views updated Jun 11 2018


ROTHSCHILD , family of financiers and philanthropists, patrons of the arts and sciences who greatly contributed to Jewish causes, particularly to the settlement of Ereẓ Israel and the State of Israel. (See charts: Rothschild Family).Over the years their name became a byword for opulence and munificence, serving both as a positive symbol of Jewish wealth, influence, and philanthropy, among the Jewish masses, particularly in Eastern Europe (see, e.g., in *Shalom Aleichem's stories) and as a negative, sinister symbol in antisemitic literature and propaganda, which used it as tangible "proof " for the existence of an international plutocracy.

The Founding Branch

The family name is derived from a red shield which once hung in front of the house of isaac elhanan (d. 1585), grandson of uri (d. c. 1500), first recorded member of the family, in Frankfurt; though the grandson of Isaac Elhanan left the house, his descendants continued to bear the surname. Until the birth of mayer amschel (1744–1812), son of amschel moses rothschild, the Rothschilds were undistinguished merchants and communal servants. Mayer Amschel began trading in antiques and old coins and in money changing and thus in 1764 began doing business with the future Landgrave William ix of Hesse-Kassel, an avid coin collector and heir

to the largest fortune in Europe. By c. 1769 Mayer Amschel had received the title of court agent and was supplying William with rare coins and printing his own coin catalogs. When William became landgrave in 1785, Mayer Amschel was only one of a dozen Jewish court agents competing for the favor of doing business for a landgrave who lent large sums to other rulers. Mayer Amschel managed to increase his share of financial transactions very gradually: his close connections with William ix's confidential financial adviser, C.F. Buderus (who eventually became his silent partner), were of inestimable importance in securing the confidence of the landgrave.

The major breakthrough occurred after the Battle of Jena (1806): exiled from his country, William ix entrusted nathan mayer (1777–1836), Mayer Amschel's son in London, with the purchase of huge amounts of British securities. By discreet and brilliant speculation Nathan succeeded in amassing a fortune without damaging the landgrave's interests. Nathan Mayer had originally settled in Manchester in 1798, a commission agent dealing in cotton goods, but he moved to London in 1808. In 1806 he married Hannah, the daughter of Levi Barent *Cohen and sister of Moses *Montefiore's wife. He rapidly became the outstanding figure on the London Stock Exchange. His prime activity was that of helping the government cover the costs of Wellington's army in Spain, including transporting immense sums even through the heart of France. In this endeavor he was helped by his brother James (see below) in Paris, while the father and the elder son, Amschel Mayer (see below), remained in Frankfurt. Another major cooperative undertaking was transmitting the British bullion subsidy to the continental allies in the last stages of the Napoleonic wars. After the Congress of Vienna the Rothschilds were instrumental in transmitting the French war indemnity (£120,000,000) to the allies and participated in the many governmental reconstruction loans and bond issues. By the time of his death Nathan Rothschild was one of the very richest men in Britain, worth an estimated £5 million, and had become a legendary figure in British finance. In this period two Rothschild brothers established themselves in Vienna and Naples.

Carl Mayer (1788–1855), founded the Italian branch in Naples in 1821, in the aftermath of the suppression of an anti-Bourbon uprising by Austrian troops. He loaned large sums to Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples, the Papal States, and other lesser duchies. His four sons all married members of the Rothschild family. adolf carl (1823–1901) succeeded him as head of the Italian branch but returned to Frankfurt upon the unification of Italy. Another son of Mayer Amschel, salomon mayer (1774–1855), moved to Vienna in 1816, where he was soon on very friendly terms with *Metternich (during the 1848 Revolution he was accused of helping Metternich to escape) and was thus able to ignore or overcome the various discriminations to which Jews were subjected in Vienna and Austria (since a Jew was not allowed to purchase a house, he rented a whole hotel); in addition he had to contend with the rivalry of the established banking houses, foremost of which were the *Arnstein and *Eskeles firms. In 1822 he was ennobled. He was soon participating in the floating of government bonds. His main achievement was building Austria's first railroad and establishing the Oesterreichische Kreditanstalt, with which his descendants were closely connected and which later became Austria's state bank. Salomon was succeeded by anselm salomon (1803–1874), who was appointed to the Austrian House of Lords in 1861 and had married a daughter of Nathan Mayer Rothschild of London. He was succeeded by his son salomon albert (1844–1911), noted for his philanthropic and artistic interests. His sons, alphonse mayer (1878–1942) and louis (1882–1955), were forced to witness the decline of the firm in the political and economic upheavals of the post-World War i era. Two days after the Anschluss, Louis was arrested and held hostage for a year until he was finally released through a combination of ransom and informal financial pressure exerted by international banks. After his departure the Austrian Rothschild branch was liquidated. The Wittkowitz coal mines in Czechoslovakia, among the largest in Central Europe, were transferred to British and neutral holdings before the Munich agreement. The Nazis were thus unable to confiscate them, but were able to pressure the Rothschilds into selling the mines for one-third of their value. The sale did not go into effect because of the outbreak of World War ii, and after the end of the war the Rothschilds were able to receive partial compensation from the Czech government.

