Rothschilds: History, Generations and French and British Ones

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Amschel Mayer Rothschild

The Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family that made a fortune providing the capital for the nations and monarchs of Europe in the 19th century, are perhaps the world’s most famous wealthy family as well as being the world’s most famous Jewish family. In addition to their money and power, they are known for their involvement in Jewish affairs, their palaces and luxurious lifestyle and their connoisseurship. [Source: Sally Bedell Smith, Vanity Fair, January, 1997].

The Rothschilds have built more than 60 huge palaces and mansions in Britain and Europe. Their mansion at 33 Rue dur Faubourg St-Honoré in Paris has doors "big enough to admit four tall giraffes, walking abreast." They own more than a billion dollars of paintings, sculpture, antiquities and other art works and archaeological objects. Their association with luxury and fine things has come to be known as the "style Rothschild."

There are several varieties of famous Rothschild wine, including Lafite and Mouton, as well as Rothschild museums, parks, hospitals and other projects paid for with money from Rothschild charities.

Book: “House of the Rothschilds” (1999, Penguin books) by Niall Ferguson, an Oxford don. Guy Rothschild and Philippe Rothschild have written memoirs. Films: “The House of Rothschild” (1934) and “Die Rothschilds” (1940), an anti-Semitic work by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

History of the Rothschilds

The story of the Rothschilds began in the late 18th century with Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who grew up in a crowded Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt and started out as a trader selling rare coins and valuable objects. He established himself as an astute investor and trustworthy caretaker for the wealth of German princes. He used the commissions and fees he earned to make his own fortune in banking. The name Rothschild is an adaption of “Red Shield” (“ rotes Schild” ), which was found on Mayer's family house.

Rothschild's house in Frankfurt

In the early 19th century Mayer’s five sons, each represented by an arrow in the family crest, set up shop in Europe's leading cities — London, Paris, Vienna, Naples, and Frankfurt — and built financial empires and picked up baron titles (in France in 1816, in Austria in 1822 and in England in 1885)

Over the years, the Rothschilds have controlled huge amounts of wealth and been advisors to kings, prime minister and host of influential people in finance and politics. Among other things they financed was Wellington's defeat of Napoleon, the take over of the Suez Canal by the British, and the building of railroads in Europe and the United States. The also underwrote the diamond mines of South Africa and financed shipments of cotton between America and Europe.

As their influence grew so did their wealth. When Wilhelm I of Prussia, visited the Ferrières, a Rothschild palace in the French countryside, he gushed, "kings couldn't afford this. It could belong only to a Rothschild."

Nathaniel Rothschild, who made his name as an English baron in 1885 by Queen Victoria, was the first Jew to sit in the House of Lords. His father Lionel was the first Jew to be elected to Parliament. The Frankfurt Rothchilds branch came to ane end in 1901 after the death of the last male living in Germany. Rothschilds suffered persecution by the Nazis and kept their empire intact during the nationalization of France's wealth by French president Mitterand in the 1980s.

Rothschilds and the Suez Canal

When The Suez Canal opened in 1869, the Khedive (the Turkish viceroy of Egypt) Ismail hired Verdi to write the opera “Aida” and invited over 1000 Europeans, including Empress Eugénie of France (wife of Napoleon III), the Emperor of Austria, the crown prince of Prussia and the writers Émile Zola and Henrik Ibsen for the opening ceremony.

The Khedive built a new palace along the canal for the opening party for 5,000 guests who stayed the night. Around 35,000 other guests partied in tents and feasted on roast sheep outside the palace. The four-day celebration was so big many guest spent much of their time tracking down lost luggage and looking for their companions. One official commented, "We must be eating up the pyramids stone by stone." The khedive paid for all expenses for his important guests and commissioned a road from the pyramids to the canal so guests could travel to take in the sights during the celebration. These and other lavish expenditures by the khedive helped bankrupt Egypt.

Six years after the canal opened it was taken over by the British government, which obtained a £4 million from the Rothschilds, to purchase of 176,602 shares of Suez stock (43 percent of all the stock) from the Khedive of Egypt, whose high living and grandiose projects left desperate in need of cash to pay off his creditors.

Rothschild tipped off the British Prime Minister Disraeli of the Khedive's debts. The money was delivered secretly so not to arouse the suspicions of the French. Disraeli presented the canal to the queen as a gift and the British press labeled Rothschild as the Jewish member of the House of Lords who really ran the country.

