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Downton Abbey's Most Scandalous Moments Ranked

People love period drama "Downton Abbey" for the glamorous 1920s costumes, the long-lost sense of propriety and nobility, and oh yeah, for the juicy scandals. The show, which begins in 1912 and leads into the mid 1920s, follows the wealthy Crawley family who run the Downton estate in England as well as their staff of maids, butlers, and other servants. The show follows an upstairs/downstairs format, peering into the lives of both the wealthy aristocracy and the more "regular" people who have jobs to do. It's addicting, it's beautiful, and the soapy plot points are most of the fun.

For a show about propriety, however, there are an awful lot of scandals on "Downton Abbey." Or maybe it's because of the expectation of perfection and the height of high manners that even the slightest thing could be considered a scandal. The scandals on this list range from very minor little dalliances to outright huge transgressions. Here are our favorite scandals on "Downton Abbey" ranked from, "Ooh that's juicy," all the way up to, "Oh! My! God!"

14. Carson was a clown

The pilot of "Downton Abbey" introduced the wealthy Crawley family and their team of "downstairs" maids, footmen, and other assorted servants. During a time when perfect decorum was of utmost importance, any step outside of propriety was cause for calamity. So in Episode 2, when head butler Carson (Jim Carter) comes face to face with his past, a minor scandal unfolds: The household finds out that Carson was once a clown. 

Well, not exactly a clown, but he was one half of the stage duo that called themselves "The Cheerful Charlies," a sort of vaudeville troupe that performed throughout England in the late 19th century before Carson left and joined the service industry. Carson's old partner, Charles Grigg, shows up in town and blackmails him, asking for food, money, and housing, or he'll expose Carson's past. Carson gives in a little, but eventually Grigg shows up at the front door of Downton Abbey and demands to speak with Lord Grantham, Robert Crawley, effectively revealing Carson's background. Carson is, naturally, embarrassed beyond measure, but his secret is out. Thankfully the family sees this as only a minor scandal; Carson had been a good and loyal employee for decades at that point. Robert gives Grigg twenty dollars and basically tells him to shove off, saying if Grigg ever comes back Robert will have him arrested for blackmail. Grigg does return a few seasons later, but in a less scandalous storyline. But Carson's clown past is pretty funny to imagine.

13. Robert makes out with the maid

Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), has a bit of a midlife crisis in Season 2. With his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) sick in bed with the Spanish flu, Robert becomes an easy target for the new maid, Jane Moorsum (Claire Calbraith). She and Robert share some stories, some flirtations, and eventually even share a few kisses. 

Jane wasn't exactly being predatory, but she was a widow trying to look out for her 12 year old son, Freddie, after her husband died in the Great War. After Robert finds a placement for Freddie in a prestigious grammar school and promises to pay for his education, he and Jane sort of decide that it's for the best if they don't continue their little dalliance. Robert's betrayal came at a time when his own daughter, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), was straying from her family and having a relationship with the chauffeur (another scandal on this list), but the stress of that and his wife's illness is perhaps what led Robert astray. The story line showed that just because Robert is a very proper and noble person doesn't mean he's without his own flaws and isn't sometimes hypocritical in his actions. Cora never finds out about the smooches and moments shared between Robert and Jane, but she does get a bit of "revenge" in later seasons through a relationship with a fellow art admirer. 

12. Edith gets left at the altar

Poor Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael). The middle sister of the bunch, Lady Edith is often overshadowed by her older sister, Mary (Michelle Dockery), and is more traditional than her rebellious younger sister, Sybil. With Mary being courted by loads of suitors and still in a will-they-or-won't-they position with her own distant cousin and Downton heir, Matthew, Edith has to make her own plan for marriage and survival.

In Season 3, Edith takes a liking to the much older Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst), a widower and wealthy landowner with an arm injury from the war. Despite their massive age gap (Anthony is supposed to be about the same age as Edith's father), Edith pursues him for her own security, and Anthony, delighted to have the attention of a pretty young girl, goes along with it.

But on the day of their wedding, Anthony has a change of heart. He literally leaves her at the top of the altar, saying "I can't do this...Edith, I can't let you throw away your life like this." The always reasonable Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) steps in amid Edith's protests and tells her to let him go, for she knows he's right. It will take a while before Edith finally finds happiness again, and even then, she ends up on this list once more with her next romance. 

