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They wouldn't go out gathering wood in such fancy dresses, or even gather wood at all, if they could help it.

"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."
Elizabeth Seymour, The Tales of the Long Bow by G. K. Chesterton
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A character comes from the bluest of Blue Blood; they may be descended from royalty, or at least from the highest circle of aristocracy or Old Money. Their family name is loaded with history.

Unfortunately, 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 often made worse by the fact that there are usually things their noble blood obliges them to spend money on: Clothing and other accoutrements befitting their roles; hosting the elite of society at lavish parties; or the upkeep on a needlessly large house that they cannot sell without shame. Worst of all, though some take the Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job, others feel that doing a hard day's work is beneath them, are legally forbidden to take up an occupation (at least any one that could make real money), or are incapable of making their own money. They feel obligated - or may even be legally obligated by their title - to preserve the Good Old Ways, although the author often disagrees with them about how good said ways really are.

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The official term for this status is genteel poverty.

Often crops up in Arranged Marriage storylines, as rich merchant families would buy their way into high society by matching their daughter with the noble family's male heir. Impoverished noble daughters marrying a Self-Made Man is also a possibility, although less common since titles most often pass only through male heirs (the man can get only connections and not the title- though his children will get it). 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 Bulrushes. Here the aristocrat (and generally everyone else) is all too aware of his 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 Gentleman Snarker'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.

