‘Downton Abbey’: This Dramatic Season 1 Episode Is Actually Based on a True Story

The British Downton Abbey is no stranger to tense, emotional, and/or romantic storylines — all set in the context of the early 20th century. But this very dramatic plot line from Downton Abbey Season 1 is actually based on a true story.

[Spoiler alert for Downton Abbey Season 1, of course].

This ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 1 episode plot line is based on a true story

Downton Abbey
The Downton Abbey castle in Mysteries of the Castle: Beyond Downton Abbey | Hazel Thompson/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

According to The Telegraph, one of the most memorable and melodramatic storylines from Downton Season 1 was inspired by real-life events. Any fan will recall the shocking “death of Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk in Lady Mary’s bed.” When they sleep together, the diplomat has a heart attack and dies. Afterwards, the family contains the story to stop it from spreading.

According to Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, he loved writing this storyline — which was actually the family history of a friend of his.

“I did enjoy the death of Pamuk because it was true,” he shared at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “That story came from a friend of ours.”

His friend discovered the tale by looking through his relatives’ old things.

“He had a great house and he was looking through a great aunt’s diary in which he found an account of a visiting diplomat who died,” Fellowes further explained.

Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery on the set of the Downton Abbey movie
Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery on the set of the Downton Abbey movie | Jaap Buitendijk / Focus Features

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According to the diary entry, which The Telegraph reports hails from around 1890, one of the women in the house smuggled a diplomat through a passageway that only went to the womens’ rooms. Subsequently, he died in her bed.

The season 1 story cast the character of Lady Mary in a different light

Much like Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, the woman “was absolutely at her wits’ end,” per The Telegraph. Once the other ladies in the house realized “if this story came out it would touch them all and there would be a great scandal,” they dove into action.

“To avoid it they woke up all the other single women in the passageway and this group of dowagers and debutantes lifted the corpse and carried it to his own bed,” Fellowes explained.

The Downton Abbey writer says the man authenticated the story by cross-referencing with another family member’s records.

“Our friend looked up the diary of his great grandfather at the same period and in it he found a note simply saying ,’We had a tragedy. Nice Mr. So and So was found dead in his bed.'”

“Those ladies got away with it!” Fellowes said, apparently incredulous. He kept the tale in his pocket for later creative use.

“When I heard that story I thought ‘One day this will come in handy.'” the Downton Abbey creator recalled. And apparently, it did.

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Fellowes echoed the original story — women working together to cover-up a crime — in the Downton Abbey Season 1 episode.

“Mary, Cora and head housemaid Anna return the body to his room and agree to say nothing but are seen by Daisy the kitchen maid,” The Telegraph reported.

Isn’t it always the most seemingly-outlandish stories that turn out to be real? The truth is indeed stranger than fiction.