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Violet Crawley

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Violet Crawley
Dowager Countess of Grantham
Biographical information
Marital status Widow
Residence Dower House, Downton, Yorkshire
Title(s) Dowager Countess of Grantham

Old Lady Grantham
Lady Grantham
Your Ladyship
My Lady
Cousin Violet
Aunt Violet

Physical information
Gender Female
Hair colour Grey
Eye colour Blue
Family information
Family Aunt

Robert Crawley, 5th Earl of Grantham (son)
Rosamund Painswick (daughter)
Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham (daughter-in-law)
Marmaduke Painswick (son-in-law) †
Mary Crawley (granddaughter)
Edith Crawley (granddaughter)
Lady Sybil Branson nee Crawley (granddaughter) †
Matthew Crawley (second cousin twice removed-in-law/grandson-in-law)
Tom Branson (grandson-in-law)
Sybbie Branson (great-granddaughter)
George Crawley (great-grandson)
Marigold Gregson (great-granddaughter)
Susan MacClare, Marchioness of Flintshire (niece)
Hugh MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire (nephew-in-law)
James MacClare, Earl of Newtonmore (great-nephew)
Lady Annabelle (great-niece)
Lady Annabelle's Husband (great-nephew-in-law)

Occupation President of the Downton Cottage Hospital
Loyalty Downton Abbey
Behind the scenes
Portrayed by Maggie Smith
Violet: "I'm so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I'm with her, I'm reminded of the virtues of the English."
Matthew: "But isn't she American?"
Violet: "Exactly."
— Violet, speaking to Cora, and Matthew about Martha Levinson.[src]

Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (b. 1842[1]) is the matriarch of the Crawley Family by her marriage to the late Earl of Grantham and a relative of the MacClare Family via her niece and goddaughter; Susan MacClare, Marchioness of Flintshire. She is the mother of Robert Crawley, 5th Earl of Grantham and of Lady Rosamund Painswick (née Crawley) and the grandmother of Robert and his wife Cora's three daughters; MaryEdith and Sybil Crawley, as well the great-grandmother of her grandaughters' children; George Crawley (Mary's son),  Sybil "Sybbie" Branson (Sybil's daughter) and of Marigold Gregson (Edith's illegitimate daughter).

Born in 1842, Violet was the daughter of a Baronet and had at least one sister, the mother of her niece and goddaughter, Susan MacClare, Marchioness of Flintshire,[2] and one aunt.[3] While she was born into the aristocracy, her family was relatively impoverished and she brought almost no money with her upon marriage. When she married the Earl of Grantham sometime before 1860, she brought her upper class blood but little money into her marriage.[4] After her wedding, she was "pursued" by Lord Hepworth's father.[5]

At some point as a young girl in the 1850s and 1860s[6] Violet wore "the bustle, the crinoline and the leg of mutton sleeve."

Violet gave birth to two children, a son and heir, Robert and a daughter, Rosamund. Not following in their mother's footsteps, her children married into money rather than nobility. The Countess was against Robert's engagement and marriage to the American heiress Cora Levinson, in 1889,[7] but did reap the benefits of her fortune.[8]

The death of James and Patrick Crawley changed everything for Violet as her granddaughter lost her chance to

Screen shot 2012-04-10 at 11.22.13 AM

Violet discusses the new heir with her daughter-in-law Cora

marry the heir of the Earldom. The new heir, Matthew Crawley did not live up to her standards as he was of the upper middle class rather than the aristocracy. Unlike her son, Violet refused to accept the change in Mary's inheritance, which caused her to form an alliance with her daughter-in-law Cora Crawley.

When the two Countesses realize that Matthew would remain heir not only to the Grantham title but to Cora's fortune as well, they shifted their focus to getting Mary to marry Matthew. The urgency for marriage was heightened when Violet was told by her niece that a rumour was spreading around London that Mary was not virtuous with Kemal Pamuk. She was scandalized to learn that the rumour was true, and further urged Cora to get Mary to marry Matthew.

