Lady Sybil P. Branson (née Crawley) (born 1897) is the youngest daughter of Robert and Cora Crawley, the Earl and Countess of Grantham. Sister of Ladies Mary and Edith, wife of Tom Branson, mother-to-be to her and Tom's first child, and future sister-in-law of Matthew Crawley.
She is the family rebel and is a very politically conscious woman who considers the lives and feelings of the underprivileged. She is removed from any family issues regarding money and inheritance. She doesn't care about her family's money and realistically due to the inheritance line is unlikely to get much of it anyway.
Unlike the rest of her conservative family, Sybil is very political and believes in civil rights, especially votes for women. During the war, like a lot of other suffragettes, Sybil stops fighting for the vote, out of respect for the men off at war. Branson thinks this is wrong, saying that Sylvia Pankhurst was all for fighting for these rights.
After receiving notice of the death of another young man, with whom she used to dance, Sybil can no longer stand waiting around for the war to finish. After telling Isobel that she wants to do real work instead of meaningless tasks, she suggests becoming a nurse. Before she leaves, Isobel suggests that Sybil should get some basic skills like cooking and making her bed.
Sybil asks Mrs. Patmore and Daisy for help, this seems like a big task, as Sybil can't even properly fill up a kettle. Sybil leaves for training shortly after and Cora realises that this is something she needs to do. By 1917 (Episode 2.02) Sybil is fully trained and feels useful for the first time in her life, saying that she could never go back to her life before the war.
Finding Sybil a suitable husband is not the priority of her parents, though, unlike Edith, they know she will marry eventually. Early in series 1 she creates a strong relationship with the family chauffeur, Branson, who subsequently falls in love with her. For the majority of series 2 she is undecided whether she likes him in that way. Once the war is over, Sybil finally lets her heart have a say and decides to marry Tom despite her family's wishes. Mary, Edith and Anna track her down on her way to Gretna Green and she returns to Downton with them. She swears she will not give Tom up and announces to her family that they are going to get married, after attempting to threaten her out of it, Robert eventually gives them his blessing.
Gwen’s dream is to become a secretary, she wants to come out of service and make a better life for herself. She’s breaking every rule - women didn’t want to have a profession and work in an office so she is part of the new wave of female independence coming through at that time. She is helped by Lady Sybil, who does all sorts of things that Robert would be appalled by to help Gwen get interviews and write letters. Sybil really compromises her position but they are a similar age and growing up in a time of great political change which has affected them both.
Gwen’s determination to leave Downton is not just a whim. She has saved her wages in order to buy a typewriter, which she keeps hidden above her wardrobe. The desire to work in an office is very new and exciting to her and something that her friends back home probably haven’t even thought of doing yet. It isn’t all plain sailing for Gwen though and Lady Sybil but eventually they manage it and Gwen is offered a job from a man whose mother was a housemaid.
Tom Branson arrives at Downton and immediately becomes curious about Lord Grantham’s youngest daughter, Lady Sybil, when he overhears her mother, Cora Crawley, talking about her needing a new dress and impling that she has an interest in rights for women. Branson is very political, and once he discovered that Sybil is too, he sets out to increase her interest.
Later, when Branson is driving Sybil to get the new dress fitted, he asks her if she will get her own way in it's design, she seems taken aback by the familiarity of his address but engages in the conversation. He takes the opportunity to give her some pamphlets about the vote for women, that he thought might interest her. Sybil requests that he not tell her father or grandmother, as they disapprove of reform.
Sybil remarks that it "seems rather unlikely: a revolutionary chauffeur".
Branson: "I'm a socialist, not a revolutionary and I won’t always be a chauffeur".
After this conversation, Sybil chooses a pair of Harem pants instead of a traditional post-Edwardian dress, obviously in an attempt to express her beliefs in equality. Lady Sybil is later shown to be trying on her latest purchase to wear to dinner with her family, whom are all waiting impatiently for her. She makes her entrance and receives mixed reactions from her relatives. Branson appears at the window and watches Sybil as she shows off her new outfit and he smiles in admiration.
