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Tales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) online

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'' Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded
That all th" Apostles would have done as they did."

At the age of eleven young Rothschild lost his
parents, and had to begin the battle of life single-
handed. After a few years' schooling, one fine
morning he packed up all his worldly goods on
his shoulders, and with a stout stick in his hand
walked to Hanover. Here he fortunately found
a place as clerk to a small banker and money
changer. By dint of extreme parsimony he man-


aged to save a little out of his small salary, and
with this capital in hand he returned to Frank-
fort in the year of grace 177S, just over a hun-
dred years ago. I wonder if the house of Roth-
schild remembered to keep in the year 1873 their
founder's centenary.

Meyer Amschel now took to himself a wife, and
established himself as a broker and money-lender
in the Juden-gasse, joining with his other busi-
ness a little money-lending on a small scale. As
a skilful collector of, and an honest dealer in old
coins and other rarities, he soon gained some
local fame, and many a virtuoso would look in
upon him at his shop, No. 148, over the door of
which he hung out his sign, the " Red Shield,"
which in allusive heraldry denoted " Roth Schild."

Among the connoisseurs with whom he was
thus brought into connection was William, the
Landgrave of Hesse Cassel, afterwards known as
William I , Elector of Hesse. In those troubled
and dangerous times, when the first Napoleon
was making every town in Europe quake, the
Landgrave no doubt was often glad to dispose of
stray family jewels for a supply of the needful,
and possibly to borrow a few hundreds on per-
sonal security in order to pay the more pressing
of his creditors. Thus intimate relations were
established between the Landgrave and the once


poor clerk of Hanover: and so in 1796, when the
French troops inarched on Frankfort, the owner
of the "Red Shield" had time to put his "little
all" safe within the sheltering walls of the Land-
grave's Schloss at Cassel a service which the
Jew banker was able to return with interest ten
years later. The event is worth noticing, as
marking the starting point of the career of the
house of Rothschild.

As a rule, bombardments are not very fortu-
nate in their consequences ; but the bombardment
of Frankfort by Kleber, in 1796, was not without
its ad vantages to the Jews at least. The "Ghetto"
of that city was knocked nearly to pieces, and the
Jews were thenceforth allowed, as a special favour
and privilege, to rent houses among their Chris-
tian brethren. The "Red Shield" was trans-
ferred to a better part of the city, and its owner
was appointed banker to the Landgrave and his

This led to an event which proved the turn-
ing point of the fortunes of the Rothschilds.
In 1806, the Landgrave was driven from his
throne by Napoleon, who wanted the territory
in order to consolidate the kingdom of West-
phalia, which he had recently conferred on his
brother, Jerome. In his hurry to " pack up and
be off," William had no time to secure his cash,


which he was only too glad to leave in the hands
of his banker, though probably he had his mis-
givings as to seeing it again. Safer, however,
he thought in the hands of Meyer Amschel, his
Hof-agent, than in the hands of the merry King of
Westphalia. The sum amounted to just a quarter
of million of English pounds. The Hof-agent,
however, was equal to the crisis ; he saw how to
take care of the mouey, and to make it bring in a
good return also ; and at a time when gold was
worth from 12 to 20 per cent., and when all who
were " hard up " were forced to mortgage their
lands and houses, he saw that it only required a
cool head and sound judgment to turn the capital
over with advantage. The result was that in
six years he had nearly quadrupled the original
sum in his hands, and when he died, in 1812, he
was found to be worth a million sterling.

Shortly after this event happened the battle
of Leipzic, and on the re-establishment of peace
the Landgrave was restored to his estates and
his petty royalty. He had not been many days
at his palace when he received a call from the
eldest son of his departed Hof -agent, who handed
him the quarter of a million which six years
before he had left with Meyer Amschel. The
Landgrave was overjoyed at the sight of his cash,
and feeling that he could not pay too much


honour to such honesty and probity, dubbed
young Rothschild a knight on the spot. At the Con-
gress of Vienna, which he attended shortly after-
wards, he was loud in his praises of the Roth-
schilds ; and the result was that the other crowned
heads of Europe were anxious to secure the
services of so trustworthy a banker, who, no
doubt, was equally ready to do for any one of
them what he had done for the Landgrave,
namely, take care of their money and repay it
without interest.

Meyer Amschel Rothschild left ten children
five daughters and five sons who by their fa-
ther's will were bidden to enter into partnership,
binding themselves under the most solemn pro-
mises to be true to each other, and to keep the
great Hof Agency business in their own hands,
without allowing strangers to interfere with it.
They were to establish different branches of the
central bank at Frankfort, in London, Paris, and
the other capitals of Europe, and thus to keep
each other well informed as to all the centres of
politics and business.