This period of time was characterized largely by Violet's many quarrels with Isobel Crawley, mother of Matthew. As president of the Downton Cottage Hospital, Violet held complete control over the hospital and its chief doctor, Richard Clarkson. Mrs. Crawley began to intimidate the doctor into pursuing modern medical practices, such as the administering of adrenaline to cure dropsy in a local farmer, despite the protests of the Dowager Countess. She pursues Isobel and Clarkson into the operation room, where she witnesses the farmer's life being saved. In order to avoid further episodes such as this, Robert appoints Isobel Chairman of the Board, forcing Violet to share power with her.
Screen shot 2012-04-10 at 11.09.38 AM

Violet, Shaken at the sight of the needle

Another time was during the Downton Village Flower Show. Isobel learned that Violet was the perennial winner of the Best Bloom in the Village Award. She believed that the Dowager Countess won out of intimidation, pushing aside Bill Molesley, father of her butler. Isobel and Violet bickered as usual, and Robert, Cora, and Mary all sided with Isobel. Violet prepares to announce herself as the winner, but has a sudden crisis of conscience, seeing Bill Molesley's defeated face, and instead announces him as the winner. When he thanks her for "letting him have" the award, Violet lies and says the judges decided that he was the winner, confusing Cora, who was one of the judges.

By the time of the 1913-1914 season came around it seemed that her designs were coming to fruition and Mary was to marry Matthew. However when Cora became pregnant Matthew's position went into question and Rosamund advised Mary to wait until the baby was born to agree to marry Matthew. Violet was completely against this idea and advised Mary to agree to marriage using the logic that agreeing to marry a man when his whole future was at stake would make him love her forever. Also, she advised that Mary had the option to change her mind if the baby was a boy and Matthew lost his fortune. Unfortunately Cora lost her unborn son after she slipped getting out of the bath. Cora is unaware that O'Brien cause her fall and miscarriage by sliding a bar of soap across the floor. O'Brien was bitter over her mistakenly believing that Cora was looking to replace her when Cora was actually just helping Violet replace her lady's maid, Simmons, a fact which O'Brien discovers when Violet asks her about it later on. Mary took Rosamund's advice which alienated Matthew, leaving Violet to agree with Isobel Crawley for the first time. [9].

Throughout World War One, Violet remained a somewhat strong influence at Downton Abbey. On the day of the Benefit Concert, she learns from Isobel Crawley that Matthew, now a captain in the army, is engaged to a Miss Lavinia Swire. Violet observes this match with distaste, as she still hoped, along with Robert, Cora, and (to some degree) Isobel, that Matthew and Mary would end up together. She also dislikes Sir Richard Carlisle , a newspaper tycoon who Mary takes a romantic interest in. She also fights with Isobel over Violet and Rosamund's scheme to intimidate Lavinia out of her engagement with Matthew. They are especially spurred to action when Rosamund overhears Sir Richard threatening Lavinia in the gardens. Mary uncovers that Lavinia was blackmailed into helping Sir Richard start a political scandal, and is terrified of him. However, she refuses to use this information to destroy her, comparing it to her situation with Kemal Pamuk, and Rosamund and Violet are defeated.

When Isobel suggests to Cora that Downton Abbey be used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, Violet reacts with horror and disgust at the prospect of unknown men living in the house. Cora coldly reminds Violet that she is no longer the Countess of Grantham, and says that she will make the decisions regarding the house. Lady Sybil accuses Violet of not being able to communicate between social classes, prompting her to reveal that she and Mr Carson the butler always had the first dance at the servants' ball.

During the time that Downton was used as a convalescent home, Violet bore witness to a concert that Mary and Edith put on for the soldiers, in which Matthew and William the footman return home after a period of being missing-in-action. Mary sings "If You Were the Only Girl in the World", and Violet is one of only two audience members who doesn't sing along (the other being Tom Branson), and stares in confusion at those around her for participating. It seems that she has observed Tom Branson admiringly looking at Sybil instead of joining the singing which leads to her visible indignation and perhaps is the starting point of her vague suspicion that Sybil may have an unsuitable suitor.

As the war progresses, Matthew and William are both wounded. Matthew is transferred to the hospital at Downton, but William, whose lungs have been critically wounded, is forced to stay elsewhere due to the fact that he is not an officer. Violet, backed up by Edith and William's father, goes against the promoted Major Clarkson and other military officials in order to bring him back to Downton so he can die comfortably. They succeed, and Violet forces the local vicar to marry William and Daisy, the kitchen maid, while he is on his deathbed. Violet, Edith, and the entire downstairs staff attend the wedding. He dies six hours later. Matthew, however, suffered a spinal cord injury, confining him to a wheelchair.

At one point, a badly burned Canadian officer named Patrick Gordon comes to Downton to recover and claims to be Patrick Crawley, who allegedly survived the Titanic, recovered in Canada, and was caught in an explosion in the war. Violet, who has grown used to Matthew, reacts with indignation. Lord Grantham's lawyer, George Murray, speculates that Officer Gordon was a business associate of Patrick Crawley, and would have known some details about his life that would allow him to impersonate Patrick. The officer leaves Downton, not missed by anyone but Edith, who believed it was him.

