Royal splendor: The palatial homes and captivating lives of Britain's modern aristocrats

(CNN)From Pride and Prejudice to Downton Abbey, Britain's aristocrats and their opulent homes have long been fodder for popular fiction.

Yet the real life houses of the landed gentry -- and the often lavish and eccentric lives of their owners -- are as fascinating as the stories drawn from them.
"Great Houses: Modern Aristocrats" takes a comprehensive look at this rarefied world, shining a light on the architectural histories of Britain's stately mansions and the sagas of the families who own them.
The chronicles prove to be sensational. In the first few pages there's murder, marriage for money, and conniving characters -- like the prostitute-turned-dowager-countess who now resides behind bars.
As the book's author James Reginato writes in the introduction, "It is as much about the people as it is about the houses."
The homes are a fitting backdrop for the drama, and their rich architectural opulence is examined upstairs and down from the intricate stone exteriors to the artistic treasures that are housed within.
"There is something wonderful in watching the layers of history and the passage of time -- where materials age and get better with years -- which one finds in these houses," the Queen's nephew, Viscount Linley, says in the introduction. "You can see how each generation has put its mark on the place."
The Viscount, who is presently eighteenth in line to the British throne and chairman of auction house Christie's, clearly speaks from experience.
Take a look inside the homes and lives of Britain's aristocrats in the gallery above. "Great Houses: Modern Aristocrats" by James Reginato, published by Rizzoli New York, is out now.