By May 1914 Sybil seems have become more involved with politics and since there are no politically enthusiastic members of her family with whom she could talk openly, she turns to Branson. Sybil watches the liberal candidate at a political rally with excitement, managing to ignore the commotion around her. Branson forces his way through the crowd so as to protect her from the violence and Isobel Crawley convinces her to go before anything bad happens. Branson roughly pushes people out of her ladyship’s way and helps her into the car.
Lady Sybil: I hope you do go into politics; it’s a fine ambition.
Tom Branson: Ambition or dream?
Branson tells her that it is mainly the gap between the aristocracy and the poor that he would want to change if he did go into politics, realising that her father, Lord Grantham, is part of this ‘oppressive class’ and not wanting to offend her, he hastily makes amends by saying ‘he’s a good man and a decent employer’.
When John Bates accidentally informs his Lordship of Lady Sybil’s involvement in the political rally with Branson, Robert Crawley is furious and confronts Sybil at the dining table. During a conversation with Mr. Bates and Anna, Branson shows his admiration of Sybil by saying that Lord Grantham “ought to be glad he’s got a daughter who cares.”
Lord Grantham: I assume this was Branson’s scheme? I confess I was amused at the idea of an Irish radical for a chauffeur, but I see now I have been naïve.
Later in the episode Sybil tricks both Lord Grantham and Branson into thinking that she will be going to a meeting with the committee in Ripon, when she really intends to go to the counting of the vote. When Branson and Sybil arrive she admits that there is no meeting. Worried, he tries to convince her not to go, but she is determined and proceeds.
Political anarchists arrive in order to pick fights with Tories, but lucky for Branson who is finding it hard to get Sybil to leave, Matthew Crawley decides to investigate the riot, but while too telling Sybil to leave he is targeted and punched. In this fight, Sybil is thrown sideways and hits her head on a table, knocking her out. Matthew and Branson rush to her and find her head is bleeding, Branson lifts her up and carries her away through the crowd.
Branson drives them to Crawley House and rushes to fetch Mary Crawley. Mary and Matthew cannot understand why Branson would take Sybil to the counting of the vote and are certain he will lose his job as a result. Sybil tells them that Branson had no part in it, as he didn’t know where she was really going. Mary tells her that she will have to stick up for him because Lord Grantham will “skin him alive”.
“She’s not badly hurt is she?” Mary says that Sybil will be fine and Branson is noticeably relieved. He seems to blame himself and asks her to let him know how she gets on. When Lord Grantham blames Branson for Sybil’s misbehavior and threatens to fire him, she defends him. Saying that she will run away if Branson is missing in the morning, Lord Grantham backs down at this and Branson is allowed to stay.
In August 1914 Gwen finally receives a job offer to become a secretary. When the new telephone rings with the good news, no one dares to answer except Branson. He rushes out to find Lady Sybil, who is entertaining guests at a garden party. Their celebration with Gwen is interrupted by Mrs. Hughes.
It is at this point that Branson and Sybil can be seen to be holding hands. Allen Leech, who portrays Branson, explains why this is so significant: “There was a slight gesture where they held hands, and that was huge for Branson. At that time, physical contact was not allowed between people upstairs and the staff. In fact, Mrs. Hughes warned him 'you’ll be left with no job and a broken heart.' But Branson is so headstrong, that’s not much of an issue for him.” Sortly after this encounter Lord Grantham receives news of Britain being at war with Germany.
It's November 1916 and Branson is still at Downton. Not much has changed in his life. His love for Sybil is again confirmed when he attentively watches her baking with Mrs. Patmore and Daisy. Sybil wants to do more than just sit at home waiting for the war to finish so she decides to become a nurse; beginning her training at home with basic skills such as cooking. Branson admires such pursuits as evidence of her spirt and determination.
Branson decides his one chance to express his feelings for her is before she leaves to train as a nurse. He asks her to bet on him, determined that he will make something of himself. He knows that she is too far above him, but believes that the world is changing as a result of the war. He is determined that if her family does not disown her, they would come around. Until then he would devote every waking minute to her happiness.
