When is a man's home his castle? Eg, the Earl in [the real] "Downtown Abbey" pile

Jeez GQ loves its Brit monarchy threads. This is ancillary.

Last night watched a documentary on the Earl of something (great grandfather luckily married a Rothschild, used money to back King Tut discovery), and, specifically his house, the set for much of Downtown Abbey. (I’ve never seen an episode of the TV show. )

The building, before an early 19th (?) century Neo Gothic appliqué was nicely mansion-y looking, by my USA eyes–like the White House with gigantitis. (http://www.radiotimes.com/uploads/images/original/38402.jpg) Fair enough.

Why is it referred to, in real life–as the current Oil did, and his documentarist-- as a castle? I can’t remember the ancient how-hah of that clan, but I don’t think it was around, certainly not that pile of bricks, when a military defensive structure was necessary, and of course, architecturally, it only “looks” gothic castle-y as a) historical architectural fact and b) as the American and British idea of what a self-respecting castle-with-slits-and-moats, etc. should look like.

So what makes it a castle? It comes with who runs it? (Like the President, who when he rides any airplane–a Piper Cub, say–he is riding Airforce One?)

That that person running it runs a local economy? Or whatever it is nobility does, nominally? So it’s more like saying “the Big House”?

And none of this helps me in wondering why the thing is called an Abbey in the fiction.

An abbey is a church, or a former abbey (like Westminster.) A medieval castle is often not just a fortified private residence. It has to be able to project power over the lord’s immediate dominion (and have enough space and stores to house refugees within that lord’s purview.) So in the case of big holdings where a castle just serves as an outpost for that lord’s far-flung holdings, it can be manned by his earls or captains.

It’s Highclere Castle near Newbury in Berkshire I grew up near there.

There is no particular convention over what is a house, castle or palace AFAIK, just local habit.

Nitpick: It’s DOWNTON ABBEY. Just learned that.:wink:

I notice that the Wiki on the surrounding (?) village–not that it’s usage is there is definitive of anything, of course–mentions the thing thus: “most famous for being the location of Highclere Castle, a noted Victorian house…” (Ital added).

Is it?!? I always thought is was spelled Downtown, and that by pronouncing it “correctly” as Down-ton I was showing my sophistication of British cultural knowledge, like knowing to pronounce Fotheringay correctly. :smack:

Here is the IMDB Page

In common usage, any reasonably ornate, very large dwelling is often called a castle.

Glen Eyrie castle, in Colorado Springs.


Miramont Castle, in nearby Manitou Springs.

The place in the OP more than qualifies.

There is no convention. Brougham Hall looks pretty castle-like, whereas Wentworth Castle is really just a big house.

I’m pretty sure that calling Highclere “Highclere Castle” is just a Victorian pseudo-medieval affectation. Just like the present house.

But it is not completely absurd. The house is built on the site of what in the medieval period had been one of the palaces of the bishop of Winchester. This is what one historian has to say on the subject in an academic article about what may just possibly be an illustration of that earlier building..

As to why Downton is an “Abbey”, quite a few English country houses are called that (or more rarely a “Priory”), because they had been monasteries until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The obvious real-life example would be Woburn Abbey, the principal country house of the Duke of Bedford.

Look at the French “castles” (as in Loire for example). In French they’re called chateaus, that gets translated as castle. But they tend to be about as defensive as a ball of angora wool; the ones with the defensive look are forteresses in French. I was very happy to notice this word in a road sign because, like the OP, I tend to think that a castle should look defensive; it is not the only meaning, though.

M-w.com, the italics are mine and correspond to the definition which is applicable both to that house and to the Loire castles:

Many elements of the Jacobethan style are castle elements, and the style can only be derived from castle-like buildings of the Jacobian and Elizabethan times.

And since its the right size, look ,ownership and history of a castle,its called that,
but it could also be called a Hall or House or Manor, of course.

But also the palaces are often called “Castle”, especially if they are in a style with features representative of fortification , and the site was the site of a palace…

A palace or manor (thus any noble from Baron to Earl to Duke ) , is really only a castle if it is fortified, or the appearance (eg Jacobethan) of being fortified, they are literally towers but we know the have no military intention…(the confusion is we know its not a fort, but we can see parapets and archers slots !)

A fort (a definitely foritified building ) is only a castle if it the residence of nobility (Baron or above) or royalty.
That is why something to utterly huge and grand as Buckingham Palace is NOT a castle…

Any nobles house is a manor, but its an upgrade to call it a castle …

“Last night watched a documentary on the Earl of something (great grandfather luckily married a Rothschild, used money to back King Tut discovery), and, specifically his house, the set for much of Downtown Abbey. (I’ve never seen an episode of the TV show. )”

Wealthy Americans have saved many a British Castle/house/palace (etc) over the past 150 years. It’s all very well being Aristocratic but if all you have is a big house you are the ultimate Asset rich;cash poor.

It’s no exaggeration to say many large houses would have fallen down if not for Rothschilds, De Vere’s and so on

There was a formal definition, In medieval England, Wales and the Channel Islands a licence to crenellate (or licence to fortify) granted the holder permission to fortify their property. Such licences were granted by the king, and by the rulers of the counties palatine within their jurisdictions, i.e. by the Bishops of Durham, the Earls of Chester, and after 1351 by the Dukes of Lancaster. Note that it could mean that a non-noble might crenellate their house , but they were definitely the exception.

The last british castle, Castle Drogo, was perhaps the cause of the demise of the castle, though to be fair Mr Drew did built it at the home town of Baron Drogo, for the purpose of recreating a castle for Baron Drogo, whomever has the right to claim nobility as that.

Which is why the fictional Downton Abbey (no extra ‘w’) features an American Countess - it was, indeed, very common at the turn of the 20th century for cash-poor British aristos to match up with wealthy Americans looking for titles. Look at Winston Churchill’s parents.

A couple of good examples–

Leeds Castle:

Hever Castle:

I’m now thinking that someone should do a documentary series about the famous church in Westminster, central London, and call it “Downtown Abbey”.

The financier of the King Tut expedition and ancestor of the present Countess of Carnarvon would have been the Earl of Carnarvon. They had money back then – today many such hugely oversize houses are a financial millstone for the owners. Although even back then many of the owners of such country houses were hard pressed to keep them up. Much of Highclere Castle was closed up and uninhabitable for years and I believe a good deal of it still is. Proceeds from the filming of Downton Abbey, a book about the castle (Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle), and renting parts of the house and grounds for special events have given them some financial breathing room and prevented the place from altogether falling into ruin. Nobility ain’t what it used to be.

Unfortunately, being in the West End, Westminster Abbey would probably be “Uptown Abbey”. Downtown Abbey would have to be in The City and it’s hard to think of an appropriate real house.

Many of those American castles are very beautiful.