The Normans still win

Fascinating stuff:

People with \”Norman\” surnames like Darcy and Mandeville are still wealthier than the general population 1,000 years after their descendants conquered Britain, according to a study into social progress.

The research is from Greg Clark (A Farewell to Alms) so cannot be dismissed. But I wonder how he\’s separated out the two possible effects here.

For there is the obvious one that we can all think of: rich peeps get to inherit and the effects of this are still evident 1,000 years after the Normans stole the whole country.

But there\’s another one. The effects of primogeniture. It\’s the sons that carry the family name and it\’s the first son that gets the familial wealth. Or at least, it has been for most of that millennium. Indeed, much of Clark\’s other research has been about how said primogeniture led to downward social mobility of the not first sons and thus spread the habits of the bourgeois through the population.

I don\’t know if this is the actual paper being described, probably not. But the conclusion is certainly interesting:

The evidence above suggests that England was likely a classless society of
complete long run social mobility all the way from 1200 to 2009.

And if anything, that mobility has decreased in recent times……

11 thoughts on “The Normans still win”

  1. He has managed to distinguish Norman names from later French names, has he? I’m thinking mainly of Huguenots.

  2. “primogeniture” for wealth – as distinct from titles – was a custom, not a law: it was the law only if you hadn’t left a will. (At least, so a book I read on the 17th – 19th centuries said.)

  3. It’s an aside, but primogeniture wasn’t a Norman tradition. William the Bastard split his holdings between his sons when he died. It became customary during the following century.

  4. The problem I have here is that if you believe in social mobility, you also by definition have to believe in a class structure, as social mobility is the capacity to change from one class (lower) to another (higher). So you can’t have a classless society with social mobility, by definition. Either we had a classless society or we had social mobility. Can’t have both.

    To imagine a libertopia of perfect classical liberalism with no privilege for anyone, in such a situation there would be zero social mobility, because there would be no class structure to be mobile within.

  5. What none of you have noticed is that people like my ancestors quite happily changed their names from Mendelkopf to De Villiers.

  6. You overlook the possibility that people with hereditary titles often marry into wealth and/or beauty. Wealth and good looks may be dissipated over the generations, but a title can be used to bring about a suitable marriage to replenish the family stock.

    Tim adds: That’s a point Clark makes in the paper. Referring to the family of the Earl of Derby, up at the top for 29 generations, he points to the one thing indivisible as perhaps being the cause of that: the title itself.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    He forgets that as people get richer they try to acquire the usual signs of class. Changing your Church is common – Methodists are so plebian so people usually trade up to the CofE if they have earnt enough. I believe that even some Jewish families in South Africa’s diamond business have done so. Yep, just checked, Nicky Oppenheimer, the head of De Beers, is an Anglican. Like his Father Harry.

    The other one is to change your name to something a little more pretentious and of course French. Does no one remember Richard DeVere from To The Manor Born? Or perhaps one of the greatest female characters to grace a British sit-com Hyacinth Bucket?

  8. Although the Oppenheimer name is as close as you get to Jewish royalty, with the Wertheimer and Oppenheimer clans being very close to the imperial houses in Vienna and Württemberg. The South African family originated too in the SW regions of Germany, not sure if they were connected.

  9. I'm Jewish, so the following joke is OK

    Harry Moses Abramovitz wanted to join the Greenvale Country Club, a place known never to admit Jews.

    First, Harry went to court and had his name changed to Howard Trevelyan Frobisher.

    After that, he flew to a plastic surgeon in Switzerland who transformed his Semitic profile into a Nordic one.

    Next, he hired an elocution tutor from England to teach him to speak like a native Brit.

    And finally, Harry worked his way into the graces of several well-established members of the Greenvale Country Club.

    Two years after embarking on his project, Howard Frobisher appeared before the club’s membership committee.

    “Please state your name,” the chairman said.

    In a clipped Oxfordian accent, Harry replied, “I’m Howard Trevelyan Frobisher.”

    “And, tell us, where were you educated, Mr. Frobisher?”

    “Eton and Oxford.”

    The chairman beamed. “And what is your religious affiliation?”


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