Sybil hesitates and replies that she is flattered, knowing that this is not the answer for which he was hoping. Branson tells her that 'flattered' is a word posh people use when they are about to say 'no'. Laughing, she says that that sounds more like something he would say. Lord Grantham would certainly fire Branson had he known about this inappropriate conversation, but Sybil promises not to say anything to her family. Branson is knocked back by this rejection, but understands that it would be hard for her to forget about being a nurse and her family even if she did have feelings for him.
In April 1917, Sybil is a fully trained nurse and she feels useful for the first time in her life. The things she has seen makes her realise that she could never go back to the way she had lived before the war. When telling Branson this he gains hope that, despite her earlier rejection, she may be with him eventually as his love for her remains strong.
A few months later, Branson has been called up by the war office. Sybil rushes to see him, not wanting him to go. Branson does not intend to fight for the British Army, instead planning to be a conscientious objector. Sybil expresses concern that he will go to prison for speaking publicly against the war. He responds that he doesn't care if has a record for the rest of his life, for at least he will have a life.
Their fears are premature, however, because Branson is rejected by the army because of a heart murmur. Sybil is initially worried for him, but he assures her that it is only dangerous if you want to humiliate the British Army. She is glad that he isn't going to be killed or to go to prison, but wonders why he has to be angry all the time. She admits that Britain was not at its best in Ireland during the Easter Rising in 1916. This is the first time Branson has been seen to be moved negatively by something Sybil has said. He tells her that during the Easter Rising one of his cousins was walking up North King Street in Dublin and an English officer shot him dead on the assumption that he was "probably a rebel". She says she didn't know and he drives away upset.
Branson thinks of another way to get back at the army by offering to be a footman serving at a dinner party at which an important army general is a guest. Branson writes Sybil a note asking her to forgive him for what he did to the general and puts it in some of her washing to be taken to her room. Anna finds this note and runs to tell Mrs Hughes, believing Branson to be about to poison the general. Together they find Mr. Carson and stop Branson before he has the chance to serve the soup. Branson contemplates making a scene anyway, but looks over his shoulder to Sybil and decides to leave quietly with Mr Carson. As it turns out, Branson was not planning to kill the general, but to pour a mixture of oil, cow pat and sour milk over his head. Carson decides not to get the police involved and lets Branson off with the promise that he will not do anything like it again.
It is 1918 and Sybil is talking to Branson outside the garage, questioning why he promised Mr. Carson not to take part in any more political protests when he wouldn't promise her. She doesn't understand how he can be contented with tinkering with a car all day. He tells her that she is the reason he won't leave Downton and states that she feels the same way towards him but is too scared to admit it, but Sybil tells him to not be ridiculous. Unaware of Mary Crawley's presence he continues to try and convince her to run away with him. Luckily they are out of earshot, but Mary has been made aware by Violet Crawley that Sybil may have a inappropriate beau she has had to keep secret. Seeing the two of them conversing alerts Mary to what is going on. Mary questions Sybil about what she was talking to the chauffeur about if not requesting him to drive her somewhere. Sybil becomes defensive, abruptly stating that he is a person and can talk about other things, but according to Mary, he can't with someone of Sybil's status.
At dinner, Sybil is given advice by Violet about how to handle inappropriate relations formed during war time, unaware of the validity of her words. Sybil believes Mary has told her about Branson, but is later corrected. Sybil tells Mary everything, that Branson loves her and wants to run away with her. Mary is horrified but she promises not to tell anyone or get Branson fired, as long as Sybil doesn't do anything stupid. Sybil convinces Mary not to tell their father by saying that she does not think she returns Branson's feelings and by promising to do what Mary asks.
Sybil finds Branson in order to tell him that Mary knows about them. At first he is worried that he will be made to leave without a reference, but is cheered by Sybil's address of the two of them as 'us'. Branson tries to convince her that she loves him, otherwise she would have told her family about his feelings and intentions years ago. In turn, Sybil challenges his assumption that she must love him just because she has not given him away. This meeting turns into an argument, Sybil has thought about the the consequences of running away with him, asking if she will be accepted by his people and how she could ever leave her family, she hopes that she is a free spirit like he says, but he is asking her to leave behind everything she has ever known. A moment of despair results in Branson belittling Sybil's work serving tea to a bunch of randy officers. According to Allen Leech Branson later apologises to Sybil but the scene was cut. Branson finally tells her that nothing else matters but the two of them: "Look, it comes down to whether or not you love me. That’s all. That’s it. The rest is detail."
