Downton Abbey: A New Era – What Is The Dowager Countess’ Secret?

Downton Abbey: A New Era is hinting at more skeleton's in the closet of Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess - but what mysteries could be uncovered?

The latest trailer for Downton Abbey: A New Era reveals more hints that Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham is hiding more secrets about her past that will be revealed by the movie’s new characters. Despite her seemingly fatal diagnosis at the end of the first Downton Abbey movie, Smith’s fan-favorite character is back, offering the usual snark and pithy putdowns, but at the heart of a story that threatens to reveal potentially sordid details of her past. But what exactly could that secret be?

The Dowager Countess’ past has already thrown up some ghosts after it was revealed that she had a torrid affair with a Russian prince (Rade Serbedzija). Ultimately, her Doctor Zhivago-like tryst with Prince Kuragin ended in heartbreak and her return to duty and her family, but the revelation changed the perception of her. For someone so seemingly concerned with the proper way of things, a scandal in her own past was quite eye-opening. For the second Downton Abbey movie to tease further ghosts being scared up from her past as the Granthams take a trip to France seems positively outrageous.

So far, the Downton Abbey: A New Era trailers have hinted quite openly that the Dowager Countess inherited her new French villa from a former lover, without stating it outright. The second trailer even introduces a new character in France, who Robert (Hugh Bonneville) appears to be insisting reveal what the bigger secret of his mother’s past is. Putting together all of the pieces, and Smith’s line about women like her either being “dragons or fools”, it feels like the trailers are setting up another romantic revelation. But it’s a complex one to pick apart. This time, it’s very possible that the Dowager Countess met the mystery man before her marriage, but Downton Abbey did establish that she appears to have been married before she turned 19, so it’s unlikely to fit. Could the new character in A New Era’s trailer even be a secret bastard son – a half-brother for Robert kept secret?

Given Downton Abbey’s obsession with bloodlines and issues of lineage and inheritance, it would not be a huge surprise to see something of this nature in the sequel. The revelation of a secret child would also help explain why the Dowager Countess takes so kindly to the revelation of Lady Edith’s own child out of wedlock. It could even explain how she works out Edith’s secret so quickly. But then a child would have complications too and doesn’t quite fit because of them: firstly, there’s never been any mention of her staying abroad for a length of time to hide a pregnancy, and secondly, she’d hardly send her family gleefully to discover her secret in France if she thought the child was thee. Presumably, her belief is that Robert will not discover anything too outrageous, or she wouldn’t allow him to go without her. Yes, she kept a secret that would look bad for Robert, but she would not send him to France to discover it himself if it was of that nature.

There is of course the possibility that the Dowager Countess merely had another fleeting romance that didn’t lead to a child, but Robert’s concern in the trailer does seem to suggest a revelation that affects the whole family. Perhaps their lineage is not what it seems? Perhaps the secret relates to the late Earl of Grantham, rather than the Countess? His having a child in France would arguably fit better, and would have less of an impact on the Dowager’s legacy. The intrigue is certainly there and Downton Abbey: A New Era is really leaning into it to get speculation going. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to compromise Maggie Smith’s formidable matriarch as the show’s immovable MVP.

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