Throughout the course of Downton Abbey’s six-season run, one of the period drama’s most crucial plot points was Lord Grantham’s absence of a male heir. This provided an opportunity to introduce several potential replacements, including cousin Matthew Crawley, and for a brief period, there was even a glimmer of hope that Lady Grantham might provide him with a son.
With Matthew given the opportunity to return to his normal life, Lady Grantham’s unexpected, geriatric pregnancy seemed as much a blessing as a curse. When Cora’s lady’s maid, Sarah O’Brien, jumped to conclusions about an ad Lady Grantham composed for a new lady’s maid for the Dowager Countess, O’Brien fretted over the possibility of her replacement. She took action, which resulted in Lady Grantham miscarrying. O’Brien’s misdeed seemed to launch a series of pregnancy-related disasters that had fans wondering if the Crawley family was cursed.
Lady Sybil’s Untimely Death
Lady Sybil’s relationship may have shocked the Crawley family, but even Lord Grantham started to come around by the time they learned she and Tom Branson were expecting a baby. There was major debate before she delivered that Sybil may be suffering preeclampsia. Despite Dr. Clarkson’s concerns, the specialist called in by Lord Grantham insisted she was fine, but he was wrong. Even after delivering a healthy baby girl, Sybil began having seizures in the middle of the night and died with the entire family in a panic around her bed.
The Tragedy of Ethel Parks
In hopes of boosting her station, maid Ethel Parks had an affair with Major Charles Bryant while he was being treated for war injuries at Downton. Discovering the affair, Mrs. Hughes instantly dismissed her from service, but several months later Ethel returned seeking help because she was pregnant. Major Bryant ignored attempts to notify him of her pregnancy, and it was later discovered he died in battle. By the time the major’s family got involved, Ethel had turned to prostitution to survive. In the end, she had no choice but to give her little boy, Charlie, over to the Bryants, so he could have a better life.
Matthew Crawley’s Accident
It took a long time before Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley finally gave into their feelings. Even after they were married, having a baby wouldn’t be easy for them. When Lady Mary finally got pregnant, the couple was over the moon. In the hospital after delivering baby George, Matthew confessed that every day he fell even deeper in love with her. Unfortunately, Matthew left moments later in his car, and as he daydreamed his way through the English countryside, he was struck by an oncoming truck and instantly killed, leaving Lady Mary a widow.
Michael Gregson’s Disappearance and Death
Lady Edith Crawley seemed to struggle harder than anyone to find love, but when she finally met Michael Gregson, she was determined not to wait. Unfortunately, Gregson was already married, and he was unable to divorce his wife, despite her institutionalization for insanity. Matthew told Gregson to walk away from Edith, on account of the socially unacceptable nature of their relationship, but Edith refuses to let him break it off. When Gregson learns he can divorce his wife if he becomes a German citizen, he packs up and heads to Germany, but not before spending the night with Edith.
Edith discovered her pregnancy after Gregson disappeared and concocted a plot with her aunt, Rosamund, to travel abroad and give the baby up for adoption. After returning, Edith couldn’t live without baby Marigold and concocted a new plot with neighboring farmer, Timothy Drewe, to give him and his wife custody and remain a part of Marigold’s life, especially after learning that Gregson was dead. The upheaval Edith’s actions caused, for her family and the Drewes was legendary, and her secret, illegitimate child nearly cost her love again when she met Herbert Pelham, the seventh Marquess of Hexham.
Whether Lady Grantham’s miscarriage was the catalyst for the long string of pregnancy-related tragedies that followed, or it was simply coincidence, there’s no denying the Crawley family’s bad luck. The real question is, was the curse launched by O’Brien, and was it intentional on her part that it impact the entire family?