While the story of the how the Rothschild family pulled themselves out of poverty to become one of the wealthiest families in the world has long been told, the women of the family have remained faceless.
From those who helped build the bank up in the 1800s, to others who rejected their wealthy family’s expectation completely, a new book has told the story behind the relatively unknown women of the Rothschild family.
The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty, by Natalie Livingstone, journalist and historian, explores in detail each generation of the family’s impressive women.
Livingtone, who is married to property billionaire Ian Livingstone – owner of the Cliveden estate – previously wrote The Mistresses of Cliveden, detailing the lives of women who lived in the house whose histories were overlooked in favour of more famous men.
It’s a similar theme for her latest book, which took six years of research starting at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, when she discovered that the five daughters of Gutle and Mayer Rothschild had ‘just been written out of history’, after their father set the tone in his will in 1812, saying that women must not be part of the bank or directly inherit wealth.
‘I would never be able to forgive any of my children if, contrary to these my paternal wishes, it should be allowed to happen that my sons were upset in the peaceful possession and prosecution of their business interests,’ he said.
Among those featured include the founding matriarch of the family, Gutle, whose dowry is the very reason the bank exists in the first place, as well as Henriette who became a renowned society hostess.
From those who became a driving force in the late nineteenth-century women’s movement, to others who ditched their riches for their love of jazz music, the book explores how each woman forged her own path in the shadow of the famous banking dynasty.
GUTLE ROTHSCHILD: THE FOUNDING MATRIARCH
Gutle Rothschild, dubbed the ‘mother of the Rothschild dynasty’ was crucial in the initial years of the Rothschild bank, helping fund the organisation with her dowry and helping with cashing and issuing bills
Mayer and Gutle Rothschild had 19 children and 10 survived, five of which were women. But they have largely been overlooked in the family’s long and prestigous history, de
Gutle, dubbed the ‘mother of the Rothschild dynasty’, was born in the Frankfurter Judengasse – one of the earliest ghettos in Germany in 1753.
Under the Holy Roman Emperor the Jewish population were bound by a strict set of rules, including being banned from touching fruit in the market.
Meanwhile they also had to instantly raise their hat and step aside if anyone were to shout ‘Jud, mach mores!’ (Jew, do your duty)’.
The history of the Rothschild family
The Rothschild family is a wealthy Jewish family originally from Frankfurt that rose to prominence with Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744–1812), 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.
Mayer developed a finance house and spread his empire by installing each of his five sons in the five main European financial centres to conduct business.
His sons were:
- Amschel Mayer Rothschild (1773–1855): Frankfurt, died childless as his fortune passed to the sons of Salomon and Calmann
- Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774–1855): Vienna
- Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836): London
- Calmann Mayer Rothschild (1788–1855): Naples
- Jakob Mayer Rothschild (1792–1868): Paris
Unlike most previous court factors, Rothschild managed to bequeath his wealth and established an international banking family through his five sons, who established businesses in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna, and Naples.
Another 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.
Mayer Rothschild successfully kept the fortune in the family with carefully arrange marriages, often between first- or second-cousins.
The family was elevated to noble rank in the Holy Roman Empire and the United Kingdom.
The 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.
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 various descendants.
Today, their interests cover a diverse range of fields, including financial services, real estate, mining, energy, agriculture, winemaking, and nonprofits.
Many examples of the family’s rural architecture exist across northwestern Europe.
Christians had been banned from lending money for interest in 1179, so Jews were able to set up their own financial organisations – despite being prohibited from other forms of work.
Despite the discrimination they faced, Gutle’s father Wolf Salomon Schnapper ran one such institution and while they were not massively wealthy, they were more prosperous than most living in the ghetto.
Growing up surrounded by banking, Gutle was expected to be proficient enough to help with the family business.
In 1770, at the age of 17, Gutle’s father matched her with Mayer Amschel Rothschild – who had spent the last few years working as an apprentice in a bank at Hanover and had decided to set up a business of his own.
