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Titles on Downton Abbey explained

Downton Abbey is, without doubt, one of the most consistently popular TV shows produced in recent times. The show, which gives a look at the life of the Crawleys, a fictional aristocratic family who run and own the Downton estate. Set in the early 1900s, the show gives a fairly accurate idea of life for the aristocracy at this time and the changes that the first world war brought to the United Kingdom’s formerly rigid class system.

One thing that’s key to the show yet is not widely understood by many are the titles used by members of the family. And that’s what I aim to explain in this article.

At the head of the family is Lord Grantham, who’s name is Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville). He is the original title holder and the titles of the rest of the Crawley family exist because he holds this title (we’ll get onto why very shortly). Lord Grantham is in fact the short form of his title, the proper title is The Earl of Grantham, though in Britain Barons, Viscounts, Earls and Marquesses can be referred to as Lord X instead of by their full title – this is why you may have heard him called Lord Grantham and the Earl of Grantham throughout the show.

Robert Crawley is addressed as Lord Grantham by equals and as Your Lordship or Mi’Lord by servants. It would be incorrect to refer to him as Lord Robert, however.

Lord Grantham’s wife, Cora Crawley (played by Elizabeth McGovern) is known as Lady Grantham. Her proper title is The Countess of Grantham and she, like Lord Grantham, can be addressed as Lady Grantham by equals and Mi’Lady by servants. Like with Lord Grantham, her title of Countess of Grantham is often abbreviated to Lady Grantham, the same as for all other Baronesses, Viscountesses, Countesses and Marchionesses. It would, however, be incorrect to refer to Lady Grantham as Lady Cora.

There is also Violet Crawley (played by Maggie Smith) who is Lord Grantham’s mother and the wife of the previous Lord Grantham. Her full title is The Dowager Countess of Grantham and is also referred to as simple Lady Grantham. Addressed by servants as Your Ladyship or Mi’Lady and equals as simply Lady Grantham.

Next we have the two living daughters of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Mary Crawley and Edith Crawley. As both are the daughters of an Earl, they use the title ‘Lady’ in front of their names. This is the case for all daughters of Earls, Marquesses and Dukes, formally their titles are The Lady Mary Crawley and The Lady Edith Crawley, addressed normally as Lady Mary and Lady Edith and by servants as Mi’Lady.

Interestingly, if Lord Grantham had a son, he would go by the title of Lord Downton (fully as Viscount Downton) because Lord Grantham also holds this as what’s called a ‘subsidiary title’ which is like a secondary, lesser title. The eldest son of a titled person (peer) usually uses his father’s second highest title as his own.

Any other sons would be styled as ‘The Honourable’ before their first name.

Downton Abbey is on our screens on Christmas Day in the UK for the Christmas special.

If you have any questions relating to the titles used on Downton Abbey, leave them in the comments box below.

Photo Credit: ITV Pictures

  • Hans

    The two living daughters have to be addressed normally as Lady Mary and Lady Edith and by servants as Mi’Lady and not as you said: Your Ladyship, because that is only for the countess and dowager countess.

  • Elizabeth

    This was wonderful and very enjoyable. Thanks also to Hans for the helpful comment.

    I have a question: under what circumstances is it correct to address someone with the title Lord/Lady and his/her first name? (Thinking here of Lady Diana Spencer and others.) Was that a correct form of address?

    • Royal Central

      Younger sons of Dukes and Marquesses are the only people that should be addressed as Lord [First Name] and daughters of Earls, Marquesses and Dukes should be addressed as Lady [First Name].

      Diana, Princess of Wales was the daughter of an Earl so, prior to her marriage, was addressed as ‘Lady Diana Spencer’.

      • Elizabeth

        Thank you so much! I’ll consider this tidbit an early Christmas gift.

        Thank you and all at Royal Central for the entertainment and education. Best wishes to you in the coming year.

      • escapedfromny

        In a bit of a confusing adjunct to this, when the wife has no title of her own, the wife of a younger son is addressed as Lady (first name of husband). So if you hear a woman addressed as “Lady Roger” or “Lady George” that is not her name or title, but the name of her husband (Thank you Dorothy Sayers, for that one).

    • Rosie Turner

      She was Diana Spencer Princess of Wales.

  • Natasha

    Oops! I have asked for all seasons of Downton Abbey for Christmas, but I have seen the second season, where there were THREE daughters of Lord and Lady Grantham. Did we lose one along the way?