Sybil wants to be with Mary Crawley at the hospital when they bring in the injured Matthew Crawley, Branson asked her if Mary was still in love with Matthew, to which Sybil says she doesn't want to talk about it as Mary is her sister. Branson believes it is because he is the chauffeur, therefore not someone a Lady may talk openly with, but is corrected. Still frustrated with not yet having a direct answer from Sybil to whether or not she loves him, Branson uses the opportunity to provoke her about how the people of her class are very good at hiding their feelings, much better that the people of his are, she tells him not to make the mistake of thinking that they don't have feelings, because they do.
The news has been received, the Tsar and his family have all been shot dead, Branson is saddened by it, admitting that he didn't think they would. He reassures himself by saying that maybe the future needs terrible sacrifices. This leads to a conversation about Sybil's politics, during the war the suffragette movement was put on hold out of respect for England and for the men off fighting. Much to Sybil's annoyance Branson suggests that she has given up on her cause and should have stuck it out. Sybil tries to leave but he stops her by the waist, she stops abruptly, resulting in a moment of stunned silence. Knowing that this was not the done thing, he removes his hand hastily away. Not meaning their politics anymore he says her future is up to her. She hesitates for a moment, looking between his eyes and lips and leaning in as if to kiss him, but abruptly pulls back and turns to leave. Branson is left standing alone, watching her go.
Sybil enters the garage and light-heartedly tells Branson that she wishes she knew how an engine works. He smiles and tells her that he is willing to teach her, but she shyly smiles and shrugs before saying that Edith is more cut out for such lessons. His smile fading, Branson turns away from her and says that he thought she had been avoiding him. She quickly moves to where he is now standing and firmly denies that she has been avoiding him. Nevertheless, she affirms his suspicion that she has yet to decide whether to run away with him. Taking a deep breath, she tells him that she knows he wants to get involved in the fight for Ireland's independence, but that she cannot give his proposition adequate consideration until the war is over. She then asks him to wait until then -- "just a few more weeks" -- for the answer. Branson responds, "I would wait forever."
It is 1919 and Sybil is bored. Bored of her life now that she is back in the same old routine that she was stuck in before the war. The war has changed her irrevocably and she knows it, she cannot and will not return to her mundane existence of waiting around for a suitable bachelor, who her parents approve of, to stumble her way. But she still doesn’t have an answer for Branson, which disappoints him, but her affections for him are increasing showing as she reaches up to touch his cheek.
She wants to escape from that house and from that life and knows that there is only one way, she tells Edith that she has a plan but when asked if it is drastic she cannot deny that she will be able to turn back once she has done it, but she doesn’t seem to care. When Matthew and Lavinia announce that their engagement is back on and that they are going to get married at Downton, Sybil realises that the war is well and truly over and it is time for her to move on. Branson has waited so long for her to say those words that he cannot believe he is finally hearing them, she tells him he can kiss her, but that is all until everything is settled, that doesn’t matter to him as it is enough that he could kiss her.
Sybil is apparently ill and therefore will not be dining with the rest of her family; little do they know that she and Branson are on their way to Gretna Green to get married. Mary grows suspicious when Sybil does not answer from inside her locked bedroom door. Upon entering she finds a letter addressed ‘To My Family’, which explains everything. Getting Edith to drive, Mary and Anna set off in search of them, with the idea that they won’t be too far away, possibly staying in a local inn. Anna spots their car and they charge into a room where Sybil is lying in the bed and Branson is in the chair. To Mary’s relief nothing has happened, Sybil doesn’t understand exactly what she means by this, but tells her that she is going to marry Tom regardless of what they say. Edith and Mary appeal to Sybil’s dislike of deceit by saying that their parents don’t deserve this kind of treatment, Tom tells her to go with them, if she thinks they will make her happier that he will. She decides to try to gain her parent’s forgiveness instead of sneaking away like a thief in the night. Before departing she tells him she will stay true to him and kiss him, he closes the door behind them.
