They may well be ''a nation of shopkeepers'', but for generations England was a country dominated by its middling families, rooted on their land, in their locality, with a healthy interest in turning a profit from their property and a deep distrust of the centralised state. The virtues we may all believe to be part of the English culture -- honesty , affability, courtesy, liberality -- each of these has their source in gentry life cultivated over five hundred years. These folk were the backbone of England.
Adam Nicolson''s riveting new book concentrates on fourteen families with a time-span from 1400 to the present day. From the medieval gung-ho of the Plumpton family to the high-seas adventures of the Lascelles in the 18th-century, to more modern examples, the book provides a chronological picture of the English, seen through these intimate, passionate, powerful stories of family saga. The families have been selected from all over the country and range from the famous to the unknown. Some families are divided by politics, such as the family that took different sides in the Reformation; others destroy their inheritance through reckless gambling or investments. All of them are vivid depictions of the life and code of the gentry, and have left deep archives of family papers which the author has been able to use, often for the very first time.
THE GENTRY is first and foremost a wonderful sweep of English history. It presents a convincing argument on what has created the distinctive English character but with the sheer readability of an epic novel.