The century or so before the Civil War, the era of the Tudors and early Stuarts, did not think well of itself. Contemporaries lamented the decline of social responsibility in the nobility and gentry, the erosion of honour and virtue, the spread of enclosures, the parasitism and arrivisme of wealth, and the emptiness and falsity of its display. The picture has often been endorsed in later generations, from both the traditionalist Right and the anti-aristocratic Left, but Adam Nicolson has an altogether happier image of the period. There flourished, he tells us, a ‘communal wisdom’, ‘in which principles of hierarchy and of mutuality were deeply embedded’. Its ‘heart’ or ‘heartland’ — favourite words of his — is to be found where the centre of his book lies: at Wilton House, the Wiltshire home of the Earls of Pembroke that was built and rebuilt during the period, and in the lovely array of downs and valleys and farms of the neighbouring Pembroke estates.