The Rothschild family – a Brief Introduction
The Rothschild family is a wealthy Ashkenazi Jewish family originally from Frankfurt that rose to prominence with Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a court factor to the German Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel in the Free City of Frankfurt, Holy Roman Empire, who established his banking business in the 1760s.
The family empire grew in prominence under Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s five sons: Nathan Mayer, James Mayer, Salomon Mayer, Carl Mayer and Amschel Mayer.
The Rothschilds were pioneers in the development of international finance, having established branches in London, Paris, Vienna and Naples, in addition to their native Frankfurt.
The Rothschild family’s documented history starts in 16th century Frankfurt. Its name is derived from the family house, Rothschild, built by Isaak Elchanan Bacharach in Frankfurt in 1567. His name was changed to Isaak Elchanan Rothschild, and he was the first member of the family who was known to use the name “Rothschild”.
Picture Credit: “Nathan Mayer Rothschild – founder of Rothschild and Sons” by Migration UK is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.
During the 19th century, the Rothschild family possessed the largest private fortune in the world, as well as in modern world history. The family’s wealth declined over the 20th century and was divided among many descendants. Their interests today cover various fields, including financial services, real estate, mining, energy, agriculture, winemaking, and non-profit entities.
So large and wealthy, the Rothschild family has frequently been the subject of conspiracy theories, many of which have antisemitic origins, but more of that later.
Mayer Amshel Rothschild
The family’s ascent to international prominence began in 1744, with the birth of Mayer Amschel (also spelt Anschel) Rothschild. He was the first son (one of eight children) of Amschel Moses Rothschild, a money changer who had traded with the Prince of Hesse. Mayer was born in the “Judengasse“, a Jewish ghetto – a dark, foul-smelling alley in Frankfurt-on-Main. To get from there to where he was going is a miraculous feat of determination and skill.
At the age of 13, Mayer went to Hanover to serve an apprenticeship with the bank of Simon Wolf Oppenheimer. Six years later, he returned to Frankfurt to join his brother Calmann’s money-changing business, becoming a dealer in rare coins. Rothschild’s coin business expanded by providing banking services to Wilhelm IX, and his bank became one of the biggest in Frankfurt.
A 2005 poll by Forbes placed Mayer Amschel Rothschild as the seventh most influential businessman of all time. This is what they said:
“…he helped invent modern banking by introducing concepts such as diversification, rapid communication, confidentiality and high volume. The superlatively discreet foreign-exchange banker diversified from the very beginning, selling antiques and procuring loans. Remarkably, Rothschild was willing to cut into his own profits in order to secure future business. And, earlier than most, he understood that time and information meant money, and he pulled out all the stops to remain in constant contact with associates across Europe. That network came in handy when he helped finance England’s war effort during the Napoleonic Wars. Rothschild institutionalized his bank with a far-sighted will that ensured the continuation of his business. Considered a founding father of international finance, his banking empire–thanks to his five sons–had expanded to London, Paris, Vienna and Naples at the time of his death.”
Mayer Amschel Rothschild. Public Domain. Elbert Hubbard – no picture credit – The Project Gutenberg eBook, Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23595/23595-h/23595-h.htm
Salomon Mayer von Rothschild
Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, the second son, went to Austria and established SM von Rothschild in Vienna. He married Caroline Stern, with whom he had two children (a daughter and a son). Salomon’s father had built a hugely prosperous banking business in Germany. Wanting to expand the family business across
Europe, the eldest Rothschild son remained in Frankfurt, while each of the other four sons was sent to different European cities to establish a banking branch. Salomon von Rothschild was made a shareholder of the de Rothschild Frères bank when it was opened in Paris in 1817 by brother James Mayer de Rothschild.
Endogamy was an essential part of the Rothschild family’s strategy for future success to ensure that control of their businesses remained in family hands.
Nathan Mayer Rothschild 
Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the third son, went to England and settled in Manchester, but then moved to London. He first established a textile jobbing business in Manchester and from there went on to establish N M Rothschild & Sons in London. He married Hannah Barent Cohen in 1806, with whom he had seven children (three daughters and four sons).
Nathan began to deal on the London Stock Exchange from 1804 and made a fortune in trading bills of exchange through a banking enterprise he started in 1805, dealing with financial instruments such as foreign bills and government securities. On moving to London, Nathan Mayer Rothschild acquired premises at 2 New Court in St. Swithin’s Lane, the City of London, in 1809. Two years later, he established NM Rothschild & Sons. In 1818, he arranged a £5 million (equal to £370 million in 2021) loan to the Prussian government, and the issuing of bonds for government loans formed a mainstay of his bank’s business.
