I was wondering what might happen to the children of a nobleman who lost his fortune. What would happen to his daughters if he couldn't dower them? Would they go into some kind of service? Presumably a son would still inherit, but aside from finding a rich wife, in what ways would he maintain his lifestyle? (Aside from borrowing, of course.) Thank you!
It was actually pretty difficult for a member of the titled aristocracy to "lose his fortune," if not outright impossible (except by attainder and forefeiture ... which automatically entailed loss of title as well). Wealth was based in land holding, and large chunks of land do not often go missing! Remember, the modern concept of banking, mortgages, and speculative investing such as stock portfolios did not yet exist. I cannot myself readily think of any imaginary scenario in which a person of the 16th century might "lose his fortune" short of being stripped of virtually all of his landholdings (and title!) as a legal punishment for some kind of criminal wrongdoing. Maybe some reader of this site can propose such a scenario for us to discuss?
I've been trying to come up with another scenario, and can't !
Two "case histories" that sprang to mind were the Dudley family (suffered attainder not once, but twice, and still bounced back).
Edmund Dudley was executed under attainder on the accession of Henry VIII, basically for being a scapegoat for Henry VII's unpopular fiscal policies. However, he had used his previous influence to get himself a well connected wife (Viscountess de Lisle in her own right).
On this lady's remarriage (to the illegitimate half uncle of Henry VIII) she was granted some of the attainted lands back. At the age of 7, the son, John Dudley was given in wardship to be brought up by Sir Richard Guildford (whose daughter he later married). After rising to the dizzying heights of Duke of Northumberland and Lord Protector, the second Dudley tried queen making, failed and was executed. His wife used all her court influence- begging letters to anyone that would read them, gifts to Queen Mary's ladies. She managed to achieve the freedom of three other sons; Robert and Ambrose Dudley survived and were released to try and regain favour by soldiering for Prince Philip's French wars. The daughters died young or married courtiers/nobles.
The notoriously impecunious Edmund Howard (as a younger son, never had access to his own wealth or land, and it would seem lacked the type of personality to gain favour from Henry VIII), but kept himself afloat by serial marriages to wealthy widows and begging odd jobs around court (ceremonial decoration at the "Cloth of Gold " meeting, later a Controller at Calais).
Too poor and without enough direct influence to do what was needful for his children, they were installed in more powerful relatives' households, to be brought up to further the interests of the Howard family as best they could. Catherine Howard captured King Henry’s attention; her brother Charles died of fever in the Tower for capturing that of Lady Mary Douglas, the Kings niece. Soldiering or diplomacy for boys; marriage to rising men or the better off local gentry willing to overlook lack of dowry for aristocratic connections for girls. Court jobs for anyone possible.
So even in cases of attainder and forfeiture, the web of family relationships and influence often protected other family members.
The only riches to rags story I can think of wouldn’t involve the nobility… if a merchant say lost all of his cash investment in a single ship that went down? Although he would have to have been a bit of an incompetent businessman to manage that…and have no other investments in lands or other family connections… even for the mercantile class it would be more of a slow decline.
William Shakespeare's father was an up and coming businessman, who married well into a family of local gentry and quite a lot of success until a combination of bad loans, usury charges and dodgy business practices caught up with him.
Apologies for the mini essay – I got rather caught up with this idea
As Curdle says, one such person who comes readily to mind is Lord Edmund Howard, a younger son of the second Duke of Norfolk and his first wife. Lord Edmund actually hid from creditors and famously said he would ‘dig and delve’ to earn a living, except that his noble standing made such manual labour inappropriate.
(Charles Howard was Katherine’s brother but he did not die in the Tower: he was warned off his relationship with Lady Margaret Douglas in late 1541. However, his half-uncle, Lord Thomas Howard, his father’s half-brother, did die in the Tower in 1537 - after being incarcerated because of his affair with the same Margaret Douglas, which makes one think his half-nephew Charles perhaps was not the quickest witted member of the family!)
On 11 December 1541, the Council asked for guidance as to what should be done about Lady Bridgewater’s children living at Norfolk House, Lambeth, which was in the process of being (legally) ransacked by Henry VIII’s agents for money and valuables. The Countess of Bridgwater was a daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk and his second wife Agnes Tilney, making her a full sister of the Lord Thomas mentioned above. Agnes, dowager Duchess of Norfolk, brought up the future Queen Katherine Howard, her step-granddaughter, in Horsham and Lambeth and was put in the Tower in December 1541 for concealing the girl’s lively past from Henry VIII.
Lady Bridgwater’s first husband, Rice ap Griffith, had been executed for treason, and she had subsequently married the earl of Bridgwater. Her children to her late first husband were living with their grandmother, Agnes, in her Lambeth mansion, just as the future Queen Katherine had done, and this was quite normal. The revelations of Queen Katherine’s misdemeanours there plunged the Howard clan into chaos, and into the Tower.
On 12th December it was recorded that ‘those [children] that are too young to help themselves are to be nourished’, while those old enough were to be ‘put to service’. On 13th December, Agnes Rice (Rhys), Lady Bridgewater’s daughter by her first husband, ‘to be sent to Lady Oxford’, while her brothers, Griffith and Thomas Rice, ‘to go the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Durham’.
Eventually the Howard clan was released (except, of course, for Queen Katherine) and I wonder what would have been the long-term arrangement for the Rice children had their mother not been released. When Lord Edmund Howard had pleaded poverty he spoke of his ‘10 starving children’, half of whom were stepchildren, but the earl of Bridgwater appears not to have been involved with his.
I suppose the de la Poles would give various examples of ruin after attainder, because of their opposition to Henry VII. But they operated before the Statute of Uses - which finally cut off arm's length dealing with land - so probably had their property well protected by a system of trusts.
Another point about treason is that confiscation of lands only took place upon pronouncement of sentence - so you see plenty of aristos convicted but not sentenced. And the crown often regranted lands after sentence.
Mortgages were used in the 16thC, but I can't give an example of an English lord losing it all that way - there are examples of Irish lords.
Money was in increasing demand in the Tudor period, so having land where rents were often paid in kind yielded diminishing returns and made the landowner relatively poor.
My favourite example of a son on his uppers is the chancer, Thomas Lee - he was well connected, but turned highwayman before going into military service and was put to death for treason:
Yes, Shtove, a form of what might be called, in modern terminology, a "mortgage" was used in the 16th century, but they were not really comparable to modern mortgages. They involved private loans between individuals with various kinds of property (real estate, jewels, plate, access to trade monopolies, etc) put up as collateral. Only very rarely did some corporate entity loan money to an individual with real estate taken as collateral. I would actually use the term "pawn" to describe the 16th century practice, rather than "mortgage," especially in those rare instances where some corporate entity was involved, since borrowers in those instances usually put up jewels and plate as collateral rather than real estate.
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