Lady Edith Pelham (nee Crawley), the Marchioness of Hexham, is a character on the UK-US produced period dramatic series, Downton Abbey. She was played by Laura Carmichael. She is considered a primary antagonist during the first two seasons and the upcoming movie.
The enterprising.....but often overlooked middle daughter
Edith was the middle daughter of Robert Crawley and Cora Crawley, the Earl and Countess of Grantham. She was always overshadowed by Mary, the eldest and most beautiful, and by Sybil, the youngest, sweetest and most ambitious of the sisters. While Edith and Sybil were more friendly to one another, Mary and Edith often clashed, because they were a year apart in age. Their animosity started almost immediately from the nursery.
Within the family, she was usually considered to be the family failure or the spinster, always around to help out with anyone and anything when needed, but not worthy of romance or happiness of any kind.
In fact, Edith was the one who viewers clamored for to finally receive some happiness. She had a downstairs equivalent in beleaguered footman Joseph Molesley, who faced similar issues as Lady Edith.
She had been in love with Patrick Crawley, the son of James, the heir apparent of Downton Abbey, but he had been engaged to Mary. She was more saddened when she heard about his death, while Mary, who did not love him, was more stone-faced about it.
After an abortive attempt at being attracted to Matthew Crawley, which Mary shot down, in an effort to be spiteful towards her, she became attracted to an older gentleman named Sir Anthony Strallan.
A furious Mary, to get even with Edith for telling the Turkish Ambassador about the death of envoy Kemal Pamuk in her bedroom (an argument which showed Edith boldly calling Mary a slut), tried to seduce him away from her; but that ended up failing on Mary's part, when they reconnected.
During World War I, Edith helped out around the abbey, which was being used as a convalescent home. She would bring books for the patients to read and help them write letters. She was a valuable help to her younger sister, Sybil, who worked as a nurse, and her mother, Cora, who oversaw the whole operation. This was a good foreshadowing of how she would succeed as a businesswoman.
Edith's first (and disastrous) attempt at marriage
In the third series, she and Strallan would reconnect. She was still in love with him, despite the fact that he was injured.
To her dismay, her father and her paternal grandmother, Violet Crawley, would connive to send him away. In this situation, however, she had an ally in her maternal grandmother, Martha Levinson, who convinced Robert to invite him to their dinner.
They would set the date and were to be married in Downton's church, but he would get cold feet and jilt her at the altar, encouraged in this by Violet, who was at her most ugliest at that point. She thought she knew what was best for Edith, worrying that her granddaughter would be nothing more than an old man's drudge.
Totally brokenhearted, Edith fled for her room and wept. Cora comforted her by saying to her, "You are being tested. And you know what they say, my darling? Being tested only makes you stronger." She replied, "I don't think it's working with me." but in truth, though she did not think so at the time, it was working and it did yield some good results in later seasons.
One of the few lady publishers in the world
As much as she mourned her failed marriage, Edith also knew that she could not wallow in pity. Especially when there was work to be done.
She picked herself up and began to write. Her writing of a letter to The Times of London had caught the eye of one Michael Gregson, a magazine publisher in London (he published the magazine called The Sketch).
Liking what he saw in her writing, he then hired her. They grew to know one another personally as well as professionally and fell in love.
Edith then began to lead a life that would take her to London quite constantly. She realized that Downton was her father and sister's domain, and she would not have anything to say in that, so she would find her metier in London where she thrived.
Michael was married to a woman named Lizzy who was shut away in an asylum. He could not divorce her in England (as lunacy was not a reason for divorce). However this did not deter them, for they were in love. Her debut into the society that Gregson led was at a party he had at his flat, which included his literary friends, including the famous Virginia Woolf. Then some nights later, they had a night of sex, and they conceived their illegitimate daughter, a girl named Marigold.
Gregson, sadly, was killed in Munich during the infamous Bier Hall Putsch, by the Brownshirts, supporters of Adolf Hitler.
Before he left on his fatal trip to Munich (his plan was to become a German citizen and divorce Lizzy and then return and marry Edith), he wisely gave Edith power of attorney. As a result of this and after his death, she was left his flat, which she lived in and then rented out to someone; and also would become the new owner and publisher of the publishing house where she had worked. She had become a proper heiress, and her life was set.
Since she owned a magazine, she would be in London far more than ever, which was good.
She and her aunt, Robert's sister, Lady Rosamund Painswick, would go to Geneva, Switzerland where she gave birth to Marigold.
With the aid of a tenant farmer, Tim Drewe, she gave Marigold to them to raise. However, her bond to her little girl would prove to be too strong for her to break so easily.