Nathan gained a position of such power in the City of London that by 1825–26 he was able to supply enough coin to the Bank of England to enable it to avert a market liquidity crisis.
Rothschild became a freemason of the Emulation Lodge, No. 12, of the Premier Grand Lodge of England on 24th October 1802, in London. Until then, the few Ashkenazi Jews that lived in England tended to belong to the “Antients” because of their generally lower social class, while the more established Sephardim joined the Moderns.
Carl Mayer von Rothschild
Carl Mayer von Rothschild, the fourth son, went to Naples, Italy and established C M de Rothschild & Figli. He married Adelheid Herz in 1818. With her, he had five children (a daughter and four sons), all of whom married within the family.
He would become known as “Carl” by the family except for his English relatives, who translated it as “Charles”. Raised in an increasingly prosperous family, he was trained in his father’s banking business and lived at home until age twenty-nine when he acquired a modest residence at 33 Neue Mainzer Strasse in Frankfurt am Main in preparation for his marriage on 16th September 1818 to Adelheid Herz (1800–1853). They would have five children.
Carl Rothschild has sometimes been seen as the least gifted of the five brothers. However, he proved himself in Naples as a strong financial manager and very capable of developing all-important business connections. He established a good working relationship with Luigi de’ Medici, the “Direttore della Segreteria di Azienda del Regno di Napoli” (Finance Minister), and his operation became the dominant banking house in Naples.
As a result of Carl’s success, the Rothschilds had a substantial banking presence in England and three other major European capitals, giving the family considerable influence and an advantage over their competitors.
Carl Mayer gained a significant influence with the Bourbon king in Naples. Clients of the Naples bank also included the Vatican, the dukes of Parma and the dukes of Tuscany.
James Mayer de Rothschild
James Mayer de Rothschild, the fifth and youngest son, went to France and established de Rothschild Frères in Paris. He married Betty Salomon de Rothschild, his niece, in 1824. With her, he had five children (a daughter and four sons), four of whom married within the family.
In 1812, he moved to Paris to coordinate the purchase of specie and bullion for his brother Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836), and in 1814 and 1815, he was the linchpin in Nathan’s plan to furnish the Duke of Wellington’s armies with funds. In 1817 he expanded the family banking empire to the city, opening De Rothschild Frères.
By 1823, the Paris House was firmly established as the banker to the French government. An adviser of ministers and kings, he became the most powerful banker in the country and, following the Napoleonic Wars, played a major role in financing the construction of railroads and the mining business that helped make France an industrial power.
Along the way, he added to his fortune with investments in such things as the importation of tea and the wine industry. A strong-willed and shrewd businessman, de Rothschild amassed a fortune that made him one of the richest men in the world.
The Rothschild Banking Strategy
An essential part of Mayer Rothschild’s strategy for success was to keep control of their banks in family hands, allowing them to maintain full secrecy about the size of their fortunes. In about 1906, the Jewish Encyclopedia noted:
“The practice initiated by the Rothschilds of having several brothers of a firm establish branches in the different financial centres was followed by other Jewish financiers, like the Bischoffsheims, Pereires, Seligmans, Lazards and others, and these financiers by their integrity and financial skill obtained credit not alone with their Jewish confrères, but with the banking fraternity in general. By this means, Jewish financiers obtained an increasing share of international finance during the middle and last quarter of the 19th century. The head of the whole group was the Rothschild family…”
Mayer Rothschild successfully kept the fortune in the family with carefully arranged marriages, often between first- or second-cousins (similar to royal intermarriage). However, by the late 19th century, almost all Rothschilds had started to marry outside the family, usually into the aristocracy or other financial dynasties.
The five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild were elevated to the Austrian nobility by Emperor Francis I of Austria, and they were all granted the Austrian hereditary title of Freiherr (Baron) on 29th September 1822. The British branch of the family was elevated by Queen Victoria, who granted the hereditary title of Baronet (1847) and later the hereditary peerage title of Baron Rothschild (1885).
Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild, GCVO, PC. Public Domain.
File URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/1st_Baron_Rothschild.jpg
Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild
In 1909, David Lloyd George, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, claimed that Nathan, Lord Rothschild, was Britain’s most powerful man. Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild was the eldest son of Austrian Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808–1879) and Baroness Charlotte von Rothschild (née von Rothschild).
