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Riches to Rags

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"Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're all drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal"
Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"

We're all familiar with the story of the young man or woman with absolutely nothing who worked hard to make enough money to open that business, and now have it all. The overall tale behind Bill Gates's rise to multi-billionaire is one of these; he started building computers in his garage (although his family was wealthy), and now has one of the largest computer empires in the world.

This trope is the exact opposite of that; it's the story of someone who used to have everything and now finds themselves with nothing.

A recurring motif is the idea of a rich, idle plutocrat who spent their life coasting on their wealth learning the value of hard work and to empathize with those who aren't born with silver spoons in their mouths. Other times, especially when the formerly rich person was particularly unsympathetic, their wealth will be taken away as a form of punishment for their arrogance (compare Future Loser).

It may also happen by choice. If Aristocrats Are Evil, except for a good member of the rich family, this guy may decide to cut ties with his family, even if that means to give up the high-class lifestyle (this is more likely if they discover that the family wealth comes from some evil activity, such as crime). In an inversion of the classic Uptown Girl story, the guy may leave with a poor girl and embrace a new simpler life without unneeded luxuries.

If the character is from the bluest in hue of bloods, they may be an Impoverished Patrician. If the character continues on as they did when they were rich, they may be a Princess in Rags. If the character stops being an Alpha Bitch and is revealed to be insecure or to have other sympathetic traits that make the audience like her, this might be a Fallen Princess. It might be a result of A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted, and/or Never Win the Lottery if the character is (well, was) Nouveau Riche. The Great Depression took this to its Logical Extreme. In the "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc, the first half of the story will depict the protagonist rising to power, and the second half will depict this trope.

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  • An old Discover Card commercial depicts a fictional Hair Metal band called Danger Kitty (played by Steel Panther) achieving fame and fortune in the year 1983, only to be completely broke a year later because they couldn't control their spending. The end of the commercial shows one of the band members working in a hot dog stand and reveals that their comeback attempt involved them playing a bar mitzvah.
  • A series of Dutch commercials for the mobile telecommunication company Telfort star a former millionaire who lost his entire fortune and has been forced to move from his villa to a small apartment, but at least, thanks to Telfort, he can still afford the same quality of internet and telephone services he used to have.
  • This Coca-Cola super bowl commercial featuring The Simpsons depicts Mr. Burns going broke and forced to sell everything (including Smithers). His happiness returns after Apu shares a bottle of Coca-Cola with him.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics (2015): Forsythe is the son of the richest family in Riverdale. His father was scammed into losing all their money in an issue involving a water bottling company. After that, Forsythe went from being one of the coolest kids in town to a laughingstock. He was given the nickname "Jughead" after the company his dad was scammed by.
  • In Battle, Kate came from a well-off family, who would have opposed her marriage to a working-class man like Charley had it not for the death of her fiance and shortage of eligible bachelors due to the war. Unfortunately, the Great Depression in the 1930s hadn't made their new life easier.
  • At the beginning of Get Jiro!, Bob and Rose are two of the most powerful people in L.A., running bourgeois cooking empires with nothing on their minds but their hatred for each other. By the end, the both of them are forced to flee the city with nothing but each other for company, the only food available being street-vendor fish tacos.
  • Iznogoud: When "The Unlucky Diamond" opens, the diamond's current owner was once a rich man, but after being given the cursed diamond for refusing to give food to a magician disguised as a beggar, he lost his house, his family, his money, everything. After he palms off the diamond on Iznogoud (who plans to give the jewel to the Caliph, only to discover it is a Clingy MacGuffin), his fortunes are restored almost immediately — as is his original haughty, "I've done my good deed for the day!" personality.
  • The Krypton Chronicles miniseries reveals it happened to the distant ancestors of Superman and Supergirl: the House of El had ruled the continent of Urrika for twenty generations until Hyr-El was overthrown by his tyrannical brother Vad-El. Vad-El's family branch died out one generation later during the Great Deluge, and although Hyr-El's sons survived, their descendants eked out a living by gathering algae for several generations. Some Els would later reach prominence, but their House never got to rule anything again.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck:
    • After the McDuck were driven out of their castle, Seafoam McDuck lost the family's fortune because of the disastrous sinking of a trading ship. (Reference to The Horseradish Story (1953), where Seafoam had put his own fortune as a guarantee that the ship's cargo would reach its destination.)
    • In The Master of the Mississippi, Scrooge temporarily manages a lucrative business, before the Beagle Boys manage to ruin him. Scrooge now only has his family heirlooms and a few dollars to his name.
  • In The Power of Shazam, Sivana goes from being a wealthy businessman to a criminal pauper, thanks to Captain Marvel.
  • Robin (1993): While the Drakes don't make it to outright poverty after several financial gambles on Jack's part leave them bankrupt, they do lose their mansion in Bristol Township and have to move into their very nice flat in Gotham and change their lifestyle a bit and Jack reacts like he's lost everything, barricading himself from his son and wife while contemplating suicide over the loss.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): After the wealthy slaver Count Mephisto Saturno failed the Emperor of Saturn too many times he was stripped of his title and enslaved.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "Maid Maleen": The titular princess becomes a homeless wanderer when her kingdom is destroyed. She and her servant wander from one village to another, living off nettle leaves, until they get hired as scullery maids.
  • In "The Nix in the Mill-Pond", the poor miller is a formerly wealthy man who fell on hard times.
    Once upon a time there was a miller. He lived contentedly with his wife. They had money and land, and their prosperity increased from year to year. But misfortune comes overnight. Just as their wealth had increased, so did it decrease from year to year, until finally the miller scarcely owned even the mill where he lived.
  • In Franz Xaver von Schönwerth's "King Goldenlocks", the prince finds work as a gardener's assistant after fleeing his country.
  • The Dutch folk tale about the "Lady of Stavoren" tells of the ruler of the namesake port city, who had grown very wealthy from trade and desired to be even richer. She sent a captain to bring the most precious thing in the world to her, and when he came back with a hold full of wheat (under the reasoning that, as it can feed the hungry, it is the most valuable thing in the world), she had it thrown into the sea in a fit of rage. The harbor of Stavoren silted up shortly after in punishment for her greed, cutting off trade to the city, causing it to begin its descent into the minor village it is today and driving its lady to destitution, forcing her to live out her days begging for bread in the street.


