Downton Abbey: Dining in Splendor

Well, here in the States we’ve just finished episode 4 of Dowton Abbey, Season 2, on PBS.  It’s really quite remarkable how much they pack into each one hour episode. And this week’s installment left me weak and weepy, to say the least. Season 1 was filled with the glamorous dinners and festivities of the noble Crawley family. Many scenes took place in the dining room, filmed in the State Dining Room at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. This gorgeous room is filled with BIG art as befitting a BIG room. The biggest of all is the prominent painting of King Charles 1 painted by Flemish master Anthony Van Dyck in 1633. Interestingly, The Royal Collection website lists this painting as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s collection. It hung in Windsor Castle throughout much of the 19 Century. The website says paintings are loaned to galleries and “royal households and palaces”, I’m not sure if this would include the nobility such as the Earl of Carnarvon, but here it is.

The dining room is filled with portraits of Carnarvon family ancestors and one very long table. It’s clear from the various images that table has many leaves in it and is sized for whatever event is at hand. The above image shows a relatively few ten chair set up for what looks like a meeting.

The image above shows a more stately 18 or more chairs and a view of the windows, side boards and heavily fringed window treatments. It’s interesting to note that not all the chairs are alike. While all are Hepplewhite in style, and possibly genuine Hepplewhite, they are not a fully matched set. The paintings are all hung from wires off of picture rails and the room features a gorgeous carved wainscot. 

This image shows the “Crawley” family at dinner, as well as the camera crew in the background. Don’t hit the Van Dyck with the boom mike!

This image shows the family dining en famille with footman at the ready. In the Edwardian era and even past the first world war, it was common for families of this status to dine formally every evening with gentlemen in white tie and the ladies in formal dinner gowns. Titled ladies, such as the Dowager Contess (above, left) might wear their tiara as well. Note, amongst the greenery, that each seat has its own salt celler and pepper shaker. There was no passing food or condiments from person to person at the table. Dining en famille was not the same as dining family style.

During the war, Robert, the Earl of Grantham was recommissioned into the Army. He spends much of the time in uniform, including the dress red coat for formal occasions. Very sharp.

And below we have an image of the undressed state dining table at Highclere Castle, aka Dowton Abbey. I count 5 or 6 leaves. Gorgeous, isn’t it?  We also get a better view of the ornately carved sideboard/buffet under the Van Dyck. I’m not sure if this is a real piece of Renaissance furniture or a 19th Century Victorian reproduction, but it certainly is a knock out.

And yes, you too can dine like an Earl and Countess:

Additional links for Downton Abbey:

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