At the risk of testing the patience of our readers I’m going back to the entail. I was re-reading our entry of a few weeks ago and some logical lapses jumped out that I hadn’t seen before; and I’ve no idea whether they are there because Julian Fellowes didn’t spot them or because he thought that we wouldn’t. So bear with me and let’s see if there are some things that don’t make sense here.
In series 3 episode 1 we are told that Robert is in London at his lawyer George Murray’s office in Chancellor Lane. He is told that his investment in the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway, which he made over the advice of counsel, has been lost. The line is bankrupt and will be nationalized. The majority of Cora’s money is gone. Murray says that the estate could be broken up and sold, but Robert refuses. The estate must be a major employer and support the house or what is the point. Robert says that he will not give up and be the Earl who lost it all. Later on Robert has had to tell Cora, as they are preparing for bed, that he has lost a lot of money in a bad investment. He hesitantly tells her that he has lost almost all of her fortune.
Yet in series one episode 1 we hear that Violet, the Dowager Countess, assumes Robert, the present Earl, will break the entail and make an heiress of his eldest daughter, Mary, but Robert is not so sure. To make matters worse, his wife, Cora, has her own money tied up in the estate, and there is no way to extract it without crippling Downton. Even if Robert could break the entail, or take Cora’s money out of it, would he want to? (extracts from downtonabbey.wikia.com, my bold.)
So let’s see. In series 1 Fellowes says that Cora’s fortune is tied up in the entail and can’t be touched unless the entail is broken. In series 3 Robert has been investing all her money badly so either the bit about the entail is wrong or the amount of money that’s been tied up isn’t as much as we were led to believe; and if that’s the case and Robert has free use of most of Cora’s money then a) he could give Mary a big enough dowry to make her a tempting marriage prospect and hence b) there’s no need for the entail to be broken. Cora not having her own money is a side issue – except it isn’t, is it? If Robert has access to her money why doesn’t he make her an allowance?
It comes down the simple point that either Cora’s money is tied up or it isn’t and Fellowes has shifted ground to make Robert in the wrong again (of course) because he thought we couldn’t or wouldn’t work it out; or he forgot what he said in series 1. If Robert can invest the greater part of her money then it’s not entailed. The only reason why Robert can invest the money is because its not entailed; if its entailed then he couldn’t touch it. And wouldn’t Cora and Robert know how much was entailed and how much not? I certainly had the impression from series 1 that all of the money she brought to the marriage had been tied into the estate.
Robert also says to Sybil in series 2 when she wants to marry Branson that there will be no more money for her. Why not, if he can do what he likes with it? If he has the disposal of the majority of Cora’s money he can just give Sybil some more (if he feels so inclined). The mere fact that he says “there will be no more money” implies that that’s exactly what he can do if he feels like it; and clearly he can do what he likes with the lion’s share because he’s invested it and lost it all and has to be rescued by another fortune coming along just when it’s needed. Cora’s money is in the entail precisely to prevent it being lost, and if it’s lost then it ain’t entailed.
If the majority of the money isn’t entailed, which Robert losing the whole shebang suggests it isn’t, then series 3 directly contradicts all the goings on in series 1. If it was all entailed he couldn’t lose it. He couldn’t actually touch it in the first place. That, as we were all told during series 1, was the whole point of the entail – it was to prevent the sort of bad investment Robert made with the railways. Perhaps too that’s why they begin to live the life of Riley in series 4 with Matthew’s money as probably that’s not entailed either. While you’d hope that Matthew tied up the money so that Robert couldn’t squander it, that solicitor did forget to make a will.
I find Fellowes’ plotting so hilariously bad and this is just one example of it. I’ve always thought that these series are so plot driven that consistency either of story line or character is ignored. He sets up the entail in series 1 then by the time Robert loses the money in series 3 he probably reckoned that viewers would have forgotten about it; and that’s if they understood it in the first place. I bet this is a family that is now asset rich but cash poor – one of the reasons for selling the Piero della Francesca was to raise money and having to sell up to a builder is the strongest indication that none of their schemes have been making money and they’re spending more than they’re earning – and that breaking the entail is part of series 6; and if it is, what’s the point? There’s no money left after Robert has lost it. Sure, they can sell land but land wasn’t fetching very high prices in 1925 with the amount that was coming on the market what with various cash strapped peers unloading parts of their estates. The whole point of Robert marrying Cora was that the Crawleys were broke so they had to a) get a woman with money b) entail the money so c) they would not be in this situation again – and just like breaking the entail in the first place Fellowes has presented us with a story line that conveys the exact opposite of what he meant.
Do you suppose he has noticed any of this? Or is one of us completely confused? No wonder series six is the last one – I have a feeling the Crawleys are teetering on the financial edge and we can’t possibly have Lady Mary joining the ranks of the nouveau poor aristos, can we? Mind you, as a last resort they could always sell the Gutenberg Bible.