Welcome to Belgravia! It is both the name of the Julian Fellowes miniseries and the fancy-schmancy upper-class part of London where all of the melodrama takes place. Like its predecessor Downton Abbey, Belgravia is about familial generations butting heads; young, beautiful people falling in love; and people eating dinner for 12 hours. But what Belgravia is mostly about is scheming. Everyone is scheming and keeping secrets and telling lies to get what they want.
It makes sense since the premise of the show is a big lie that begins to unravel: Back in 1815, a young woman named Sophia Trenchard fell in love with Edmund Bellasis, the future Earl of Brockenhurst. They get secretly married before Edmund fights in the Battle of Waterloo and dies. In the meantime, Sophia realizes she’s pregnant and sees the “parson” who married them wearing a soldier’s uniform and assumes Edmund tricked her into getting married so that he could get laid and now she’ll be ruined. Sophia dies in childbirth, but her parents give her son away and keep the secret for 26 years, worried for their own reputation. Obviously, the secret starts to get out and there’s lots of scheming and lying that has to do with rightful heirs of earldoms and the legitimacy of a certain marriage and attempted murder, etcetera. Eventually we learn that Sophia and Edmund’s son, Charles Pope, now a respectable tradesman trying to get his cotton mill off the ground, is legitimate and stands to inherit, like, a lot of money. He’s also very handsome and sweet and both he and the woman he falls for, Maria Grey, are about the only two people on this show who aren’t plotting in secret (you won’t find them on this list).
Everyone else in Belgravia, however, has an agenda and will go to great lengths in service of it. So in honor of them, and Belgravia’s recently aired finale, we’re recapping all the drama — so yes, spoilers lie ahead — in order to rank the major players from least adept at scheming to those that play the game the best.
12. Peregrine, Earl of Brockenhurst
Does Peregrine even know what’s going on? Don’t get me wrong, he’s fantastic. He’ll both make you laugh when he repeatedly makes fun of his deadbeat brother and make you cry when he starts talking about processing the tremendous grief he feels after losing his son Edmund, but aside from thwarting other people from scheming, he has no idea a game is even being played.
11. Oliver Trenchard
Yes it’s very sad that Oliver has to live in the shadow of his perfect late sister Sophia his entire life, but this man needs to get a grip. He spends most of his time complaining about the cushy job his father handed him and then is offended when his father invests in Charles Pope’s cotton mill, an actual businessman’s real business. His attempt to undermine Charles consists of showing up at the cotton mill and then 100 percent believing three shady dudes in a pub who try to convince him Charles is the shady one without even attempting to corroborate their claims. Then he, like, cries about it all. A lot. I hate to use this word but he is an honest-to-god weenie about everything. In the end, he gets his out-of-his-league hot wife to stay with him and his parents force him to quit his job (that he hates) and become a country gentleman in their giant estate (his greatest dream). So you know what, maybe I have this wrong, maybe Oliver is the greatest schemer of them all? Just kidding, he stinks.
10. The Cotton Mill Guys
It’s not even worth naming these three dudes because they are so bad at scheming it is offensive to me, a person who could not scheme if her life depended on it. Angry that Charles bought the mill and ruined their ploy to purchase it at an unfairly cheap price by way of threatening the old widow trying to sell it, they feed Oliver information about how it was actually Charles Pope who threatened the woman. Literally the only correct thing they do is see Oliver as an easy mark. Otherwise, all of their lies are easily fact-checked, which is the first thing Oliver’s daddy James does when his son tries to spin this story.
9. Reverend Stephen Bellasis
What we have here is your basic “the heir and the spare” situation. Stephen is jealous that his older brother Peregrine, Earl of Brockenhurst, inherited more than he did and to soothe his broken soul, he’s built an astounding gambling addiction. On one hand, everyone knows that he’s forever angling for money to pay off his debts. On the other hand, he never gives up! He gets humiliated time and time again but keeps coming back to try out some more light blackmail. That’s the type of spirit you need for scheming, because if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else, you know?
8. Ellis & Turton
Ellis is Mrs.Trenchard’s Lady’s Maid and Turton is the butler, and when John Bellasis comes sniffing around trying to get some hot goss about their employers, these two are more than willing to fork over private intel for some coin. Turton is smart enough to know how much John needs him and uses that to increase his payment. He is not smart enough to know that it’s an insanely bad idea to team up with Ellis, a woman who sees her employer holding evidence that could implicate her if the dots are connected and immediately goes “how did you get that???” instead of playing it cool.
