Cora Crawley (nee Levinson), the Countess of Grantham, is a character on the ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey. She was played by American actress Elizabeth McGovern.
When the role was originally conceived, actress Gillian Anderson (The X Files) was slated to take the role of Cora, but she declined the role. When that happened, actress Elizabeth McGovern, herself an American who moved to the UK, got the part.
One of the American Buccaneers
Cora Crawley is the current chatelaine of Downton Abbey, a large castle and estate in the village of Downton in England. The thing with her is that she isn't British, but she is American.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio and raised in New York City, Cora was the daughter of a wealthy dry goods store owner, Isidore Levinson and his wife, Martha. She has an unknown aunt (whether her mother or her father's sibling was never revealed), and a brother named Harold, who was an irresponsible playboy usually fixated (or "idee fixe", as their mother would say) on yachts. Cora explained that her family was often looked down upon since they were members of the Nouveau riche.
In her twenties, Cora was taken from her schoolrooms by Martha to marry her into the aristocracy. She met a man named Robert Crawley, the newly minted 7th Earl of Grantham (up until then, he was called Viscount Downton), and they were married. At first, it was a marriage of convenience, due to her dowry being used to help save the Downton estate.
A year after they married, though, they fell deeply in love and became parents of three daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil. She was also pregnant with a fourth child, a boy, which would have satisfied the entail, but she miscarried after a deliberate accident set by her lady's maid.
She is also the grandmother of three, Sybil Branson, II, affectionately called Sybbie (it was Cora who first used the name of Sybbie), the daughter of her late youngest daughter, Sybil and her husband, former chauffeur, Tom Branson; George Crawley, the son of her oldest daughter, Mary and her first husband, Matthew Crawley, and would later become the 8th Earl of Grantham upon his grandfather's death; and Marigold Gregson, the daughter of Edith and her paramour, Michael Gregson.
When it comes to her mother in-law, Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, she is more or less an ally, although at times, she has annoyed her. Cora bent over backwards for almost 30 years letting the former chatelaine have her way, but it shows that Cora indeed has a steel spine beneath the compassionate and caring that she exudes.
In the second season, Cora, along with Charles Carson; Joseph Molesley and Matthew's second fiancée, Lavinia Swire, were all struck down with the Spanish Flu, during the tragic pandemic. While Cora, Carson and Molesley survived (although Molesley was only drunk!), Lavinia did not.
During this time, Cora's first lady's maid, Sarah O'Brien became ferociously devoted to her (mainly due to guilt after causing her to have a miscarriage in the first season finale), and would not leave her side for one instant.
Besides O'Brien, who left Downton's employ when she moved to Mumbai, India with family cousin, Lord and Lady Flintshire; her lady's maids included troublemaking Edna Braithwaite, who had been sacked by Elsie Hughes when she seduced and tried to trap Tom into marriage, using a fake pregnancy; and her final and most successful lady's maid, Phyllis Baxter.
Her gentle mothering, served up with a generous dose of graciousness and compassion, would take her above and beyond the call of motherly duty in various ways.
In the first season, she helped Mary move the dead body of her forbidden lover, Turkish envoy, Kemal Pamuk, to the other side of the house. She was not happy with Mary about what happened, but in time, she forgave her.
Usually, whenever Cora got upset, it was because she didn't know what was going on, and usually when someone didn't tell her. However, she would lower the boom on people when she got annoyed.
She used her power as chatelaine of the house against a nanny called Miss West, when it was revealed that she was deliberately mistreating her eldest grandchild, Sybbie.
Thanks to the timely intervention of Thomas Barrow, the under-butler, she sacked the woman with no reference, after overhearing her insulting and belittling the little girl.
It was plain to see that Cora tended to be closer to Sybbie although she adored all of her grandchildren equally. Since she was close to the little girl's late mother, whom she considered her baby, she sees Sybbie as the most tangible link she has to her late daughter. In this instance, she is on common ground with her son in-law, Tom, Mary, and, to a lesser extent, Thomas, as they also see Sybbie as the only link they had left to Sybil.
In the final season, she and Violet were involved in a fight over the direction of the village's hospital. Allying her in this cause was Isobel Crawley Grey, her later husband, Richard Grey, Lord Merton and later, Dr. Clarkson.
Also on Cora's side was her sister in-law, Lady Rosamund Painswick, who did not like her mother's constant manipulations. Cora and Rosamund got along wonderfully, although she did run afoul of her once, when she discovered that Rosamund and Violet had hid the fact of another granddaughter (Marigold) from her.
In the end, the Hospital was merged with the Royal Yorkshire Hospital in York, which was as it should have been, as the benefits to both communities would far outweigh all the liabilities.
An astonished Cora was also named the hospital's new president, forcing Violet into retirement, which made the Dowager Countess erupt. (Isobel was retained as the Almoner, and Dr. Clarkson would still be the main physician)
A furious Violet confronted her about this, during a time when the Abbey was open to the public for the day. For a time, Violet would not speak to either Cora or Robert as she felt they had betrayed her. She also did not speak to Rosamund because she had taken the side of Cora and Robert against her.
After this, Violet, to let her anger cool down, went on a cruise to the French Mediterranean. She returned after Tom contacted her when Mary spitefully scuttled Edith's engagement.
In the final episode, Violet and Cora reconciled after all the acrimony and the Dowager finally recognized that her daughter in-law was the Countess of Grantham. She also told Cora that she ran the house, the village and the hospital very well.