Gutle’s dowry of 2,400 gulden was essential funds for his growing business and, still living in the ghetto, the pair started their family.
Ten of her nineteen pregnancies would survive to adulthood and while nurturing her children, Gutle would help her husband with cashing and issuing bills, as well as the household finances.
Skills she had learnt as a child would later aid her husband Mayer in their founding of the prestigious bank.
Despite remaining a crucial cog in the bank’s wheel until her death in 1849, Gutle’s talents were to go unnoticed by the men in her family- with her son Carl writing to his brother Salomon in their adult years dubbing women ‘bad cashiers’.
‘Much like the Jews of Frankfurt themselves, the women of the Rothschild business tirelessly turned the wheels of industry, and were often rewarded with contempt’, writes Livingstone.
THE ‘DARING’ ROTHSCHILD DAUGHTER WHO SEPARATED HERSELF FROM THE GERMAN ARM OF THE FAMILY
Born in 1791, Henriette was the youngest of Gutle and Meyer’s daughters and ‘provided a more daring model of what a Rothschild woman might be’.
By 1808, sixteen-year-old Henriette was the only girl working for the family business who was a Rothschild by birth.
She remained unmarried until the age of 21, when her father died and left behind a dowry of 33,000 gulden and a wish for his youngest daughter to be appointed a match by his eldest sons Amschel and Salomon.
While the will technically allowed Henriette to choose her own match, the reality meant she had little choice, and her brothers quickly found a suitor for her – a man from Hamburg known as Hollaender.
Hollaender’s wildly high expectation for a dowry of 100,000 Gulden – three times what was mentioned in Meyer’s will – as well as Henriette’s entanglement with a Frankfurt man called Kaufmann meant that over the course of three years, their match had fallen apart.
Gutle, who hated the idea of her youngest daughter being unmarried at the age of 23, decided to let her go to England in search of a suitor to join her older brother Nathan.
It didn’t take long before Nathan found a match, Abraham Montefiore, who had been thrust out of society because of a previous marriage with Mary Hall, the daughter of a Christian stockbroker.
In 1815, a marriage of convenience took place without Henriette informing her Frankfurt family, something they viewed as ‘a pointed snub’.
While she loved her new home, her brothers were feeling increasing animosity towards their younger sister.
Livingstone writes: ‘By May 1817 Salomon and James had joined Amschel in the chorus of animosity towards Henriette and Abraham, writing from Paris to express their horror at the discourtesy with which they were routinely treated by the couple on their visits to London.’
Within two years, Henriette and her husband had turned their attention away from the Rothschild business and towards the stock market – further ostracizing her from her family.
After Abraham’s death in 1824, Henriette split her time between her three houses – the country estate at Worth Park Farm in Sussex, the old family home in Stamford Hill, and her London residence in Stanhope Street.
She spent time spending her fortune and hosting legendary parties, where Benjamin Disraeli courted his wife, and was remembered for her pronounced German accent and ‘great fund of the racy old Jewish humour’.
Born in 1791, Henriette Rothschild was known for her legendary parties at her three homes in the UK. Hannah Mayer De Rothschild went against her family’s wishes to marry Christian MP Henry FitzRoy, the son of a prominent aristocratic family
THE DAUGHTER EXILED FOR MARRYING A CHRISTIAN
Nathan’s wife gave birth to her second daughter, whom the couple named Hannah Mayer, in 1815.
In keeping with marriages within the family, they planned to marry her off to Henriette’s son, Joseph Montefiore.
However the pair were not a natural match, with Hannah growing increasingly frustrated at ‘dreadful tedious long dinners’ which took place in Frankfurt, Joseph felt repulsed by how ‘very distant’ Hannah was.
While Nathan and his wife Hannah began looking for a suitable match for their daughter, Hannah Mayer beat her too it, being swept off her feet by Christian MP Henry FitzRoy, the son of a prominent aristocratic family.
With ancestry that could be traced back to the 1st Duke of Grafton and having been MP for Lewes at the age of thirty, FitzRoy had a promising political career ahead of him.