  • All The Skills - A Deckbuilding LitRPG: Arthur lives in a prison village at the edge of the kingdom, where all the adults are condemned to death. He soon discovers that his father used to be a duke, but he was sentenced and exiled for a crime that had all his lands and titles stripped from him. It's implied that his father was betrayed and scapegoated for political reasons. Arthur barely remembers the time before the village.
  • In L'Assomoir, Gervaise, after becoming rich from her laundry, becomes poor because of excessive expenses.
  • Bazil Broketail: Evander used to be a prince, but now is a fugitive trying to find a new place for himself in the world.
  • Esperanza Rising: Esperanza starts out living a luxurious life on her family's ranch. Then she loses everything and is forced to live and work on a farm camp for migrant workers, which she has difficulty adjusting to.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: As Dumbledore reveals to Harry, the House of Gaunt, whose last members in the family would become Voldemort's relatives with his birth, suffers from this. The family was formerly wealthy and respected, but their thriftless spending, desire to maintain their pureblood status, and liking for grandeur meant that their bank accounts drained quickly. The last members of the family were reduced to living in a tiny, filthy shack near a Muggle settlement, with only two valuable heirlooms remaining to call their own.
  • A Little Princess is the story of how a wealthy 11-year-old girl becomes a penniless scullery maid after her father dies and struggles to survive in her new life.
  • The Lord of Bembibre: After his wife's death, Don Álvaro relinquishes his title and his lands, divides his wealth among his servants and vassals, and enters a convent as an anonymous, simple monk.
  • The Misfit of Demon King Academy: After Emilia Lud(o)well's transformation into a half-demon, not only was she naked in that form; she also lost her job, was booted from her family home, and she had no money. While she does eventually get ragged clothes, the job she gets only nets her a limited amount of money, and she was assailed by the racism she previously advocated for. She even laments that her food was poor in quality as well, and that she could not open any canned food she got.
  • In Ruslan and Ludmila, it happens by the character's own wish. Khan Ratmir leaves his title and riches behind and chooses to live as a simple fisherman.
  • Sister Carrie: Over the course of the novel, the rich and socially elite George W. Hurstwood gradually loses his status, his money, falls into gambling, and finally becomes homeless and commits suicide.
  • Talion: Revenant: Nolan's ancestors, apparently. He's descended from a prince who went into exile and had a family, while his descendants ended up being peasants.
  • This Side of Paradise: It's briefly mentioned that Clara Page was a high society person, thus implied to be wealthy, before she became a poor, widowed single mother.
  • Wicked: Elphaba, Nessarose, and Shell's mother Melena was a blue blood who gave it all away to live in poverty with her preacher husband, Frexspar.

