Etiquette Expert William Hanson Shares Some Etiquette Lessons We Can Learn from Downton Abbey

The much-anticipated Downton Abbey feature film is released in British cinemas today, bringing with it a wealth of etiquette lessons.

The much-loved British drama has already proven to be a fountain of knowledge in how to conduct oneself – revealing how a Duke should be addressed and how to make the perfect cup of tea.

And as the festive flick arrives to the big screen, etiquette expert William Hanson picks out some key etiquette lessons we can learn from the Crawleys and their staff.

How to address a Duke

‘Who else picked up on the Dowager Countess’s remark to former chauffeur Tom Branson in series four about how to address a Duke?

‘People of a lower social level should address Dukes (the highest level of the peerage) as ‘Your Grace’ whereas those on a similar social strata (the Crawleys and their associates) would address the peer as just ‘Duke’.

‘ “Good morning, Duke”, for example.’

Royal curtsies used to be lower

‘Many write to me to point out that the female cast dropped too low when curtsying to royalty in the London season Christmas special.

‘Anything but! The depth was spot on – as it would have been with the series’ historical oracle Alistair Bruce overseeing the detail.

‘During the reign of George V, and before, curtsies were much lower than the more discrete bob we have today for Elizabeth II’s reign, especially when ladies were being presented at court, as cousin Rose was in the episode.’

When to wear a tiara

‘This nugget is perhaps the most applicable to our lives today.

‘From series three, once Lady Mary had married Matthew Crawley, the white tie dining scenes saw the eldest sister adorned with some splendid tiaras.

‘Before that, as an unmarried woman, Mary was not eligible to wear one. Only married ladies wear them.

‘And although this was never discussed in the series, it is not the done thing (then and now) to buy your own tiara.

‘If you don’t have one in the family – as is the case for Penelope Wilton’s character, Mrs Crawley – then you just go without.’

When to remove your hat

‘Perhaps everyone’s favourite line from the entire series was Lady Mary’s remark in the library, ‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat’.

‘Then, ladies’ hats would have been secured in place with hat pins, which would have gone through the hat itself, and through a loop of hair underneath. This meant that any sudden blasts of wind wouldn’t blow them off.

‘Any self-respecting lady would also wish to tidy their hair before being seen by others – even if this was just their family. Taking great pride in one’s appearance was much more important than today, sadly.’

Spoons for every occasion

‘There was a delightful scene in the third series with Carson instructing the new footman Alfred on the many different types of spoon.

‘Today in dining we mainly just stick to three spoons: pudding/dessert spoon, cream soup spoon and teaspoon. But in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there may have been up to 14 different types, including bouillon spoons, oval soup spoons, demitasse spoons and chocolate spoons.’

A gentleman serves himself at breakfast

‘Despite Downton having leagues of servants, the men and unmarried women always served themselves at breakfast, rather than having their staff do the work.

‘The footmen would lay the bacon, eggs and kedgeree on the sideboard just before the diners arrived and then the family would help themselves, with Carson standing by just in case anything further was needed.’

But ladies have breakfast in bed

‘If you were a married lady, however, you were able to enjoy breakfast in bed.

‘Note that Lady Grantham always eats in bed with a tray brought to her by her maid.

‘Why? Frankly, due to the role of women at the time, once married and the children produced, there wasn’t much to rush out of bed for – and the older you got the more ‘time’ was needed to prepare for the day ahead.’

A younger sister may outrank the eldest

‘In perhaps the best plot twist towards the end of the final series, the jilted, plain and downtrodden middle sister Edith finally married, and she didn’t elope with just anyone. She married a Marquess, no-less.

‘A Marquess is one grade higher in the British peerage than an Earl and so Edith, the new Marchioness, now outranks her eldest sister, and sparring partner, Mary.’

Milk goes in second

‘When Downton hosted the meeting of the committee of the village war memorial, one more down-to-earth member asked Carson for her tea to have the milk in first.

‘Cue a flinch of horror from the butler.

‘This was an unknowing snub to the Downton crockery (which was usually Royal Crown Derby, incidentally).

‘Milk for those of arguably better stock always went in after the hot tea.

‘This school of thought goes back to the times when the upper classes drank from expensive fine bone china that could withstand the hot liquid.

‘Poorer folk had crudely made stuff that cracked more easily from the heat and so cold milk was added first as a coolant.’

SOURCE: Daily Mail, William Hanson