11. Thomas' affair with the Duke

Audiences learn early on in "Downton Abbey" that footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) is gay. In Season 1, when Mary is still on the hunt for a husband, the noble Duke of Crowborough, Phillip Villiers (Charlie Cox), comes to Downton to potentially propose to Mary. But as it turns out, the Duke has come for other reasons as well. When the Crawleys were in London over the previous summer, the Duke fell into a relationship with Thomas, and it was Thomas who lured the Duke to Downton with the idea that if he married Mary, the Duke could then hire him as his valet and they could continue their relationship.

But when the Duke learns that Robert has no intention of fighting the line of succession (meaning Matthew is still his heir, not Mary) the Duke balks. When Thomas tries to blackmail him with old love letters, the Duke is yet one step ahead. They fight and the Duke burns the letters, leaving Thomas in the lurch. Knowing the poor treatment of gay people in the early 20th century makes Thomas' story all the more sad, especially as it develops over the course of the following seasons. This particular scandal never gets out, but is a catalyst for some of Thomas' other encounters and relationships.

10. Fake cousin from the Titanic

In Season 2, the outside world of the Great War makes its way to Downton Abbey. The great mansion is transformed into a convalescent house, with wounded soldiers, nurses, and more flooding in from the overflow of the town's local hospital. It's here where Edith meets a man supposedly named Patrick Gordon. His face is bandaged and swollen, he's missing a hand, and his memory is foggy, but he claims to be none other than Patrick Crawley,  who was the heir to Downton before his death and Matthew's arrival. Patrick Crawley had supposedly died on the Titanic with his father. But this young man convinces Edith that he's her long lost cousin, having suffered from amnesia and sent to Canada. He regales her with memories from visiting Downton and knowledge of their family that stuns her into belief.

The scandal rocks the Crawley family. If Patrick is alive, it changes everything, marriages, inheritance, and their lives. Even Robert starts to believe him after "Patrick" wipes his mouth in a certain way and knows specific hand gestures from his own children's youth. But digging deeper, Robert learns that Patrick Crawley had actually worked with a man named Peter Gordon in the Foreign Office before the Titanic sank. They were close friends, and Peter moved to Montreal in 1913. "Patrick" leaves Downton, either in fear of being discovered or knowing he'd never be believed, but casting serious doubt into the veracity of his story.

9. Sybil and Tom elope

Being British nobles, lords, and ladies, the Crawley family no doubt wants its daughters to marry into other prominent and wealthy families. This is a definite given for Mary, the oldest, as she is the daughter who clings most to the old ways of the aristocracy. Edith, the poor thing, tries to find herself a rich and proper husband throughout the series, and actually ends up the highest ranking of them all, in the end. Sybil, the youngest, is the most modern and revolutionary sister (she is the first to sport pants for one of their evening dinners). Fittingly, the upper class rebel falls in love with Tom Branson, (Allan Leech) the family's Irish chauffeur.

Tom and Sybil had hit it off during the war. He was impressed with her bravery and devotion to becoming a nurse, while she was already a bit progressive so the idea of dating an Irish servant sparked her interest. So when Tom and Sybil decided to keep their relationship from the family and elope, the whole household broke out in scandal. Mary, Edith, and maid Anna track Sybil down and stop her on her way to marry Tom in secret and convince her to come clean to the rest of her family. Sybil agrees, but stands up to her father, asserting that she's with him for life. The family makes up some acceptable backstory for Tom and the couple move to Dublin to marry "properly," with the scandal long forgotten.

8. Rose dates a Black jazz singer

By Season 4, Lady Mary's long and complex road to marriage and motherhood is complete, leaving room for other characters to explore the trials and tribulations of courtship. Enter: Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), a young ingenue of the 20th century, who is clearly ready for romance. Much like her cousin Sybil was, Rose is progressive and modern. So when she starts up a relationship with the American jazz singer Jack Ross, she seems to be the only one who doesn't see any problem with it.