After trouble was brewing between Tim and his wife, Margie, who resented her; Edith revealed to her (Tim knew the whole story) that Marigold was her daughter (which she proved by her birth certificate from the hospital in Switzerland). At first, Margie refused to believe it (she even tore up the birth certificate, but Edith told her she had others), but she finally realized that Edith was telling the truth. She gave the little girl to her mother.
At first they lived in a hotel in London, but Cora convinced Edith to bring her back to Downton to grow up in the nursery (Cora was furious with Violet and Rosamund when she found out that they had known about Marigold and she was never told about her. It had been Margie Drewe who had spilled the beans to Cora).
Marigold acclimated well at the Abbey, and she grew close to her cousins, George and Sybbie. However, because of her younger age, and the fact that Sybbie and George were more gregarious, she was more shy and would be more close to Edith.
Edith had met her soon-to-be husband, Herbert "Bertie" Pelham, the land agent at Brancaster Castle while the family was there for the Grouse season. His cousin was the current Marquis of Hexham, but her second cousin, Lady Rose Aldridge, and her in-laws, the Aldridges, were there hosting the festivities.
One night, Edith had sacked her editor, Mr. Skinner, who chafed about the idea of working with a woman, and she and the office had to put the magazine together. With the aid of Bertie, they more than succeeded and she proved her worth. During that time, she and Bertie fell in love.
After the troublesome Mr. Skinner, left in a rage (her secretary, Audrey, had never liked him and was glad to have seen the last of him!), she hired a new editor, an enterprising young woman (much like Edith herself) named Laura Edmunds. Laura and Edith became fast friends due to their being the same age, and she was introduced to the family after Edith invited her to Brooklands for some racing.
Laura met her friend's brother in-law Tom Branson (Tom had been married to the late Sybil) and instantly fell for him, and he for her. Edith was thrilled that Laura was fitting in well with her family.
It was later revealed that Bertie was named the new Marquis of Hexham, after the death of his beloved cousin, Peter. Edith was thrilled, as was the rest of the family, but Mary was not thrilled.
She had thrown over Henry Talbot, her beau, who was a race car driver, and was incensed that Edith would perhaps become the wife of a Marquis, and she would be down at the bottom of the pecking order.
It was a snub that Mary was not and would not tolerate, especially when it benefitted Edith, whom she had always considered a failure; and that led her to do one of the most vicious things she could have ever done to her sister.
Mary spitefully then told Bertie about Marigold's true parentage. A saddened Bertie left her temporarily and Edith was once again heartbroken. Mary was quite smug about what she did (she believed that she was at the top of the pecking order again, at the expense of Edith and her happiness). However, she would realize that her actions had consequences.
Edith, because of her newfound strength, would find the courage she needed to finally lash out at Mary and they had a vicious row about what she did. Edith did not mince words with her sister either, calling her "a nasty, jealous scheming bitch!" As Edith would later tell Tom, "We just had the row that everyone knew would happen one day."
Mary had also been confronted by Tom about her actions (much like Sybil would have done, had she been alive) in which he had called her a coward for what she had done. She was also nearly taken to task by her aunt Lady Rosamund Painswick.
Edith, not wanting to be anywhere near Mary, given what she had done, would later move into her flat in London temporarily, throwing herself into her work at the magazine, and she had a sympathetic ear in Laura, who told her that Mary was no help. Edith explained to her new friend that she and Mary had been battling for years, and nobody could understand it, even in the family, it was not easy to understand.
In an amazing about-face, Mary (after being counseled by Violet about making peace with Edith and herself), along with Rosamund, fixed it to get them back together. (Edith had arrived earlier for Mary's wedding to Henry Talbot). At the Ritz, Bertie proposed again and this time she accepted.
During a visit to Brancaster Castle, Edith met Bertie's stuffy mother, Mirada Pelham.
When it comes to her life, Edith felt that she should be honest. Realizing she had nothing to hide from anyone, and not caring if she lost any vestige of happiness she was looking for, she revealed the whole story about her affair with Michael Gregson, her illegitimate daughter, Marigold, and the entire situation to Mirada.
After revealing her entire story, Mirada was at first against the marriage, but she later realized that Edith had been completely honest, and was willing to lose everything to tell the truth instead of gaining happiness by deceit.
Mrs. Pelham, proud of Edith for her honesty, declared the marriage would be a success. She and Cora would later make arrangements for Marigold to be at Brancaster, waiting for her mother and her new stepfather.
At New Years of 1926, Edith would become the new Marchioness of Hexham and she had finally succeeded in gaining the happiness she had always wanted.