‘While FitzRoy’s family disliked the prospect of a Jewish bride from a “mercantile” background, the Rothschilds were truly horrified’, writes Livingstone.
‘The family’s efforts to blend in with Christian upper-class society did not in any way signal an acceptance of “marrying out”, which was still considered to be a grave betrayal, an assault on an identity that for centuries had been under threat.’
Despite their families best efforts, on 29 April 1839, the couple were married at St George’s church in Hanover Square, with Hannah Mayer required to publicly renounce Judaism and declare that she had desired to become a Christian since the age of fifteen.
While Hannah accompanied her in the carriage to the church, her brother Nat was the only member of the family to attended the wedding.
She and Henry had two children; Arthur Frederick in 1842 and Caroline Blanche Elizabeth two years later.
However, after a fall from a horse at a very young age, Arthur was an invalid and he died at the age of 15. His death provoked ill health in his father, who died shortly afterwards.
Her niece Constance, would later write: ‘I cannot help thinking that all the misfortune and distress which have overwhelmed poor Aunt Hannah Mayer have been a punishment for having deserted the faith of her fathers and for having married without her mother’s consent.’
THE PIONEER OF WOMAN’S RIGHTS WHO WAS FRIENDS WITH QUEEN VICTORIA
Constance de Rothschild was the elder daughter of Sir Anthony and Lady Louise de Rothschild, born in London in 1843, though she spent her early years in Paris before returning to Britain
Constance de Rothschild was the elder daughter of Sir Anthony and Lady Louise de Rothschild, born in London in 1843, though she spent her early years in Paris before returning to Britain.
As a young woman she taught in the Jews’ Free Schools around Aston Clinton wrote a book The History and Literature of the Israelites.
In 1864 she met Cyril Flower, a property developer and Liberal Party politician who later became Lord Battersea, through her cousin, Leopold de Rothschild, and the pair married in 1864.
After becoming Lady Battersea, Constance had no children and would throw herself into social reform, becoming a driving force in the late nineteenth-century women’s rights movement.
She joined the British Women’s Temperance Association after a friendship with suffragette Fanny Morgan had propelled her into the reform movement of women’s prisons in England.
Constance struck up a friendship with Queen Victoria’s ‘wild’ daughter Princess Louise at a meeting hosted by Constance and Cyril at Surrey House in aid of one of their many campaigns.
Louise was said to have arrived as an ‘interested member of the audience and left as a friend’, soon inviting Constance down to Windsor, where she stayed for the first time in 1886.
Their friendship sparked Queen Victoria’s interest and Constance was invited to dine with Her Majesty, who told her a story about how she saw her great-grandfather, Mayer Amschel, when she was visiting Frankfurt as a child.
Despite Constance telling Her Majesty that her great-grandfather had died seven years before she was born, the monarch rubbished her claims and insisted that ‘it surely must have been the husband of that wonderful old Frau Rothschild [Gutle]’.
Over the following years Constance made further trips down to Windsor where she often met with the Queen. Constance died in November 1931.
THE WOMAN WHO HELPED HER HUSBAND BECOME PRIME MINISTER
The granddaughter of Nathan and the sole heiress of Baron Mayer, Hannah de Rothschild was born into a world of wealth and luxury but renounced her family name after falling in love with a Christian
The granddaughter of Nathan and the sole heiress of Baron Mayer, Hannah de Rothschild, was born into a world of wealth and luxury.
After inheriting her father’s fortune in 1874 at the age of 22, she became the richest woman in Britain with an excess of £2 million and properties including 107 Piccadilly and Mentmore.
Baron Mayer had been a lover of horse racing, and Hannah met Archibald Primrose, Lord Rosebery at Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk.
Archibald Philip Primrose Rosebery who was Prime Minister for just one year in 1894
Soon after her father’s death there were whispers that Hannah and Archibald had agreed a secret match.
But it wasn’t until after her mother died that their plans were confirmed to their friend Sir James Lacaita, who would become their marriage broker.
