Elizabeth Seymour: I suppose most people would call me a failure and all my people failures now; except those who would say we never failed, because we never had to try. Anyhow, we're all poor enough now; I don't know whether you know that I've been teaching music. I dare say we deserved to go. I dare say we were useless. Some of us tried to be harmless.
A character comes from the bluest of Blue Blood; he or she may be descended from royalty or at least from the highest circle of aristocracy or Old Money. Their family name is loaded with history.
Unhappily that family name is pretty much the only thing they have left. The great estates have long since been lost or sold off, the servants have left (except, sometimes, for the Old Retainer), and the mortgage is due on the family castle. Whether by war, revolution or simple bad luck the noble dynasty is left penniless. This is made even worse since there are usually things their noble blood obliges them to spend money on, such as clothing befitting their roles or the upkeep on a needlessly large house that the family cannot sell without shame. Even worse, though some take the Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job, others feel that doing a hard day's work is below them, or actually are legally forbidden to take up an occupation, or any one at which they could make real money — or are incapable of making their own money. They must preserve the Good Old Ways, although they are unusually unlikely to have the author agree with them about how good they really are.
Often crops up in Arranged Marriage storylines as rich merchant familieswould buy their daughters impoverished noblemen as husbands. (Impoverished daughters and the Self-Made Man himself are also possibilities, although less likely, since he can get only connections and not the title.) True love must face the bitter fact that a poor suitor or patrician is Unable To Support A Wife.
Not to be confused with Moses in the Bullrushes. Here the aristocrat (and generally everyone else) is all too aware of his of heritage.
This is a more long-term version of Riches To Rags. It can occasionally lead to the Rightful King Returns. If the aristocrat deeply laments the situation, may be a Princess in Rags; otherwise can also be a Fallen Princess. The Upper-Class Wit's prodigal ways make him likely to end up as one of these. Can easily be Land Poor: in this case the aristocrat does have (possibly extensive) estates but they're unprofitable to keep up and can't honorably be sold or disposed of.
Contrast Nouveau Riche, Simple Yet Opulent.
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Koon Agero Agnis from Tower of God. Though his family is still one of the most influential ones in the Tower, his side branch got exiled and ended up impoverished after Koon Maria became a Zahard Princess. Considering he wanted her to be that all along and made it happen, it was his own damn fault.
Florian and his mother in Gorgeous Carat, though she tries to hide it.
Roderich Edelstein aka Austria from Axis Powers Hetalia. Under the Habsburgs, the Spanish Empire became the first in world history to declare state bankruptcy... and the first to declare bankruptcy four times in less than forty years. And that's not counting him after the ends of WWI andWW 2.
Shuurei's family in Saiunkoku Monogatari. Her father Shouka is the oldest son of one of the powerful founding clans of Saiunkoku, but a period of civil war and famine, compounded by Shouka's general ineptitude at managing money, completely destroyed his household's finances. Notably, Shuurei is not above doing a hard day's work, and with Old Retainer Seiran at her side holds down a staggering number of part-time jobs doing everything from playing the erhu to teaching to accounting (for a brothel!) to cleaning bathrooms in order to try to make ends meet.
The Lovelaces from Black Lagoon, to a degree. While they still have quite a bit of money due to plantations, it's still not compared to what the clan used to have in the past, due to their Lawful Good political beliefs and the harrassment of the Colombian cartels.
In The Secret Agreement, the Hanayashiki family is incredibly respected, but having lost the family head and much of their fortune during the last war, they've been slowly having to sell off valuable possessions on the sly to generate income. The only male heir, Iori, is set up for an Arranged Marriage with a much wealthier but lower in status bride, but this is complicated by the fact that the person who has been selling off their antiques for them is actually Iori's lover.
Many characters in Ooku have this background, especially ones from Kyoto where the Imperial court has been rendered largely irrelevant by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Yunoshin, the main character of the first few chapters, comes from a poor samurai family in Edo.
Lynn's father Sir George Russell in Lady and its sequel Lady Lynn. In the first series, he is being pressured into marrying the very rich and mean-spirited Baroness Madeleine Weatherby to alleviate the Russell's economic troubles, and in the end he refuses. In the second one, he has lost his Big Fancy House and his daughters Lynn and Sarah actually are staying with others (Sarah lives with her grandfather, Lynn lives with her great-aunt, but he's working hard to buy Mansion Marble back.
William Twining from Makai Ouji becomes one when his uncle's business fails, leaving the family bankrupt.
The Penguin, also known as Oswald Cobblepot, haild from a once a wealthy family second only to the Waynes, but they squandered all of it somehow. Penguin seeks to regain his family's wealth and status, using illegitimate means to do it.
He isn't the only one in the Rogue's Gallery that fits this, either.
Zsasz inherited a fortune from his family and lost it all gambling (In one continuity, to Penguin himself).
Roman Sionis inherited his family's business empire and lost it because he wasn't a very good businessman (Though as Black Mask, he turned out to be a very good crime boss).
Victor Fargas, the Portuguese nobleman in The Ninth Gate. His family mansion is run-down and devoid of furniture, and he apparently makes ends meet by selling off his book collection piece by piece.
Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love. He wanted to marry Viola de Lesseps because her family's merchant wealth would provide him with enough money to operate his tobacco plantations in America. Viola's family, meanwhile, would gain the social advantage of marriage to nobility.
Although it is implied that he is more representative of the "new men" who rose to the top of English society, displacing the old nobility, under the Tudors. The title of his family, quite possibly awarded for military service, may go back no further than to the reign of Henry VII or VIII.
Worth noting that the colonies of this era all failed and wouldn't succeed until 20+ years later.
The Lachaunaye in Jean-Pierre Mocky's Heaven Sent.
