Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild
  • November 5, 2013
  • Posted In: Society

Baron Meyer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874) was the fourth son of Nathan Meyer Rothschild and his wife Hannah (nee Cohen). He was a scion of the English branch of the Jewish banking dynasty whose fortunes were made during the Napoleonic Wars. The Baron was the first Rothschild to be educated at Cambridge (both Magdalene and Trinity College) and despite serving an apprenticeship in the family banking houses in Paris and Vienna chose not to follow his father and brothers into the business. He chose instead a life dedicated to the Turf and the acquisition of antiques; amassing one of the greatest collections of majolica in the world.

Henry Poole & Co began tailoring for the Barons de Rothschild in the early1850s and counted amongst its customers Barons Charles, James and Nathan from the Paris branch of the family bank and Baron Solomon from the Austrian arm. The family invariably included the dynasty patriarch Meyer de Rothschild’s name somewhere in a male descendant’s name making it rather a challenge to identify who’s who. Baron Meyer de Rothschild first appears in the ledgers in 1853. This date tallies with the building of his Neo-Jacobean country house Mentmore Towers (1852-4) designed by Joseph Paxton and George Henry Stokes.

There is a story in the firm’s biography Henry Poole: Founders of Savile Row that Baron Meyer de Rothschild was one of a number of supporters (including Henry Poole) who helped finance Prince Louis Napoleon’s campaign to restore the Bonaparte dynasty to the throne of France in the late 1840s. He was certainly wealthy enough to do so and was an intimate of Prince Louis’ Jewish politician friend Benjamin Disraeli (another Poole’s customer). However, with his cousin Baron James de Rothschild as banker to French king Louis Philippe who Napoleon deposed does merit further investigation. Would the family contradict each other’s interests? Fenton Bresler’s 2000 biography of Napoleon III credits the prince’s actress/mistress Lizzie Howard as banker for 1848 coup though the theory that his tailor contributed to the war chest can’t be discounted. Henry Poole would be awarded the Emperor’s Royal Warrant in 1858 and was a personal guest of Napoleon III at the chateau of Compiègne.

Baron Meyer de Rothschild was, like Poole and his friend the Prince of Wales, a noted man of the turf. Horses trained at his Buckinghamshire stud farm Crafton would win four of the five Classic races in 1871 and his wealth was sufficient to buy entry to the Marlborough House Set of the Prince of Wales’s intimate friends. The Prince (the future King Edward VII) was a Poole’s man and was the first member of the British royal family to include Jews in his social circle. It was at a race meeting at Newmarket that the Baron’s only daughter and heir Hannah was introduced to her future husband the 5th Early of Rosebery (another Poole’s man) by Prime Minister Disraeli’s wife.

When Baron Meyer de Rothschild died in 1874 he would leave Hannah an estate worth two million pounds and Mentmore Towers. The Spectator’s obituary for Baron Meyer de Rothschild is peculiar in its ambivalence about his legacy and is unashamedly anti Semitic. It reads ‘the popular idea of a Rothschild as a financier of enormous wealth, whom nobody can cheat and nobody hurt, and who is incessantly occupied in making money is nevertheless incredulously untrue’ then talks about his majolica collection as ‘peculiar to his race’.  It goes on to say ‘the notion that he was merely an accumulator, we are told, a pure delusion’ but stops short of naming the Baron a great philanthropist.

(c) James Sherwood

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