The war ends, and Isobel is pushing for Downton to remain a hospital. Violet and Cora, who both want life to return to normal, manage to convince her that the refugees left disadvantaged by the war need her help more.

In 1919, the Spanish Flu hits Downton Abbey, infecting Cora and Carson and killing Lavinia. At the same time, Sybil plans to go through with a "scandalous" marriage to Tom Branson, the family chauffeur. Robert and Violet attempt to talk her out of it. When they are unsuccessful, Violet decides to minimize the damage by making up details about Branson that would make the marriage seem more acceptable to other members of the aristocracy. Violet also tells Matthew that Mary is still in love with him, that she "looked like Juliet upon awakening in the tomb" and warns him when he chooses to marry he cannot undo it later. When he later tells Mary about this meeting, she responds about her grandmother, "Classic Granny."

In the 2011 Christmas Special, Violet invites Sir Anthony Strallan over for tea, perhaps to rekindle his interest in Edith, who is present and remarks "I thought it was just us" upon seeing him outside. But upon seeing he has been injured, she later regrets her actions, telling Rosamund if Edith married him she would spend the rest of her life as a nurse maid. Later, when Richard Carlisle announces he is leaving and that they will not likely meet again, she replies, "Do you promise?" She also forgives Matthew for breaking a vase during a fight he had with Carlisle, saying it was a gift "from a frightful aunt and I've hated it for half a century."

Violet clashes with Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, when she arrives at Downton. Violet admits that she is the one who sent Sybil and Branson the money they needed to return to Downton for the wedding. Her lady's maid, Smithers, wrote the letter, so that the handwriting could not be identified. Violet does not approve of Edith's pursuit of Sir Strallan, and tells Robert to tell Strallan to stay away. Robert gets him to write to Edith and end their relationship, but Edith is devastated. When Strallan is at the dinner, Violet voices her surprise, and Robert tells her that he relented and re-invited Strallan due to Martha's interfering.

Sybil dies from eclampsia, after having given birth to a girl, and Violet is utterly smashed; giving a gasp and hobbling - old, worn down, and devastated - across the hall, she comforts her son when Cora blames him for Sybil's death. She tells Robert that blaming themselves is wrong. By pressuring the family doctor, Richard Clarkson, to explain to Cora and Robert that Sybil's chances of survival would have been almost nil even if she had had a Caesarian, she helps her son and daughter-in-law to overcome their estrangement.

Sad Dowager

Violet after Sybil dies; old, shattered and emotional.

Her niece's daughter Rose comes to visit her. Rose is eighteen, and she is the daughter of Susan, Marchioness of Flintshire, who is Violet's niece and goddaughter. When Violet overhears that there is a secret about Rose's behavior in London being kept from her, she tricks Rosamund into filling her in about the details (Rose's unsuitable relationship with Terence Margadale), by pretending that Edith had already told her, which she had not. Violet arranges with Rose's mother to have her sent north to Scotland early.

On learning from Robert that the estate's agent has resigned after a heated argument with Matthew over the running of the estate, she suggests making Tom Branson the new agent because this would ensure his staying on at Downton together with his daughter, her great granddaughter.

In the 2012 Christmas Special, the family travels to Duneagle in September 1921; Violet expresses concern about leaving Tom behind, feeling he will be unsupervised. While in Scotland, she realizes just how frosty the relationship between Rose MacClare and Susan is, and realizes Susan does not handle it well. She also comforts Cora, who is still feeling sad over Sybil's death.

Violet seeks to bring her granddaughter Mary out of mourning following Matthew's death by insisting she take a more active role in running the estate, insisting Tom be her instructor. She also puts Robert in his place when he tries to fight the fact that Mary owns half the estate per Matthew's wishes as well as her attempts to take a more active role in running the estate.

Violet meets a number of old friends, including Lady Shackleton and the Duchess of Yeovil. When Lady Shackleton joins Violet and Edith for lunch at the Dower House, Violet brings Molesley to help on the pretense that Lady Shackleton needs a butler and might hire him (since he has been out of a job following Matthew's death).However, Violet's butler, Spratt, sabotages Molesley's attempts out of fear Molesley wishes to take his own job.

Isobel and Dr Clarkson persuade Violet to take on a young gardener named John Pegg at the Dower House. But when two valuable possessions of hers go missing, she becomes convinced Pegg took them and fires him. Isobel protests, but Violet is adamant in her beliefs. She later rehires him after the items were found, Violet herself having simply mislaid them.

