Considering it’s been a few years since we’ve last seen them on screen, Crawley family withdrawals are more than understandable. For most of us, their repressed drama, strict social conventions, and upstairs-downstairs dynamics have indeed been a source of escapism, transporting us to a golden age of stately manors and formal dinners that, while technically fictional, now seems so far removed to even be rooted in history.
But those real-life Downton Abbeys, from sprawling estates to straight-up castles, still exist – and so too do the aristocratic families who’ve inherited them along with their titles.
The posh new podcast Duchess, which launched this week, aims to take curious commoners behind-the-scenes of what it’s really like living in – and managing – some of the grandest homes in Britain, as detailed by the well-to-do women who’ve brought them into the 21st century. As it turns out, things aren’t as always as glamorous as they seem.
A surprising multimedia move for such high-profile members of the typically private British peerage, the podcast is the brainchild of Emma Manners (a.k.a. Her Grace, the Duchess of Rutland) and her 27-year-old daughter, Lady Violet Manners. While the titular Duchess is the host, it makes sense that the decidedly modern venture was the idea of Lady Violet, a fixture on the young social scene who spent a year in Los Angeles studying for a business degree at UCLA.
“I saw the view that Americans have of the British aristocracy, which is romanticized,” Violet told Vanity Fair. “It occurred to me that this story has never been told by the very people who actually inhabit and manage these estates.” When speaking to People, she added, “We wanted to approach it from a female lens because so often history has overlooked these incredible matriarchs that have quite literally shaped the fabric of the building and of the family and its history.”
The mother-daughter duo, whose own family home is the 356-room Belvoir Castle (which has stood on the same spot, in one version or another, for 900 years), have tapped 10 chic chatelaines for candid conversations. Among them, Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, Lady Emma Ingilby, and the Countess of Devon, who you may know as American actress A.J. Langer (she played Rayanne Graff on My So-Called Life).
As for the perks of living in a massive, historic home that dates back centuries? Well, we’re sure there are a few, but as many of the podcast’s guests reveal, they’re all more than matched by the burdens. Duchess Emma herself has detailed the time the library flooded, forcing her to throw on her wellies in her nightdress in the middle of the night and head up to the roof, where she removed two dead pigeons clogging up the drain pipe.
And if that wasn’t charming enough, just about every manor mistress reports supernatural activity. “I could tell you ghost stories till Christmas,” said Demetra Lindsay of her medieval Hedingham Castle. “But they look after us. They’re keeping an eye on us in a really nice way… patting you on the back. It can be quite lonely at times running these houses.”
Now that little detail would have been a fun Downton plot twist.
Listen to the first episode of Duchess HERE!