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Contrast Nouveau Riche and Simple, yet Opulent.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 harassment of the Colombian cartels.
  • Butterflies, Flowers: Choko's family lost their fortune 13 years before the series' beginning and now only own a small restaurant.
  • Crest of the Stars: Jinto Linn becomes this soon after the war between the Abh and the Four Nations Alliance begins. He's still technically nobility and is referred to as a Count, but his territory was among the first ones captured by the United Mankind. This means that his officer's quarters on the warship he serves on are literally the only home he has, which his fellow crewmembers tease him about by putting up a sign labelling it "The smallest noble mansion in the Empire". He does get his territory back later in the story but is forced to accept a "Lord-in-Exile" arrangement, since none of the locals want him as their leader, so it really doesn't do him any good.
  • William Twining from Devils and Realist becomes one when his uncle's business fails, leaving the family bankrupt.
  • Expecting to Fall into Ruin, I Aim to Become a Blacksmith:
    • As the title suggests, knowing due to Media Transmigration that he and his future wife Eliza will become poor potato farmers, as opposed to their current nobility, Kururi learns a trade to make that easier. It works thanks to Amnesiac Residence, and they live basically middle class until returning to their friends.
    • Toto is from a Baronial family that fell on hard times, and hopes to become a Self-Made Man with herbalist experiments. Toto eventually gets a sponsorship from Kururi in exchange for a percentage of his profits, and he hits it big starting with skincare treatment herbs, eventually post-Time Skip, becoming a medicine mogul.
  • This is one of the driving reasons behind Donquixote Doflamingo's Dark and Troubled Past in One Piece. Even "better", the Donquixotes used to be freaking World Nobles.
  • Florian and his mother in Gorgeous Carat, though she tries to hide it.
  • Margot from the Germany arc of Hana no Ko Lunlun, whose family is knee-deep in debts nevermind their nobility. For worse, a Nouveau Riche Dirty Old Man really wants to force her into marriage...
  • Roderich Edelstein a.k.a. Austria from Hetalia: Axis Powers. 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 and WW2.
  • The Durant family a.k.a. Jeudi's grandparents and mother in Honoo no Alpen Rose. While they still have their Big Fancy House, it's the only thing left of their former power and wealth, which is greatly diminished due to Those Wacky Nazis and the pressure from Arms Dealer Michel de Toulonchamp.
  • I'm the Evil Lord of an Intergalactic Empire:
  • 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 Russells' 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.
  • Lapis Re:LiGHTs has two very different examples. Rosetta of LiGHTS is working numerous part-time jobs as her family has fallen on hard times. Ratura of Sugar Pockets, however, is working because her parents refuse to give her an allowance that can support her lifestyle.
  • Many characters in Ōoku: The Inner Chambers 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. He also refuses to charge money for his stud services in an era devastated by a Gendercide plague where good-looking fertile young men could name their own price, so his getting sent to the shogun's harem is a big stroke of luck for his family.
  • Overlord (2012): Arche's parents were Imperial nobles stripped of most of their fortune by the Emperor yet still cling on to their finery (and even spend money they don't have on Conspicuous Consumption). They're the reason their daughter Arche needs to take unpleasant, immoral and occasionally illegal jobs to make ends meet, and thus leads to her death in Nazarick. Not only that, but they sell off their two youngest daughters into slavery.
  • Kaisar Lidfard in Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, a fallen aristocrat knight-turned-bounty hunter; his father was executed and his family name disgraced (due to their failure to protect a royal treasure) at the hands of Kaisar's best friend or so he thinks, anyway.
  • In The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World, Idola descends from a long line of wizards who used their position as the Royal Family's Wand to make the world a better place. But after her father lost a Wizard Duel, he lost his title and his family was subsequently exiled from the royal capital. In the present, Idola still lives in a lavish mansion, but only has Poseidon to staff it and lacks the funds to hire anyone more expensive than a B-rank adventurer to help her.
  • 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.
  • Snow White with the Red Hair: Mihaya grew up as the third son of the earl of Sisk, who was manipulated into losing almost all of the family's money and then stripped of his lands and titles by Izana shortly after the prince came of age. Mukaze is also a former noble who now lives as an outlaw in the mountains of Tanbarun, his daughter however was born after he and his wife had been outlawed and stripped of their titles so she never had any titles to lose.
  • Shuurei's family in The Story of Saiunkoku. 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.
  • In Strike Witches, after the liberation of Gallia from the Neuroi, Perrine spends all of her family's sizeable fortune on rebuilding her homeland.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs:
    • In Holfort's Lady Land Fantastic Caste System, Leon, Daniel, and Raymond and many other rural low nobles have their family's wealth systemically drained to Rich Bitch wives of the heads of their family who live opulently in the capitol with their lovers, while her Hen Pecked Husband and their boys are worked to the bone on their islands. This being the result of a social engineering experiment by the Royal Family to reign in warlordism and centralize authority.
    • Angelica's original fate before Leon's intervention was supposed to be being punished for her supposed bullying by being forced to marry a poor man from the countryside.
    • Marie's family turns out to be this both because her father is The Gambling Addict and proud, and her older sister's spending sprees. Marie's family do things like take out loans in Marie's name or send debt collectors to raid her room in the academy. In the Alternate Timeline Marie Route, this situation drives Marie's family into a Nobility Marries Money plot where Marie is to be sold off to a Nouveau Riche Sky Pirates supporting family.
    • In Alzer, Noelle and Lelia are each a Fallen Princess due to a Ruling Family Massacre coup plot, but neither seems too averse to a commoner standard of living.
  • Lux and Airi in Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle. They used to be part of the imperial family of the Old Arcadia Empire but lost their wealth in two stages. First, their maternal grandfather Wade angered the emperor, causing the two siblings and their mother to be thrown out of the imperial court. Second, and much more drastically, the Empire was destroyed in a rebellion and replaced by the New Kingdom, which treated Lux and Airi as criminals. They were released on parole but saddled with a huge debt (equal to a fifth of the national treasury), which they have to work to pay off.
  • The Villainous Daughter's Butler, I'll Crush the Destruction Flags: No-Name's backstory is that he was set up and betrayed, and became The Don of the Wrong Side of the Tracks including Human Trafficking and being a Knowledge Broker, to eventually get revenge on the nobles who stripped him of everything.

