Nobility Marries Money

"This wasn't a marriage. This was a merger."
Abbie Carmichael, Law & Order

A marriage between a Nouveau Riche family who want respect from the upper class and an Impoverished Patrician family. The tradeoff is obvious. The rich family climbs a few steps up the social ladder, and the impoverished family climbs out of the financial hole.

This can set up a number of plots. For one, it's likely to be an Arranged Marriage, and either the bride and/or groom is none too happy about this. Often we get a Runaway Bride, and all the subsequent adventures she has. Or the wedding goes through, and we see the drama that can ensue from such a pairing.

This has been Truth in Television for centuries, but it became especially notorious during the Victorian Era/The Gilded Age, when many British noble families were running out of money and then scooping up brides from families of industrialists and businessmen, very often American ones (the most prominent example being Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough). Also subverted (in Continental European works) when provincial Nouveau Riche males sought lovers/mistresses/courtesans from Impoverished Patrician families, either born so or even women who had been married at some point in their past with a Blue Blood and laid claim to a real or fictitious title.

Compare Gold Digger, Meal Ticket, Trophy Wife.

Contrast Marry for Love, Unable to Support a Wife, Altar Diplomacy.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Found in Stepping on Roses: Nozomu, the heir to a banking fortune, has a arranged marriage to Impoverished Patrician Miu. When she asks about divorcing Nozumu, her father says that they need his money.
  • In The Secret Agreement, this is the idea behind the very sudden wedding between Iori and Hisayo. The well-respected Hanayashiki family arranges a marriage with the wealthy Yonekura family to restore their fortunes. The Hanayashikis are guaranteed financial security and the Yonekuras benefit from the Hanayashiki reputation. The groom stays for the ceremony but ends up running away that night, chasing after his lover. The remaining family members seem to get along, however, and still consider it a legitimate alliance.
  • In Victorian Romance Emma, this is the main reason Viscount Campbell approves his daughter Eleanor's engagement to William Jones despite his disdain for anyone who is not an aristocrat (the Joneses are wealthy merchants, and relative newcomers to high society). There is a great deal of gossip about the Jones family fortune and the Campbell family's financial straits at the party celebrating their engagement.

  • The current page image is Pavel Fedotov's 1848 painting Matchmaking of the Major, where a noble, but rather poor retiring major intends to marry a rich merchant's daughter. The painter wrote a non too short poem commenting on the art piece.
  • The concept is relentlessly satirized in 18th Century British artist William Hogarth's Marriage à-la-mode, a series of paintings that tell the story of an Arranged Marriage between the son of a bankrupt Earl and the daughter of a greedy businessman. The marriage is a disaster right from the start, with both partners quickly engaging in affairs with other people and generally neglecting each other and the crumbling state of their household. In the end, the husband is killed in a duel against his wife's lover when he catches them in the act. The wife then commits suicide after both her husband has died and her lover has been executed for his murder.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Corpse Bride, Victor's parents have money and are extremely excited to get a chance to be part of the nobility. Victoria's parents are noble and are absolutely disgusted that marrying her off to the Nouveau Riche is the only way to get out of their perpetual poverty — they even acknowledge that the only thing that would be worse would be marrying someone else poor. However, once Victor and Victoria meet, they like each other for other reasons.
  • In the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, Prince Naveen comes to New Orleans to find a young woman from a suitably wealthy family to marry, because his parents have cut him off.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Titanic (1997): Rose gets engaged to Cal. Rose's father got her family into debt, and their family name is their only real asset now.
  • Shakespeare in Love: Viola, a daughter of a wealthy merchant, marries Lord Wessex, who needs money.
  • Gosford Park:
    • Sir William McCordle was a wealthy industrialist who married Lady Sylvia, the daughter of an Earl whose family was impoverished. Sir William pays an allowance to his wife's aunt, Constance, Countess of Trentham; he expresses his intention to stop paying this money before he is murdered.
    • The Honourable Freddie Nesbitt married his wife, Mabel, who was the daughter of a glove manufacturer. Their marriage isn't happy.