  • Natasha

    Oops! I have asked for all seasons of Downton Abbey for Christmas, but I have seen the second season, where there were THREE daughters of Lord and Lady Grantham. Did we lose one along the way?

    • Royal Central

      It’s in series 3, I won’t ruin it for you.

      • Kevin

        Have we ever heard Lady Grantham refer to the Dowager by any name? Does Cora call her mother in law “Violet?” And what is Thomas calling all is in-laws these days?

        • Karen119

          Thomas is the footman. Tom is the Grantham’s son in law, Lady Sibyl’s widower. I think he still addresses them by their formal names but I intend to pay particular attention from now on.

          • Karen119

            Cora refers to Violet as Mama pronounced in the English manner.

    • Royal Central

      It’s in series 3, I won’t ruin it for you.

    • sipapu


  • Jenny

    I would like an explanation of the names used for the servants both at Downton and in Scotland.

    • James Dean

      Ms. Jenny,
      Hope you are doing well.

      When the servants are at the home of their Lord/Lady, the servants are addressed by their own surname, (e.g. Mr. Bates). When they travel to another household with their Lord/Lady, the servants are addressed using the title of their Lord/Lady, (e.g., Mr. Bates would be addressed as Mr. Grantham).

      Hope this helps. Take care.


      • Confused

        Hi James & Royal Central:
        Could you please explain when the serverants should be addressed by their first name or surename? For example, Tom Branson was “Brandon” before he got married, then he was “Tom” after he married Lady C, then once he became the agent of the estate, Violet/Lady G said they can finally call him Branson again…. or when Anna (maid) became a lady’s maid….. they asked if it’s OK to keep calling her Anna instead of Bates.I am so confused.Thank you for your time and help.All the best,Shirley

        • James Dean

          Dear Shirley,
          Hope you are doing well and had a great holiday season.

          My understanding is that the lower-ranking staff are addressed by the first name, (e.g., Daisy) and higher-ranking staff who are responsible for their area, (e.g., Mr. Carson in in charge of footmen so on, Ms. Hughes in charge of maids, and Ms. Patmore in charge of the cooks) or who work directly for the family, (e.g., Mr. Bates) or maybe sometimes I guess it could be some more familiar with some staff, (e.g., Anna starting off lower on the ladder and then moving up to waiting on a member of the family).

          That is my understanding.

          Take care.


        • R J Bogart

          I don’t know any of this for certain but this is what I believe to be the case. The family refer to the housekeeper and cook as Mrs and their family name regardless if they were ever married or not. I don’t know why this is so but it is the tradition. For the most part, any of the staff that the family has routine contact with such as the butler, valet, footmen, chauffeur and lady’s maids are called by their family name only. No Mr/Mrs or Miss. The lower ranking staff usually have minimum contact with the family on a regular basis and are often supposed to keep out of the family’s eyesight. The family would call them by their first name if it were known to them or perhaps nothing at all.

          The staff among themselves follow a hierarchy depending on their position in the household and their personal relationship with each other. In the case of Downton Abbey, the butler, housekeeper and Cook are Mr and Mrs accordingly and are called by all staff as such as well as among themselves. The junior staff are called by their first names by all. The more senior staff are referred to as Mr/Miss or Mrs and sometimes by their first names if there is a more personal relationship between them. There doesn’t always appear to be a firm rule among this group except in the way they address the butler, housekeeper and cook and vice versa.

          When Tom Branson was the chauffeur the family called him Branson. They then called him Tom when he became part of the family although the dowager did so reluctantly. When he became the estate agent he was an employee again and she said they could call him Branson again.

          I don’t remember Anna’s position prior to her being a lady’s maid but she was known to the family and staff as Anna and they appeared to wish to continue to call her Anna after she became a lady’s maid if there was not any objection. I am not sure how common it was for a married woman to be in service and if the fact of being married had any impact on how they were addressed.

  • James Dean

    Dear Sir or Ma’am,
    Hope you are doing well.

    Anyone who does not know that Dowager refers to a widow might like a more complete explanation.

    Thank you in advance. Take care.


    • Royal Central

      Good point, I’ve highlighted your comment so everyone can see 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Excuse me, I know this isn’t relevant to Downtown Abbey, but hypothetically, if one was to buy the title ‘Lord and Lady of the Manor of…’ and this person had four daughters, what would their daughters be called? Or would only one daughter inherit the title?

    • Royal Central

      The family of a Lord of the Manor have no courtesy titles, so their daughters would remain ‘as is’ – a Lordship of the Manor can be left to anyone and is transferred just like any other type of property and can be left in a will.

