In the show one of the central plot lines is when Maggie Smith reminds him that 24 years ago he married Cora because he needed her money and she needed his title. Cora is Lady Grantham played by Elizabeth Mc Govern who was once Cora Levinson the heiress to an American fortune. She marries Lord Grantham a British Aristocrat and saves his crumbling estate and claims the title of Countess for herself. It all plays out as an elegant fairy tale and although a fictional story, it is not all that far- fetched from reality. Lady Cora is an example of what became to be known as “the dollar princess of the Gilded Age.”
It was a time in the late 19th Century when American heiresses rich with money were rejected from high society. The women went to Europe seeking status through marriage. Wearing a tiara at a royal event must have been the fulfillment of a dream for the wealthy women who had everything else already. So many of the American fortunes were in manufacturing, railroads and finance meanwhile the royal were becoming poor. The British estates needed money to support their lavish surroundings and lifestyles. The British upper class was trying to hold onto their lifestyles. They found salvation by the very same women shunned by the American elite
The Smithsonian Channel recently began a three part series depicting the lives of real American heiresses of the Gilded Age like Jenny Gerome the daughter of a Wall Street tycoon and the mother of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Jenny grows up thinking that she is wonderful. Confident, educated, musical and worthy of a good conversation among successful people. The great –grandmother of Princess Diana was the daughter of another Wall Street wealthy man. Hundreds of women made the trans-Atlantic journey to find their man with the title of their dreams. There were match-makers in society here and in England who would help match people up.