The soap opera began hundreds of years before Edith wrote her letter to the Turkish ambassador! Yet the aristocratic way of life that had evolved at places like Downton Abbey was declining by the time we first meet the Crawleys in 1912. How did a few families come to own so much English property? Why did Roberts family need him to marry an heiress like Cora? And why do places like Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle in real life) look the way they do?