A little etiquette can go a long way; while modern etiquette is nowhere near as strict nor thorough as the etiquette of the past, shows such as the period drama Downton Abbey resurrect the concept of rigorous etiquette that governs everything from the way you enter a room, greet someone on the street, all the way down to the way you eat your dinner.
The creative team behind Downton Abbey has often reveled in the fact that they stick as close to period etiquette as they can, but some people—including historical etiquette expert, the Countess of Carnavon, who happens to be the mistress of the on-site castle that the show films in, are less than pleased with how the show depicts its dining etiquette. Let’s look at some of the historical dining etiquette blunders committed by Downton Abbey, courtesy of the Countess of Carnavon.
If there is one thing that the wealthy in Edwardian society loved to do, it was show off their wealth and status through a carefully designed, carefully prepared table setting. While the tables in Downton Abbey look nice, the Countess of Carnavon has pointed out that many little details are incorrect or missing all together. For example, the eating utensils should always be arranged according to courses—for example, the bread knife would be placed on the very outside, while the cheese forks would be placed on the inside of the setting. Other little details, such as designs impressed on the pats of butter for each guest, are also missing—likely due to production constraints, since such little details would not be the focus of any dining scene.
This is one piece of etiquette that we are glad to see go! In the era of Downton Abbey, it was considered poor etiquette for women to have a hearty appetite. While men could enjoy the many courses of an Edwardian dinner with gusto, the women were supposed to have a few bites of each course, to ensure that they didn’t appear too greedy or voracious. Many female characters on the show simply eat too much without being criticized by the Dowager.
The elite living in Downton Abbey at the height would have had far more servants on hand, especially for dinner, than what is depicted in the show. In the show, only two footmen are present during dinner to refill glasses and deliver courses; in reality, however, there would have been at least half a dozen footmen for a typical dinner—and possibly more, depending on the dinner party size and the occasion. The production team behind Downton Abbey has stated that the “two footmen depicted are representative of a large number of staff that would have existed at the time.” In other words—the lower amount of footmen is likely a constraint of the show’s budget.
Other servants, such as the butler and various maids who would have been on hand to provide any assistance necessary during dinner, are also often missing during these scenes. To watch Downton Abbey in your home, purchase a Comcast XFINITY internet package today.