Amschel Mayer (1773–1855), continued to head the paternal Frankfurt branch. He loaned large amounts to many German rulers and took steps to have the *Leibzoll abolished in Bavaria and other German states. Very pious, he furnished the financial backing for the secessionist Orthodox community of S.R. *Hirsch in Frankfurt. The Frankfurt house was attacked during the *Hep! Hep! disturbances, and again during the 1848 Revolution, when anticapitalist, antisemitic, and democratic feelings coalesced against the Rothschilds. Amschel was succeeded by his nephew mayer carl (1820–1886) from Naples, who was elected to the North German Reichstag in 1867, and appointed to the Prussian Upper Chamber shortly thereafter, the first of the only two Jews ever to receive the honor. The conservative Mayer Carl had long been pro-Prussian and had recommended Gerson *Bleichroeder to *Bismarck as his private banker. The Bleichroeder bank continued to maintain close connections with the Rothschilds, often serving as their agents in Berlin. Amschel's other nephew, wilhelm karl (1828–1901), was sole head after his brother's death. After his death the Frankfurt branch was discontinued.

[Henry Wasserman]

The French Branch

james jacob rothschild (1792–1868), the youngest of the brothers, settled in Paris in 1812 as an agent of Nathan Mayer and founded there the firm of Rothschild Frères. From then on, apart from its banking activities, the Rothschild family took a great interest in the activities of the Jewish community in Paris and later in the whole of France. The Rothschilds were particularly active from 1840 in connection with the *Damascus affair and later in the work of the Jewish *Consistory of Paris, the Central Consistory of the Jews of France, and the Jewish Charity Committee of Paris which later became the Paris Jewish Committee for Social Work. James de Rothschild presented to the community of Paris the Rothschild Hospital, which is still in existence. James, who was financier to both the Bourbon and Orléans kings of France, weathered the 1848 Revolution to serve Napoleon iii. A pioneer railroad entrepreneur, he feuded with the rival *Fould and *Pereire brothers for governmental railway concessions. A railway accident released a flood of antisemitic literature, popularizing the slogan "Rothschild Ier, Roi des Juifs." His wife Betty, a noted philanthropist, was friend and patron of Heinrich *Heine. James also maintained close business connections with Leopold i of Belgium. His son alphonse (1827–1905) became head of the French house in 1854 and president of the board of directors of the family's Chemin de Fer du Nord in 1869. After the defeat of France in 1870/71 Alphonse led war indemnity negotiations with the Prussians and guaranteed their rapid payment. A syndicate of French bankers, partly motivated by antisemitic sentiments, unsuccessfully sought to challenge the French house in the 1870s. Alphonse's philanthropy, benefiting both Jews and gentiles, was on an immense scale. gustave (1829–1911), another of James's sons, was president of the Paris Consistory for over 40 years. A third son, Edmond de *Rothschild (1845–1934), gave crucial support to the early settlements in Ereẓ Israel, an expression of his lifelong devotion to Zion and the Jewish people. The son and grandson of Alphonse, edouard (1868–1949) and guy (b. 1909), and the son and grandson of Gustave, robert philippe (1880–1946) and alain (1910–1982), were presidents of the Central and Paris Consistories. Alain also became president of the Fonds Social Juif Unifié (fsju). Guy was president of the Comité de Solidarité avec Israel (1956). Edouard's daughter bethsabÉe (Batsheva, 1914–1999), founded the *Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv in 1964. In addition to the Bathsheva Dance Company, Bathsheva de Rothschild founded the Bat-Dor Dance Company, which combines classical ballet and modern dance, in 1967. Among her other endeavors were the project to translate ancient literature into Hebrew, a music library in Tel Aviv, and a fund for loans and grants to students, outstanding young Israeli scholars, and immigrant scholars. She received the Israel Prize in 1989 for special contribution in national and social fields. Edmond's eldest son James de *Rothschild (1878–1957) left France to settle in England, where he continued his father's activities, which were later taken over by Dorothy de Rothschild (1895–1988), the widow of James de Rothschild. edmond (1926–1997), grandson of the first Edmond, was also president of the Comité de Solidarité avec Israel (1967). The Germans made efforts to capture members of the family in 1940, but all escaped and passed the war in England or the U.S. Guy joined the Free French and was an adjutant to De Gaulle's military governor of Paris at the end of the war.

