Sep. 26, 2010
90 min.
ITV TV Network

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Downton Abbey (UK)

Downton Abbey is a historical drama written by Julian Fellowes. The series follows the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them in an Edwardian country house just after the turn of the 20th century.

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Robert, Earl of Grantham Downton Abbey (UK)
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Robert, Earl of Grantham

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  Played by:
Hugh BonnevilleHugh Bonneville
Hugh Bonneville (born November 10, 1963), born Hugh Richard Bonneville Williams, is an English stage, ...

Character Bio

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Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, was born in 1869 at Downton Abbey. His parents are the late Earl of Grantham and The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley. He has a sister named Rosamund. Despite the family's relatively poor financial situation, Robert's education was very privileged and he was tutored from ages 7 to 13, before attending Eton and then Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied philosophy.

To ensure the survival of the estate, Robert's father knew that Robert would have to marry a wealthy heiress who would bring a large dowry to the estate. At a young age, Robert married Cora Levinson, an American, and the only daughter of Isidore and Martha Levinson. Isidore was an American millionaire, and when Cora married Robert, Robert's father insisted that she sign an entailment which legally combined the estate with Cora's fortune. Robert was forced into the marriage by his father, and Cora by hers. Robert's father wanted Robert to marry a rich girl; Isidore wanted Cora to marry into the English aristocracy. He has later said that he was ashamed of his motives for pursuing Cora. After about a year of marriage, however, Robert truly fell in love with Cora and they eventually had three daughters: Mary, Edith, and Sybil. Because of the entail, as they had no sons, Robert's heir was the closest male relative, his cousin James. However, when James and his only son Patrick both died in the sinking of the Titanic, Robert's heir became his third cousin once removed, Matthew Crawley, a young middle-class solicitor from Manchester setting the stage for him to inherit not only the Abbey and its estate, but also Cora's fortune. While Violet, Cora and Mary wish to contest the entail so that Cora's money, at least, will remain in the immediate family, Robert refuses even to countenance this possibility. He sees it as his responsibility to preserve his heritage and ensure that Downton Abbey and the estate remain intact, even if the property and title will go into the hands of a stranger. He knows that it would be impossible to maintain Downton Abbey if Cora's fortune were separated from the estate.

The earl served in the Second Boer War from 1899–1902 where John Bates, later to be his valet, was his batman. He is the Lord Lieutenant for Yorkshire and even though he wants to serve at the front during the Great War, he is made a Colonel of his old regiment. He is immensely proud of Downton as the place he grew up and takes his responsibility for the estate very seriously. Robert considers Downton's nurturing of him, and his nurture of the estate, to be like having a third parent and a fourth child. There are references in the series to Robert sitting as a Conservative member of the House of Lords, although this is only implied.

He loves his daughters very much, but Robert has always longed for a son who would be a true heir to the estate. His wish almost became reality with Cora's surprise fourth pregnancy, but it ended in a miscarriage. For a short time, feeling ignored by Cora, he became infatuated with a housemaid, Jane Moorsum (whose husband had been killed in the First World War), and they seemed on the verge of an affair, but came to their senses after a timely interruption by an oblivious Mr. Bates. To avoid further incidents, Jane decided to leave Downton. Out of kindness, Robert pulled some strings so that Jane's highly intelligent son Freddie could go to Ripon Grammar School, and he gave Jane the name and address of his man of business, to give Freddie a start in life.

Although in some ways his character embodies the traditional values of the aristocracy, Robert does not shun all progress as he allows telephones and electricity to be installed at Downton and, after initial dismay and anger, gives his blessing to his daughter Sybil's marriage to family chauffeur Tom Branson. In Tom's own words, Robert is a good man and a decent employer. He is compassionate, friendly, intelligent, honourable and reasonable.

