Old Money Rules of the Nobility

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Aristocracy, Nobility, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

When the system of nobility first began to emerge during the Middle Ages, it was a fluid and informal class of esteemed individuals and notable royal servants. 

Over time, the early ranks and titles of nobility evolved into a more formal structure, the beginnings of the strict social hierarchy of aristocracy that we know today. 

Rules Of Aristocracy

As this beguiling and intriguing noble class structure evolved, a number of rules and requirements were put in place, ostensibly to protect the power and exclusivity of the aristocratic classes. 

Many of these rules and laws were related to the requirements of noble lineage, family heritage, and issues of hereditary titles. As the various aristocracies of Europe diverged along their own unique paths, some countries had different rules about what was and wasn’t deemed acceptable for nobles and their families. 

In some cases, these rules were enforced by the law of the land. For example, the French aristocrats of the ages faced legal restrictions on the type of work they were permitted to undertake. They could even face the loss of their noble titles or aristocratic rank if they were found to be working in manual labour roles, which were deemed to be inappropriate for the elite social classes. 

The Nobility & Social Expectations

While some of the rules and laws regarding the nobility were official requirements, i.e. clear-cut guidelines for adhering to the rules of nobility, there was another type of rule that was much more tricky to define, yet could be even more powerful and influential than the legal dictates. 

These were the unwritten social expectations of the aristocratic classes. These rules were not always the type to be found in any legal documents or etiquette guidelines, they were the adopted practices of the nobility that became ‘the way things are done’. 

These invisible rules and restrictions may not have had any legal or official basis, yet they were extremely powerful. A noble family could rise or fall based on their behaviour within these accepted guidelines. 

For example, within the aristocracy, certain discrete dalliances and romances were accepted. They may have been whispered about behind closed doors, but they were generally overlooked as harmless trysts or tolerable connections. 

Yet there was a fine line between acceptability and scandal, and the aristocracy was notorious for rising against individuals who crossed that line, often snubbing them socially, which could spell the end of a family’s reputation and status within the nobility. 

Old Money Rules Of The Nobility

Family connections and romantic liaisons were often areas where nobles could unwittingly fall foul of the unwritten social standards within the aristocracy. Yet there has historically been another aspect of noble life that has been hugely influential on a person’s reputation and place within the noble hierarchies, and that’s the aspect of family wealth. 

7th Duke of Westminster

7th Duke of Westminster – one of the wealthiest men in Britain

Within the nobility, money played a significant role in the rise and power of many individuals and their families. Vast wealth has been synonymous with the aristocratic for millennia. Yet the amount of wealth is not the only factor at play when it comes to the subtle nuances of aristocratic suitability. 

Even more important than the size of a family’s wealth was the source of that fortune. Over time, this distinction became known as Old Money and New Money

Within the aristocracy, the idea of Old Money was the kind of inherited wealth that belonged to the established nobles, i.e. the families that had been a part of the upper classes and system of nobility for a number of generations. 

In contrast, the idea of New Money was the kind of first-generation fortunes made by self-made millionaires and billionaires, those who had common or working-class backgrounds and lacked the necessary noble lineage required to belong to the aristocracy. 

To modern minds, it may seem less important how a fortune was made, or who the new millionaire’s parents were, but in the centuries when the nobles and aristocrats held considerable power, these aspects were vitally important. 

Stories of New Money men and women being snubbed or openly excluded from high society events and gatherings are a common feature of modern history. This was in spite of the fact that even those who regarded themselves as Old Money were often descended from individuals who rose to wealth and power without the required noble origins. 

In terms of the rules of nobility, the assigned labels of New Money or Old Money could make a world of difference to a family’s place in society and their position within the aristocratic hierarchy. 

Why did the nobility care so much about the source of wealth and power? 

Many argued that it was in order to protect the history and lineage of what had become a powerful and respected social order. 

Throughout the history of the nobility, there has been a great deal of value placed on heritage and lineage, and this standard was maintained even when wealthy New Money families attempted to join their exclusive ranks. 

Even when rich men and women acquired those all-important noble connections, either through marriage or ennoblement by a sovereign, there could still be a distinction attached to the family wealth if it came from recent commercial enterprises rather than the inherited fortunes so prevalent within the aristocracy. 

Money Rules & Modern Nobles

These conflicts between Old Money rules and New Money ambition have played out for centuries, yet in today’s world, they are less of a make-or-break aspect of social advancement. 

For example, while there still is (and likely always will be) a high degree of value placed on family heritage and lineage within the aristocracy, it has become more fluid and accepting of the blurred boundaries between Old Money and New Money.

In today’s society, the nobility still values its history of hereditary aristocracy, regardless of wealth and riches, yet it has less power to exclude New Money types from advancement within society. 

The world of Old Money rules and New Money exclusion is more of a feature of the aristocratic societies of the past. In our modern, more democratic, inclusive and egalitarian society, wealth and fortunes can secure a higher social status regardless of noble family ties, or the lack of them.

If learning about the nobility and their money has made you curious about acquiring a prestigious Noble Title of your own get in touch using the enquiry form in the sidebar or you can contact our Geneva office directly between 10.00-19.00, Monday to Friday on +41 225 181 360.

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