Downton Abbey Recap: Two Weddings and a Funeral

Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew miraculously recovered and Robert mysteriously forgot he’s in love with his wife and started making out with Jane the maid. Bates remembered he was the one who bought the poison his wife killed herself with, and Sybil rather inexplicably ran away with Branson, only to be dragged back home by Edith and Mary.

Downton’s abuzz with preparations for Matthew’s and Lavinia’s wedding. Never content to just let things be, Isobel remarks that displaying the presents (a common practice amongst the upper class at the time) looks greedy. Remember last season when she was all worried about seeming outclassed by the Crawleys? What happened to that concern? Shut up, Isobel! Lavinia apologizes for having caused so much extra work at the house and Cora tells her it’s fine before heading off to do something or other. Mary and Lavinia descend on Matthew and ask him how he’s feeling. He’s fully up and about now, thought walking with a cane, which he hates. He wants to be able to walk up the aisle without help. Mary drops the fact that it’s three days to the wedding.

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Downton Abbey: Many Unhappy Returns

Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew and William disappeared for a little while, but then came back, as did Bates, once again spouting promises of divorce from Vera the Terrible. Isobel left too, in a childish snit, to take up a position in France.

Amiens in 1918 looks like a barren, postapocalyptic wasteland. In the trenches, William helps Matthew get ready for the big push. Matthew’s nervous, and William’s sweetly trying to put a brave face on the whole thing. The other men are undergoing their own pre-battle preparations: smoking last-minute cigarettes, checking their weapons, etc. Matthew gives them a brief but reasonably rousing speech, then checks his watch, orders them all to fix bayonets, and over the top they go.

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The War of Jenkins’ Ear

If you’re going to have a war, you may as well name it something interesting and memorable, right? On October 23, 1739, the awesomely named War of Jenkins’ Ear began when Britain declared war on Spain, despite Prime Minister Robert Walpole’s reservations. The unusual name wasn’t made official until more than 100 years after the conflict. It refers to an incident in 1731, when the … Continue reading The War of Jenkins’ Ear

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

On September 25, 1066, the Viking Age came to an end in England with the defeat of the Norwegian army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. 1066 was a pretty lousy year to be living in England. King Edward the Confessor’s death in January triggered a succession crisis that brought contenders from all over Europe to fight for the throne. The King of Norway, Harald … Continue reading The Battle of Stamford Bridge

The Pallisers, Part IV: After the Ball

Previously on The Pallisers: Glencora freaked out so thoroughly about meeting Burgo again she purposely got sick to avoid him. Alice, meanwhile, threw herself back into George’s arms.

Vavasor Hall. Grandpa tells Alice’s dad that he’s warming to the idea of Alice and George marrying, because it would keep her money (inherited from her dead mother) in the family. Dad’s clearly the smartest person in the family and realizes George’ll just squander the cash, along with everything else he inherits. Grandpa plans to settle the estate on their eldest son, so all George could access would be the income from the estate. What if they don’t have a son? What then? Does Matthew Crawley inherit? Dad still thinks George is a worthless scoundrel, and he says as much, just as Alice comes downstairs. She waits until her dad’s done railing against her future husband before coming into the dining room for a meeting with grandpa. Grandpa asks her if she’s fixed a date for the wedding, and of course she hasn’t, because this is Alice we’re talking about. These early episodes were apparently based on a Trollope novel that was all about Alice’s dithering and was so tiresome even his contemporaries made fun of it. Dad helpfully asks her why she broke her engagement to George before. She delicately responds that he “behaved unworthily.” I’ll say. Dad thinks George will behave just as poorly now, but Alice foolishly thinks he’s changed, and anyway, she’s older now and “much more understanding.” Excuse me? Is she saying she’d be cool with George screwing around on her?

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The Samlesbury Witches

On August 19, 1612, three women—Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley—were brought to trial on charges of witchcraft. The trial of these women, known as the Samlesbury Witches, would become one of the most famous in English history. As often seems to be the case in sensational witch trials, this one was started by a teenage girl—one Grace Sowerbutts, who accused the three women … Continue reading The Samlesbury Witches

At Last

On August 9, 1902, Edward VII was crowned King of the United Kingdom in Westminster Abbey. Finally. Poor Edward had a hellish wait for the throne. His mother, Queen Victoria, loved wallowing in misery so much she refused to die and wound up with the longest reign of any British monarch in history. Subsequently, her son, Edward, had the longest wait for the throne of … Continue reading At Last


As a journalist, this story makes me happy for modern-day freedom of the press: on July 31, 1703, Daniel Defoe was placed in a pillory for his incendiary political writings. The piece that primarily got him in trouble was a pamphlet entitled The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, which apparently argued for the extermination of said Dissenters. Apparently, the government … Continue reading Pilloried

Chopped: British Invasion

Do any of you watch Chopped on the Food Network? It’s a little bit like Ready, Steady, Cook, except with a slightly less annoying host. The premise is this: four chefs have to create a three-course meal (appetizer, main course, and dessert), and with each course, they get a basket of random “mystery ingredients” that they have to incorporate into the dish somehow. The ingredients range from the benign (fish, string beans) to the fairly kooky (edamame in dessert, Jell-O with the appetizer). They have a set amount of time to cook, and once time’s up, they have to present a dish to a panel of judges. Whoever sucks the most in each round gets chopped, so by the end of the episode, you’re down to one chef who wins $10,000.

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