’s intervention that Mary found the courage to dump him.
1Mary Struggled Hard To Move On From Matthew
It’s not strange that Mary found it difficult to date someone after Matthew since she was devastated by his sudden demise. When she started getting involved with Henry, her past marriage did weigh heavily on her. And though Henry was a decent person, it didn’t help that he was a race car driver.
Since Matthew died in a car crash, Mary couldn’t bear to be around cars and she opened up to Henry about her anxiety. Luckily, Henry was sensitive enough to understand her trauma and help her through it.