Jack and Rose have a fun albeit scandalous little relationship. They meet on the dance floor, after Rose's drunken dance companion runs off to vomit. Jack cuts in to save her from embarrassment, and sparks fly. Rose has Jack and his whole band invited to Downton to play for Robert's birthday, and Mary discovers them kissing in the stairwell. Rose and Jack declare their love, but it's Jack who comes to his senses. A Black American entertainer and white British lady just isn't going to fly in the society of the 1920s, and he breaks it off. But even though her heart gets broken, Rose's progressive nature doesn't waver, as later on in the series she marries a young Jewish man. 

7. Tom's IRA connections

It seems that Robert was a little bit right to be concerned with Tom's Irish background. After Sybil and Tom marry in Dublin and settle down for a little bit, trouble strikes. One night, Tom arrives back at Downton alone, having left his very pregnant wife back in Ireland. As it turns out, Tom's attendance at Irish Republican activist meetings has caught the eye of the British police forces in Ireland. They suspect that Tom was involved in the burning of an aristocrat's estate, so Tom flees the country and heads back to England. Sybil is a day behind him, traveling on her own after a dangerous uprising.

Naturally, Robert and the rest of the family are furious. Tom leaving his very pregnant wife in a foreign country to essentially save his own behind is not acceptable. Not only is the family shocked, even the downstairs team is surprised at Tom's behavior, with Carson saying he always knew Tom would bring shame to the family. Thankfully, Sybil arrives the next day, safe and unharmed. but her arduous journey puts stress on her pregnancy.

6. Dowager Countess and her Russian past

Played brilliantly by Maggie Smith, The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley is one of the most entertaining characters on "Downton Abbey." Sharp as a knife, but caring and tender, hilarious one moment and deadly serious another, she's one of the highlights of the show. But Lady Violet's intense propriety has a bit more of a scandalous background than both the audience and her family know about. 

In Season 5, Lady Rose volunteers to help Russian refugees (i.e. the rich folks who were aligned with the deposed Tsar) acclimate to their new home in England. As a result, Violet is reunited with Prince Igor Kuragin (Rade Sherbedgia). Apparently, back in 1872, when Violet was a guest at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, she and Igor fell madly in love, even though they were both already married. His wife caught them just about to flee together, and the two were separated. Now reunited, Prince Kuragin declares his love for Violet once again and says that he wants to live out the rest of his days with her. But Igor and his wife were separated during the Russian revolution and their subsequent evacuation, and he has no idea if she is alive. Violet can't bring herself to be with him if his wife may still be out there, so they do a little investigating and find out she's alive. With the Kuragins back together, Violet's Russian winter fantasy is at an end. But it was a juicy family scandal.

5. Edith has a baby out of wedlock

This scandal is long and complicated. It begins in Season 3 when Edith, fresh off being left at the altar, takes a job writing for a magazine. She meets editor Michael Gregson and the two fall in love and hit the sack before marriage. (Scandal!) Michael is actually married, although his wife is confined to a mental asylum and he cannot divorce her. He decides to become a citizen of Germany where one can divorce their locked up spouse. But once Michael is in Germany, disaster strikes and he goes radio silent just as Edith discovers she's pregnant with his child. As it turns out, Michael was murdered in a fight by German "Brown Shirts," the early Nazi party's military.

Pregnant with no husband, Edith is taken to Switzerland by Aunt Rosamund, to have the baby in secret and give it up for adoption, which she does, though only for a while. The finale of Season 4 sees Edith stomping off, heading back to the continent to retrieve her child. She leaves her daughter, Marigold, in the hands of farmer Timothy Drewe, one of their tenants, and his wife. But Mrs. Drewe rightfully grows suspicious, as does the rest of the family when Edith "adopts" Marigold. Eventually the truth comes out that Marigold is actually Edith's child. Mary even tries to sabotage Edith's relationship with her eventual husband, Bertie Pelham, by revealing who Marigold truly is, but it all works out in the end, with Edith a Marchioness, ranking higher than Mary ever will.

4. The saga of Anna and Mr. Bates, part 1

This is another multi-season scandal that rocked the characters of "Downton abbey." Beginning in Season 1, new valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) begin a flirtation and relationship that finds them declaring their love by season's end. But Bates has one problem: a wife, Vera. What's with these dudes and their secret wives? Bates and Mrs. Bates hate each other and haven't lived with each other in years. Bates had apparently been arrested in the past for a crime Vera committed, and she continues to try and get him fired, blackmail him, and blame him for crimes. 