His maternal grandparents were Freiherr Carl Mayer von Rothschild (1788–1855) and Adelheid Herz (1800–1853). Through both of his grandfathers, who were brothers, he was the great-grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744–1812), the dynasty’s founder.
The Rothschild Influence
The name of Rothschild became synonymous with extravagance and great wealth. The family was renowned for its art collecting, for its palaces, as well as for its philanthropy. By the end of the 19th century, the family owned or had built at least more than 40 palaces, of a scale and luxury perhaps unparalleled even by the world’s richest royal families.
“The Rothschilds are the wonders of modern banking … we see the descendants of Judah, after a persecution of two thousand years, peering above kings, rising higher than emperors, and holding a whole continent in the hollow of their hands. The Rothschilds govern a Christian world. Not a cabinet moves without their advice. They stretch their hand, with equal ease, from Petersburgh to Vienna, from Vienna to Paris, from Paris to London, from London to Washington. Baron Rothschild, the head of the house, is the true king of Judah, the prince of the captivity, the Messiah, so long looked for by this [sic] extraordinary people. He holds the keys of peace or war, blessing or cursing. … They are the brokers and counsellors of the kings of Europe and the republican chiefs of America. What more can they desire?”
The Napoleonic Wars
The Rothschilds already possessed a significant fortune before the start of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), and the family had gained pre-eminence in the bullion trade by this time. From London in 1813 to 1815, Nathan Mayer Rothschild was instrumental in almost single-handedly financing the British war effort, organising the shipment of bullion to the Duke of Wellington’s armies across Europe, and arranging the payment of British financial subsidies to their continental allies. In 1815 alone, the Rothschilds provided £9.8 million (approaching £600 million in today’s money).
The Rothschild brothers helped coordinate their banking activities across the continent, and the family developed a network of agents, shippers and couriers to transport gold across war-torn Europe. The family network was also to provide Nathan Rothschild time and again with political and financial information ahead of his peers, giving him an advantage in the markets and making the house of Rothschild still more invaluable to the British government.
Selected European Operations
There are two branches of the family connected to France. The first was the branch of James Mayer de Rothschild (1792–1868), known as “James”, who established de Rothschild Frères in Paris. Following the Napoleonic Wars, he played a major role in financing the construction of railways and the mining business that helped make France an industrial power. By 1980, the Paris business employed about 2,000 people and had an annual turnover of 26 billion francs (or $5 billion in the currency rates of 1980). However, disaster struck the Paris business in 1982 when the socialist government of François Mitterrand nationalised and renamed it Compagnie Européenne de Banque. Baron David de Rothschild, then age 39, decided to stay and rebuild, creating a new entity named Rothschild & Cie Banque, with just three employees and capital of €830,000 (US$1 million). Today, the Paris operation has 22 partners and accounts for a significant part of the global business. Ensuing generations of the Paris Rothschild family remained involved in the family business, becoming a major force in international investment banking.
The second French branch was founded by Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812–1870). Born in London, he was the fourth child of the founder of the British branch of the family, Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836). In 1850, Nathaniel de Rothschild moved to Paris to work with his uncle James Mayer Rothschild. In 1853 Nathaniel acquired Château Brane Mouton, a vineyard in Pauillac in the Gironde département, renaming the estate as Château Mouton Rothschild, and it would become one of the best-known labels in the world. In 1868, Nathaniel’s uncle acquired the neighbouring Château Lafite vineyard.
In Vienna, Salomon Mayer Rothschild established a bank in the 1820s, and the Austrian Rothschild family had vast wealth and position. The crash of 1929 brought problems, and Baron Louis von Rothschild attempted to shore up the Creditanstalt, Austria’s largest bank, to prevent its collapse. Nevertheless, during World War II, they had to surrender their bank to the Nazis and flee the country. Their Rothschild palaces, a collection of vast palaces in Vienna built and owned by the family, were confiscated, plundered and destroyed by the Nazis. The palaces were famous for their sheer size and huge collection of paintings, armour, tapestries and statues, some of which were restored to the Rothschilds after the war. All family members escaped the Holocaust, some moving to the United States and returning to Europe only after the war.