In Penelope, the titular character's parents are seeking this type, as they need to marry her off to a blue-blood to break her curse of pig-nosedness, but need one poor enough that a sizable dowry is incentive enough to marry a girl with a pig nose.
Leopold from Kate and Leopold has no money, which is why his uncle pressures him to marry a rich American. He complains about it in the beginning but in the end he understands that there are some things that a person just needs to do.
Graf von Droste-Schattenburg in One, Two, Three. Played for Laughs — he works as a bathroom attendant and is paid to adopt the Communist Otto, who married (and impregnated) the daughter of the Coca-Cola boss.
Dark Shadows: The Collins family fell on hard times and couldn't even afford to keep the whole manor warm until Barnabas Collins showed them the secret compartment where his parents hid their valuables. It's unclear what became of them after the climax.
The permanent fear of Thomas Buddenbrook in Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, that comes to define his entire adult life. Unlike his father and grandfather, who made the families business big but grew up in more humble conditions, he is obsessed with the family's status among the rich and powerful families of the city. His interest in his wife and son is based mostly on their role in continuing the family's legacy, and when the success of the business declines to to changes in the economy and he can't afford to maintain the mansion, he is left with nothing that would matter to him.
Similar, his sister Tony also has delusions of grandeur and ruins all her relationships and contact to her daughter, because she can never cope with the idea of living under any conditions less glamorous than her childhood, because that would be below her high born station.
In fact this is a standard theme in Chivalric Romance and reflected Real Life (of the period) in that 'knights errant' were invariably younger sons whose options for bettering themselves were limited to carving out a fief in Outremer or marrying an heiress.
In the medieval Chivalric RomanceCleges, the knight Cleges is impoverished. He prays for help and receives miraculous cherries in winter. When he sets out to give them to Uther, three royal servants demand a third part of the reward to let him in. Therefore he tells Uther that the appropriate reward is some number of blows — and explains how he promised to share them. Uther has the servants receive the beatings, summons Cleges's wife, and rewards her for her loyalty to her husband.
The anonymous third employer of the satirical novella Lazarillo de Tormes. The interesting twist is that the character refuses to admit just how screwed he is, out of family pride.
In Jane Austen's Persuasion, the plot is driven by Sir Walter Eliot's need to retrench. He has to give up his country estate, go to Bath, and lease the estate.
You also get the distinct impression at the end of Pride and Prejudice that this is the kind of lifestyle Jane Austen foresees for Lydia Bennett and Mr Wickham, due to their social exile.
D'Artagnan of The Three Musketeers is poor and proud; but his family, like all of the Gascon petty aristocracy, were never wealthy to begin with.
It is in fact a recurring theme in the novel that all the Musketeers are, technically, nobility, and as such are expected to wine and dine and wear fine clothes, but they have absolutely no money. This means, among other things, that their lackeys never get paid, Porthos essentially earns his keep as a gigolo, and one sideplot is basically Athos refusing to pay his bill or leave the inn where he owes the money he doesn't have.note He did try to pay, but the landlord accused him of counterfeiting based on a tip from another customer. Since the local governor isn't about to return the (perfectly good) confiscated cash, Athos figures it's not his problem.
This is a very common trope in the fiction of Victorian England. Many heroes and/or villains of popular novels of the time are nobles without a dime to spare, largely due to the fact that, due to such factors as the Industrial Revolution, a populace that was very rapidly moving from the country to the city, and an increasing reliance on imports, the nobility was no longer assured of the same financial comforts they had always endured.
Similar themes was also widely represented in XIX Polish fiction, reflecting the problems of aristocracy of this time, since whole society had to face not only rapid Industrial revolution, but also the effects of brutally suppressed uprisings and following repercussions like confiscation, high taxes and ban on buying land. Typical hero or heroine from this period had a back story of heroic parents, lost heritage (usually told to be much greater that it really was) and small heirloom rescued from the war. Then WWI and Polish-Soviet war came, ruining most of the nobility who managed to maintain their estates. Some were beaten by Great Depression and then came war and Commies to put an end to world of traditional Polish manor houses and brought whole generation of improvised patrician.
William Makepeace Thackeray's fiction is full of shabby-genteel characters with telling names like "Lord Bareacres" and "Viscount Castlemouldy." The whole plot of "Barry Lyndon" is about the title character, raised poor but with some modest claim to a gentleman's rank, struggling to regain what he believes is the place in society to which his birth entitles him.
The Pyncheons in Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables.
The Marches of Little Women were once very well-to-do. Amy March acts like they still are.
Part of the plot of Henry James's 1877 novel The American.
The Roylotts in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". The last one was a Deadly Doctor who resorted to murder in order to live decently. He gets to kill one of his stepdaughters before she marries, but the other escapes and contacts Holmes.
Lord St. Simon in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" plans to marry an American woman because her father struck it rich in the California gold rush.
In "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", Reginald Musgrave's predecessor is said to have endured the "existence of an aristocratic pauper" in his mansion due to previous spendthrifts in the family.
In "The Three Students", one of the students is the son of an aristocrat who spent the family fortune on horses and alcohol.
Holmes himself is hinted to be a milder version of this. His family were "country squires" — not a terribly wealthy brand of nobility to begin with.
I suppose most people would call me a failure and all my people failures now; except those who would say we never failed, because we never had to try. Anyhow, we're all poor enough now; I don't know whether you know that I've been teaching music. I dare say we deserved to go. I dare say we were useless. Some of us tried to be harmless.
In Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, the hero's father sends him off to a magician in hopes of his learning how to turn lead into gold and thereby make a sufficient dowry for his sister. She later tells him to make a Love Potion instead. It works, albeit not quite as she expected.