Secret of Rothschild Success

Nathan Rothschild

The Rothschilds have endured as a great wealthy family while others have withered and decayed even though its members have dispersed around the globe and intermarried extensively partly because of the strict patrilineal structure established by Mayer Amschel in his will that only sons could own and run the family banks. Edmund Rothschild once said, "There’s the rule. No Rothschild women and no in-laws. That's in case anyone marries a duffer and they lose the lot. That's definite. No exceptions."

The Naples and Frankfurt branch have virtually disappeared partly because there were no male heirs to run the banks. The Austrian branch continues to thrive but is not as powerful as the French and British branches. These Rothschild do as much to create wealth as enjoy are known as "working Rothschilds."

The most famous and powerful Rothschild enterprise is N.M. Rothschild & Sons. Founded in 1805, it is the world's oldest and last family-owned investment bank. Since 1919, the price of gold has been fixed at the offices of N.M. Rothschild & Sons on St. Swithin's Lane in London, twice each weekday, at 10:30am and 3:00pm, where men sit together in a room lined with phones with contacts around the world and signal each other with little flags.

Other Rothschild enterprises include Rothschild Asset Management (which manages about $28 billion), Club Med and the Lafite and Clark vineyards. The Rothschilds also anadiv, a foundation that supports Israeli and Jewish causes, and has assets for more than $1 billion.

British Rothschilds

The English Rothschild branch formed in 1804. Nathan Rothschild made a fortune running goods through Napoleon's blockade and negotiated loan that supported the British government and the Duke Wellington in his victory over Napoleon. Lionel Rothschild was the first professing Jew to be elected to the British Parlaiment.

The British Rothschilds own the Rothschild palace, a massive country house full of turrets, chimneys and steep roofs in the Buckinghamshire countryside (35 miles north of London); Ascot; and Waddesdon, a great country house that Queen Victoria broke her long self-imposed mourning to visit.

The Rothschild are also famous for their eccentricities. The first English baron Rothschild built a French chateau in the countryside and hosted weekend parties in which he dressed up like a circus ringmaster and performed with his animals. His French cousin Arthur collected neckwear, which he changed three times day. The second Lord Rothschild made many contributions to the science of zoology and used to parade around London in a carriage pulled by three trained zebras.

The British Rothschilds have traditionally attended Harrow and Cambridge. The Rothschilds have also made contributions to the arts and scholarship, working as dons and at Oxford and Cambridge and performing in operas.

The English branch of the Rothschilds are also headed by two forth generation Rothschilds: Jacob Rothschild, the 60-year-old forth baron known as Lord Rothschild, and his cousin 65-year-old Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. [1997]

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and Jacob Rothschild

Jacob Rothschild

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild is perhaps the wealthiest and most influential of today's Rothschilds. Born in London and educated at Cambridge, which he left before receiving a degree, he chairs. N.M. Rothschild & Sons and has assets valued at over $1 billion.

Sir Evelyn is married to Victoria Schot, and American, and has three children. He lives in relatively modest three-story house in Holland Park in London and has a house in Barbados and the south of France, where he supports a cricket team.

Sir Evelyn is known as a shrewd investor. In 1986, for example, he purchased a 26 percent stake in the securities firm Smith New Court, which he sold later for a profit of $150 million.

Sir Evelyn's cousin Jacob is the perhaps the most flamboyant of the living Rothschilds. A graduate of Eton and Oxford, he is frequently written up in the British press, has been involved in a number of widely publicized takeover and merger deals and has an estimated wealth of over $1 billion. In 1993, he for most part retired from banking to devout his attention to other activities.

Jacob is widely involved in the arts. He has served as chairman of the National Gallery, where he raised million of pounds, expanded the collection and ordered the design and construction of the highly-praised Salisbury Wing. He also raised $28.5 million for the renovation of Spencer House, the former London home of Princess Diana, and underwrote archaeological digs of the ruins of Butrint in Albania.

Mysterious Death of Amschel Mayor James Rothschild

On July 8th, 1996, 4-year-old Amschel Mayor James Rothschild was found dead in the bathroom of a room in Bristol Hotel in Paris after he apparently hanged himself with a seven-foot belt from a terry-cloth robe. The death was ruled a suicide even though there were some mysterious circumstances surrounding it.

The death was first reported as a heart attack. Amschel Mayor was six-foot-one and hanging himself from a towel rack was no easy feat. Some have speculated he may have trying an autoerotic asphyxiation.

Guy Rothschild in 1964

Amschel Mayor lived in England. He was in Paris at the time of his death to attend a business meeting. People who met him early in the day said he seemed normal and cheerful. Many believe he committed suicide because he was not doing well as managing his investment company, which was losing money at a time when the financial services business was booming. He also seems to have been hurt that his mother had an affair with Anthony Blunt, the famous homosexual who spied for Russia.