      Hope this helps.

    • Lynda Steele

      also to be noted a Lord of the Manor is not a peer

  • Angie

    Why is the family’s last name Crawley if that is Lord Grantham’s mother’s last name? Was it tradition back then to use the women’s last name? I understand that they are called Lord and Lady Grantham, I just don’t understand why they go by Violet’s last name.

    Also, you only mention two daughters. What about Sybil?

    • Royal Central

      Crawley is the family’s surname, Grantham is their title. Peers typically use their title as a surname when they need one though legally their surname would remain as their family name.

    • Guest

      Sadly, Sybil died giving birth to their daughter.

    • escapedfromny

      “Grantham” would likely have been the name of an estate or county or shire or some other territory given to some man named “Crawley” a few hundred years earlier. If it is Earl of (name) (Earl of Avon, Earl of Oxford) it is almost always a place. If it is Earl (name) (Earl Attlee, Earl Jellicoe) then it is the last name of the person granted the title.

      • Persephone

        Thank you! Finally, a clear explanation of where Grantham comes from when it isn’t anyone’s name! The article was so frustrating when it left that out. Apologies for posting to such an old thread, but thought I might help other confused Americans find your comment when googling, since the show is still well-known even though it’s finished airing.

    • Eunice

      Please read the entire article to find the the answer to your question. You must not have watched the entire series thus far, or you would know why Sybil was not mentioned. Continue to watch and you will find out.

  • neuralwarp

    A peer may be addressed as My Lord or Your Lordship or Sir.
    A peeress may be addressed as Your Ladyship or Madam. My Lady is *never* correct, although unfortunately the courts of justice seem to require it when addressing a female judge of senior rank.

  • Ryan Attard

    A courtesy title doesn’t mean the holder is a peer. The Earl of Grantham is a peer and the eldest son of the Earl of Grantham would be styled Viscount Downton, however the Viscount Downton wouldn’t be a peer as he is using the title by right of his father, who actually is the title holder.

  • John Baker

    At risk of being labelled a pedant, I would say that Downton Abbey is not set in the “early 1900s”, but in the early twentieth century, as the early 1900s would take us to 1905, and the current series is set in the early 1920s.

  • Sabir Samee

    I like british title system. I studied in the UK. However I do not feel easy with the title lord because the word lord is associated with the All mighty God. However I like the titles of earl countess baron baroness sir lady. I am a Canadian and I wish Canada will re-introduce some of the titles.

  • escapedfromny

    What is the grandson called? He is the son of the late heir, Matthew Crawley, distant cousin to Lord Grantham, and Lady Mary. Would he be Viscount Downton?

    • NancyM

      On a related note, is there any change to Lady Mary’s address due to her being the widow of the late heir (Matthew Crawley) or the mother of the current heir?

      • Lynda Steele

        Lady Mary retained her married name Lady Mary Crawley, until she remarries at which point she takes her new husbands title or name

    • Lynda Steele

      The title may only be passed to an heir apparent, thus a son of the current Earl, as it is always possible for heir apparent to be born to the earl even up to 9 months after his death the heir presumptive would never be given the title.

  • Kassie

    I still don’t understand where the name Grantham comes from.

    • Theos

      Well, the county’s name is Grantham so, obviously, the Robert is Lord of Grantham.

      • Theos

        *Robert is the… sorry for the mistake.

      • Haleyc

        I also wondered this as I live in a town called grantham where Margret thatcher was born and wondered if there was a connection with the town

      • Lynda Steele

        Titles do not necessarily have any connection to the location of the owner of a title.

      • Persephone

        Well, to Americans this isn’t obvious. The existence of two names both being used like a last name by the same family is odd to someone in a country with no titles- especially when the parents use one name but their children use another. Thank you for explaining though, I found it frustrating that the article left that key point out. They hardly ever name the county explicitly in the show, just refer to the estate or the nearby towns.

  • Kathy Webb

    My understanding is that the family name is Grantham and that Lady Mary married Matthew Crawley. Please clarify.

    • Pitt90

      Your understanding is incorrect. The family name is Crawley, and Matthew was the earl’s third cousin, and had the same surname. The title is Grantham, not the family name.

  • Elaine Goodison

    Does anyone know the name of Lady Violet’s late husband?

    • Johannes


  • Kathy Marr

    Being American, I fear I have a rather limited understanding of the British system regarding the bestowing of titles. Robert Crawley is an Earl, his wife is a Countess, and his mother is the Dowager Countess. Should something happen to Robert, the title would pass to George making Cora the Dowager Countess. Can there be two people holding that title simultaneously? And what about Mary? She will never hold the title of Countess of Grantham, so what would her title be?

