April 1912. Robert, Earl of Grantham, and his American-born wife Cora live with their three daughters and numerous servants in Downton Abbey. Though their way of life has existed for generations, news arrives that threatens the future of the title and estate. Lord Grantham’s cousin James Crawley, who is heir presumptive to the earldom, and his son, Patrick, have both died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Since Robert and Cora have no sons, a distant cousin becomes heir. Since there is an entail on the estate and Lord Grantham, for reasons of tradition, is not disposed to try to break it, this also means that the new male heir to the title will inherit the land and all the money Lord Grantham gained by marrying Cora. The eldest daughter, Lady Mary, had been engaged to Patrick, but now the land and wealth can no longer remain in the immediate family. Violet, Lord Grantham's mother and the Dowager Countess, is determined to break the entail, even though Lord Grantham and his lawyer seriously doubt this is possible.
Meanwhile, Lord Grantham hires his former batman, the lame John Bates, to be his valet, to the consternation of the butler, Mr. Carson, and the other servants. However, a housemaid, Anna, takes a liking to him.
Thomas, an ambitious footman who wanted the job, repeatedly tries to undermine Bates, with the help of Cora's maid, the vindictive Miss O'Brien. Cora and Carson convince Lord Grantham that Bates is unsuitable for the job; Bates is extremely upset at this news. The family is pleased to learn that the young Duke of Crowborough plans to visit, seeing him as an excellent match for Mary, but the Duke seems less interested in Mary than in prying in the servants' rooms, and his manner cools completely when he learns that Lord Grantham does not intend to fight the entail.
It is revealed that the Duke had a romantic relationship with Thomas. Thomas had actually informed him about the possibility that Mary would inherit, hoping to get a job as valet in return. As the Duke cannot offer him the job, Thomas tries to blackmail him, but he reveals that he has managed to retrieve his love letters from Thomas's room and quickly burns them before Thomas can stop him. Lord Grantham has a change of heart and asks Bates not to leave. The episode ends with a glimpse of the new heir, Matthew Crawley, as he learns of his good fortune.
Grab a duvet, make yourself a warm drink with a box of chocolates and enter the lovely world of Downton Abbey! xx
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