Amschel was first in line to succeed Sir Evelyn at N.M. Rothschild & Sons. He loved history, auto racing, gardening, and archaeology. His most eccentric hobby was restoring old outhouses. Before taking up banking he was circulation manager at the New Review magazine and manufacturer of apple juice. Among those who attended his funeral were former Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman, television personality Anna Ford, and former Treasury secretary William Waldegrave.

French Rothschilds

The Paris branch of the Rothschilds is headed by two forth generation Rothschilds: 87-year-old Baron Guy de Rothschild and 79-year-old Baron Élie de Rothschild. The Rothschild businesses are run three fifth generation Rothschilds: 54-year-old David, 56-year-old Eric and 36-year-old Édouard. [1997]

Phillipe Rothschild ran the vineyard Château Mouton and regarded himself as quite a womanizer. In his memoirs he wrote, "I was a tremendous success...leaping from bed to bed like a mountain goat...I was always convinced [my father] had won his spurs raiding my grandmother's chambermaids. No, mine were ancient titles, fashionable beauties, stars of stage and screen, salon queen and one mutinous lesbian, only one."

Guy Rothschild

Guy Rothschild was raised in two the most opulent Rothschild palaces — the château at Ferrières and a house on the Rue St.Florentine, where Talleyand once lived and is now the home of the American consulate. He was educated at Sorbonne and married Lix Schey von Koromla from a wealthy Jewish Hungarian family. In World War II they fled to New York. He became a wealthy and influential man when the former head of one of his banks, Georges Pompidou, became president of France.

In New York, the 46-year-old Guy had a scandalous relationship with Marie-Hélène van Zuylen de Nyevelt, a 28-year old half-Dutch-half Egyptian woman who was born in New York and described as "an improbable girl who was "never very pretty" but had "extraordinary aura." Guy divorced Alix and married Marie-Hélène.

Marie-Hélène was a Catholic who agreed to raise her children in the Jewish faith.

Élie and Edmond Rothschild

David Rothschild in 2014

Élie Rothschild is Guy's cousin. He was a prisoner of war during World War II, a lover of Pamela Churchill, the former daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill and future Pamela Harriman, ambassador to France. He was both admired and dhate for his shocking behavior and his outrageous often-offending remarks. He liked to shock people by pulling out his glass eye (he lost he real one in a polo match).

At first Élie had very little interests in banking. He devoted his attention to the Lafite vineyard. When he did take up banking he proved to be not very good at it. In 1992, he was involved in an embarrassing kickback scandal and the his bank lost over $100 million. Other Rothschilds, namely Evelyn, raised enough money to bail him out. Edmond Rothschild is a Frenchman who spends most of his time in Geneva. Perhaps the richest of the Rothschilds, he made a lot of money with Club Med and the vineyard at Château Clark, a dirt patch..he pumped in huge amounts of money and marketed the hell out it, and it did very well."

Edmond’s second wife was Nadine Lhopistalier. The daughter of an unknown father and cotton-mill worker, she worked as an assembly line worker, artist's model, chorus girl and an actress who specialized in nude-stand ins for famous actresses before she married Edmond. Together they hosted fabulously extravagant parties, one of which lasted for 100 hours.

David and Eric Rothschild

Ernest Oppenheimer and his brother Harry built the DeBeer diamond (for a long while) monopoly

The son of Guy, David Rothschild was born in New York during World war II. He rebuilt the French Rothschild bank after Socialist French President Françious Mitterand came to power and nationalized French banking and other industries.

The Rothschild were paid a fair amount of money for their bank by the Mitterand government and some believe that money helped turned the French branch of the Rothschilds around. David and his cousin took the money from the French government and created the highly successful new Rothschild bank that specialized in mergers and acquisitions. In 1992, Evelyn named David as deputy chairman of N.M. Rothschild in London.

In 1974, David married Olympia Aldobrandinia, the beautiful daughter of an Italian prince. They hosted lavish parties and were considered the golden couple of Paris social scene until they gave birth to a handicapped child that caused Olympia particularly to become more withdrawn.

David's cousin Eric has a reputation as a young man of being a playboy and a club hopper. He posed nude for a Warhol portrait and married Maria-Béatrice Caracciolo did Forini, from a wealthy Naples family. Eric worked at Château Lafite and expanded the family wine business into the Napa Valley, Chile and Portugal. Beatrice works as a sculptor and was one of the first Parisians to wear designs by John Galliano. Together they often host parties in their bedroom.

The most promising fifth generation Rothschilds are Nathaniel, Jacob's son.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Vanity Fair magazine; Wikipedia, National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated February 2024

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