Downton Abbey: Why the Show Killed Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lady Sybil Crawley

Downton Abbey fans were devastated when the kindly Lady Sybil died, so here's what to know about why Jessica Brown Findlay left the series.

For three seasons, Jessica Brown Findlay played the charming and beloved youngest Crawley daughter, Lady Sybil, in the British historical drama Downton Abbey. Created by Julian Fellows, Downton Abbey follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants during the early 20th-century. The period drama ran for six seasons on ITV in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States and featured a star-studded cast, including Dan Stevens, Hough Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern.

Findlay’s kindhearted Lady Sybil was a popular character, so fans were devastated when she died in childbirth in the middle of Season 3. The shocking twist took many by surprise, but Sybil’s exit from the popular series was something Findlay felt needed to happen. Here’s everything to know about why Downton Abbey killed Lady Sybil.

Sybil was a determined and passionate young woman who always treated those around her with kindness, such as when she helps one of the maids, Gwen (Rose Leslie), leave her life of servitude and pursue a career as a secretary. She also often served as the peacekeeper between quarreling sisters Lady Mary (Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), though she was equally ambitious and willing to push the boundaries of what was expected of the British aristocracy. Early seasons followed her foray into nursing during World War I and her romantic relationship with the family chauffeur, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), whom she eventually marries, despite her father’s protestations and interference.

Through Branson, Sybil becomes more politically active, though this nearly leads to her arrest. After becoming pregnant with Branson’s child, Sybil returns to Downton Abbey, but she shows early symptoms of pre-eclampsia upon going into labor. Lord Grantham (Bonneville) ignores the warnings from Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) and believes bringing Sybil to a public hospital would endanger her and the child.

Sybil successfully delivers a baby girl, but she soon begins experiencing severe spasms and dies surrounded by her family. While her shocking demise took fans by surprise, in an interview with Vanity Fair, creator Julian Fellows revealed Sybil’s exit in Season 3 was planned from the beginning. “Jessica had said she was going to leave right from the beginning. She said, ‘I’m doing three years, then I’m leaving.’ So that was all worked out,” he explained.

Findlay stated that she didn’t want to fall into a comfort zone of playing the same character for years or be typecast. In an interview with Radio Times, she said, “My contract was ending, and I was unsure about signing away another year. Leaving me terrified, and that’s what made me want to do it. Being afraid and going into the unknown excites me, and what scared me more was to keep going and then one day discover it was all I could do and wish I had pushed myself more.” Findlay was only 20 years old when she was cast as Sybil in Downton Abbey, but she’s since gone on to have a successful and diverse career, starring as Lenore in Castlevania, Lenina Crowne in Brave New World, Charlotte Wells in Harlots and Lorelei in Victor Frankenstein.

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