Male members of the Rothschild family were once again furious at a woman ‘marrying out’ and refused to attend the wedding in 1878. She became Hannah Primrose, Countess of Rosebery.
It would later be said Archibald had decided at a young age on his three life goals ambitions: ‘to marry an heiress, win the Epsom Derby, and become prime minister’ – ambitions which were made far easier after his marriage to Hannah.
The couple’s London base was Lansdowne House off Berkeley Square, and because Rosebery was planning a move into liberal politics, Hannah’s cousin Constance and her husband became close with the couple despite their ‘disdain’ of her.
Hannah was her husband’s driving force and motivation and Archibald, a friend of William Gladstone, was considered to be ‘quiet, impressive, earnest and full of interest . . . a human being as well as a great statesman’ – according to Constance.
The birth of their first daughter Sybil did nothing to deter Hannah’s role in her husband’s political campaign – with Hannah turning her London home into ‘the social headquarters of Liberalism and setting her husband on course to become prime minister.’
However, she suddenly died in 1890, aged 39, leaving him, distraught and bereft of her support, to achieve the political destiny which she had plotted.
In 1894 Archibald was elected as Prime Minister of the UK, serving just one year in office. However in 1895, the Liberal party lost the election and he resigned.
Despite speculation, Archibald never remarried after his wife’s death.
THE ‘JAZZ BARONESS’ WHO CHOSE A LIFE OF MUSIC
Pannonica Rothschild, better known as Nica, was the daughter of Rózsika and Charles Rothschild and later becoming a leading patron of bebop, she would be dubbed the ‘jazz baroness’
American jazz musician Thelonious Monk and his patron, British Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter at the Five Spot jazz club in New York in 1964.
Pannonica Rothschild, better known as Nica, was the daughter of Rózsika and Charles Rothschild.
Her father had introduced her to jazz at a young age and she developed a great interest in the art form in her teens – later becoming a leading patron of bebop, she would be dubbed the ‘jazz baroness’.
Nica was badly behaved growing up and in her teens would terrorise her mother by ‘corridor creeping’ – summoning giving her siblings wine and playing them jazz music in the small hours of the morning when her parents were asleep.
At nineteen she and sister Liberty were sent to France for finishing school, which later in life, she would say was just ‘three lesbian sisters’ who gave nothing but lessons in wigs and lipsticks.
Nica with her dog Jack, pictured in 1930. The socialite and jazz patron was a regular fixture at nightclubs and music venues of the West End and FitzroviaThank y
After their time at finishing school, Nica and Liberty toured the continent before enrolling for classes at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
On their return to London, Rózsika arranged her daughter’s debutante season, but Nica felt more at home at the nightclubs and music venues of the West End and Fitzrovia, like Café de Paris and the Kit-Kat Club.
Nica’s brother secured tuition from the swing pianist Teddy Wilson, which his sister sat in on, and she quickly befriended the pianist, bonding over records, venues and artists.
She would meet the saxophonist Bob Wise as she emerged deeper into the London jazz scene, who would later inspire her love of flying, obtaining her pilots license in the early 1930s
In the summer of 1935 Nica met Jules de Koenigswarter, a ‘suave, handsome’ 33-year-old widower who was ten years her senior. After spending the summer flying across Europe, Jules proposed.
Friends in high places! Actor James Cagney with Baron Jules De Koenigswarter and Baroness Nica De Koenigswarter in Hollywood in 1937
After months of travelling the pair married and settled in Paris, where Nica immersed herself in the bustling jazz scene before returning to London where she gave birth to her first child Patrick.
The couple would continue to flit between London and Paris in the years that followed, having a further two children, before 1935, when the Second World War began.
She joined the Free French Army to fight against Nazi Germany and after the fall of Hitler, Nica retired from active service with the rank of lieutenant.
She was awarded the Médaille commémorative des services volontaires dans la France libre, while Jules received the prestigious Ordre de la Libération.