Still trying to convince Sybil to see sense, Mary and Edith are horrified to hear that she has invited Tom over in order to tell the rest of the family that evening about their plans. Tom is now a journalist, which will hopefully sound better than chauffeur to Violet, but nevertheless they are all stunned. Robert orders them to break it off, but neither of them waver in their love and determination. Later, Sybil's father and her grandmother are both trying to talk her out of leaving the aristocratic world and of her plans to marry Branson, but Sybil explains that she doesn't care less what the aristocratic world will think of her, and she vows to her father and her grandmother, that ''She will not give Tom up.'' Robert then warns her that there will be no more money, her life will be very different if she stays with Tom, but this is exactly what Sybil is trying to get away from. Tom is staying at the Grantham Arms until Matthew and Lavinia are married and Sybil is ready to leave for Dublin. Robert tries to bribe him into leaving Downton without Sybil, but is swiftly rejected.
Branson attended Lavinia's funeral in order to pay his respects and to see Sybil, after realising that there is nothing he can do to stop them, Robert agrees to part as friends giving them his permission and says that he will give them some money. Giving Tom a friendly warning of the consequences of mistreating his daughter he shakes his hand and they then walk away, hand-in-hand. Violet rejoins Robert asking him if he has finally given in. Like many aristocratic generations before them, they plan to minimise the scandal of the Lady and the Chauffeur by giving Tom a made up backstory.
Sybil is mentioned as being married, and living in Ireland; only Mary and Edith attended her wedding as Cora was unable to attend and Robert and Violet chose not to. Robert later gives Cora a letter from Sybil, to which Cora gasps in shock and delight as it reads that Sybil is pregnant. She doesn't want anyone to know, not even her sisters, although the reason is unknown for this. Robert then comments that he "wondered why she didn't ask to come for Christmas." After the servants ball, a few days later, Cora tells Robert that she will not be kept away from her first grandchild, that she wants Sybil, Branson and the baby to come to Downton and visit the family, and wants the family and herself to go up to Ireland to visit them, and she also admitted it wasn't the life-style that she wanted for her daugher, none of it is, but it is what as happened and they all must accept it.
Behind the scenes
- Lady Sybil Branson nee Crawley, is played by actress Jessica Brown-Findlay, in the Downton Abbey television series.
- Actress Jessica Brown-Findlay who plays Lady Sybil Crawley, doesn't appear in the 2011 Christmas Special, but her character Lady Sybil is briefly mentioned by other characters.
Actress Jessica Brown-Findlay who plays Lady Sybil Crawley, Actor Allen Leech who plays Tom Branson, and the Downton Abbey Writer and Creator Julian Fellowes talk about Tom Branson and Lady Sybil Crawley's relationship on Downton Abbey, Series 2 DVD special features - Romance In A Time Of Warfare:
- Actress Jessica Brown-Findlay:The connection she has with Branson is beautiful. In the first series, I never saw it. I never saw it sort of being romantic or anything like that. I never read it as that. She just so happy for there to be someone she could talk to, and understand her. Their relationship's really interesting because he tells her everything. How he feels about her really, and then he understands that than that freaks her out. At a point, I think when Sybil is leaving home, she's gonna be living away for two months, just sort thinking "You're doing this now? You've had two years!"
- Actor Allen Leech:The war changes so much of how people view the aristocrarcy. And...And. So everything is there to play for then. So he just keeps trying to push her to kind of see if she'll come round to his way of thinking. Obviously, if you've see Jessica Brown-Findlay, it's not hard to play opposite her, in fairness, you know? Looking like you want to kiss her is kind of like, "Well, that's hard, it's you."
- Downton Abbey Writer and Creator Julian Fellowes: I'm sure plenty of people were attracted to each other across the barriers. But I think Sybil is essentially a rebel. And I think one of her ways of expressing her rebellion is Branson. I think it isn't only that she finds him attractive or is in love with. It suits her to have a statement of rebellion in her life choice.