7. Lady Templemore
Lady Templemore’s deepest desire is to marry her daughter Maria off to someone who is, as they say, swimming in dough stacks, even if that means trying to pawn her off on a turd like John Bellasis. Maria tries to thwart that plan by falling for the good-hearted tradesman Charles and honestly it’s like, how dare she? Lady T’s only play is to announce Maria and John’s engagement in the papers before anyone calls it off. Maria calls off the marriage anyway. T’s next move is to cut her daughter off. Actually she yells, “I will have no more of you!” and I respect that kind of drama. Maria ends up marrying Charles Pope and Charles Pope ends up being the richest of them all, so really Lady T had a terrible plan all along.
6. John Bellasis
John’s the most interested in solving the mystery as to why everyone is suddenly up in Charles Pope’s junk, and to figure it out he deploys several strategies: He pays the Trenchards’ servants to give him information; he gets Susan Trenchard, his new mistress, to prod for intel; he tracks down Charles’s adoptive mother and grills her for info; he gets a buddy to dig up deets on the parson who married Sophia and Edmund, proving their marriage was legit; he convinces Oliver Trenchard to write a letter to Charles luring him to a shady alleyway; he tosses Charles in the river. The guy really diversifies his plans of attack, is what I’m saying. Still, he underestimates women every step of the way and is generally a dick to everyone, so when he needs allies the most — when he’s trying to commit murder — he has none. His dastardly schemes work until Charles is saved, named the next Earl of Brockenhurst, and John’s exiled from the country, which is to say, they don’t work very well.
5. James Trenchard
James is tricky to rank on this list because he doesn’t really seem that into scheming in his everyday life, and aside from repeatedly calling his dead daughter a slut, he is kind of a dopey, honest, ordinary guy with super cool mutton chops. HOWEVER, we learn that James has been keeping close tabs on his secret grandson Charles, having gone so far as forming a business relationship with the guy, and has kept it all from his wife for 26 years. That is some grade-A lying there, my friend.
4. Anne Trenchard
Anne specializes in problematic pregnancy schemes, and the way she keeps her cool in a time period when so many would be clutching their pearls is a thing to behold. When Sophia tells Anne she’s pregnant, she comes up with a plan to have that baby in secret and then keeps the lie up for over two decades. Twenty-six years later, when she realizes her daughter-in-law Susan had an affair and got knocked up, the woman simply launches into a point-by-point plan that makes sure Oliver doesn’t know that his mother knows the truth, that James never knows the truth at all, and that she gets to dump Susan in the countryside because it delights Anne and annoys Susan. Genius-level stuff.
3. Lady Caroline, Countess of Brockenhurst
A lady in the streets and a schemer in the sheets! (By “the sheets” I mean mostly her living room.) Caroline’s greatest scheme comes early in Belgravia, when Anne reveals that Charles Pope is their grandson but asks Caroline to keep it a secret lest the Trenchards be ruined. Caroline agrees, because Caroline’s a lady. At least, she wants Anne to think so. She goes out and introduces herself to Charles under the guise of being a potential investor in his business. THEN she invites Charles and the Trenchards to a party so that she can parade him around in front of them. She sits Charles next to her at dinner so that people will start wondering why she, a countess, is paying so much attention to a — gasp — tradesman. You see, she wants someone to put together that Charles must be Caroline’s grandson. Then the secret will be out, she’ll be able to name him heir, and she’ll never have to break her promise to Anne. Anyway, I’m obsessed with her.
Speer is Susan’s Lady’s Maid and this woman knows how to play the long con. At one point, Speer sees that Turton is engaged in some light black market food sales and files it away for later. She’s the one who turns John Bellasis on to Turton and Ellis as people who might help his cause, because she’s smart enough to know to not get involved with that dude. Eventually, when she hears Turton and Ellis conspiring to blackmail Susan, Speer plays her hand. Speer also makes sure she’s indispensable to Susan, who ends up trusting her with all the details of her affair with John. Speer knows that no matter what, now her job is safe. Unlike some other ding-dongs on this show, Speer knows how to lie in wait for exactly what she wants.
1. Susan Trenchard
If you had told me that the character I’d come to respect most by the end of Belgravia would be the snotty blonde who only cares about status and embarks on an affair with, truly, the biggest asshole in all of London, I would’ve slammed my teacup down and stormed out of the room in a melodramatic huff. When she gets a letter from John, who wants to meet and start their affair, she immediately has a lie lined up to cover. When she wants to go meet John for some afternoon delight at his secret sex apartment, she invites her husband on an excursion knowing he’ll say no and she’ll look less suspicious. When she tells John she’s pregnant with his baby and she’ll get divorced so they can get married and he laughs in her face, she coolly steals evidence showing that Charles Pope is the legitimate heir to Brockenhurst and sets in motion John’s demise. When Anne tells her how to handle her pregnancy, Susan sells a story to Oliver about how this is actually giving him his dream life and guys, it is a wonder. Susan may be kind of a dick, but she knows how to play this game — and in Belgravia, as in Belgravia, the game is life.