  • The Rolling Stones song "Playing with Fire:"
    Your old man took her diamonds / And tiaras, by the score / Now she gets her kicks in Stepney / Not in Knightsbridge anymore
  • This is a common plot in opera, where the fall usually comes about as a punishment for women sleeping around. Examples include La Traviata and Manon (in the latter, the woman starts out as a commoner and becomes a rich mistress of a noble, but then falls toward poverty again when she cheats on the noble with her true love).
  • Van Halen in "As Is":
    Yesterday I was a bum and broke.
    Today I am a star and broke.
    In this town that's called progress,
    That's how we do biz.
  • Europe's 2012-album, "Bag of Bones", opens with a song titled "Riches To Rags", basically talking about how they've gone from being hugely successful, due in no small part to "The Final Countdown", to practically being an upcoming band again, at least financially.
  • The Kinks "Sunny Afternoon" has a rich aristocrat left penniless after a visit by the taxman
    The taxman's taken all my dough
    And left me in this stately home
    And I can't even sail my yacht
    He's taken everything I've got

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible, Jesus is spoken of as being rich, having all things He could ever want in Heaven, but as Paul the Apostle says in 2nd Corinthians "for your sakes became poor", having descended from Heaven in the form of man to live in relative poverty as a laborer "so that through His poverty you might become rich", being wealthy in the true riches of Heaven and having everything a believer would ever need to fulfill every need and even more for the sake of being generous givers.
  • Classical Mythology has Jason, who was hailed as a hero and earned a lot of riches after his quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece with the Argonauts. Then he made some really dumb mistakes, chiefly dumping his wife Medea, who proceeded to destroy everything Jason attained in one swift blow, from riches to even future family. The Gods thought that it was Jason's fault for becoming callous and ungrateful, and the celebrated hero was reduced to a beggar who eventually died on the rubble of his ruined old ship while reminiscing about his past glory days.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Downplayed with Barbra Dixon and her family. They're still well-off, but they don't boast nearly the same amount of money that they used to have when the Dixons turned Oldport into a boom town.
    • Destiny's father used to be a homeless man who came into money after meeting his wife and publishing a best-selling novel. However, their finances dropped again after Destiny was born, and the family has since fallen on hard times. They're now one of the few lower-class families in Oldport, and Destiny frequently takes on part-time jobs to support them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mutant Chronicles: "Rags" is a bit excessive, but otherwise quite adequately describes the fall of House Feldhausen. The Feldhausens were one of the most powerful families in Bauhaus, to the point that they were on the cusp of forcing the Bernheims, Sagliellis, Richthausens, and Romanovs to recognise them as a fifth Elector House, something completely unprecedented in Bauhaus history. Then the old count died, and his twin sons Viktor and Otto immediately began fighting over who was the true heir. The internecine conflict dangerously drained the house's resources, and, to top it all off, Viktor refused to recognize his defeat and fall in line, but instead took the followers and resources he could muster and defected to Imperial. Where there once was a proud house capable of shaking the bedrock of power in the Solar System, there are now two minor and relatively unimportant noble families, at constant seething yet explosive loggerheads.
  • One of the more commonly recurring characters in Yu-Gi-Oh! card art is Goblin of Greed. In his first appearance, he's a noveau-riche jerk who tosses coins on the ground to watch beggars pick them up. In his next appearance, he's shown to have lost all his money and is depicted as begging for coins in an Ironic Echo of his first appearance. Most other cards depicting him show his many desperate attempts to get his money back, usually by stealing and hawking valuable items.