Violet continues to push Tom into mingling with the upper classes, such as when she urges him to dance with the Duchess of Yeovil, and to not call her "Your Grace", as a servant would. Later, after her son leaves for America to visit his in-laws, Violet suddenly falls ill. Isobel selflessly nurses Violet through her illness, never leaving Violet's side. After she recuperates, the two women play cards together.

Violet learns that Edith is pregnant with Michael Gregson's child, while Gregson himself has vanished in Germany. Rosamund had proposed that Edith go abroad in order to cover up her pregnancy and have the child adopted. Violet admits, though she does not often agree with her daughter, in this case she does because Edith's reputation shall always be tarnished otherwise. Edith is not so keen on giving up her child and never seeing it again. Violet offers to pay for Edith's travel expenses, and also to support Edith if she decides to go searching for her love. Violet comforts her also in her grief, remarking that life is a series of problems that must be solved. She is unhappy upon hearing from her son upon his return that the Levinsons are planning a visit in the summer of 1923.

By the time of the 2013 Christmas Special, eight months have passed. Violet tries to cheer up Edith once she returns from Geneva, having left her newborn daughter there. Unfortunately, Violet does not make it any better by referring to the child as "it" rather than "she", and talking about Edith learning French, which was the cover story for the trip to the continent.

Violet comes upon Tom in the village as he is speaking with a young woman, whom he introduces as Sarah Bunting, a schoolteacher. Violet barely hides her disapproval of Sarah and changes the subject by asking Tom if he will attend Rose's debutante ball. Later, the time comes for Violet and Isobel to go to London for debutante season, Violet being annoyed that Cora insisted she do so without bringing a maid. 

During the ball at Grantham House, Violet insists to Tom that the people there are his people now. When he says the Crawleys are his family but these people are not quite his, she remarks that sounds like a challenge. Then Tom gives her another challenge and asks her to dance. She accepts, trusting him to lead. Later Martha speaks to her, saying her own world — the new and modern — is drawing near, while Violet's is slipping away. Violet is left speechless.

Violet Crawley has always been a woman who prefers to have a firm grip on matters, sometimes manipulating with her cunning to change people's perception about things. One of her major motives is to protect the honour of the family and to safeguard it from ever becoming a topic of gossip. She is known to be sarcastic and competitive. Yet, throughout the whole series so far, Violet has developed a deeper side of sensitivity. She takes great love with her family and would prioritize them. For example, Violet agreed to be of assistance to Mary, should Mary be in the face of humiliation and scandal. She did this because she knows and understands how important Mary is in Violet's life, not only as a lady, but as a Granddaughter as well. Violet is a humorous and cheeky, but also fair woman who stands up for her beliefs.

Series 1

  • "What is a weekend?" (Episode 1.2)
  • "No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else's house." (Episode 1.3)
  • "Why does every day involve a fight with an American?" - Regarding a swivel chair (Episode 1.4)
  • "Your quarrel is with my daughter, Rosamund, and not with me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it" (Episode 1.7)
  • "What's the matter, I have plenty of friends I don't like."- to Robert.
  • “No, she isn’t, until she is married. And then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”
  • “If she won’t say yes when he might be poor, he won’t want her when he will be rich.”
  • “One can’t go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We’d all be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper.”
  • "We can't have him assasinated I suppose"-referring to the Turkish ambassador
  • "You are quite wonderful the way you see improvement wherever you look. i never knew such reforming zeal." -to Isobel. Isobel- "I take that as a compliment." Violet: "Must've said it wrong."

Series 2

  • "Oh, that's a relief. I hate Greek drama. When everything happens off stage." Episode 2.01
  • "Anna, help me do battle with this monstrosity. It looks like a creature from the lost world." (Episode 2.01
  • "Edith, you are a Lady, not Toad of Toad Hall." (Episode 2.02)
  • "I'm a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose." (Episode 2.04)
  • "Oh really! It's like living in a second-rate hotel, where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave." (Episode 2.04) - (Violet on the soldiers who staying at the convalescent home at Downton Abbey).
  • "I don't dislike him, I just don't like him. Which is quite different." (Episode 2.06)
  • "Oh, I should steer clear of May. Marry in May, rue the day." (Episode 2.06)
  • "Marriage is a long business. There's no getting out of it for our kind of people. You will live 40, 50 years with one of these women. Just make sure it's the right one." Episode 2.06)
  • "No doubt you will regard this as rather unorthodox, my pushing into a man's bedroom uninvited." (Episode 2.07)
  • "I was watching her the other night, when you spoke of your wedding. She looked like Juliet on awakening in the tomb." (Episode 2.07)
  • "Don't be defeatist, dear, it's very middle class." (Episode 2.08)
  • "I do hope I'm interrupting something." (Episode 2.08)
  • "Now, Sybil, dear, this sort of thing is all very well in novels, but in reality, it can prove very uncomfortable." (Episode 2.08)
  • "What is this driving mania?"
  • "You'll find there's never a dull moment in this house."- to Carlisle when Carson becomes ill.
  • “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”