Just about every suspect in Agatha Christie's extensive works fits this trope. In fact Dame Agatha makes the English Gentry, her own class, look like the most useless and amoral set of people who ever lived. Incapable of getting or holding a job but quite ready to off Aunt Gertrude for the family money.
In Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise, Peter gets a job at an advertising agency, and due to his aristocratic air his co-workers assume that he falls into this trope (when in fact he's there to investigate a murder).
Also, in Sayers's Wimsey short story, "A Matter of Taste," an impoverished French Duc arranges to sell his formula for poison gas to Wimsey.
In "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste" the Count was perhaps also a bit of a Gentleman and a Scholar, and not really impoverished, as a major plot point was blind testing of rare wines from his own's cellar and in the end he refused to sell the formula to a foreign country.
As a family we are not rich except in honor, and, valuing this above all mundane possessions, I chose the profession of my father rather than a more profitable career.
The patrician family of Barr in the Foundation series. Largely killed off by the Empire for participating in a rebellion, one family member was living poorly on the fringes of society, his son (who could apparently make a decent living) was promised the lands and titles back for cooperation with the same Empire. He worked against them though.
The mother and son in Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge live in the Southern U.S. in the '60s. They are poor, but she grew up rich in had a mansion full of black servants. She tells her son that what matters is who your family is. He's a liberal intellectual who rebels against her. (O'Connor is full of contempt for both of them.)
Fernanda del Carpio in One Hundred Years of Solitude was from an aristocratic family that moved to the New World several generations ago and had steadily lost their riches since then, with the last of the family money spent in educating Fernanda to be a queen (more specifically, Queen Victoria, judging from her prudishness). Nice crash with reality when you marry into the new money of the Buendía family, Fernanda!
The countess's background in Dorothy Gilman's The Clairvoyant Countess; after losing the family wealth when they fled the Russian Revolution, she has since been wealthy and lost it again; she has settled down to working for her living.
This is also why Louis (a plantation owner in Louisiana) initially doesn't believe Lestat's claims of nobility. In Louis's mind, an aristocrat should be refined, not sleep with his hunting dogs. On the other hand, Louis is a nouveau riche who doesn't really know how aristocrats are supposed to act and is basing his knowledge on how other plantation owners act.
In Beauty, a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast", Beauty gives a family history early in the story; this is the sort of marriage her parents had. Subverted in that it resulted in a rare case of Happily Married:
"My mother came of a fine old family that had nothing but its bloodlines left to live on. Her parents were more than happy to accept my father's suit, with its generous bridal settlements. But it had been a happy marriage, old friends of the family told us girls. Our father had doted on his lovely young wife...and she had worshiped him."
The same author picks this trope up again in The Blue Sword. When it opens, Harry, the heroine, does not expect ever to marry:
"She was proud, and if she had not been, her parents would have been proud for her. And there is little market for penniless bluebloods of no particular beauty — especially when the blueness of the blood is suspected to have been diluted by a questionable great-grandmother on the mother's side."
The backstory of Kethry from the Heralds of Valdemar books is a nasty version of the Arranged Marriage version of this trope. The nobles were two orphaned kids (an amoral teenaged boy and his innocent younger sister) stuck with a "falling down old heap they could not even sell" while the Self-Made Man was a banker old enough to be their father with a thing for young girls. Kethry's old nurse smuggled her out (along with everything she could steal) after the wedding night (husband and brother kept the fiction of her being at a country estate going), she was sent to a Wizarding School when she started manifesting mage powers during the resulting nightmares, was handed a somewhat problematic sword by an old guard when she set off some years later, and the rest was history.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla from Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series starts as one of these, but ends up running the Roman Republic. Probably Truth in Literature, since it's based on real events.
McCullough loves this trope. Other examples include the first Gaius Julius Caesar who marries his elder daughter (happily) to New Man Gaius Marius. Also one of the several Appius Claudii who, left dirt poor with four younger siblings to provide for, recoups the family fortunes through rich marriages for his two sisters (which turn out badly) and himself marrying the plain thirty-something Porcia who earned her huge dowry by acting as foster parent to a litter of wealthy orphans. Touchingly he comes to love her very much and so poor Porcia's story ends happily.
To a lesser extent, the Westerlings and the Waynwoods.
Several in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, most critically Edward D'eath in Men at Arms. Vimes himself is somewhat one of these, with the twist that the family name is not very well esteemed. At first. (Although it is infamous, in the same way as Cromwell is).
During the brief period in Feet of Clay that Nobby believes himself to be the Earl of Ankh, he's disappointed to find he's one of these as well.
Colon: I thought the upper crust had pots of money.
Nobby: Well, I'm the crust on its uppers.
And the Patrician himself, due to the fact that, well, the entire city of Ankh-Morpork is flat broke. Hardly anyone pays taxes, thanks to the incredibly complex tax laws which allows anyone able to hire the Guild of Accountants to get away with almost no taxes whatsoever. The people who are the most wealthy pay very little, and everyone else is pretty much too poor to be taxed. As Vetinari himself puts it in Jingo, Ankh-Morpork is a very poor city that is the home of some very rich people.
Aunt Dimity and the Duke opens with just such a scenario: young Grayson has been upset to learn his impoverished father (the thirteenth Duke of Penford) has been selling off family heirlooms and dismissing staff, and he seeks advice from Dimity Westwood (still very much alive at this date, some twenty years before the rest of the book's events). Grayson himself grows up planning to restore his family's fortune, and does so by creating a crass rock musician alter ego with the help of his former staff. They make a fortune, then "kill off" the musician so they can retire to the ducal estate and live on income from the proceeds and other endeavours.
In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, the snobbish blue-blooded Boghwells make ends meet by renting out their creepy-looking estate to film crews for low-budget horror films. Dimity also mentions that impoverished Russian aristocrats came to Britain in several waves between the Revolution of 1917 and the end of World War II.
