Maggie Smith will be reprising her role as the beloved dowager countess Violet Crawley in the newly released film Downton Abbey: A New Era, so it’s time we answered one of our most burning questions about the famously dry-witted character: just what is a dowager countess? It’s surprising how many long term fans of the popular Netflix series don’t know what the title actually means or where it comes from.
What Does Violet Crawley’s Title Mean?
Maggie Smith has been delighting fans as the sharp-witted and even sharper-tongued Violet Crawley, the matriarch of the Crawley clan, for six seasons and two feature films. With the release of a second Downton Abbey movie, some new fans may be entering the fold, or perhaps some longtime fans want to know what exactly Smith’s character’s title means. Never fear, we’ve got answers.
The word “dowager” has Latin origins, though it took a detour through France before popping back up in the English language. It’s a word that’s essentially a combination of two existing words: endow and dowry. A “dowager” is a widow who has inherited property from her deceased husband, the Earl of Grantham. An endowment as a result of her marriage, a secondary dowry if you will.
Definition Of A Dowager
As Merriam-Webster describes it, a dowager is “a woman holding property or a title from her deceased husband.” In the case of Violet Crawley, it means that she inherited the title of countess as well as her late husband’s land and other property following his death.
She is also referred to as the dowager countess to distinguish her from the current countess, Cora, and to denote her as a widow. Another related term is a “dower.” A dower is the home of a dowager, generally a separate building on the same lands once owned by the dowager’s late husband.
We’re excited to see our favorite dowager, countess or otherwise, back in action and we’re already dying to hear what acerbic quips she has for her family, among others, in this latest film. International treasure Maggie Smith is sure to delight.
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