Downton Abbey, the award-winning British television series that is a hit and obsession in the United States and UK, may have a Jewess hidden in the upstairs rooms. The series is set in the fictional North Yorkshire estate of Downton Abbey during World War One, and tells the story of upstairs aristocrats, the downstairs staff in service, village life, and the changes taking place due to war, electricity, women’s right, Irish nationalism, and the automobile.
The upstairs stories center on the lives of the Earl and Countess of Grantham – the Crawleys – and their three daughters. Lady Cora, the Countess of Grantham, is played by the American actress, Elizabeth McGovern, and her character is an American from a wealthy family who has married into an aristocratic British family. The series uses Highclere Castle in Hampshire for exterior and most of the interior filming.
Lady Cora’s backstory is as follows: Cora is the beautiful daughter of Isidore Levinson, a dry goods multi-millionaire from Cincinnati. She arrived in England with her mother in 1888 at the age of 20, and was engaged to Robert by the end of her first season.
Isidore Levinson? Yes.
Is Cora therefore Jewish? Perhaps.
None other than Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna, author of “The Jews of Cincinnati” (1989), weighed in on Lady Cora’s Jewishness on Tablet Magazine, last week. Sarna’s conclusion is that Isidore Levinson, even though the daughter of Charles Fleischmann (of dried yeast fame) married Christian R. Holmes and one of Rabbi Wiseâ€™s daughters also eloped with a non-Jew, most likely would have married a Jewish woman and Miss Cora Levinson would have been Jewish prior to her journey to London.
But I would like to go a step further.
Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed, was actually the home of Lord Carnarvon prior to World War One, who in addition to being an explorer of Egyptian antiquities (King Tut), married Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild (Lady Almina was therefore the daughter of a Jewish man, as is Lady Cora).
Lady Almina was officially the daughter of Marie and Fred Wombwell, but, unofficially, Alfred de Rothschild was “fond” of her mother, Marie, fathered the daughter, and supplied her with funds. Lady Almina turned the castle into a rehab hospital during WWI, just as in Season 2 of the television series.
So maybe, just maybe, future seasons will make mention of Lady Cora’s childhood? One wonder if her parents will visit England from Ohio in Season 3?
BREAKING NEWS: SHIRLEY MacLAINE HAS Been cast to play Lady Cora’s American mother. The good thing about casting MacLaine is that she probably was her mother in a previous life.