  • Averted in A Brother's Price - Jerin's grandfather, Prince Alannon, doesn't wed money because he's abducted by his future brides, who are just spies. Later on, Cullen is married to the Whistler sisters despite them not being able to afford the brother's price he usually could have fetched. His eldest sister says she wants him to be happy. Played straight with the marriage offer of the Porters, who are nobility, but never married a royal prince, which they seek to amend by marrying a descendant of Prince Alannon, even though he may be poorer than they are.
  • The novel The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton (and the BBC mini-series based on it) revolves around five wealthy and ambitious American girls, their guardians and the titled, landed but impoverished Englishmen who marry them as the girls participate in the London Season in search of a titled English gentleman for matrimonial purposes.
  • The Alloy of Law: The protagonist Wax who is the current Lord of an old but currently broke house, arranges a marriage contract with a woman from a young and well off house.
  • A theme in George R.R. Martin's A Feast for Crows in his Epic Fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire, where Manipulative Bastard Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is using his skill with money and connections to Gulltown merchants to set up marriage alliances between debt-consumed High Lords and wealthy merchants. Lyonel Corbray and the Arryns of Gulltown are a prominent example.
    • In the westerlands, the Westerlings, an old and honorable but increasingly minor house, married into the Spicers, a relatively new house formed by a family of spice merchants.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen:
    • Mr William Elliot of the Kellynch family and a future baronet (Sir Walter's heir presumptive) married a low born woman from a butcher's family who was vastly rich. He wanted to be wealthy quickly and independent, and when he was young, he did not value the baronetcy and Blue Blood connections a lot. His wife is said to have loved him very much, but he did not love her at all and it's implied that he treated her rather harshly, if not outright cruelly. From what is known he must have been at least emotionally abusive to her. It's probable that Mr Elliot did not mix with her family after her death, so her family gained very little from this marriage while Mr Elliot was all take and no give.
    • Anne Elliot fell for Captain Wentworth before the start of the plot. Her friends and aristocratic family tell her to reject him because he's poor. A few years on, he's risen up through the ranks of the navy and made quite a lot of money, while Sir Walter Elliot is deep in debts. However, the marriage of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot relies on their love, and he doesn't care much for her coming from Blue Blood and she doesn't really care about his great wealth beyond being happy that they can afford to get married and have a comfortable income.
  • In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby marries Miss Gray. He's a gentleman (and a scoundrel) of a landed gentry with a mansion house called Combe Magna, and he will inherit another house from his aunt. However, he lives extravagantly and is deep in debts. Miss Gray has a dowry of fifty thousands pounds, which makes her the wealthiest heiress in Jane Austen's 'verse. Her feelings for him are not entirely clear, but he was a fashionable, handsome man, and she wanted to get married so she could part with her guardians with whom she didn't get along. Willoughby claims he loves Marianne Dashwood who is lovely, intelligent, passionate, but poor as a church mouse, and Miss Gray, being rather plain, is understandably jealous, but it's only Willoughby's words. They are not an ideal couple but the narrator says at the end of the book that they were not always unhappy together.
  • In Arcia Chronicles, everyone thinks that this is the reason why Alexander (the king's youngest brother) marries Jacqueline re Flo (daughter and sole heir of the wealthy late King Maker). However, in reality, he does it mainly to protect his Unlucky Childhood Friend from other, less scrupulous suitors.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in Men at Arms with Sam Vimes (then poor and a common copper) is marrying Sybil Ramkin (the richest and highest-titled lady in Ankh-Morpork). Only in later books is it revealed (or Ret-Conned) that the Vimes family was nobility before being stripped of their titles and money for killing the last king of Ankh-Morpork, and Vimes becomes a Duke only some time after he's married.
    • Referenced in The Truth, when William separates himself from his father by using the dwarf tradition of repaying the costs of his childhood.:
      Lord de Worde: Do you really think that family is a matter of money?
      William: We-ell, yes, historically speaking. Money, land and titles. It's amazing how often we failed to marry anyone who didn't have at least two out of three.
  • Two of the marriages in Belisarius Series. Both turned out as Perfectly Arranged Marriage, Eric Flint having a fondness for this.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • Kethry of the Vows and Honor trilogy has a vicious version of this in her backstory: when she was twelve years old, her brother decided to fix his Impoverished Patrician status by marrying her off against her will to a rich and ambitious merchant with a thing for little girls. Kethry's old nurse managed to help her escape, but unfortunately not before the wedding night.
