Cora Crawley Shouldn’t Forgive Robert For ‘Downton’ Death

Cora Crawley is beyond right to blame her dolt of a husband, Robert, for the unnecessary death of Downton's most beloved character. Cora Crawley experienced an earth-shattering tragedy on last night, Jan. 27's episode of Downton Abbey. Just at a time that should have been full of happiness -- her daughter Sybil is expecting a baby and the family's estate has been saved by Matthew Crawley's inheritance -- there is an unexpected death and Robert is to blame!

Downton Abbey Sybil Death
Image Credit: Courtesy of PBS

Cora’s beautiful “baby,” youngest daughter Sybil, who is just 24, dies minutes after childbirth due to a severe case of eclampsia. Now Cora is in agony experiencing what no parent ever should have to endure- the death of a child.

But what is particularly tearing apart Cora is that Sybil’s death could likely have been prevented.

Why Robert’s To Blame For Sybil’s Tragic Death

And the person most responsible for Sybil’s death was her own father and Cora’s husband — Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham.

Despite Cora’s pleas to her husband to take Sybil immediately to the hospital for a Cesarian section which could have possibly saved her life — Robert refuses.

Robert is so caught up in his upper crust snobbery that he refuses to listen to the advice from distressed, local Dr. Clarkson, who urgently warns the family that Sybil is suffering from dangerous toxemia during childbirth.

Dr. Clarkson has been pitted against some fancy doctor brought in from London by Robert — Sir Philip Tapsell.

Sir Philip may look good in tails for dinner but he barely pays attention to Sybil who is in agony as she suffers in a difficult labor upstairs while the Crawleys and Sir Philip dine below.

Why Doesn’t Anyone Listen To Dr. Clarkson?

Meanwhile Dr. Clarkson points out first to Cora — who is all ears — and then to the rest of the Crawleys, that Sybil has all the classic symptoms of a dangerous state of toxemia, which can lead to deathly eclampsia.

Poor Sybil complains of excruciating headaches, has mental lapses from reality, and hallucinates that she is still nursing at a hospital. Dr. Clarkson points out that her ankles are swollen and that her baby appears to be on the small side.

I’ve checked out the symptoms of toxemia, which is a pregnancy complication affecting 2-6 percent of first-time mothers according to the American Pregnancy Association.

And just like Dr. Clarkson said — Sybil had textbook symptoms of toxemia: headaches, fatigue, swelling in the feet and too much protein in her urine. All symptoms that Dr. Clarkson pointed out to fancy Sir Philip and to know-nothing Robert Crawley. The symptoms are caused by dangerously high blood pressure in the expectant mother.

Did Robert Crawley’s Pride Kill His Daughter?

But Robert, who naturally had so little medical knowledge that he didn’t even want the issue discussed in front of his mother, the Dowager, ignores Cora and Dr. Clarkson and refuses to allow Sybil to be moved to the hospital.

Robert doesn’t seem to understand that his daughter could die as the result of his refusal to listen to the country doctor.

Furthermore, he also leaves Sybil’s distraught husband Thomas, the former chauffeur, out of the decision, even though he is obviously Sybil’s next of kin.

Instead, Robert overrules Cora and Dr. Clarkson’s pleas and insists that he won’t allow Sybil to be exposed to germs in a public hospital.

Obviously, his concerns about cleanliness are warranted — this is the early ’20s before the era of antibiotics which made surgery safe.

But as Dr. Clarkson knew, toxemia would likely lead to the fatal eclampsia if Sybil didn’t get an immediate C-section and that would be a certain death sentence.

How Eclampsia Can Cause Death

Eclampsia results when toxemia (also called preeclampsia) isn’t treated quickly, causing liver or kidney failure and also massive bleeding, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

The reason that Sybil’s baby was small is because toxemia can prevent the placenta from getting enough blood, so the fetus gets less oxygen and food.

As Sybil’s condition quickly deteriorates and Dr. Clarkson and Sir Philip argue, Cora can barely contain herself, especially when Dr. Clarkson repeats that they must do a Cesarean before it is “too late.”

The only thing that can save her is an immediate delivery of the baby which will relieve her high and escalating blood pressure.

He warns that once “seizures” start, nothing can be done to prevent her death.

A Decision That Splits A Family

Cora, like any normal mother, owed her strongest allegiance to her child — in this case Sybil. That bond overruled even her loyalty and deference to her longtime husband.

Her instincts told her to listen to Dr. Clarkson and save Sybil, while her husband placed his allegiance to a well-titled physician above the wishes of his wife.

His pig-heeled decision meant that the entire family witnessed the horror of Sybil’s agonizing death during a series of seizures.

Her death may NOT have been prevented if she ended up dying from complications of a C-section, but it was absolutely sealed by her father’s refusal to listen to his wife and the doctor who had known Sybil since she was born.

Cora is heartbroken and so haunted by the agony that Sybil’s death may have been prevented that she can’t bear to sleep with Robert, or to barely even be with him in the same room.

And Cora is right. What Robert did IS unforgivable! He #1) didn’t take the risk to Sybil’s life seriously, #2) didn’t put his wife’s urgent concerns over his deference to a titled doctor and #3) didn’t inform Sybil’s husband Tom about the options for her treatment.

Tom of course, when he found out that there was a chance to save Sybil, wanted her rushed to the hospital immediately — but it was too late!

Where Can Cora Go From Here?

Robert’s role in Sybil’s death is unforgivable. And if Cora does force herself to go through the charade of forgiving him, she’ll never be able to forgive herself.

Living that lie would eat away at Cora for the rest of her life.

As a mother, Cora must stay true to her daughter and act in the best interests of her baby granddaughter and son-in-law, Tom.

That’s the only thing she can do to honor Sybil’s last wishes.

What do you think, HollywoodLifers — should Cora forgive Robert for Sybil’s death or not? Let me know!

— Bonnie Fuller

Follow Bonnie!

More Downton News:

  1. ‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Everyone Suffers Sybil’s Labor Pains
  2. Matthew Crawley Needs To Save Downton Abbey With His Fortune
  3. ‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Tom & Sybil — International Fugitives?

More From Our Partners