It was a new century, and a new reign had begun with the accession of Edward VII in 1901. The influence of the late Victorian age slowly began to fade, and the Edwardian era gathered momentum. Upper-class scandals still were gossiped about, and the rigidly stratified upstairs–downstairs worlds so vividly portrayed in Downton Abbey endured. Yet the new era produced dramatic social and cultural changes: new styles of architecture, daring plays by Shaw, artists and writers of the Bloomsbury Group, the campaign for women’s votes, elegant and sometimes-shocking fashions, and the lure of speed in impressive motor cars.
Lorella Brocklesby, adjunct professor of humanities at New York University, serves as guide to the colorful era.
10 to 11 a.m. Royalty and Scandals
The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), his marriage to Princess Alexandra, and his mistresses including Lily Langtry and Mrs. Keppel; the indiscreet Daisy, Countess of Warwick and her memoirs; the racy Marlborough House set; women’s fashion at court and home; the suffragettes.
11:15 a.m to 12:30 p.m. Edwardian Splendor from Stately Homes to Shops
The Victorian influence, including London’s Alexandra Palace and innovations at Cragside, a country house in Northumberland; Castle Drogo in Devon designed by Edwin Lutyens; Art Nouveau style at the Whitechapel Gallery, London; town halls, stores, and sumptuous theatres.
1:45 to 2:45 p.m. Theatre and Art
Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession shocks; theatre censorship; film threatens the popularity of the music hall; controversial paintings by Walter Sickert; Bloomsbury painters, including Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell; John Singer Sargent paints Consuelo Vanderbilt, Henry James, and other prominent sitters.
3 to 4 p.m. Life Below Stairs
The servants’ hierarchy from the Upper Ten to the Lower Ten; the roles of butler, lady’s maid, housemaid, and cook; how World War I changed the servants’ world; the waning of the Edwardian era.
Experience the grandeur of Highdere Castle, the magnificent country house used in the filming of Downton Abbey on
At Home with the Edwardians:
A Tour of Downton Abbey Film Locations.
Visit the Smithsonian Journeys page to see more
trips to Europe.