    • Luke Monarch Anderson

      There can be an unlimited number of dowagers. In which case, they would be identified by their order. Robert is the 7th Earl of Grantham, making Cora the 7th Countess of Grantham, assuming of course that there has never been a divorce or death which has resulted in a remarriage. So George’s wife would be known as the Countess of Grantham, and both Cora and Violet would be known as the dowager, unless they had to be identified apart in which case it they’d be known as Cora Crawley, 7th Countess of Grantham and Violet Crawley, 6th Countess of Grantham. Lady Mary will always be the daughter of an Earl so she will always be known as the Lady Mary Crawley, unless she remarried, in which case she’d assume her husband’s styles and titles.

    • Lynda Steele

      Mary will not have a title unless she marries a person of title. As she married two gentlemen with no title she was Lady Mary Crawley and Lady Mary Talbot. If she had remained married to Matthew and he had seceded Robert she would at that point have become a countess, but as Matthew is dead that can not happen. The only way she would gain a title is if a title is bestowed on Henry by the monarch or if she marries a person of title in later life such as has happened to Isobelle Crawley, now Lady Merton.

  • Ab Ovo

    Easily put, a Countess of Grantham when a widow assumes the title of dowager immediately she becomes a widow. The Dowager Countess of Grantham. This is Our Violet. The present Countess of Grantham is Our Cora, wife to Robert.

    Pretend a different storyline, in which Robert has an heir, a married son. If Robert had a second title, the son would be known as Viscount Downton. Robert dies. Violet remains the Dowager Countess of Grantham. But Cora is now a dowager (widow of a peer) too, so the usual manner is to now call her Cora, Countess of Grantham. The son moves up to the earldom, his wife becomes the Countess of Grantham. So let’s call her Anne. She is the Countess of Grantham. Her mother-in-law is called Cora, Countess of Grantham. Her grandmother-in-law is still called the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Three generations easily distinguished. When Violet dies, custom dictates Cora then becomes known as the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

    Peers divorce. Sometimes the ex-wife wants to hold onto a title, but cannot. The present wife of a peer is, say, the Duchess of York. The ex-wife must now be referred to as Sarah, Duchess of York. So she is styled, for she is not a Duchess, taking her title from her husband. Margaret Sweeney married the Duke of Argyll. Read up on all the merriment there. They divorced. Only the Duke’s present wife could be known as the Duchess of Argyll. So the divorced Margaret had to settle for being styled Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.

    It was the same thing when Charles and Diana divorced. Only his present wife is the Princess of Wales. Ex-wife Dana is now styled Diana, Princess of Wales. It is a style only, not a title or an ennoblement. She is not a Princess. But say Princess Di and everyone knows who you’re talking about. Newspapers don’t care much for proper style today.

    Back to the Crawleys, but remember they aren’t real. It is television fiction. The family name is Crawley. Like the family name for the very-real premier duke of England, the Duke of Norfolk, is Fitzalan-Howard. The family name of the Duke of Rutland is Manners. As our fictional Downton storyline goes, Robert is the 7th Earl and finds himself without heir. One is found, a distant male-cousin, a descendant of the 3rd Earl, coincidentally with the same surname. He conveniently falls in love with Lady Mary, eldest daughter of Robert, and their boy child George now is heir perceptive to the seat and title. Neat. As his father had no title, only was heir, even if Robert had a second title, which he does not, George wouldn’t have it. But when George inherits, it would be proper to call him Lord Grantham. George’s mother, now Lady Mary, does not hold a title. Unless she marries a peer, and has that title, could become a Duchess or Countess, but can never be Dowager Countess of Grantham. But in time her son’s wife could be.

    P.S. One cannot buy a title. Oh, some Scottish Lords of the Manor “title” get up for sale via the Internet, but don’t count on anyone feeling them real. Maybe you get acreage, but no title as a peer. You cannot buy a title and become an English Marquess or Earl, etc. It just isn’t done. Peerages are created by the British monarch, like all Crown honors, being affirmed by Letters Patent affixed with the Great Seal of the Realm. HM The Queen isn’t making pin money by selling titles.

  • Kate

    If Robert had two sons, let’s just say he named them Thomas and William.

    If William is the youngest, would his title be The Honourable Lord William?

    • Lynda Steele

      The second and subsequent sons are styled The Honourable William. Such a tile does not make the person is a Lord nor would he be styled as such.