The Gaunts of Harry Potter, who include Voldemort's mother Merope, are an example of this. Another example would probably be the Weasley family. They're viewed as having as pureblooded a lineage as the other examples of pureblooded wizarding families, but they're portrayed as barely making ends meet.
The Black family as well, pretty much. The lack of heirs doesn't help.
In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, this is Snow Flower's family life, which she keeps hidden from her friend Lily and her family. Lily's family, though they're farmers, are steadily moving up the monetary ladder, while Snow Flower is finely educated and has every refinement you could ask for, but can barely afford new clothes. The two girls are laotongs, which binds them in a way similar to a marriage, so that both of their families will benefit, although it ends up benefiting Lily far more than Snow Flower. Lily winds up married to the eldest son of one of the wealthiest families in the district, while Snow Flower becomes the wife of a butcher, a person considered impure and very low-status in 19th-century China.
For clarification, Lily's family was to learn how to be nobility from Snow Flower; Snow Flower was to learn how to be a good working-class woman from Lily's family.
In Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, Wang Lung's increasing good fortune as a farmer is tied into the fall of The House of Hwang, whose royal offspring's frivolous spending forces them to sell off their properties to Wang Lung.
The Baron de Sigognac, hero of Le Capitaine Fracasse by Théophile Gautier, is the last descendant of an aristocratic family, but lives in quasi-poverty in his dilapidated castle. He decides to join a troupe of wandering stage comedians.
An extreme example is found in Tess of the D'Urbervilles: The Durbeyfields, a peasant family, turns out to be the descendants of the D'Urbervilles. A character observes at one point that "many former owners of the land are now tillers of it".
Don Quixote: Alonso Quijano is an Hidalgo that still has the ancient arms of his ancestors, but has so little money that almost most of them is spent in food. What can he do? He is very smart and talented, but to work is beneath an Hidalgo. He is poor and bored. It does not help that he spent a lot of them in those silly chivalry books. Sure, they help him with the boredom, and the knight life is certainly exciting, but they are only absurd tales, right? Lampshaded in Part II, chapter 44:
"Poor gentleman of good family! always cockering up his honour, dining miserably and in secret, and making a hypocrite of the toothpick with which he sallies out into the street after eating nothing to oblige him to use it! Poor fellow, I say, with his nervous honour, fancying they perceive a league off the patch on his shoe, the sweat-stains on his hat, the shabbiness of his cloak, and the hunger of his stomach!"
In The Wyvern's Spur, second book of the Finder's Stone Trilogy, Giogioni Wyvernspur's family is said to be old money that's rapidly fading. Now if only someone could rise up to adventure to bring back the family fame and fortune...
Though Giogioni himself was comfortably well off, his father having married a woman from a well-to-do merchant family.
Soraya in the Farsala Trilogy becomes one when her father is killed in battle (the entire deghan class suffers a heavy blow).
Another literal example, courtesy of the Marcus Didius Falco novels: Decimus Camillus Verus was just wealthy enough to qualify for the Senate, but maintaining the lifestyle expected of a senator keeps his family on the brink of bankrupcy. His son-in-law once described him as "having his whole life in hock".
Count Vorfolse in A Civil Campaign has the misfortune of having had his predecessors for the last several generations consistently choosing the losing side in every Barrayaran rebellion or civil war. So now, despite being the effective Head of State for a small country, he lives in a small apartment with a single, aging Armsman.
Ghem-Lord Yenaro in Cetaganda is in similar straits, being descended from the general who was responsible for the ultimate failure of the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar. He allowed himself to be used as a pawn by the Big Bad in the hopes of getting a minor court position, and from there hopefully repair his family's fortunes.
While not technically true in the absolute sense, most Barrayaran nobles consider the Vorkosigan family to be poor, as many other districts were far wealthier. This is due to a number of justifiable factors. First, the Vorkosigan district suffered the most intense fighting during the war against Cetaganda, causing the better part of a generation's efforts to be spent in repairing the damage (some areas are still dangerously radioactive). Second, the Vorkosigans had, for at least three generations, spent most of their time serving the empire as a whole, rather than their own district in particular, which is patriotic but not conducive to bringing in wealth. At the end of his regency, Aral even makes a point of giving away enough money to reduce his family's personal net worth to exactly what it was at the beginning of his regency. Third, Mark was literally the first member of the family in five generations to go into business and turn a profit.
Pedro de Valdivia in Isabel Allende's Inés of my Soul is born into an impoverished hidalgo family. He becomes a soldier in an effort to make a name and some money for himself and his family. He winds up conquering Chile and becoming an extremely wealthy man (none of which, unfortunately for him, does him any good when he's captured and killed by the Mapuche).
See Real Life below, since Pedro de Valdivia did exist in Real Life and his was not the only case.
The Brown/Fossil family in Noel Stretfield's Ballet Shoes—it's not drawn attention to much (and the sisters themselves are presumably not Blue Blood, as they're adopted), but constant reference is made to their financial struggles. The girls are withdrawn from school, the household take in several lodgers, the two older girls start working for wages, and only after years of this does Sylvia think of moving out of a large house in a highly select district of London, getting a job and laying off two of her 3 servants (the remaining one is her own nanny, who has become surrogate grandmother to the Fossils and hasn't actually taken any cash pay for years). It's not entirely ignored that this isn't real poverty, especially when the novel was set (late 20s-30s). The brilliant, unpretty, unlucky Winifred's family are actually poor by normal standards. Also the house originally belonged to Sylvia's Uncle, she was essentially acting as a caretaker. It was only after she discovered that title had been put in her name that she could have sold it.
The Stormlight Archive has Shallan Davar and her family who are in desperate financial straits due to her now dead father racking up a ton of debt and ill-will before his death. Shallan's entire plotline in the first book of the series is about her attempt to get the family out of their dire situation.