2011 Christmas Special

  • "1920! Is it to be believed? I feel old as Methuselah."
  • "When I think what the last 10 years has brought. God knows what we're in for now."
  • "Do you promise?" (Her reply when the jilted Sir Richard declares they will probably never meet again.)
  • "Don't be, don't be. It was a wedding present from a frightful aunt. I have hated it for half a century."-to Matthew after he breaks a vase

Series 3

  • "Are you really that tall?" "Yes Milady." "Thought you might have been walking on stilts" -to the new footman Alfred Nugent. (Episode 3.01 )
  • "Branson, I mean Tom, you're a member of the family now. You'll find we Crawleys stick together." -to her grandson-in-law. (Episode 3.01 )
  • "I'm so sorry, I thought you were a waiter." -to her son, in reference to the fact that he was wearing black tie at what should have been a white tie event. (Episode 3.02 )
  • "My dear, when tragedies strike, we try to find someone to blame. And in the absence of a suitable candidate, we usually blame ourselves. You are not to blame. No one is to blame. Our darling Sybil has died during childbirth, like too many women before her, and all we can do now is cherish her memory, and her child." (Episode 3.05)
  • "It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding." (Episode 3.06)
  • "Since we have a country solicitor and a car mechanic, it was only a matter of time." - in response to Edith becoming a journalist. (Episode 3.07)

2012 Christmas Special

  • "That's the thing about nature; there's so much of it."
  • "I agree. But then, we don't always get our just desserts."

Series 4

  • "How I sympathize with King Cnut."
  • "How you hate to be wrong." -Isobel.
  • "So another brick is pulled from the wall." - to her son when he is wearing black tie.
  • "I wouldn't know, I'm not familiar with the sensation..." - Violet (Episode 4.06)


  • Violet tells her granddaughters to remember their "Great Aunt Roberta" although it is currently unknown how Roberta was related to Violet.
  • In "The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era" by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, Julian Fellowes relates that the character of Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham is based on his tyrannical great-aunt Isie (she served also as the model for Lady Trentham in Gosford Park). He describes her as a woman whose dry wit concealed a good deal of personal suffering and who was no tougher on the rest of us as she was on herself. It is perhaps that draconian sense of discipline that makes her breed seem admirable to me".


Appearances and Mentions
Series 1 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Series 2 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Christmas Special
Series 3 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Christmas Special
Series 4 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Christmas Special
Series 5 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3 Episode 4 Episode 5 Episode 6 Episode 7 Episode 8 Christmas Special


  1. In Downton Abbey: Series 2 Scripts (Official): Page 495 Julian Fellowes' notes read as "At the start of the show, set in 1912, we needed Violet to be about 70. This means she was born in 1842 and she would have come out in 1860, to enjoy a few flirtations before marriage claimed her". Thus, by these notes, we can place Violet's date of birth as 1842.
  2. 2012 Christmas Special: Susan says "You are my mother's sister".
  3. 2011 Christmas Special: Violet mentions that a vase was a "wedding present from a frightful aunt".
  4. Confirmed by the press pack for Series 1; page 7.
  5. In the 2011 Christmas Special she says that Lord Hepworth's father pursued her "in the late 60s", but in the 2012 Christmas Special, she says that she she attended a Gillies Ball after she was "recently married" in 1860. This means that Lord Hepworth's father must have pursued her when she was married.
  6. The crinoline went out of fashion in the 1860s - meaning Violet wore it sometime before the 1860s - and transitioned into the bustle, which came into fashion in 1867
  7. Confirmed by the press pack for Series 1; page 5.
  8. "24 years ago, you married Cora, against my wishes, for her money. Give it away now, what was the point of your peculiar marriage in the first place?"; Violet says this in 1913: Series 1 Episode 2.
  9. "Your quarrel is with my daughter, Rosamund, and not with me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it."

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