The C M de Rothschild & Figli bank arranged substantial loans to the Papal States and various Kings of Naples plus the Duchy of Parma and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. However, in the 1830s, Naples followed Spain with a gradual shift away from conventional bond issues, which affected the bank’s growth and profitability. The Unification of Italy in 1861, with the ensuing decline of the Italian aristocracy, who had been the Rothschild’s primary clients, eventually brought about the closure of the Rothschild Naples bank. However, in the early 19th century, the Rothschild family of Naples built up close relations with the Holy See. In 1832, Rothschild made a loan to the Holy See (for £400,000, worth approaching €50 million today). The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia described the Rothschilds as “the guardians of the papal treasure”.
Over more than two centuries, the Rothschild family has been the subject of conspiracy theories. These theories take differing forms, such as claiming that the family controlled the world’s wealth and financial institutions or encouraged or discouraged wars between governments. Discussing this and similar views, the historian Niall Ferguson wrote:
“Without wars, nineteenth-century states would have little need to issue bonds. As we have seen, however, wars tended to hit the price of existing bonds by increasing the risk that a debtor state would fail to meet its interest payments in the event of defeat and losses of territory. By the middle of the 19th century, the Rothschilds had evolved from traders into fund managers, carefully tending to their own vast portfolio of government bonds. Now having made their money, they stood to lose more than they gained from conflict. […] The Rothschilds had decided the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars by putting their financial weight behind Britain. Now they would […] sit on the sidelines.”
Many conspiracy theories about the Rothschild family arise from anti-Semitic prejudice and various antisemitic canards. Antisemitic canards are “sensational reports, misrepresentations, or fabrications” that are defamatory towards Judaism as a religion or defamatory towards Jews as an ethnic or religious group. Since the Middle Ages, they have formed parts of broader antisemitic conspiracy theories. Some antisemitic canards or false accusations date back to the birth of Christianity.
Conspiracy theories were once limited to fringe audiences but have become commonplace in mass media, the internet, and social media, emerging as a cultural phenomenon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. They are widespread worldwide and are often commonly believed, some even being held by the majority of the population. Interventions to reduce the occurrence of conspiracy beliefs include maintaining an open society and improving the analytical thinking skills of the general public.
Jewish identity and positions on Zionism
Jewish solidarity in the family has not been homogeneous. Whilst many Rothschilds were supporters of Zionism, other family members opposed the creation of the Jewish state. In 1917, Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, was the addressee of the Balfour Declaration to the Zionist Federation, which committed the British government to the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. His nephew, Victor, Lord Rothschild, was against granting asylum or helping Jewish refugees in 1938.
Keeping a Low-Key Profile
Since the late 19th century, the Rothschild family has taken a low-key public profile, donating to charity many famous estates, as well as vast quantities of art, and generally eschewing conspicuous displays of wealth. Tatler puts it well:
“Rothschilds tend to be low-key and unflashy – one of the family’s grande dames said you should only appear in the newspapers on three occasions: hatch, match and dispatch.”
The MensXP website puts it like this:
“The Rothschild family today is pretty much underground. Only a handful of the descendants are out in the public eye, but again, in a very reserved capacity. These descendants are mainly known to be some of the richest people in Europe and the owners of some of the biggest investment brokerage firms in Europe. However, several reputed financial journalists have claimed that the entire family functions as a shadow organisation today and has a major stake in almost every international bank.”
Today, Rothschild businesses are on a smaller scale than they were throughout the 19th century, although they continue to encompass a diverse range of fields.
Surprising Facts you may not know…
During the 19th century, if someone, something, or some cause needed a huge sum of money, the Rothschilds were the people to visit. An example of this is the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and is instrumental in trade between Asia and Europe. The Rothschild family was the main backer of the canal and England’s decision to buy shares in it.
Picture Attribution: Great Coat of Arms of the Rothschild Family
By Mathieu CHAINE – Own work, some elements by Sodacan, Katepanomegas, Adelbrecht, Heralder, Madboy74 and Nanin7Graphic, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22028353
File: URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Great_coat_of_arms_of_Rothschild_family.svg
The Rothschilds were also involved in Brazil’s bid for independence in 1820. Brazil wanted to break free of Portugal’s control, and after many battles over this, Portugal agreed that Brazil could be an independent country if they paid a fee to the Portuguese government. The fee was two million sterling and was funded by Nathan Rothschild. Brazil was also required to take on a debt the Portuguese government already owed to Nathan’s company. The Rothschilds collected the interest on both loans, increasing their fortunes from Brazil’s independence.