Crops up often in P. G. Wodehouse's stories: Sir Buckstone Abbott in Summer Moonshine and Chuffy Chufnell in Thank You, Jeeves are two typical examples, both trying to unload their white-elephant mansions on rich Americans.
Two of the several villains in Mary Roberts Rhinehart's The Man In Lower Ten are a brother and sister of the old slaveholding Southern gentry seeking to entrap the wealthy young heroine in a forced marriage. To make it even better the brother is already married to a girl he rather likes but who has no money.
In The Bible, Joseph is from the lineage of King David, but he earns a modest living as a carpenter.
In P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money, Lord Dawlish. His fiancee is quite annoyed with him for handing a beggar a shilling.
In The Unhandsome Prince, the king has a severe gambling problem, which is why the family is having money troubles.
Zhang Liang in Will of Heaven is descended from one of the most powerful families in the state of Han/Hann during the late Warring States Period— and then Hann gets conquered by the First Emperor during his unification of China. Zhang Liang spends his family's remaining fortune trying to kill the First Emperor, fails, and lives the years that follow in hiding and hardship. This is very much Truth in Television.
It turns out that the fer Roth family in Tamora Pierce's Will of the Empress had gambled away most of their estate. This is why Shan aggressively courts and then attempts to marry Sandry, after his family's first plan to have him woo the Empress herself fails.
In I Capture the Castle, the main character's family, though genteel, are not merely impoverished but perilously close to starving. At one point, she and her sister try to list skills that anyone in the family could use to make money, and come up with absolutely nothing useful.
Law & Order had a case involving a poor old money family having marrying with a new money family.
Blackadder. Each protagonist has a lower social status than the previous one. The Elizabethan Lord Blackadder is a good example of this trope in its early stages — he still has a title and a place at court, but no actual money or estates. Seemingly his father blew the family fortune on "wine, women and amateur dramatics. At the end, he was eking out a living doing humourous impressions of Anne of Cleves". In Blackadder The Third, the Prince Regent was sometimes an example of this trope. Most notably the episode "Amy and Amiability", in which he had to marry someone with money urgently. (Although that was because he'd discovered a new game called "cards", where the object was to give away as much money as possible.)
In El Chavo del ocho it's implied that Doña Florinda and Doña Clotilde were from richer origins, judging by the snobish attitude of the former and the many references to married sisters who live abroad and send her gifts to the latter. Doña Florinda seems to have married beneath her class and when she widowed her family denied support, so she ended in the Vecindad, living with her widow pension. Doña Clotilde, on the other side, appears to suffer the sad destiny of the Christmas Cake who get stale; instead of play the "Old Spinster Aunt" role in her married siblings' homes, she preferred to live on her own.
Monarch of the Glen is largely about a family barely holding on their ancestral holdings, largely by encouraging tourism. The expenses involved in just heating their ancestral home are a big part of the early seasons.
Pete Campbell of Mad Men comes from an Old Money New York WASP/Dutch family that once owned half of Upper Manhattan. His family is shown early on to have fallen on hard times (his grandfather lost the property in the Crash of 1929 and his father apparently squandered the remaining fortune), which is why he's working as a mid-level ad exec and marries Trudy Vogel, whose father had worked his way to become a higher-up at Richardson-Vicks (makers of Clearasil and, well, Vicks. As in NyQuil and Vap-O-Rub).
Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes is implied to be this trope. Though it is mentioned that he comes from an old Prussian family, it is also stated that he has money troubles.
Old Prussian families being in money trouble is actually one of the stereotypes about them — one of the reason so many of their members joined the army was that they needed the money.
The Major in Fawlty Towers may be an example. Though he comes across as an officer and a gentleman, not only is he reduced to living in a hotel, he's reduced to living in one run by Basil Fawlty.
Power Rangers RPM has Summer's parents, who lost most of their vast holdings due to that whole robot apocalypse thing. They want Summer to give up her job and marry into a stately family that still has some cash; the fact that her job seems to be one of the only things keeping the last city on Earth from being overrun by robots doesn't seem to factor into this demand.
Kamen Rider Kabuto has Tsurugi (AKA Kamen Rider Sasword), the last descendant of the proud Discabil family of England (though he's obviously at least part Japanese...). He's also completely broke, hence his freelance work for ZECT, though it takes some time for him to find this out because his faithful servant Jiya is going out of his way to keep it from him.
In the short lived abc family series Three Moons Over Milford, the main characters are a woman and her two children who were once the wealthiest family in town. But one near-doomsday cataclysmic event later, and her husband decides to abandon them to go on a spiritual journey of self discovery. Leaving them completely broke and unemployed.
The Pruitts of Southampton, starring Phyllis Diller, was a short-lived sitcom where a rich family on the Hamptons is found, after an IRS audit, to be completely broke. However, revealing this would cause economic shockwaves, so the IRS, apparently considering them too big to fail, lets them live in their posh home keeping up appearances and taking in wacky boarders. Lasting one season before turning into The Phyllis Diller Show, it has recently surfaced from complete obscurity since its catchy theme song (by Vic "The Addams Family" Mizzy) was used as the basis for an outrageousCold Open on Batman: The Brave and the Bold...
This is a common fate for Guy of Gisbourne in retellings of Robin Hood where the plot necessitates him as a guard, but they want to keep the "Sir Guy" title he picked up in the '30s. It was a constant source of angst for the Robin of Sherwood incarnation, and a driving motivation for the 2006 version in his opposition of Hood is that he wants to keep Locksley for himself to avoid such a shame.
King George in Once Upon a Time is flat-broke, trying his best to hide it, and willing to do any ruthless dog-kicking stunt to make sure he seals an alliance with the wealthy King Midas.
