Lady Mary announces her engagement to...Fleabag's brother

Michelle Dockery Red carpet for the movie
Dockery on the red carpet at The Rome Film Festival. (PA) (SIPA USA/PA Images)

Lady Mary is to marry the son of Lord and Lady Fleabag... or at least, Michelle Dockery, the actress who plays Downton Abbey's most fragrant heiress, has just got engaged in real life to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's film producer brother Jasper.

In a move that would no doubt please Lord Grantham himself, the couple announced their engagement in The Times, in line with long-standing Establishment tradition.

Formally, the announcement ran:

"The engagement is announced between Jasper, son of Michael Waller-Bridge of King's Lynn, Norfolk, and Teresa Waller-Bridge of Battersea, London, and Michelle Dockery, younger daughter of Michael and Lorraine Dockery of Gidea Park, Essex."

The pair met through mutual friends, and have been together since 2019 - they were first seen together publicly at the Rome Film Festival.

Dockery, 40, is six years her fiancé's senior, and has been engaged before, to the late John Dineen. Tragically, he died of cancer in 2015 at just 34.

She said, “I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what it felt like. And what it still feels like.

"...I'm not exaggerating when I say that John did not complain once, never, not once, and that gave us strength. It's what keeps you going, that positivity – to never lose that hope for a miracle. I couldn't have done it any other way."

Like her character, who was widowed young in the series, she added, "We were engaged, and married at heart, and so I do consider myself a widow."

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But fans will be delighted that she has found happiness again, and Downton aficionados will doubtless approve of the announcement.

The Times has always been considered the 'paper of record', with the upper classes making their announcements of Births, Marriages and Deaths (also known as 'hatched, matched and dispatched') in its pages, to alert high society of their new situation, and save the need to individually inform hundreds of friends and acquaintances.

Debrett's Etiquette, the society bible, which advises on all matter of manners, explains, "it is traditional to place a formal announcement in The Times, Daily Telegraph, and if appropriate, a local paper.'

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As for the exact wording, it "should include the names of the betrothed, with a heading styled either 'Mr J V Debrett and Miss C Berkeley' or 'John Debrett and Charlotte Berkeley', depending upon the newspaper.

"The couples' parentage is detailed, along with geographical location."

In former times, the full address would be given - usually a country seat - but now, simply the area of the country, as in Dockery and Waller-Bridge's formal announcement, is enough.

Debretts adds that after this, "both sets of parents should meet, if they have not already done so".

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MIchelle Dockery stars in Downton Abbey. (ITV)

Nowadays, with an eye to second and third marriages, the advice extends to telling the respective children of the couple before anyone else - then informing the parents.

After the close family has been told, it's time to place a newspaper announcement, to let the wider circle know.

"If the bride's parents are hosting the wedding, her father generally places the announcement."

Now, of course, it's much more likely that the couple will be hosting it themselves, unless they're very young.

But back when announcements first began, in Victorian times, it was advised that the young couple should write personal notes to their respective relatives and friends, "mailing the notes so that all may be received at the same time. These acquaintances will then pass on the pleasant news to the world at large," says the site.

"The notes often mention one or more afternoons when the young woman will be at home to receive her friends informally with her mother. The groom's friends also take this opportunity of making her acquaintance."

Read more: How long you should date before getting engaged, according to therapists

Taken from Our own Gazette 1888
'I trust that you are in receipt of a good income, Algernon.' (Getty Images) (Cannasue via Getty Images)

At one time apparently, the traditional engagement gift for a bride was a teacup - "A cup of tea was popularly supposed to be one of the consolations of spinsterhood. A teacup would therefore be an invidious gift until after the wedding engagement, when its significance would cease to apply."

After the announcement, according the etiquette guides, it's now assumed the couple will invited out as a pair - and dinner with the respective mothers in law is on the cards.

For the A list, announcing your engagement in The Times is nothing new. In November 2014, an announcement ran: "Mr BT. Cumberbatch and Miss S.I. Hunter: The engagement is announced between Benedict, son of Wanda and Timothy Cumberbatch of London, and Sophie, daughter of Katharine Hunter of Edinburgh and Charles Hunter of London."

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 11: Sophie Hunter and Benedict Cumberbatch attend the official screening of Netflix's
Sophie Hunter and Benedict Cumberbatch attend the official screening of Netflix's "The Power of the Dog" during the 2021 AFI Fest (PA) (Araya Doheny via Getty Images)

Games of Thrones actor Kit Harrington and Olympian Tom Daley also used the paper of record for their own wedding announcements.

And in 2018, singer Ellie Goulding let fans know the happy news the same way, with an announcement reading: "The engagement is announced between Caspar, son of The Hon Nicholas Jopling of Yorkshire and Mrs Jayne Warde-Aldam of Yorkshire, and Elena, daughter of Mr Arthur Goulding of Hertfordshire and Mrs Tracey Sumner of West Midlands."

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 17:  Ellie Goulding and Caspar Jopling attend a private view, dinner and auction of multi-disciplinary artist Lily Lewis' new collection
Ellie Goulding and Caspar Jopling announced their engagement in The Times. (Getty Images) (David M. Benett via Getty Images)

But Cumberbatch would have used The Times even if he wasn't famous, he later explained, saying, “It’s what I would have done if I wasn’t sort of famous. It’s what we do — it’s a kind of tradition.”

It was also, he went on, "a way of telling our friends who we hadn't been able to tell, before [they saw] some grainy shot of a ring on her finger".

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