Famous Britons and Their Fortune

14 Nov 2017

Fame and fortune typically go hand in hand. This, however, wasn’t always the case. Contrary to today’s celebrities, many great historical figures didn’t enjoy fortune even though they gained great fame, and many ended up in debt, broke and miserable.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The brilliant English civil engineer,Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), built the Great Western Railway, the Thames Tunnel, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and many other 19th century engineering masterpieces. But he was not as brilliant when it comes to money. At the time of his death in 1859, Brunel is estimated to have been worth about £8 million in today’s money. It’s not a bad sum but for a someone of his profile, £8 million is a very modest amount.

Jane Austen

The author of all-time classics such as Sense of Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (1775-1817) didn’t enjoy the fame of her male contemporaries or female writers of the modern era such as J. K. Rowling for instance. Nor did she enjoy their fortune. Austen’s works which were published anonymously brought her only about £44,000 in today’s money. This is not even a fraction of what Harry Potter brought to Rowling who is worth nearly $1 billion.

Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) is another great Briton whose fame and fortune didn’t exactly match. One of the central figures of the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, Shackleton led three expeditions to the icy continent. He broke quite a few records and achieved several firsts which earned him huge amounts of public admiration and the title of a knight. But it didn’t earn him much money. Most of his business ventures were unsuccessful and at the time of his death in 1922, he was deeply in debt.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) is known for his successful military career as well as his time as Prime Minister in the 19th century Britain. After defeating Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he became a very powerful and wealthy man as he was generously rewarded in both land and money. However, prior to this, Wellesley had turned to very controversial means including gambling and borrowing to buy his way up even though he came from a very wealthy aristocratic family.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is another proof that fame and fortune don’t always go hand in hand. Though not as admired as today, the celebrated playwright and poet was nonetheless highly acclaimed in his time, allowing him to live relatively comfortably in comparison to most of his contemporaries. However, his net worth didn’t come from writing alone. He also worked as an actor, co-owned the Globe Theatre and was a savvy property investor.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) may have been very influential but financially, she was quite the opposite. The renowned political activist and leader of the suffragette movement in Britain more or less lived from speaking fees which she was paid by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) that was founded by her in 1903.


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