In the backstory, Robert's father, the 5th Earl of Grantham, was running low on cash but still had to maintain the titular ancestral estate (a Big Fancy HouseUp to Eleven), which is why he arranged for Robert's marriage to Cora Levinson, the daughter of a Jewish dry-goods magnate from Ohio (can't get more American than that). He also insisted that her fortune be entailed to the Grantham estate; this backfires and leads to the Succession Crisis that drives the first three series of the show.
In the third series, it turns out that Robert idiotically invested the whole fortune in the Grand Trunk Railway, which crashed and was nationalised by the Canadian government — leaving the family's assets at almost nothing. The family gets ready to sell Downton Abbey and move to a smaller place (which was still a gracious home), but Robert's son-in-law/third cousin once removed/heir-presumptive Matthew unexpectedly inherits a large sum from his late ex-fiancée's father (yes), allowing him to invest in the estate and keep it in the family. Phew.
The background of Cynis Denovah Avaku is that he came from a branch of the decadent (even by Dynastic standards) House Cynis that had been marginalized for centuries due to their inability to produce Dragon Blooded members. Between the expenses of even the basic Dynastic lifestyle, the increasingly piddling stipend they received, and the rest of the House providing no aid in financial opportunities, the family was so poor that they were reduced to living in a crumbling manse on the edge of a cliff. One of Avaku's main goals is to help bring his family back to some semblence of prosperity. Like many things in Exalted, this requires him to choose between moral and expedient behavior, and he suffers a crisis of faith when he is forced to kill a child Solar to protect his family's drug money.
Common in Unhallowed Metropolis, where the Victorian Era has more-or-less continued intact into 2100. Backwoods aristocrats often have nothing but their Big Fancy House to their name, and that mansion may have a curse on it, but it would still be a horrific scandal if they were to actually work for a living.
Gary Gygax suggested this as a background for many adventurers in a Dungeons & Dragons setting. The second and third children in a family may not stand to inherit much from the estate, so they become adventurers to earn their own fortunes. Alternately, their family may have fallen on hard times and they become adventurers to win enough gold and/or glory to restore the family's prestige.
The title character of Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic example. Swashbuckling as a genre in general is full of young, poor nobles seeking their fortune with their blade.
The title character of William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens begins the play this way, but is ruined when word gets out that his extreme philanthropy has brought him to this state, and his creditors all call in their debts at once. After an epic Freak Out, Timon is reduced to living in the woods, eating roots, and throwing insults and rocks (and, in one notable production, feces) at anyone who passes by.
The Duke of Plaza-Toro, Count Matadoro, Baron Picadoro from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers boasts an impressive lineage as a Castilian hidalgo of ninety-five quarterings, but he's still practically penniless. However, he manages to resolve this problem by incorporating himself as the Duke of Plaza-Toro Ltd.
Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance is not an example directly, but still invokes the trope: he lives in a house he purchased from such a family. At one point he's brought to tears by the fact that he's brought shame on his ancestors in the crypts. It's pointed out to him that they're not actually his ancestors, to which he replies that he bought the house, which included the crypts, which included the ancestors, and they're bloody well his ancestors now.
In Richard Strauss's opera Arabella, Count Waldner's family is dirt-broke because of his love of gambling and luxury: now they live in a hotel and can't pay the bills. The only solution is to marry off their daughter for money.
Several in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, like Madame Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya (also The Woobie), her older brother Leonid Andreevich Gayev and specially their common friend Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pischik.
The Eynsford-Hills in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Shaw writes that they live on a pension so small he hasn't the heart to reveal what it is.
In Molière's play Le bourgeois gentilhomme, one of the characters taking advantage of Monsieur Jourdain's combination of money, vanity, and gullibility is Dorante, a cash-strapped count. He claims to have mentioned Jourdain's name to the king at Versailles, and in return Jourdain is happy to lend him enormous sums of money; meanwhile, he tells Jourdain that he is courting a widowed marchioness named Dorimène on his behalf by plying her with rich gifts purchased by Jourdain, when in reality he is trying to win Dorimène's love for himself. Jourdain's wife sees Dorante for the parasite that he is, but cannot get past her husband's vanity to stop him from giving the count an unlimited line of credit.
In Fate/stay night, it's stated that despite coming from a very reputable family and owning a western-style mansion, Rin Tohsaka lives rather modestly. This is mostly caused by the lack of any income-bringing parents ( her dad Tokiomi was messily killed some years ago according to Fate/Zero; her mother Aoi suffered severe brain damage a few years afterwards and is implied to have died some time later), and the fact that her form of magic requires the use of absurdly expensive precious jewels to store her power in.
This would not have been so bad ordinarily, as most of the Tohsaka wealth came from various properties they owned. After assuming Rin's guardianship, Kirei mishandled the estate and most of the properties were lost.
In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Greil was once General Gawain, one of the Four Riders of Daein, which implied that he was of noble birth, because commoners were not allowed to become generals at the time. This is partially a subversion, in that Greil willingly threw away his family name (as opposed to his family name being all he had left), and the fact that he had once been a general of Daein, let alone a noble of Daein, is hardly ever mentioned.
Implied in Queen Hellene's background in Fire Emblem 7. She and her old friend/distant relative Louise are mentioned to be very minor nobles, but she is lucky enough to get into an Arranged Marriage to King Desmon of Bern. Louise is genuinely luckier and ends up Happily Married to Lord Pent.
Ricken from Fire Emblem Awakening. He comes from the lower aristocracy of Ylisse and his house is currently bankrupt. He joined the Shepherds to try and regain some honor for his family name. Maribelle, a fellow noble from a higher station, tries to cheer him up by telling him to take solace in his blue blood, no matter what his finances.