THE WOMAN DUBBED THE ‘QUEEN OF FLEAS’
Miriam Rothschild, born in 1908, had inherited a love of nature from her father Charles and would later become the Natural History Museum’s first trustee
Nica’s sister, Miriam Rothschild, born in 1908, had inherited a love of nature from her father Charles and first indulged her enthusiasm for the environment on a trip to Cséhtelek shortly before the start of the First World War.
She spent the trip ‘counting the spots of ladybirds and learning to tell the difference between a comma butterfly and a small tortoiseshell’ before the family had to evacuate.
Years later, after her father Charles’ suicide, Miriam’s zoological study and exploration started once again when her brother brought home a dead frog home from Harrow he had to dissect for science class.
The siblings visited the Tring zoological laboratory, the private museum of Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, where they started the procedure.
‘As she gazed in awe at the incredible beauty of the blood system and the arteries and veins laid out in front of her, Miriam knew that her attempts to distance herself from her father’s zoological passions were futile’, writes Livingstone.
Miriam quickly enrolled at evening classes in zoology at Chelsea Polytechnic while continuing her main lessons in literature at Bedford College, University of London, continuing her mollusc research into her 20s.
In late August 1937, Walter died in his sleep meaning Miriam’s brother Victor inherited the majority of his uncle’s art and property, apart from his zoological legacy – the bulk of which would go to Miriam.
She inherited a share of his collection of moths and butterflies, and the editorship of the Tring Museum journal.
The museum at Tring and its entire contents were left to the Museum’s Natural History Department with the condition that if not left intact they would go to Miriam.
Miriam worked at Bletchley Park on codebreaking with Alan Turing and was awarded a Defence Medal from the British government for her efforts
Both Miriam and Victor spent much of the late thirties campaigning and fundraising in support of German Jewry and by 1938 Miriam’s research commitments had ‘become a secondary consideration’.
During World War II, Miriam was recruited to work at Bletchley Park on codebreaking with Alan Turing and was awarded a Defence Medal from the British government for her efforts.
Further more, she pressed British government to to admit more German Jews as refugees from Nazi Germany and arranged to house 49 Jewish children – several of whom stayed at her Northamptonshire. home.
Ashton Wold also served as a hospital for wounded military personnel, including her future husband, Captain George Lane. Lane, a Hungarian-born British soldier.
The pair had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood. They split in 1957 but remained on good terms. On 20 January 2005, Dame Miriam died from heart failure at Ashton Wold.
THE BRITISH ARM OF THE ROTHCHILD FAMILY TREE
The British branch of the Rothschild family, in a different approach to some of their European counterparts, are very happy to mix parties and politics – and the latest generation have multiple aristocratic marriages between them.
Sisters Kate and Alice Rothschild, granddaughters of Victor, 3rd Baron Rothschild, married brothers Ben and Zac Goldsmith, respectively, in high profile weddings. Kate and Ben are now divorced. Their brother, James Rothschild married hotel heiress Nicky Hilton, sister of socialite Paris, in 2015.
Famous British members of the Rothschild family (from left): Alice Rothschild with her husband Zac Goldsmith; Kate Rothschild with her then husband Ben Goldsmith in 2011. The pair are now divorced
Meanwhile Nathaniel Rothschild, son and heir of Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild, was married to socialite Annabelle Neilson, who died in 2018 at the age of 49. He is now married to former Page 3 girl Loretta Basey.
Nathaniel, known as Nat, also has highly publicised friendships with people such as Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska whose £80million yacht was the scene of an infamous gathering in Corfu with George Osborne and Peter Mandelson which led to Nat’s dramatic and widely reported fall-out with Mr Osborne, an old school friend.
In Europe, the Rothschild family has known tumultuous times. Amschel Rothschild, son of the 3rd Baron Rothschild who married Anita Guinness, took his own life aged 41 at the Le Bristol hotel in Paris in 1996. The French and Swiss branches of the family were also locked in a public feud over the use of the Rothschild name. It was resolved in 2018.