The greatest strength of Downton Abbey is its variety of characters. While many historical dramas deal with one side of the class divide, this series tells the stories of both the aristocracy and those who serve them, giving way to an intermingling of ideas and moralities.
The characters of this series that are arguably the most fun to watch are those living downstairs: the ladies maids, butlers, cooks, and servants. Among this class, the conversations surrounding innovation and social change are even more apparent, with multiple characters taking any number of sides on the subject. There are many beloved servant characters in Downton Abbey, but these are the best of the best.
9 Mr. Molesley
Mr. Molesley first came to the series as the footman to Matthew Crawley. Instead of working in Downton itself, he first began work at Crawley house in the village. Molesley is basically the fool of the show. Often he is the but of jokes, or on the receiving end of embarrassing situations. No matter what though, he usually takes it in stride and is never mean spirited.
Perhaps the best moments though are between himself and Miss Baxter. His adamancy to believe in her when no one else would was very sweet, and shows his strong heart. Molesley is a lovely mainstay of the series, providing much of the comic relief to any situation.
Daisy is a character who can be hard to love sometimes, falling to immature tendencies and naivete. But, her journey through the show is one of the best. Seeing Daisy grow up along Mrs. Patmore's guidance is pretty moving. Not to mention her Northern accent grounds the show in its Yorkshire setting.
Daisy is only lower on the list due to her vindictive tendencies and jealousy. But, as the series progresses she learns to handle these moments with grace and understanding. Her good wishes towards Alfred's leaving was a beautiful moment for her, and seeing the admiration on the faces of Carson, Mrs. Patmore, and Mrs. Hughes made it all worth it.
Anna is arguably the most likable character on the show. She is constantly looking on the bright side, bringing a positive and collected demeanor to any situation. Anna is the good natured hero that we all want to root for downstairs. Unfortunately, there is one aspect of her personality that hurts her overall impact.
What she sees in Bates doesn't make a bit of sense. He is a literal murderer, is far older than she is, and is constantly implicated in crimes. For someone who is so "old fashioned", why does she choose Bates of all people? This relationship results in stories that are melodramatic and unneeded. Anna deserves better.
6 Tom Branson
Tom is an interesting character as his status on this list is arguably in question. While starting as an employee of Downton, he eventually ended up a member of the family. After marrying Sybil, and after her death, Tom became an essential part of daily life at Downton, managing many of its business affairs.
Tom is fascinating to watch because not only does he come from Ireland and carry that political baggage at Downton, but he is also a fiery socialist, preaching the destruction of the upper class. Branson's struggle to stay true to himself, while still honoring his newfound family and avoiding the overwhelming grief he carries makes him one of the more compelling figures of staff and family.
5 Mrs. O'Brien
O'Brien is one of the best characters in Downton Abbey, so it was a shame that Siobhan Finneran decided to leave when she did. O'Brien is one of the best villains on the show because she still has some ounce of sympathy. Instead of being a heel with no humanity, she shows regret, compassion, and feeling (even if it's a rare occasion).
Her relationship with Thomas and Lady Cora prove this. She cares for both, even when she hurts them. The fact that she caused Cora's miscarriage is unforgivable, but watching her try to make amends and carry that guilt was still fascinating to watch. It's this dynamic characterization that makes her one of the best villains and characters of the whole series.
4 Thomas Barrow
Thomas is the only lead on the series who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. Because of that, it is a shame that the only representation for queer viewers is that of a villain. But, while the series as a whole lacks other queer representation, Thomas is still a dynamic character who goes through some of the most impactful character arcs of the whole series.
Thomas is one of the best characters to follow. In one moment he terrorizes other beloved characters just for his own advancement, or even just for the hell of it. Other times though he goes above and beyond, and we can't help cheering for him. When he exposed the despicable nanny or when he saved Edith from a fire are just a few moments where his true nature of bravery and kindness leaped out. Thomas is a compelling character who deserves happiness in a world that rarely gives it to queer characters.
3 Mrs. Patmore
Mrs. Patmore is just a delight to watch on screen (as are the other two characters to follow). Her brand of snappy and witty humor is too fun to listen to, not putting up with any nonsense in her kitchen. Mrs. Patmore symbolizes one of the camps who fear progress. She fears electrical appliances in her kitchen, not to mention confronting her increasing age.
But, as the series progresses along with her relationship with Daisy, Patmore begins to soften up and age gracefully. Watching her interactions with Daisy and serving as a surrogate parent figure is some of the most heartwarming stuff in the series.
2 Mrs. Hughes
Mrs. Hughes serves as the head housekeeper of Downton, overseeing all the servants alongside the Butler. Her rule, while stern, is a fair one. She puts up with no-nonsense but is never cruel. Beyond understanding and a great mediator, Mrs. Hughes is beyond reliable as a leader. Her marriage with Mr. Carson was a match made in heaven. Her more understanding nature is the perfect contrast to the bullheaded stubborn nature of Carson. Combined, they're the perfect team.
1 Mr. Carson
Carson is the heart of Downton. No one is more loyal or serving to it as a building, institution, or tradition. When that loyalty is challenged, it's often played off as humorous, with Carson getting huffed up over change. But often his loyalty comes out in sweetness, like when comforting Lady Mary after the death of Matthew.
Carson leads the whole staff into battle every day at Downton and is constantly putting out fires. Alongside his partner Mrs. Hughes, Carson becomes an even sweeter and softer version of his obstinate self. Carson is one of the few characters almost any viewer can get behind.