The plot concerns the children of the Duke of Omnium, Plantagenet Palliser, and his late wife, Lady Glencora. When Lady Glencora dies unexpectedly, the Duke is left to deal with his grownup children, with whom he has a somewhat distant relationship. As the government in which he is Prime Minister has also fallen, the Duke is left bereft of both his beloved wife and his political position. Before her death, Lady Glencora had imprudently given her secret blessing to her daughter Mary's courtship by a poor gentleman, Frank Tregear, a friend of Lord Silverbridge, the Duke's older son and heir. Mrs. Finn, Lady Glencora's dearest confidante, somewhat uneasily remains after the funeral as a companion and unofficial chaperone for Mary at the Duke's request. Once she becomes aware of the seriousness of the relationship between Mary and Frank, Mrs. Finn insists that the Duke be informed.