Squire Fenton Babblewick has inherited an estate in Yorkshire from his deceased uncle, and arrives at his new home where he believes he can realise his utopian dream. He has also brought with him manservant, Augustus Snipe, for who the move is a nightmare due to the cold house, mass of farm animals, and being in the north. Looking forward to living the simple life, the existing staff at the house are making plans on how to get rid of him, in the hope of enjoying their own lives. Augustus' complaints about having to make the move leading to Fenton willing to let him leave, though Augustus sees the existing house valet, Bob Scotcher, is not qualified to his own high standards. Augustus however decides to use the staff to his own advantage when he discovers a discrepancy in the previous squires death, and wants them to help persuade Fenton to move back to London.
Augustus is feeling under the weather having not slept in three days, while Fenton is excited to get started with country life, though has to contend with the other staff letting out mice in a continued attempt to drive him out of the house. Cook Molly is the only one intending on making the squire feel welcome, and sets about making breakfast, as well as dinner for guests of Fenton who are coming. However, the staff are less than pleased when they discover it will be Babblewick's tenant farmers who will be eating with him, as they believe it is not the done thing. Impressing the farmers, Fenton continues trying to bolster his reputation by announcing a new system of progressive farming - which will include rotating of crops - rather than just growing potatoes every year. He also announces that the farms will begin to grow beetroot. However, problems mount when most of the farmers die during the night.
Attending a church service, Fenton falls asleep while Parson Flinch talks about the dangers of lusting. However, despite the warning, he becomes smitten by the beauty and charms of Miss Lucinda Bluntstone who has just arrived from London. Lucinda's mother, Harriet, though provides a sizeable obstacle who demands he satisfy her terms, due to past experience of men chasing her daughter. Harriet agrees to the marriage, though takes to checking over Fenton's way of living which results in her recommendation to dismiss his servants, including Augustus. Augustus however doesn't take too kindly and retorts, leading Fenton to fire him. Finally, getting some time with Lucinda away from her moves gaze, he discovers she is rather more demanding that he envisioned. The wedding soon arrives, though is interrupted by Augustus and his new employer, who claims that Lucinda is his wife, and that the pair tour the country to ensnare men and take their money.
Fenton sets about teaching his tenants to play cricket as a way to better themselves. The game however is interrupted by neighbour George Berridge whose tyrant father, Thomas, refuses to allow his son to leave for London after having some gambling issues. George says he intends to stand as a member of Parliament in the upcoming general election to escape. This however leaves Fenton feeling his birthright is to be taken away from him, with his family having served as MP's for generations and carry out the reforms he intends. The situation leads to both planning to stand for election, though the expense has them come up with a plan to play a game of cricket against each other. Berridge however decides to play with only one other player - a Scotsman - who manages to hit Fenton on the head with the ball. Angered, Fenton challenges George to a duel who becomes delighted at the thought of them shooting each other.
Leaving for London where he will make his maiden speech in Parliament, Fenton soon gets into an argument on the journey with Augustus and questions whether he is behind him and his ideas, leading him to discard his speech when Augustus suggests that it isn't very good. Swapping to a coach, Augustus also finds himself being insulted by a wealthy business owner, who is unhappy to share the carriage with someone he considers his lesser. The situation turns bad when the group are robbed by a highwayman, who ends up knocking Fenton unconscious when he tries to reason with him. He also ends up throwing Fenton and Augustus from the coach, leaving them stranded and with Fenton unable to remember anything. The attempts to continue on the journey results in them in a boat without oars, and ending up in the river before they go over a weir. Resorting to taking shelter at a distant manor house, they end up back at Babblewick Hall.
The post arrives with a letter for Fenton, who is outside burning books as a way to rid himself of luxuries and comforts, after his failure in politics. He discovers his mother and father are paying a visit. Setting about making the estate presentable, he also discovers that his father is bringing Harriet, a bride-to-be for Fenton. Augustus is also paid a visit by a representative of the king and sees the opportunity to escape for Windsor Castle, leaving Fenton looking to face his mother and father alone. However, Augustus discovers his contact isn't offering him a job but rather the identity of his mother and father. Harriet also rejects Fenton, which leaves him delighted and his father irritated, though his fathers threat to cut off his allowance causes problems. Augustus also discovers he is instead being offered a pension, leaving him again planning to quit until he finds the vast sum will be shared with others.
The servants have also fixed up the waggon, which leads them to believe they are going on holiday. Augustus however has to derail the excitement though when he reveals that Fenton is attempting to compose music with the help of Mr Gluck - until he proves his lack of talent at playing the harpsichord. After three months with little improvement, Gluck takes to begging Fenton not to play in a concert to prevent his reputation being ruined. Fenton however persists, and resorts to smacking his head against the instrument when it goes badly. As Augustus tries to convince Fenton to stay out of public for a while, Fenton still manages to convince himself that he wasn't actually too bad, and sets about finding a new teacher as he chases something he can succeed at. When Fenton is insulted by attendees of his concert, he tries to show off by promising to take his servants to Bridlington via balloon. However, he ends up taking off by himself.
The squire is determined to buy a workhouse which he can turn into a school. However, the servants are struggling as he hasn't enough money to buy food due to large amounts of money being given away to charitable causes. With the last of his money, Fenton buys a lottery ticket which he believes has won him a thousand guineas. He sets about making conditions better for the local boys in the "charity school", who are worked for sixteen hours a day and not educated. He demands they sell him the school, but finds Squire Blunt has also made an offer, with Babblewick determined to beat it. When Blunt discovers that Babblewick intends to educate the poor, the pair end up arguing. Babblewick attempts to get the workers of Blunt's mill to quit and educate themselves in his school, though he fails to strike a chord with them and is beaten out by Blunt's offer of boots. Fenton's money issues aren't entirely resolved by the situation however as he decides on setting up a hospital.
Fenton awakes to find his breakfast has been eaten by romani gypsy, Mrs Moss, who has upset the village by using the threats of her "powers" to get her own way. When the squire tries to forcibly remove her from the kitchen, she takes "cursing" Babblewick Hall. The staff take the threat of a curse seriously with each having their own lucky charm, despite Fenton's attempts to prove bad luck and curses aren't real. He also sets about trying to placate the farmers whose crops have failed, though trouble arises when they take it upon themselves to burn Mrs Moss at the stake for being a witch. Fenton soon finds that it was the local parson who instructed them to kill her, after he himself was cursed by her. However, Fenton stands up in front of the congregation and sets up a confrontation when he disavows the idea of the supernatural and tries to promote atheism, which results in him being thrown into the pond and almost drowning.
Augustus is feeling unwell as he believes that life at the manor is no longer worth living, leaving Fenton put out when he has no one to dress him. Debts are also mounting up with the window inspector due around to check that all the halls windows have been bricked up, as Fenton claimed. Lady Keene is also due a visit to play cards, though Fenton has an ulterior motive for his invite, as he intends on freeing her pet monkey as part of his continued animal welfare campaign. She however believed he was there to ask her hand in marriage. Managing to get the monkey out of the house, it takes to biting him and results in Fenton shooting it. With pressure to pay his debt, Fenton discovers that he has been left a large fortune by the death of an uncle. However, he can only inherit if he marries, which has him taking to asking Lady Keene for her hand in marriage. However, she promptly faints and dies, which has him looking for a second option.