As the stunning and self-possessed eldest daughter of an Earl, Lady Mary Crawley was one of the most eligible bachelorettes in the semi-fictional Edwardian England of Downton Abbey. She was also arguably the show’s chief protagonist throughout its six-season run, and as such, the plot often revolved around her complicated love life. Without any brothers, Mary was expected to wed in order to preserve the status and economic security of her family, but the acerbic heiress usually had strong opinions and high standards when it came to her suitors, of which there were many. These are the loves of Lady Mary Crawley, ranked from dreadful to dreamy.
Early on in the first season, Lady Mary is being courted by the dull son of a Viscount, Evelyn Napier, who happens to bring a friend with him to Downton, the much less dull Turkish diplomat, Kemal Pamuk. Mr. Pamuk is handsome, charming and forward, and Mary is taken with him (as Evelyn regrets everyone is), being surprised but not altogether upset when he steals a kiss. Fans get the sense that this isn’t Mr. Pamuk’s first overnight stay at a Great House full of smitten young women, though, leaving Mary to rebuff his request to join her in her bedroom. However, when Thomas, who is just as smitten with Mr. Pamuk, misreads his signals and tries to make a move of his own, the sleazy diplomat blackmails him to arrange another rendevous with Mary. This time, he coerces her into sex, and to make matters worse, he then dies of a sudden heart attack in her bed, leading to a slapstick effort to move the body and contain the scandal.
Sir Richard Carlisle
Mary’s first serious betrothal was to Sir Richard Carslisle, the wealthy, powerful and much older newspaper magnate whose proposal she hastily agreed to upon learning that Matthew Crawley was engaged to Lavinia Swire. Carslisle could’ve been a good match for Mary — he’s clever, dashing in his own way and accustom to the lifestyle Mary desires. But over the course of Season 2, fans learn just how awfully conniving he can be, not just to Lady Mary but to everyone who has the bad luck of coming into contact with him. Sir Richard uses the press to intimidate and manipulate others, as he did with Lavinia’s father. He doesn’t trust Mary and attempts to gather information about her from her servants. And as Mary becomes less enamored of him, he threatens to expose her dalliance with Mr. Pamuk if she breaks off their engagement or steps out of line. Seeing that a future with him would be rife with emotional abuse if not worse, Mary leaves scandal to chance and leaves Sir Richard, to whom she was more of a prize than a person.
Lady Mary eventually marries (and maybe settles for) Henry Talbot, a nephew of family friend Lady Shackleton. He’s got James Bond looks, presence and style, but his family name suggests more power and money than he actually has. Henry’s 38th in line to his Earldom, and he readily admits he’s a poor man living off of his wife’s inheritance. That doesn’t keep him front dabbling in expensive hobbies and sports, however, most notably car racing. Mary finds Henry and his fast car exciting but also worries for his safety. Her first husband was, after all, killed in an automobile accient. And her worst fears nearly come to fruition when Charlie Rogers, Henry’s friend and competitor, dies in a fiery crash. It’s odd if not completely nonsensical that Mary would fall for a car enthusiast, but she seems happy enough, and the pair eventually welcome a daughter, Caroline.
If Lady Mary was looking to live in comfort and be adored for the rest of her days, she could’ve done no better than Tony Gillingham. He had everything going for him — smoldering good looks, polite charm, honesty and decency and a position. A Viscount with a large estate of his own, Tony shares many of Lady Mary’s opinions about the aristocracy. The two bond over the loss of their loved ones, and he proves himself to be strong emotional support. Even better, Tony and Mary were childhood friends, and it’s implied they were romantically involved at some point. It’s clear Tony would do anything for Mary, but alas, he loved her more than she could ever love him back. That didn’t stop him from proposing, twice, however, and Lady Mary does occasionally wonder if she’ll live to regret letting the right man get away.
Evelyn Napier was never able to win Lady Mary’s affections for himself, but he did keep her amply supplied with potentials love interests. On another visit to Downton, he brought along his boss, Charles Blake, a government employee charged with studying how large estates affected the nation’s economy. His and Mary’s first meeting was contentious, as he’s more progressive but just as headstrong. As they spend more time together surveying Downton, sparks begin to fly. No other gentlemen could’ve convinced Lady Mary to roll around in the slop with pigs or gobble up scrambled eggs in the servants kitchen. Charles competes for Lady Mary’s hand with his acquaintence, Tony Gillingham, who reveals to Mary that seemingly middle class Charles is actually slated to be a Baronet and can claim a much larger forture than his own. With morals, brains, modesty and real passion, it’s a mystery why Mary and Charles Blake didn’t end up together.
True loves who start out hating each other is an old trope, but a satisfying one when done well. The Crawley family entail requires the estate and fortune must pass to the closest male heir and not the firstborn daughter. Mary decides she dislikes that heir — a distant cousin and middle-class lawyer — before she ever meets him. Matthew doesn’t help matters by complaining in Episode 2 that they’ll probably push one of their daughters on him, which Mary overhears. He’s right, of course. Mary’s mother, Cora, and grandmother, Violet, see their marriage as the only solution. But over three seasons, they soften toward each other, and it becomes obvious to everyone at Downton that they’re a perfect match. Matthew is modern but chivalrous, dutiful but practical, not to mention sharp and handsome. He admires Mary’s strength, spirit, independence and beauty. But the universe (or rather Julian Fellowes) throws nearly insurmountable obstacles in their way, including WWI, paralysis, two engagements, a scandal and a tragic car accident that meant the abrupt end to this long-simmering TV romance.