Vera eventually kills herself with a pie laced with rat poison, effectively blaming her death on Bates. Shortly after Bates and Anna learn of Vera's death, they rush to get married, knowing that the inevitable is coming. At least Anna would get to visit him in jail and help him as his wife. Bates gets arrested for Vera's death and spends most of Season 3 in jail. Bates' time in jail and the various shenanigans he gets himself into are probably the least interesting story lines of the series, but eventually, thankfully, he gets released after one of Vera's friends gives testimony that clears his name. Bates returns to Anna and the two move into a little cottage on the Downton grounds, keeping their jobs and planning to start a family. But this isn't the last scandal that will loom over Anna and Bates.

3. Her ladyship's soap

Scheming Mrs. O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), Cora's lady's maid, is one of the more fun characters on "Downton Abbey" that audiences love to hate. In early seasons, she spends a lot of time plotting with Thomas, trying to get Bates fired, and trying to get herself a better position, among other gossip and grumpy talk. But her biggest scheme actually ends in tragedy. 

In Season 1, Cora finds out that she's pregnant, and the family is essentially hoping that the baby is a boy so that they don't have to leave the estate to Matthew. Cora puts out an ad for a new lady's maid for Violet, but O'Brien assumes Cora is looking to replace her. In retaliation, when Cora is taking a bath, O'Brien leaves a bit of soap on the floor just outside the tub. O'Brien feels sudden regret, but it's too late. Cora gets out of the tub, slips and the fall causes a miscarriage. The baby, it turns out, was a boy.

A few seasons later, tired of her scheming, Bates threatens O'Brien by saying "her ladyship's soap" to her face. Bates admits to Anna that he had no idea what it meant, only that Thomas told him to use it if he ever needed it. Aghast, O'Brien manipulates her way into another household, taking a job as lady's maid to Rose's mother just before they leave for India. O'Brien takes off "like a thief in the night," as Robert says.

2. The saga of Anna and Mr. Bates, part 2

Poor Anna and Mr. Bates just can't catch a break throughout most seasons of "Downton Abbey." Scandal number two comes in Season 4, when Mary's suitor, Lord Gillingham, visits Downton and brings his valet, Mr. Green. Mr Green rapes Anna downstairs while the rest of the staff is upstairs enjoying a concert. Mrs. Hughes finds Anna and they decide to keep the terrible act from Mr. Bates and not report Mr. Green. Anna recoils from Bates, who eventually does learn the truth from Mrs. Hughes. Eventually, however, Green turns up dead, having been pushed in front of an oncoming bus while in London.

Anna's trauma, combined with the death of Mr. Green, leads to her and Bates recoiling from one another again, until Anna eventually gets arrested for murdering Green. While Anna is in jail, Bates writes a letter confessing to the murder and flees to Ireland, freeing her, though leaving them apart. But the other servants, Molseley and Baxter, gather enough evidence to exonerate Bates, and the two are reunited in the Season 5 Christmas special. In Season 6, Anna and Bates go on to have a little boy named Johnny, so thankfully their days of scandal come to an end. Just a couple of formerly incarcerated fools in love!

1. The death of Mr. Pamuk

The most scandalous scandal in the whole series of "Downton Abbey" happened in Season 1 in lady Mary's bedchamber. Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), the son of one of Turkey's Sultan's ministers, arrives at Downton while traveling in England for an international conference. Mary and Mr. Pamuk go on a hunt, flirt, spend a lot of time together, and kiss passionately in the halls of Downton. That evening, Pamuk makes his way to Mary's bedroom and coerces her into having sex. But in the middle of the act, Pamuk suffers a heart attack and dies in her bed. Mary has to get help from Anna and her own mother to get Pamuk back to his own bedchamber. Maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) sees them in the hallway, but in the morning, a doctor declares that Mr. Pamuk died in his own bed.

Of course, the scandal doesn't end there, as many other family and staff members find out about Mary's dalliance with Mr. Pamuk. Edith lets the gossip slip to a newspaper, while Bates' wife, Vera, even tries to use the news as blackmail. Eventually, Mary has to come clean to her fiancé, Matthew, as well, though he finds a way to get past it. But in the world of "Downton Abbey," Mary's sexy evening with Mr. Pamuk, his sudden death, and the reverberations throughout the following seasons are definitely the biggest scandal of the series.