There was a shock for Downton Abbey fans in the fifth episode of the current series on Sunday night when Lady Sybil died shortly after delivering her baby daughter.

The character, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, suffered an untimely death from eclampsia following a tense episode in which she began displaying symptoms of serious illness after going into labour.

However her life was left hanging in the balance after a disagreement between family medic Dr Clarkson and the Harley Street obstetrician Sir Philip Tapsell – with the former insisting she be taken to hospital and the latter insisting such a move would prove fatal.

Sybil eventually gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but despite initially appearing well, her condition rapidly deteriorated and she died in the arms of her husband Branson (Allen Leech).

The scene is now set for even more potential drama, with Lady Cora blaming Lord Grantham for refusing to take the doctor’s advice – while the preview for next week’s episode suggested that the new arrival could cause even further tensions between Branson and Lady Sybil’s family.

It is not the first time that Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has surprised viewers with an unexpected death.

The finale of the second series saw the demise of Lavinia Swire, played by actress Zoe Boyle, after she fell victim to the Spanish flu epidemic.

However there had been prior speculation that she would be killed off after a press release announcing the cast list for the third series of her show, published just before the series finale, made no mention of her name.