If you're a Downton Abbey fan like us, odds are, you're probably a Masterpiece Theatre-style Anglophile, too. What's not to love? Shakespeare, Byron, Austen, James Bond and now the lives and loves of the Crawley family and their downstairs crew.
For those of us who imagine ourselves as covert Crawleys, membership in The St. George Society might be just the ticket. One of the oldest charitable groups in New York, the Society (named after St. George, patron saint of England and the dude with the dragon), has been helping its fellow countrymen in need or distress since 1770. Yup, since before the Boston Tea Party when we got all uppity and threw out some perfectly good Earl Grey.
How could you not get a secret Anglophilic rush when asked to stand at every meeting and toast "the health of Her Majesty the Queen?" The Society, which also has a vibrant new "George" club of young professionals, is comprised of expats who look like they'd be right at home in a Downton Abbey drawing room. Currently, it's helmed by President, Robert Titley, whom many know captained Visit Britain and currently manages public relations for Wales and a number of other UK concerns.
We were invited to their annual meeting dinner and lecture last week, which included a dish-y "Real Downton Abbey" lecture by Country House Historian Curt DiCamillo.
Apparently, Downton's fortunes and families closely mirror the real Carnarvon family who reign at Highclere (the real Downton) to this very day. The house was really turned into a hospital during World War I, with many wounded veterans moaning, "Highclere..." when they got shot because odds on survival were far greater at the great country house. We also learned that Almina Carnarvon who started the hospital, was very much like Downton's resident do-gooder, Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), who hovered over the wounded and dying like a guardian angel and who "rather lost her way," once the hospital was no longer needed (something like Isobel's sad and solitary state in Season 4).
Almina was a great British philanthropist whose efforts saved many a young life, mirroring the society's efforts which over the years include such fascinating back stories as buying coal or wood for families in freezing Pre-Revolutionary New York, shipping a "spinster" back home on the White Star Line when her "American Dream" didn't pan out in 1898 and helping British War Brides settle into American life.
Apparently, the Society has a whole secret cache of historic documents and papers about these and other efforts. Today, they work largely with youth and the elderly, doing work that both Almina and Isobel would be proud of.
The Society (which unlike Downton Abbey is open to all, regardless of bloodline or background) boasts a pledge we could totally see Isobel taking...
“Let mercy be our boast and shame our only fear.”
We'll drink to that...and to Her Majesty, The Queen!