When Matthew and his mother Isobel arrive at Downton, the family are initially wary of them, because they are middle class and not aristocrats, and the family resents that the estate is to pass to Matthew. Robert is the only one who welcomes them without reservation, and he becomes friends with Isobel and later becomes a surrogate father to Matthew. He is enthusiastic about the idea of Mary marrying Matthew, thus keeping the estate and fortune in his immediate family, and can't understand when they fall out with each other at the end of series one. He dislikes Sir Richard Carlisle because of his rude and selfish behaviour, and is pleased when Mary decides to end her engagement to him. Robert also forgives Mary when he learns of her indiscretion with Kemal Pamuk, telling her that she is "not the only Crawley to have made a mistake".

He is very protective of his family and servants, and in many cases treats the servants almost like family members. He is loyal, going to great lengths to retain the slightly disabled John Bates as his valet. He is respectful to Mr. Lang, who serves as his valet during the First World War, although Lang is suffering from shell-shock and proves unfit to work. When William Mason, a footman, is given a white feather of cowardice by some women from the village during the First World War, Robert angrily throws them out of his house. When William is called up to fight, Robert does his best to keep him out of danger by getting him appointed as Matthew's batman. He also pays for Mrs. Patmore's eye surgery when she starts to go blind. When Thomas, then his valet, is caught kissing Jimmy, the new footman, and is subsequently pressured to leave Downton, Robert asserts his authority over the staff politics and promotes him to under-butler. In addition, after Alfred reports Thomas's "indecent assault" to the police and they come round to investigate, Robert convinces Alfred to recant his story, thus protecting Thomas from an almost certain prison sentence and public disgrace.

Despite these virtues, Robert's adherence to tradition has let him down in other ways. Although he eventually comes to accept Branson as part of the family, their initial exchanges after Sybil's revelation are fraught with thinly-veiled insults and disdain; Branson accuses his former employer of believing his kind "have the monopoly of honour". Robert has little patience for Sybil's aspirations to participate in politics. His attitudes also occasionally clash with that of the more progressive and pragmatic Cora; while she becomes highly active during the period in which Downton acts as a convalescent home for injured First World War veterans, Robert is largely reduced to a figurehead.

In series 3, it is revealed that he lost the lion's share of Cora's fortune through poor investments during the war, and has financially crippled Downton to the point of bankruptcy; it is only through the timely intervention of Matthew that the Crawley family is allowed to remain on the estate. Despite this, Matthew becomes concerned that Robert is mismanaging the property, which leads to tension between them; Matthew and Tom's ideas for radical sweeping changes cause Robert to oppose many decisions. He suggests that any changes begin slowly and they instead use investment to raise their capital. Matthew abhors this prospect, as Robert's interest in investment nearly brought Downton to ruin, and any profits raised would merely be used prop up the old system until the money ran out again. However, with Robert's exchanges with Matthew becoming increasingly bitter, particularly as most of the family acknowledge that Matthew is probably right, it is Tom who manages to persuade Robert to think differently. By the end of the series, Robert accepts the vision for the future, combining his knowledge of the estate, Matthew's background in law and business, and Tom's practical experience.

The future of Downton is once again thrown into turmoil in Series 4 with the death of Matthew at the end of the second Christmas Special. Although the birth of his son George means there is now a direct heir, Matthew's death and apparent lack of a will mean that death duties will have to be paid on the half of the estate that Matthew owned, and Lady Mary now owns only a small portion of the estate, meaning she has very little control over how Downton is run. Mary herself has done nothing but grieve since Matthew died, and Robert is against her doing anything other than recover. This once again causes tension between himself and Branson (though he has accepted Branson as part of the family), who thinks that Mary should have a say in the running of the estate. Branson also disagrees with Robert about how the death duties should be paid off. After Mary partially recovers from her grief, a letter is discovered that can be interpreted to be Matthew's will after all, in which he leaves his entire half of the estate to Mary. Mary now prepares to take a hand in the running of the estate, something that is shown to irritate Robert, particularly as she is learning about the estate from Branson, and has been persuaded to see his side of the argument.

Different sources have identified Robert as either the 7th or 5th Earl of Grantham.

Episode Screenshots

01x07 - Episode 7
Season 1, Episode 07
04x08 - Series 4, Episode 8
Season 4, Episode 08
03x04 - Series 3, Episode 4
Season 3, Episode 04
06x04 - Episode 4
Season 6, Episode 04
[More Episodes]

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