[Simon R. Schwarzfuchs]

The English Branch

Nathan Mayer's son, lionel nathan (1808–1879), led the struggle for Jewish emancipation; after having first been elected to parliament in 1847 (as a Liberal), he finally took his seat as the first Jewish member in 1858 after the passing of the Jews' Disabilities Bill. He remained a member of Parliament (with a short break in 1868–69) until 1874. As head of the banking house at New Court, he was responsible for many government loans, including those for the relief of the Irish famine, the Crimean War, and the purchase of the Khedive's Suez Canal shares. The character of Sidonia in Benjamin Disraeli's Coningsby is an idealized portrait of him. His wife charlotte (1819–1884; daughter of Baron carl mayer von rothschild of Naples) collaborated in his philanthropic ventures, being particularly concerned with the Jews' Free School (a special interest of the family). He acquired a great mansion at Tring, Hertfordshire, and was a considerable landowner. He left a personal fortune of £2.7 million at his death. His brother sir anthony (1810–1876), an English baronet as well as an Austrian baron, lived as a country gentleman (all the Rothschilds of the second generation acquired estates on the Buckinghamshire-Bedfordshire borders) but was also active in the Jewish community: he was the first president of the *United Synagogue. He was granted an English baronetcy (a hereditary knighthood) in 1846. His daughters annie (1844–1926) and constance (1843–1931) respectively married (after his death) the Hon. Eliot Yorke and the politician Cyril Flower, later Lord Battersea.

Lionel Nathan's eldest son, nathaniel (Natty) mayer, first baron rothschild (1840–1915), succeeded as head of the firm and effective lay head of Anglo-Jewry, holding the presidency of the United Synagogue and many other offices. Created the first Jewish peer in 1885, he was lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire. A governor of the Bank of England and director of many companies, he was the only Jewish member of the Royal Commission on Aliens and firmly resisted attempts to limit immigration. He and his brothers, alfred (1842–1918), who was interested in the arts, and leopold (1845–1917), a sportsman and communal worker, were personal friends of the Prince of Wales, later Edward vii. Their cousin ferdinand james (1839–1898), of the Viennese branch but born in Paris, married the first Lord Rothschild's sister evelina (1839–1866), who died in childbirth and was commemorated by her husband in the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children in London and the Evelina de Rothschild School in Jerusalem. Ferdinand, who became a British subject and a member of parliament, was an art collector and connoisseur and builder of the fabulous Waddesdon Manor. He was the first Rothschild to be visited at his home by Queen Victoria. He was active in communal work, including service as a synagogue warden. While the first Lord Rothschild was not sympathetic to Zionism, though impressed by Theodor Herzl's personality, the second baron, lionel walter (1868–1937), a distinguished naturalist who owned a private zoo, was a Zionist and the recipient in 1917 of the *Balfour Declaration. Leopold's sons were lionel nathan (1882–1942), president of the United Synagogue, and anthony gustav (1887–1961), who was prominent in hospital administration. In the next generation, edmund leopold (1916– ), nephew of the second baron, succeeded Anthony Gustav as head of the firm and held high communal office. His cousin Nathaniel Mayer Victor *Rothschild (1910–1990), the third baron, was a distinguished biologist. In 1868 hannah rothschild (1851–1890), the daughter of Baron Mayer de Rothschild, married Archibald Primrose, later fifth Earl of Rosebery (1847–1929), a leading Liberal politician who served as Britain's prime minister in 1894–95. The Jewish community was generally highly critical of the marriage of the leading Rothschild heiress to a prominent gentile. Their son, (albert) harry mayer archibald primrose, sixth Earl of Rosebery (1882–1974) was a leading landowner and racehorse owner who served in the 1945 Conservative Cabinet as secretary of state for Scotland.

