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....

1610s–1650s The Oglanders, Isle of Wight

The Oglanders

Despite the tragedies and brutal eruptions into his life—the death of a treasured son, what he called the topsy-turviness of a country at war with itself—no figure in this book is more deeply rooted to his soil that Sir John Oglander, the squire of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight. He is more knowable than anyone in these stories, largely because of his extraordinary notebooks, his ‘Bookes of Accoumpts’, the surviving leather-bound volumes written between 1620 and 1648.

At heart they are no more than a steady calculation, quarter by quarter, of what he spent and what he owed, what he lent and what was owed to him, what income he could expect and what, in total, he was worth. But he was too active and too curious to stick merely to figures and over the years the notebooks gradually filled with all the multifarious contents of his mind. The result was a real-time depiction of a man’s life and priorities, a portrait of a member of the seventeenth-century gentry alive in that moment, jumping from one subject to another, from one pre-occupation to the next, from memories to plans, regrets to delights, enemies to friends, events to principles.

He was a deep conservative with a powerful sense of duty, a man who loved the gentry (or at least the idea of them more than the individuals he knew) and loathed the aristocracy for their self-indulgence, a near-Puritan Royalist with a flickering, scatterbox, magpie-ish way of thinking, entranced by the past (he was an amateur archaeologist), loving continuity but dreading mutability, and above all fascinated by himself.