Is Isis Downton’s most loveable character?

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The least complicated woman in Lord Grantham's life, Isis

Lord Grantham is surrounded by women on Downton Abbey, but Isis was the cuddliest, most loyal and least complicated of them all. Each episode of Downton opens with Isis’ behind, tail wagging her way toward the manor. She is the audience’s best friend.

The dog in the opening shot is actually Pharaoh, the first dog of Downton who appeared in 2010. Pharoh’s real name was Roly. But one of Lady Carnarvon’s male Labradors, Percy, would not tolerate the presence of another male dog in its territory – Carnarvon’s the real owner of the estate where Downton is filmed. Carnarvon wondered why the producers didn’t just use her dogs in the first place since the are always running around the estate.

Pictured are two of Lady Carnarvon’s Spaniels, a Terrier, and one of the Labs. During most of the series, cast brought their own dogs to set, but Lady Carnavon banned cast members’ dogs after they “ran riot” in parts of the house.

So Pharaoh died off between Season 1 and 2 and was replaced by Ellie who started playing Isis. Originally the producers of Downton were going to keep the replacement a secret. Hugh Bonneville, right on the money, said Downton viewers would instantly spot the difference and complain! Pharoh played by Roly was a male whereas Isis played by Ellie was a female. So the back story was created that Pharaoh died and the Crawleys got a new dog called Isis.

Bonneville shared another secret about Ellie – her tendency to cause expensive damage. Roly sat calmly staring at his owner while on set, but Ellie’s constant tail wagging kept knocking over antiques! Maybe that’s why she was eventually replaced by Abbie the lab starting in Season 3.

The name Isis comes from one of the most important goddesses of ancient Egypt. But unlike the dog Isis, the goddess never had her own Facebook page with over 5000 likes. Uncle Julian said both the dogs’ names come from Downton’s connection to Egyptology. The real-life fifth Earl of Carnarvon financed the expedition that led to the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the 1920s, hence the first name Pharoh.

The writing is on the wall... But did you know, Isis’ light yellow color is not period-appropriate for the show. The first Yellow Lab was recorded in 1899. A lab during the time of Downton would be more of a butterscotch colour.

The moment Lord Grantham mentions how tired Isis looks, we can see the writing on the wall. When Isis is sick, Cora wonders if the dog has picked up a germ. Lady Mary thinks Isis is pregnant because she’s fat. Mary is certainly no veterinarian. Her other diagnosis is that Isis swallowed a dead squirrel.

Isis arrived to Downton Abbey in 1916 and stayed until 1925. We know Matthew was killed off because his real life contract expired. But the average life expectancy of a Lab is 12 years, so why was Isis killed off by cancer at a mere 9 years of age? All we can do is wait till Season 7 and see what new dog drama awaits on Downton Abbey.