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    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics (2015): Jughead Jones's family lost their wealth after investing in a scam involving a water bottling plant called "Purejug," and said incident is the source of his nickname.
  • Several members of Batman's Rogues Gallery:
    • The Penguin, also known as Oswald Cobblepot, hailed from a once-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.
    • Victor Zsasz inherited a fortune from his family and lost it all by gambling (In one continuity, to Penguin).
    • 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).
    • Lady Vic (a.k.a. Lady Elaine Marsh-Morton) is an aristocrat who is descended from a long line of mercenaries and assassins. Unfortunately, names don't pay the bills, and she's practically broke and carries on the family tradition solely to keep the family estate from being foreclosed upon.
  • In Disney Ducks Comic Universe, this is part of Scrooge's background, especially obvious in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, specifically written to explain why, if Scrooge came from an impoverished background, his family also has a huge ancestral castle.
  • Spider-Man villain Norman Osborn was born into a wealthy family but his father squandered the money.
  • Superman:
    • Pre-Crisis story The Krypton Chronicles shows twenty generations of the House of El ruled over one whole continent millenia ago. One civil war and a natural disaster later, and they were wearing rags and living off harvesting seaweed.
    • In Strangers at the Heart's Core, Supergirl's enemy Gravity Lord is the last scion of an English aristocratic family which lost their fortune during the American Revolution and were unable to get their wealth back.
    • Different continuities go back and forth on it a lot, but for a while, the standard Lex Luthor backstory was that the Luthors used to be one of the most powerful families in Metropolis, until Wallace Luthor lost everything in the '29 stock market crash, resulting in Lex growing up in Suicide Slum (or possibly Smallville) hearing his drunken father ramble about the family's former greatness. Lex therefore became determined to do what his father couldn't and rebuild the Luthor name.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Beverly Hillbillies story The Big Shindig, a subplot has Sonny Drysdale engaged to the daughter of impoverished English baronet Sir Wastrel Mendicant.
  • Earth and Sky: It's implied in the story (and confirmed by Word of God) that Prince Blueblood only married Diamond Tiara because he needed money and her family's one of the richest in Equestria. For her part, Tiara only married him for the prestige; neither pretends to be in love with each other.
  • The Karma of Lies: Played With; while the Agrestes remain technically wealthy, Adrien finds himself unable to access any of their fortune himself after Lila drains the Agreste emergency account. His aunt becomes his guardian, but refuses to furnish the lavish lifestyle he's used to, and he complains bitterly about being stuck in an upper-middle-class apartment which is 'smaller than his old closet'.
  • The Klingon House of Chel'toK in Red Fire, Red Planet. Their only holding of note is a nearly depleted segment of asteroid belt, and the house "fleet" consists of two Birds-of-Prey and an ancient relic of a D7 battlecruiser that they can't even fully crew.
  • This is Baroness Adagio Dazzle's situation at the beginning of When It Rains. After her parent's death, Fancy Pants was appointed to manage her affairs until she came of age. He has driven her Barony into the ground, to the point where her only hope is the upcoming Festival of Remembrance in Ponyville.
  • Delacroix House, the Great House that Gloss and Cashmere are from, were in this situation in The Victors Project for at least twenty-six years. By the time Gloss and Cashmere voluntarily enter the district's Career tribute academy, the family is greatly indebted with two of their sons being Peacekeepers in outlying districts. Thankfully, their situation improves after Gloss becomes Victor, making them respected among the Great Houses and allowing them to recall their sons back. With Cashmere's victory, they're the only Great House to have more than one Victor.

    Films — Animation 
  • Corpse Bride:
    • Victoria's parents Lord and Lady Everglot are, to paraphrase their introductory song, "land-rich, bankrupt aristocracy without a penny to their name". Their enormous house suggests that they once had wealth to go with their title but size aside, the house is dilapidated and almost completely empty of furniture.
    • Lord Barkis Bittern has a title but no money, one reason he murdered Emily on the night he told her they would elope—unfortunately, both Barkis and the Everglots are under the mistaken impression that the other party is in possession of great wealth.
  • Prince Naveen's family in The Princess and the Frog is plenty rich; he's just been cut off due to his carefree lifestyle.

