The Gentry is a history of England told through its families. This website contains family trees, a few maps and many images illustrating some of the background to the twelve families who carry the story of England in the book.

Read a sample chapter about Sir John Oglander, the 17th-century squire of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight, his life and family, his dreams and ambitions and the tragedies that struck him....

1790s–1840s The Capels, Brussels and Lausanne

The Capels

If the Lascelles story and the Lucas Pinckney story speak volumes for the courage, enterprise and sheer toughness of the 18th-century gentry, the story of the Capels in early Regency Brussels is one of almost pure fecklessness. 

 It was not difficult in the early years of the nineteenth century for a junior branch of an aristocratic or upper gentry family to slip down and out of the world into which it had been born. Strict settlement of estates, by which the vast bulk of a family’s fortune remained in the hands of a single heir, condemned many younger brothers to an unenviable condition. That is what happened to John Capel. He was undeniably attractive, a ne’er-do-well, loved by women and his friends, despised by more serious members of society. He was a younger brother and had run through what small legacy his father had left him. There was no sign that his half-brother the Earl would distribute any more. He was essentially propertyless but living in a culture which did not encourage a life of work or enterprise. The army might have been a source of glamour and prestige but it did not pay. His social milieu would not allow him to enter business. He was caught like a piece of porcelain in a cabinet: elegant, unused, irrelevant. The gambling boom, which overtook such men in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, might be seen as a rational response to this younger son predicament. If you had no money and could not bring yourself to work, the green baize table might well have looked like an oasis in the desert: money for free, money for daring. It was the route Capel took and it turned out to be a route to oblivion.