Downton etiquette revealed

The British Library has republished an old etiquette book that serves as the ultimate guide to aristocratic life, perfect for Downton Abbey fans.

Dame Maggie Smith as the disapproving Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey © ITV

Deportment for Dukes and Tips for Toffs tells readers how they should behave when visiting a country house such as that in ITV’s fictitious Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire. From table manners and the art of conversation to the dos and don’ts of the shooting field, readers are given an insight into the social rules and regulations of the aristocracy.

The book was written by in 1900 and pitched it as a ‘treatise’ for anyone who wanted to avoid showing themselves up when mixing with the upper classes.

© British Library

“A visit to a country house is the summit of refined gratification and at the disposal, therefore, of the guest travelling towards a twelve-course dinner, the authors have placed this essential guide,” said the authors of the tome. The given authors – Brummell & Beau – are pseudonyms as the publisher was unable to discover the true identity of the author.

Downton Abbey has thrilled audiences, with the dynamic between the aristocrats upstairs and their servants downstairs an integral part of the storyline.

However, the real-life chatelaine of Highclere, the Countess of Carnarvon, recently complained that the state dining room table is not laid properly for banquet scenes in Downton Abbey.

“Setting up the table is an art,” says Lady Carnarvon. “Knives, forks and spoons are set from the outside in, beginning with the bread knife and working through each course to cheese. A pat of butter is impressed with the intertwined Cs and coronet and placed in front of each guest. The wine glasses and water tumbler are arranged to the top right of each setting. Downton prefer a different arrangement. I don’t want to step on people’s toes so I’ve tried a few times to say, ‘Do you know you’re setting the table wrong?’ I do feel, after all, that it’s my dining table and obviously we wouldn’t set it like that.”

Perhaps the producers could do with a copy of Deportment for Dukes and Tips for Toffs?

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