  • In King Lear, the eponymous Lear goes from King to a mad beggar wandering the streets of his own kingdom in a few short scenes.
  • Les Misérables:
    • Although the Thenardiers aren't too wealthy to begin with, somewhere between selling Cosette to Valjean and the "present day" of 1832, they fall hard into poverty, being essentially reduced to begging (and thievery). This is especially apparent in Eponine, who in one scene has attention called to her nice clothing (especially compared to Cosette's literal rags), and in the next is wearing something not unlike what the impoverished Cosette was wearing earlier.
    • Fantine undergoes a minor riches-to-rags story as part of her Trauma Conga Line. One day she's working in a factory to help her daughter, the next she's selling her body (not only through prostitution but also through literally selling her hair and teeth).

    Visual Novels 
  • Cinderella Phenomenon: Princess Lucette Britton goes from riches to rags after a witch casts a curse on her that causes most people to forget that she is the Crown Princess of Angielle. As a result, she spends most of the story as a commoner.

  • Devil Number 4: Happens to Number 4 after breaking the rules to protect Hanna.
  • Freefall: Mr. Kornada, following his boneheaded attempt to subvert a patch program into a robot-lobotomizing Final Solution purely for personal gain, is tried and found guilty. His cash assets started at twelve million credits; the Mayor sentences him to an eleven million fine and seals the remaining million in a trust fund Kornada can't touch until he completes the second half of his punishment — a thousand days of working at a Cricket Burger. Only days in which his evaluation exceeds "Average" will count towards the goal, by the by.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The Västerström family underwent such an episode some time before the story started. Getting that status back by selling precious Old World books on the black market was the motivation behind Torbjörn organizing the expedition, while the same episode caused Emil to discover that his expensive private tutors actually hadn't educated him that well, causing him to drop out of academia and join the military.

    Web Original 
  • In The Fire Never Dies, many wealthy Americans lose their fortunes to the Revolution. Some flee abroad and manage to reconstitute their firms elsewhere, while those who stay are forced to find new employment. Of course, even they are lucky relative to those that were simply killed.
  • In The Grossery Gang webseries, Stinky used to be a wealthy Grossery back when he was much younger, but lost it all, along with his girlfriend, when he was swindled by his former best friend. He attempts to warn the newly rich Ricardo of the risky ventures he's taking, but he only gets brushed off. Stinky would later regain his fortune via Ricardo losing his by putting all of his stock in lotto tickets that get lost or destroyed...with the remaining winning one landing in Stinky's reach.
  • In one story of MoniRobo, Rinko's father's company went bankrupt and they were forced to move to a run-down apartment. Rinko's friends left her and Aki was the only one that helped her.
  • Sekai No Fushigi:
    • Yujima's family owned a giant chain of hot spring resorts and a chain of Chinese restaurants. However, her family's business went under and she is currently working at her father's ramen shop to pay her family's loans back.
    • Downplayed with Iroki, as while he's still rich, he's deliberately living frugally to give his wife Rika a modest life as punishment.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour: In "Down in Moonshine Holler", after falling in love with a hobo woman, features, millionaire Jasper Manorlodge renounces his riches and becomes hobo Banjo Bindlestuff to try and find his Hobo Princess.
  • Whateley Universe: When Ayla Goodkind was first disowned by his family for being a mutant, he was forced to live with his equally blackballed sister Gracie (who had been his brother Greg before coming out as Transgender); the shock of middle-class realities were crushing to him, and left a mark on him even after they managed to wrest a portion of his due inheritance from the family (a mere $300 million, which at first seemed a mere pittance to him compared to the billions he was raised to expect). Ayla's brief brush with poverty is best summed up in his own words:
    I spent my whole life being groomed to be... Well, something I can never do now. I had a couple weeks of living in someone's basement and eating Hamburger Helper, and it just about killed me.