The Rothschild Coat of Arms
The Rothschild coat of arms contains a clenched fist with five arrows symbolising the five dynasties established by the five sons of Mayer Rothschild, by reference to Psalm 127 in the Old Testament: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”
The family motto appears below the shield: Concordia, Integritas, Industria (Unity, Integrity, Industry).
A Rothschild house, Waddesdon Manor in Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire, England, was donated to the National Trust by the family in 1957. You can read the background to Waddesdon Manor at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/waddesdon-manor/features/the-rothschilds-at-waddesdon
Sources and Further Reading
- YouTube Video: What’s Up With All the Rothschild Conspiracies? at https://youtu.be/3lDzuPPNgQY
- YouTube Video: Rothschild Dynasty at https://youtu.be/GWKeqDiPNts
- YouTube Video: Rothschild Family Tree at https://youtu.be/hr1hisvjoAI
- YouTube Video: The Rothschild Banking Dynasty at https://youtu.be/6sM3KOYPL_A
- YouTube Video: What is the Rothschild Conspiracy Theory and why are Conspiracy Theories so Dangerous at https://youtu.be/RrTV9hvtf9E
- Book: The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty, by Natalie Livingstone, available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=the+rothschilds
- Book: The Rothschilds: The Dynasty And The Legacy, by Michael W. Simmons, available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=the+rothschilds
- Book: The Rothschilds (Dynasties Book 2), by Virginia Cowles, available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=the+rothschilds
- Book: The House of Rothschild: The World’s Banker 1849-1999: 2: The World’s Banker 1849-1998, by Niall Ferguson, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=the+rothschilds
- Book: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, by Niall Ferguson, The Penguin Press HC. ISBN 978-1-59420-192-9.
- Film: The Rothschilds at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rothschilds_(film)
- Article: Selections from Amos Elon, Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time (New York, 1996) at http://faculty.history.umd.edu/BCooperman/NewCity/Founder.html
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- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Mayer_Rothschild ↑
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- The House of Bourbon is a European dynasty of French origin, a branch of the Capetian dynasty, the royal House of France. Bourbon kings first ruled France and Navarre in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma. ↑
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- Available in hardback from Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Niles-Weekly-Register-49/dp/1348032073 The Weekly Register (also called the Niles Weekly Register and Niles’ Register) was a national magazine published in Baltimore, Maryland by Hezekiah Niles from 1811 to 1848. The most widely circulated magazine of its time, the Register was America’s first weekly newsmagazine and “exerted a powerful influence on the early national discourse.” Niles was Baltimore’s most prominent citizen at the time. ↑
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- See: Lewis, Paul (14 June 2007). “Baron Guy de Rothschild, Leader of French Arm of Bank Dynasty, Dies at 98”. New York Times. ↑
- See: Thomas Trenkler. Der Fall Rothschild: Chronik einer Enteignung. Czernin Verlag, Vienna. 1999. ISBN 3-85485-026-3 ↑
- See: “Rothschild”. Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901–1906, Vol. 2, p. 497. ↑
- See, for example: (1) Victor Rothschild – “The Shadow of a Great Man” in Random Variables, Collins, 1984. (2) Ferguson, Niall. The World’s Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998, ISBN 0-297-81539-3 (3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conspiracy_theories#Antisemitic_conspiracy_theories ↑
- See: (1) Levy, Richard S. (2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice. ABC-CLIO. p. 624. ISBN 978-1-85109-439-4. (2) Poliakov, Leon (2003). The History of Anti-semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 343. ISBN 978-0-8122-1865-7. ↑
- See: (1) Brustein, William (2003). Roots of hate. Cambridge University Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-521-77478-9. (2) Perry, Marvin (2002). Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-312-16561-1. ↑
- Source: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, (London 2008), page 91. ↑
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- Sources: (1) Van Prooijen, Jan-Willem; Douglas, Karen M. (2018). “Belief in conspiracy theories: Basic principles of an emerging research domain”. European Journal of Social Psychology. 48 (7): 897–908. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2530. ISSN 0046-2772. PMC 6282974. PMID 30555188. (2) Sunstein, Cass R.; Vermeule, Adrian (2009). “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures”. Journal of Political Philosophy. 17 (2): 202–227. ↑
- See: https://www.britannica.com/event/Balfour-Declaration ↑
- See: Vallely, Paul (16th April 2004). “The Rothschild story: A golden era ends for a secretive dynasty”. The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 9th July 2008 ↑
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