This trope is one of the possible background of your character in Mount & Blade. At least there's some recognition of your nobility with ability to own your own banner right from the start and a slight boost to starting fame (which means more troops).
This is averted in Final Fantasy Tactics. You come from a rich and powerful family that is still rich and powerful. Unfortunately for you, most of them are varying degrees of evil. Also subverted with Algus, who fits the trope and because of it deeply hates commoners.
Played for humor in Suikoden V in the personage of one Egbert Aethelbald. Did you know that the AETHELBALD FAMILY was once the most PRESTIGIOUS in the LAND before those FILTHY GODWIN DEVILS CONSPIRED TO TAKE IT ALL AWAY? If you didn't, you will. He yells about it to anyone who will listen. He wears a battered uniform and lives in a sewer of all places. Furthermore, the fall of the family happened one hundred years ago; it isn't entirely clear if he is actually an Aethelbald or just believes he is.
The noble origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins. As a dwarf, you are accused of treason and stripped of everything, despite being the king's son/daughter. As a human, your rich, amazing family and those loyal to you are slaughtered.
The Hawkes start off as this in Dragon Age II, due to their uncle Gamlen having squandered the Amell wealth by the time they arrive in Kirkwall. The first act of the game is focused around obtaining enough riches to be able to move your family from the slums.
An unusually optimistic example in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. On Windfall Island, there is a rich man whose daughter Mila has been kidnapped. He's a bit stuck-up, but he say's he'll do anything to get her back. She is rescued by Pirates, who demand an enormous sum for her return, which he pays. He ends up dirt-poor and living in the streets, but he's happy because his daughter is back. He plays a direct Foil to a Nouveau Riche man on the same island: see that trope page for details.
Its implied in Girl Genius that a few of the Fifty Families of Europe have only their titles left, and no longer have any Spark members (which are the true measure of power in the Girl Genius universe). The fact that their power has been significantly reduced by the Baron's Peace is also a great source of ire to them.
They're not so much impovershed as the families the children on the Castle come from still rule minor principalities (as does Tarvek Sturmvoraus now that his father Prince Aaronev is dead but their issue is that the Baron expects them to stop destroying the countryside fighting each other and become Royals Who Actually Do Something (other than exploit the peasants and blow things up, that is); they don't really like this idea.
Sylvester and Mortimer in The Mansion of E, though Sylvester is plugging away at restoring their family's financial status.
Subverted in the Furry Basketball Association. Lord Joseph Trundle, the 12th Baron Overstone (aka His Dudeship to his surfer teammate), is a player for the Bradford Bantams. Knowing his uncle's gambling left the family in serious debt, he became a basketball player to earn money of his own—which resulted in him being named the heir, in hopes that he would restore the family fortune. With his contract, he's doing well.
Bill Dauterive and his one remaining relative in King of the Hill are the last surviving members of a formerly prosperous, wealthy and influential Louisiana family. They had originated senators and statesmen, but Bill is now a military barber and the object of mockery amongst his friends. When Bill discovered the potential wealth that could come from the selling of their family's traditional barbecue sauce his cousin vetoed the idea, considering the idea of them selling off their name abhorrent, even though the name itself is worthless.
It was never definitively established in the series, but DVD commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes for Batman Beyond revealed that Bruce Wayne had lost the majority of his vast fortune in the years between the original series and the current show. He survives on the returns of his stock holdings in Wayne-Powers, and he could sell his shares for a considerable fortune, but he would never do such a thing because he would lose what little control he still had in his family's company. Though after returning to controlling the company he seems to have regained the fortune.
It would matter if her family had been living off of margin loans. Their cash flow would be cut off, and they'd have a short time to come up with more capital to avoid having their stocks liquidated by the broker to cover the loans.
In The Batman, the Penguin's family, the Cobblepots, used to be rich, but they blew off all their money. The Penguin tries to regain his wealth by committing bird-themed crimes.
According to the portrait of the Penguin presented in both Batman: The Animated Series and Tim Burton's Batman Returns, Oswald Cobblepot is impoverished because he was ostracized by his own social class (and by the human race in general) for looking like a penguin. In Batman Returns, the Penguin is perfectly aware of his degradation and is determined to get revenge on society, while in the animated series he is simply in denial about how the world views him.
In the United Kingdom, it was very common for a family with a lot of land to sell it for alcohol.
Many, many aristocratic families have ended up paupers. For example, since the nobility in the United Kingdom were large farmers, most of them lost their wealth largely due to the availability of cheap food grown in the Americas. Rising wages, inheritance tax and the reduced influence of the House of Lords did the rest.
This was sometimes resolved by marrying into new money families, like an American young lady named Consuelo Vanderbilt marrying the Duke of Marlborough.
Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey is a fictional example of an American "dollar princess".
A couple of notable recent examples of British aristocrats who ended up impoverished were Edward Fitz Gerald, 7th Duke of Leinster, who was part of one of Ireland's oldest noble families but died by suicide in a bedsit in London in 1976 and Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester, who on his death in 2002 had lived in a flat in Bedford for many years. Ironically, Lord Manchester's great-grandfather had earlier married one of those American heiresses, and that lady was also called Consuelo.
A lot of rich Americans made their way to Britain in the 19th century, creating a lot of Anglo-Americans in the British gentry (the most famous being Sir Winston Churchill). Another famous one is the Astor family, a family of German immigrants to the US who made their fortunes in the US (you may have heard of their hotel in New York, the Waldorf-Astoria...) who managed to not only marry British nobles but have the male line ennobled itself (as the Viscounts Astor). Nancy Astor, the first female MP in Britain and inveterate House of Commons opponent of Churchill, was herself an American who married into this family (confusing ain't it).