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    Professional Wrestling 
  • This was Prince Nana's motivation for returning to Ring of Honor in 2008, the loss of his crown being the straw that broke his pride (don't worry, it got better after Barack Obama's stimulus package).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted: 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 semblance 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.
  • Fairly common in BattleTech, for several reasons. First, there are a lot of wars and a noble's holdings (which can range in size from a manor house to an entire planet) might be attacked and destroyed or conquered. This was especially true during the Clan Invasion when numerous planets were overrun by the Clans, who operate in a caste-based command economy. Second, nobles sometimes fall out of favor after backing the wrong side in a power struggle or just because whoever's in charge of the Successor State they belong to doesn't like them. Third, quite a few noble titles really aren't worth anything. It's quite possible for someone to be "rewarded" for their services with a barony that consists of a patch of rock that can't be farmed and has no mining or industrial value, thus earning no money.
  • In Eberron, the surviving members of the Cyran nobility tend to be this. Cyre, formerly the crowning glory of the Five Nations, was reduced to a hellscape of dead bodies, hideous mutations and lots and lots of Ominous Fog following its destruction by what may well have been a Fantastic Nuke, and so Cyran nobles tend to have little but the clothes they fled in, a little bit of money and their pride - especially since between the war and the magical apocalypse that swallowed it, Cyre is essentially no longer considered a nation and their titles have been noticeably devalued in the eyes of the nobles of other nations, who still have land and wealth.
  • The Eyrie Dynasty in Root, having just recovered from losing most of their territory to the Marquise de Cat, start the game with only a single clearing under their control.

    Theatre 
  • 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 Count in Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville.
  • 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.
  • The Mrs. Hawking play series: Cassius Evans in the comedic spinoff Gentlemen Never Tell. He’s the third son of an earl who has been selling off family lands to maintain their style of living for years now, and so makes his way by staying in the houses of his rich friends, earning his keep through charm and throwing entertaining parties for them.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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 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; but after assuming Rin's guardianship, Kirei (purposely) mishandled the estate and most of the properties were lost.
  • Natsuhi from Umineko: When They Cry. Being from a family of impoverished Shinto priests and having married the eldest son and heir of the very rich Ushiromiya clan in an Arranged Marriage (which came from Kinzo's Scarpia Ultimatum), her Rich Bitch sister-in-law Eva looks down on her and calls her a "maidservant".
  • The Zaberisks in Animamundi Dark Alchemist is not completely broke, but they are in crippling debt to an All Devouring Black Hole Loan Shark — unlike most examples, Georik is really only concerned if they have enough to live on, he doesn't seem to give a rat's ass about keeping up appearances.

    Webcomics 
  • Girl Genius:
    • It's implied 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.
    • The families the children on the Castle come from are not so much impoverished and 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 exploiting the peasants and blowing things up, that is); they don't really like this idea.
    • There is also mention of various noble families that have nothing but their names because some Spark conquered their lands at some point back. Other nobles often grant them a place in their own households, because it is considered bad form not to, but if the landless nobles are sufficiently irritating their hosts will try to find them a dangerous task that gets them out of the court and possibly into an early grave to get rid of them.
  • Sylvester and Mortimer in The Mansion of E, though Sylvester is plugging away at restoring their family's financial status.
  • Khun Aguero Agnes 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 Khun Maria became a Princess of Jahad. Considering he wanted her to be that all along and made it happen, it was his own damn fault.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The Västerström family, that had its Riches to Rags moment at least four years ago when the story starts. Siv calls her and Torbjörn's house "the last nice thing we own".

    Web Original 
  • Subverted in the Furry Basketball Association. Lord Joseph Trundle, the 12th Baron Overstone (a.k.a. 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.

    Web Videos 
  • Draven Rowe, one of the four protagonists of Tales from My D&D Campaign, is the rightful Marquis of Rowan, a small but wealthy region in the human kingdom of Verandi. Unfortunately, the evil homicidal Kua-Toan Empire overran Rowan, and all the rest of Verandi, a hundred and forty years ago, driving Draven's ancestors north to the allied human realm of Vistria. Draven works for the Hand of Sirius, a semi-secret order dedicated to protecting humanity across the world, and dreams of one day gathering the resources and numbers to reconquer Rowan and Vistria, and drive the Kua-Toa back to the abyss that spawned them.

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