  • WhereIsTony

    If Lord Grantham were to die, George would be the Earl of grantham. Cora would also become a dowager countess, but would Mary?

    Because Matthew predeceased Robert, Mary was never actually the Countess, but her son would be the earl, so what title does that leave her?

    • Lynda Steele

      Mary will only gain a title if she marries a person with a title. As she has married untitled Mr Henry Talbot she is Lady Mary Talbot

  • Eric Cable

    OK, so if Robert Crawley, Seventh Earl of Grantham, had a son he would the the Viscount Downton.

    What about young George? He is the heir apparent, but not because he is Robert’s grandson, but because he is the heir of the Third Earl as Robert had no sons of his own.

    So would George just be “Mister” like his father Matthew?

    Also, at what age do they stop calling George “Master George” and start calling him “Mister”?

    • Lynda Steele

      George has the surname Crawley, from his father. His father has no title therefore George will, on reaching his majority (18 years of age), become Mister Crawley; unless he has already inherited his grandfather’s title by that age

    • Laura Deagler

      Geogre is the Earl of Granthams heir presumtive he has a title. Since It’s never states the ages of Robert and Cora I assume that Cora is no longer able to have children but like a son if they had on George is Vicount Dowton.

  • Lydia Long

    I couldn’t read past ~ who’s name is Robert Crawley~

    • Lynda Steele

      click on see more

  • Kathy L

    You said the son of Lord Grantham would have been called “Lord Downtown”, why was this not the case for Robert when his own father was the Lord Gratham? Or did he give up “Lord Downtown to become “Lord Gratham” when his father died?

    • Edward Bourke

      When Lord Grantham inherited the title Earl of Grantham, the title Viscount Downton, became his subsidiary title. A peer only ever uses their most senior title.

  • F.

    What will the title of the daughter of Sybil and Branson be called when she grows up?

    • JSH

      Nothing. She is just a plain miss. Titles cannot be passed through the mother – only through the father. Unless, the mother is the monarch, of course.

      • John_Twiss

        IN some cases there are indeed titles that pass through the maternal line – such is the case of Mountbatten of Burma – Louis Mountbatten having no sons, his eldest daughter is recognized as Countess Mountbatten of Burma in the letters patent. Another case is that some of the Scottish Earldoms, such as the Earldom of Newburgh. Charlotte Maria Livingston, Third Countess of Newburgh having inherited the title in her own right and passing it to her son, James Bartholomew Radclyffe (son of her husband the titular 5th Earl of Derwentwater.) The title is still claimed by his heirs through their maternal line in Italy.

        • Randy Scott

          Another old custom, often written into the father’s will – when a daughter inherits estate & titles with no surviving brothers, and then marries. The new husband is required to take the family name in order to receive his father-in-law’s title. Thus we get hyphenated names such as Palmer-Douglass who married the only surviving niece of the Douglass family when there were no male heirs.

  • I cannot resist: were the fictional Downton Abbey valet Mr. Bates to sire male issue, would the boy at some point be styled or called “Master Bates?”

    • fourscoreandseven

      Is vulgarity something that one cultivates? Or, are some, unfortunately, born with no decency?

      The son of a valet would not have any titles, nor would anyone care what he was called. He would be known as “John Bates.” Or, more likely, “little Johnny Bates.” Or, more likely, “John and Anna’s boy.”

      It is nonsense to even ponder an impossibility. So, go peddle your coarse garbage elsewhere!

  • Truth

    If Matthew had become Earl, what would Isobel, his mother, be? I’m thinking that both her and Cora could not be a Dowager Countess.

  • CuriousCanuck

    Where does “Grantham” come from? If Downton is the estate and Robert’s last name and his father’s last name is Crawley, is Earl of Grantham the title itself awarded by a monarch as you described?

  • Ben Sutton

    Thank you for the explanation! It cleared up my confusion about the names and titles.

    It might be better to take out the part about “the two living daughters of the Earl and Countess of Grantham…” as that is quite a major spoiler for anyone who is in the middle of watching the show, as I am. I assume that means that Sybil will die in an episode I haven’t reached yet.

  • Lynnette Gyllenblad

    Since “abbey” means place that nuns or monks used to live, was the Downton house supposed to be a former monastary or nunnery?

  • gilliantravers7

    Now that the eldest girl has the same succession rights as the eldest boy in the royal family, has this affected the eldest girl of an earl or duke so they too take the highest secindary title instead of Lady + first name?

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