Between the world wars, the development of other major banking concerns and high taxation reduced the relative importance of the Rothschilds' financial power. So, too, did a series of political events – the loss of such traditional areas of endeavor as Russia (from 1917) and Germany (from 1933) – and changes in the nature of government finance, with individual merchant banks becoming less prominent than previously, as governments increasingly financed their own projects directly. Before and during World War ii the Nazis set special value upon expropriating the Rothschilds. The ownership of their property had, however, often been legally transferred in time to holding companies in neutral or noncombatant countries, or secured by other means. After World War ii, however, the Rothschilds adapted themselves to the new opportunities in merchant banking, building modern offices at New Court, running unit trusts, acquiring great interests in Canada, and investing in films and television. In America, where few Rothschild investments were made, their agent in the 1840s was August *Belmont, financier and politician. Belmont warned against any recognition of the Confederacy and the Frankfurt Rothschilds were active in the acquisition and sale of Northern bonds.

In charity and philanthropy, the Rothschilds continued to give unostentatiously to many causes, the third baron, for instance, financing educational television in Israel. James de *Rothschild, son of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, settled in England and became a Liberal mp. He inherited Waddesdon from Ferdinand and left the estate to the nation, as well as a fortune to various causes in Israel. However, members of the family have increasingly married non-Jews and their share in the management of the affairs of the British Jewish community has diminished.

[Vivian David Lipman]


F. Morton, The Rothschilds (1962); C. Roth, The Magnificent Rothschilds (1938); E.C. Corti, The Rise of the House of Rothschild (1928); idem, The Reign of the House of Rothschild (1928); C.W. Berghoeffer, Meyer Amschel Rothschild (Ger., 1923); B. Gille, Histoire de la Maison Rothschild, 1 (1965); 2 (1967); H. Schnee, Rothschild (Ger., 1961); J. Bowier, Les Rothschilds (1967); R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (1967), 66–72; R. Glanz, in: jsos, 19 (1957), 3–28; V. Eichsaedt (ed.), Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Judenfrage (1938), 232f.; L. Kreutzberger (ed.), Bibliothek und Archiv (1970), index s.v.Rothschild; Heine Bibliographie, 2 (1958), index s.v.Rothschild; B. Brilling, in: blbi, 7 (1964), 165–71; D.S. Lands, in: ylbi, 5 (1960), 206–17; K. Grunwald, ibid., 12 (1967), 168ff.; Roth, Mag Bibl, 149, 150, 433; R.P. Lehmann, Nova Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica (1961), 108, 113, 117; J. Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (19562), index; Y. Toury, Mehumah u-Mevukhah be-Mahpekhat 1848 (1968), index; W. Verity, in: History Today, 18 (April, 1968); A. Rubens, in: Transactions, 22 (1970), 76–87. add. bibliography: odnb online; N. Ferguson, The World's Banker (1998); R. Davis, The English Rothschilds (1983); S.D. Chapman, N.M. Rothschild, 1777–1836 (1977); Lord Rothschild [Nathaniel, Baron Rothschild], The Shadow of a Great Man (1982). C. Bermant, The Cousinhood (1961), index.


views updated May 23 2018

Rothschild a famous Jewish banking house established in Frankfurt at the end of the 18th century by Meyer Rothschild (1744–1812) and spreading its operations all over western Europe; Rothschild (like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt) is often used as the type of someone who is exceptionally wealthy, a millionaire.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 18 2018 About content Print Topic