    • The reasons and political maneuvering behind the various forms of Arranged Marriage among the nobility are a theme of Closer to Home. Many of the young ladies (and, more to the point, their parents) are hoping to land wealthy merchants who will parade them at social functions, instead of older nobles merely looking for someone to provide an heir and a spare. The main characters, members of the more sexually liberated Heralds, decide that something ought to be done about a culture that raises girls to aspire to no more than a good match.
  • Eodar of Glory in the Thunder turned down his one chance to marry into money. He pressures his daughter not to make the same mistake.
  • The laotong relationship in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan ends up serving this purpose between the families of two little girls, who will be bound as dear friends for the rest of their lives. Lily's family (that of the narrator) is rich, ascending farmers; Snow Flower's family is high-ranking and aristocratic, but penniless. Lily's family learns elegant manners from Snow Flower; Snow Flower prepares for her descent into the working class with her time spent at Lily's.
  • The marriage of Gaius Marius to Julia, aunt of Gaius Julius Caesar, is a classic example. The Caesars are impoverished nobility with just enough means to maintain a decent lifestyle and Marius is a very wealthy 'New Man' who desperately needs some political clout. In all justice to Julia's father he likes and admires Marius as a man and believes he will be a good husband. Also the proposed bride and groom fancy each other from the start making it a Perfectly Arranged Marriage.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Blackadder III's episode "Amy and Amiability" was headed in this direction. Prince George, who was bankrupted by Parliament at the beginning of the season, attempted to marry the daughter of a wealthy industrialist for her money.
  • One episode of Law & Order featured a case made more complicated by the fact that the murder involved neighboring families with engaged children with a very complex relationship. It turns out the engagement was a merger between impoverished patricians on the one hand and nouveau riche on the other.
  • All over the place in Downton Abbey:
    • This forms the backstory of the show. Lord Grantham went to New York to find his bride; he found Cora Levinson, daughter of a dry-goods magnate from Cincinnati. A significant fraction of the first season's drama comes from the fact that at the old Earl's insistence, Cora's money was entailed to the estate—i.e. it can't be separated from the land and title. 30 years later, as they only had daughters (outside a few ancient, mostly Scottish oddities, British noble titles are very strictly part of the Heir Club for Men), and thus the family is very anxious about what will happen to the daughters.note 
    • Lord Grantham's sister, Lady Rosamund, was married to a Mr Marmaduke Painswick, a very wealthy but untitled banker whose grandfather was a self-made manufacturer (sure, his grandmother's father was a baronet, but that only goes so far). As the Dowager Countess put it, he wasn't quite a "rough diamond," "just cut and polished relatively recently."
    • In Series 2, Lord Grantham's eldest daughter, Lady Mary, is courted by a self-made newspaperman, Sir Richard Carlisle. Sir Richard, rather a rough diamond but very rich and very powerful (he knows everything that happens in Britain) well in line for a peerage during the next Tory government, hopes that his marriage to an earl's daughter would ease his path to the upper crust. However, it eventually proves that he and Lady Mary simply don't work as a couple, so this is, essentially, an aversion.
    • In Series 3, Matthew—a middle-class solicitor, the heir-presumptive to the title and estate, and by this point Lady Mary's husband—comes into money just as Lord Grantham finds out that he had lost everything (being a bit of a fool in financial matters, he had put the whole fortune in one basket, which was nationalised by the Canadian government). However, Matthew's new money comes from Mr Reginald Swire, the father of his late fiancée, Lavinia Swire (Mr Swire himself was, like Matthew, a solicitor; his brother was apparently a Liberal minister and linked to the Marconi scandal); Matthew, who blamed himself and his happiness with Mary for Lavinia's death, feels guilty taking Mr Swire's money. Commence half a series' worth of conflict.
    • The old, widowed and impoverished Lord Aysgarth (whose title, although "merely" a barony, is apparently very old) tries to pull this on Martha Levinson; she declines, saying she "ha[s] no interest in being a 'great lady,'" but offers to invite him to Newport so he can meet some old rich American widows who do. His daughter, Madeleine, has more success with Harold Levinson, but it's not clear where that's going.
  • Although technically not "nobility", Pete Campbell of Mad Men definitely qualifies as an Impoverished Patrician—despite being able to trace his ancestry to the original Dutch settlers on Manhattan (except perhaps for Virginia planters and Boston Brahmins, you really can't get any more Blue Blood than that in America!), and his family on his mother's side (the Dyckmans) once owning half of Upper Manhattan,note  by 1960 the Campbells are in serious financial trouble on account of his grandfather's bad investments in the 1920s and his father's more recent profligacy. So he marries Trudy Vogel, the daughter of a self-made executive at pharmaceutical firm Richardson-Vicks (the guys who make Clearasil anti-acne cream—the critical account that makes Pete so attractive to Sterling Cooper—as well as, well, Vicks. Like NyQuill and VapoRub). This has...mixed results.

    Video Games 
  • In The Last Story, although both were nobility, Jirall's family had fallen on hard times, but they were close relatives of the emperor. Count Arganan was quite wealthy, so he set up his niece, Calista, to marry Jirall and tie his family to the throne.