The Widening Range of Status Equivalence in Occupations

As the previous section showed, the nobility’s presence in the Senate declined radically by the early twentieth century. But what about the old nobility more generally, that is, those noblemen who had been ennobled before 1800? As we saw earlier in Chap. 3, when the time of councillors was over in the Swedish nobility, higher noblemen continued to enter the very same occupations they had entered before: they served as governors, officers, courtiers and justices. In what follows I use my Finnish data set to illustrate the two strategies applied by noblemen at the time that the nobility’s heyday was beginning to wane. One strategy was to stick persistently to the nobility’s traditional occupations; the other was to seek for new acceptable occupations. The divide became quite marked.

In the nineteenth century, the largest group in the old nobility (ennobled before 1800) consisted of officers: they accounted for 37 per cent of the higher nobility and 26 per cent of the lower nobility.4 This is less than between 1600 and 1800, particularly in the lower nobility. If noncommissioned officers are included, the figures rise to 39 per cent in the higher nobility and to 36 per cent in the lower nobility. This difference in the occurrence of non-commissioned officers reflects a more general cleavage between the higher and lower nobility: higher noblemen constantly attained higher posts than lower noblemen, in virtually every status hierarchy they now entered. And they did not enter low-status hierarchies in the first place. The old divide was stubborn enough to persevere in the new situation. It follows that courtiers are only found in the higher nobility (6 per cent). Furthermore, appointments as senators and governors were clearly more common in the higher nobility (7 per cent) than in the lower nobility (1 per cent). We can conclude then that 50 per cent of the higher nobility continued to practise their traditional occupations, that is, they were senators, governors, officers or courtiers. In the lower nobility their occurrence was much lower, 27 per cent. In these cases, the same occupations that were typical of the nobility were passed on to sons.

These changes mean that the range of occupations widened. In state governance, the expansion of occupations proceeded differently in the higher and the lower nobility. Apart from senators and governors, in higher and middle-ranking offices, the proportions were 10 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, and in the lower civil service 1 per cent and 25 per cent. The distinction between higher, middle-ranking and lower civil servants is based on the 1880 order of precedence (Arvojarjestys Suomen Suuriruhtinaanmaalle). In total, 18 per cent of higher noblemen were civil servants, mainly in the highest-ranking posts. Clearly then, the civil service still held appeal among the nobility, but to a lesser extent than before. However, it is noteworthy that during the nineteenth century, noblemen increasingly contented themselves with lower-ranking offices. This expanded the range of civil service occupations in which they were engaged, in a similar way as in the army. This did not, however, apply to the higher nobility, but only to the lower nobility.

We then have the noble learned professionals, the social segment that was to become the bedrock of the middle classes. This was a new domain for the nobility, even though they had pursued some studies at university long before 1800. But degrees were scarce because noblemen did not need them in order to advance their careers in state governance, the army and court (Waris 1940, 220; Paterson 2012, 147). Judges (accounting for 7 per cent of the higher nobility and 12 per cent of the lower nobility) are now included in the group of learned professionals because increasing numbers of noble judges were not justices of Courts of Appeal, but attorneys, barristers and lawyers. Then there were clergymen (0.5 per cent in the higher nobility and 7 per cent in the lower nobility), who are also classified as learned professionals, but they, nevertheless, deserve to be kept separate due to the clergy’s special history as an Estate. The remaining learned professionals were medical doctors, professors and some other professionals. Their proportion was 8 per cent in the higher nobility and 7 per cent in the lower nobility. Counting them all together, the total figures of learned professionals rise to 16 per cent in the higher nobility and to 26 per cent in the lower nobility. The lower nobility had a significant head start over the higher nobility in the transition from typical noble occupations towards occupations that would eventually be categorized as middle class. A middle-class position was thus socially closer to the lower nobility, while the higher nobility kept their distance from the middle classes, which seemed to differ sharply from the status of the nobility.

The share of entrepreneurs increased only slightly from the figures before 1800, to 5 per cent in the higher and to 4 per cent in the lower nobility. But as was mentioned earlier, running a successful business was considered a worthy merit for ennoblement in the nineteenth century, implying that the old nobility kept some distance from entrepreneurship and that the noble achievers in this field were those who had won their spurs in business before being ennobled. As for landowners, high noble men were much more often recorded as landowners living on their estates without any occupation (10 per cent) than men in the lower nobility, who were mainly categorized as peasants or farmers (5 per cent). This difference obviously owes to status difference: higher noblemen normally owned larger estates and their titles alone perhaps conferred more prestige on them, making it difficult to call them farmers, even though they quite commonly carried on farming in the nineteenth century and even earlier. Finally, crofters and workers are found only in the lower nobility, of which they accounted for 2 per cent. There were only a handful of other occupations, including artists, sea captains, managing directors, bank clerks, adventurers and rentiers.

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