First, let’s look at America, or specifically New York, in the late 1800’s. There was the “society set,” which notably included the Astors. To belong to this set, you had a long history of wealth in the family. If you were a self made millionaire, the so-called “nouveau riche,” you were not easily welcomed. It would be best to describe the “old guard” as suspicious and a bit threatened by this new class.
Fly (or should I say “steam”) cross the pond at this time and you’ll find things quite different. We all know that Queen Victoria wasn’t a party animal, but her son Albert, the heir to the throne, sure was. It’s as if he rebelled against his strict upbringing, which guarded him against the aristocracy. He became the leader of London’s society, welcoming newcomers, and that included rich Americans. Even though he was married, he was a playboy, and enjoyed the company of the American heiresses. He liked their sense of style and feisty spirit. And because they were popular with him, they became popular in London in general.
These forces helped achieve a dual purpose. For the English gentleman who needed cash to maintain his estate, the American girls were a source of wealth. For the American girls, marriage to a titled Englishman commanded respect. And at this time, America was a country looking to be respected. Jolly good for all!
Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham was an American. As the 3rd series opens, we find out that her considerable wealth has gone down the tubes. What will become of Downton? Check your local PBS listings Sunday, as we get the party started!