By the time James I came to the throne of England in 1603, a century of war and inflation had practically bankrupted the Crown. He quickly began selling knighthoods (and inventing the concept of a baronetcy so he could sell those for more cash) and demanding money from the nobility. The nobility, in turn, were running out of money, increasingly leaning on the rising merchants... You can see where this is going, right?
Many common last names from Eastern Ireland (such as Fitzgerald, Morell, D'Arcy, Grace, Burke, and Russell) can be traced back to old powerful Anglo-French and Norman noble dynasties who lost all of their wealth, land and power during the English Civil War and ended up as poor serfs and farmers under the rule of the Tudors and the plantation system.
Many of the early Conquistatores came from landless hidalgo families. When you have all the military training and constrained career choices that other nobles have, but no land, the New World sure seems like the place to be.
Happened with a lot of aristocratic families in Japan around the Sengoku Jidai period, to the point where lords and even emperors were reduced to selling their calligraphy for money. Also, around this time merchants were the ones with all the wealth; unfortunately they were despised and rules had to made so they wouldn't look wealthier then their betters.
Happened yet again in the Meiji era, with the (at least outward) abolition of the feudal system. The daimyo (feudal lords) managed okay (for instance, the Tokugawas, who had been overthrown as Shoguns, are today shipping magnates). A lot of the samurai didn't.
Some Japanese EMPERORS were forced to work to pay for their own coronations. One's wife had to sell flowers to pay for her husband's coronation. Since the Japanese Emperor has been little more that a figurehead for centuries this is hardly surprising.
Baron Sir Benjamin Slade, the (childless) last scion of a British noble family that had fallen on hard times, famously announced in 2006 that he was holding "open auditions" for an heir who would be able to afford to maintain the house's ancestral holdings after he died. The following year, he named distant cousin Isaac Slade, lead singer of the Fray, as his successor.
The Roman Republic was full of them, most notably Gaius Julius Caesar, but also Lucius Sergius Catilina. Both were pretty fair examples of people who think that their family's position should have granted them a higher station in life than they actually had and led them to challenge the system. It worked out pretty well for Caesar (until the end), but less so for Catiline, who would be on the receiving end of one of the greatest condemnatory speeches in human history.
There is no real concensus on Catalina. Depictions vary from just another corrupt politician using the poor for his own gain to someone along the line of the Gracchi brothers.
Allegedly, H. P. Lovecraft came from a wealthy family that fell into poverty while he was a child.
Richard the Lionhearted blew so much money on the Third Crusade that, when he was captured by European enemies on his way home, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had to spend a year raising enough to ransom him back.
The descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte (or rather, the descendants of his relatives) fit this trope. One of the (disputed) heirs to the throne has studied management. The other is an economist.
Many, many royal families were overthrown and lost their stuff after the two World Wars, becoming this to different degrees as they lived in exilement. A curious case would be Tsar Simeon of Bulgaria, who was forced out of Bulgaria when it became a satellite country under the watch of the USSR... and made a comeback by becoming Prime Minister half a century later.note He is the only person to have been both a hereditary monarch and an elected head of government.
More than one Catholic saint of either gender had a background like this too. I.e.: Saint Alberto Hurtado came from a well-off family, but once his father died when he was a kid his family soon went into bankruptcy and had to sell their land, which was a big deal among Chilean elite back then. He went to become a Scholarship Student in both school and university, growing up into a lawyer and Jesuit priest and the advocate for social Christianity in Chile.
Audrey Hepburn. During the war, her Belgian family's property, bank accounts, and even heirlooms were confiscated by the Germans.
During the 19th century in Spain, nobility lost their privileges, most notably tax exemption. This hit the lower nobility, whom often became landless laborers as a result, particularly hard.
Subverted in Toby Young's memoir, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Young pursues a journalistic career in New York with, by his own admission, a spectacular lack of success, and amongst other things tries to impress people with his title of 'The Hon. Toby Young'. However, whilst he is at times impoverished, he isn't a true patrician. His father was a left-wing political activist and writer who was awarded a life peerage. Oh, and people aren't impressed either. Hilarity Ensues.
As mentioned above, Pedro de Valdivia and many other Spanish hidalgos fell into poverty in the Renaiscence times and later, so they came to America in search of riches, lands, servants, and specially honor and a name for themselves. The results were... well, varied: some did become famous and powerful, others died in either poverty or the war, etc.
The small town Bethlehem during Antiquity. It was known for farmers and shepherds who were descendants of King David.
The von Trapp family — yes, The Sound of Music guys. It wasn't in the movie, but it's described in Maria von Trapp's book. Financial difficulties after the "Anschluss" (Annexation of Austria) caused a lot of bank failures — including theirs — and all of Captain von Trapp's savings were wiped out overnight.
One of the last members of the Timurid dynasty which ruled Central Asia and India (as the Mughals) is a tea vender in Calcutta.
Angelo Roncalli's family were sharecroppers, but they descended from a very secondary branch of an Italian noble clan. Angelo himself would go the Rags to Riches (sorta) way and become Pope Blessed John XXIII.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born to a well-to-do old-money family: his father was a count and an insurance executive (France, having long been a republic, got used to working nobles long before Britain began thinking about it). However, he died when Antoine was 3 years old, leaving the family with far less income. As a result, his mother had to severely cut back in order to send her children to good schools.
Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, spent time in various prisons and sanitariums after being deposed. After being released from a Communist prison, he was allowed to live in an ordinary residence in Beijing. He spent the last three years of his life working as an editor for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference for 100 yuan per month.
Surprisingly, not few of them joined the original Communists, the Russian Bolsheviks. Not all Bolshevik leadership was educated commoners; there was, in fact, not enough educated commoners in Imperial Russia to fill the vacancies. Vladimir Lenin himself was of noble birth, though of quite minor importance. So was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of VChKa.