" Anselm, the eldest son, was to be the head
of the firm," says Mr. Martin, " directing all its
operations, and, if necessary, controlling the
actions of his brothers. However, this arrange-
ment was not strictly carried out, for, though


Anselm remained all his life the nominal head,
yet his third brother (Nathan) inherited the
largest share of his father's spirit, and became
the real chief of the house." It was this Nathan
Meyer Rothschild, I may here remark, who even-
tually settling in London, was naturalised in
England, was created a Baron of the Austrian
Empire, and became the father of Sir Anthony
Rothschild, the first English baronet of the
family. I must now pass on to his history.

Born in September, 1777, he left his home at
Frankfort in 1798, at the age of twenty-one, and
opened a small place of business as a banker and
money-lender at Manchester, which city he is
said to have reached with .84- in his pocket
after paying his travelling expenses. By dint of
shrewdness, perseverance, and self-denial, how-
ever, he had so successfully conducted his opera-
tions that he came from Manchester to London
with a capital of .200,000 at his command. He
engaged largely in speculations in the public
funds, a safe step considering the supply of in-
formation which he received from abroad; and
as he realized vast profits, his ,200,000 speedily
added a fresh " 0" to it.

The next part of the story I will leave Mr.
Martin to tell in his own words :

" An instance of young Rothschild's sound cal-



dilation, and which proved an event of the
greatest importance in his successful career, was
his first transaction with the British Govern-
ment. In 1810, during the period when the
fortunes of the Peninsular War seemed most
doubtful, some drafts of Wellington, amounting
in the aggregate to a considerable sum, came
over to this country, and there was no money
to meet them in the Exchequer. Nathan Roth-
schild, calculating with habitual shrewdness the
chances of England's victory in her great con-
test against the arms of France, purchased the
bills at a considerable discount, and, having
made them over to the Government at par, fur-
nished the money for redeeming them. It was
a splendid speculation in every respect, and,
according to Nathan's own confession, one of
the best he ever made. Henceforth, the Ministry
entered into frequent and intimate relations with
the new Hebrew banker, who fully realised the
pecuniary advantages which this connection
brought him. Every piece of early news which
he obtained brought him the gain of thousands
at the Stock Exchange, the manipulation of
which he had mastered to an unexampled degree.
Soon, however, even the information which the
resources of the Government furnished him was
deemed insufficient by the enterprising specu-


lator, and he set to originate means of his own
for obtaining news far more perfect than those
at the service of the Government. For this pur-
pose he organized a staff of active agents, whose
duty it was to follow in the wake of the conti-
nental armies, and to send daily, or, if necessary,
hourly reports of the most important movements,
successes or defeats, in ciphers hidden under
the wings of carrier pigeons. To the breed of
these pigeons Nathan Rothschild attended with
the greatest care, and often paid large sums for
birds of superior strength and swiftness."

But he was not always content with the news
sent at second hand through pigeons, a mode
of transit always liable to be intercepted by a
stray shot from a Cockney's or a schoolboy's
gun. Occasionally he would make his way to
the Continent himself, in order to note matters
with his own eye. For instance, when Napo-
leon returned from Elba, his anxiety for the
pecuniary prospects of the house led him to Bel-
gium, where he followed events, moving in the
wake of the army under Wellington. Eager to
glean the latest intelligence, he even ventured
on the edge of the battle of Waterloo, where he
witnessed the defeat of the French from the high
ground in front of the chateau of Hougouraont.

As soon as the fate of the battle was decided,

s 2


Nathan Rothschild rode as fast as his horse could
carry him to Brussels, where a chaise was in
waiting to take him on to Ostend, which he
reached at daybreak on June 19th. The sea was
rough, and he had therefore some little difficulty
in getting a boat across ; but a brave fisherman
agreed to peril his life for the sum of .80, and
the same night he was safe in Dover harbour.
Posting on to London, and sleeping in the chaise,
he reached the City early on the 20th, and at
ten o'clock was leaning against his accustomed
pillar at the Stock Exchange. He looked solemn
and anxious ; and whispered to some of his
acquaintances a rumour that Marshal Bliicher
and Wellington had suffered a defeat, and that
Napoleon was master of the field and of the day.
The news spread like wildfire; down, of
course, went the funds; Nathan Rothschild's
known agents sold with the rest, but his unknown
and secret agents bought still more largely,
picking up every bit of scrip that they could lay
hands on till the following day. On the after-
noon of that day (the 21st) the real news reached
London the news of the fall of Napoleon.
Radiant with joy, Nathan Rothschild was the
first to inform his friends on the Stock Exchange
of the happy event. The funds rose as fast as
they had fallen perhaps even a little faster


and no sooner were the official returns of the
battle made known to the world, than it was found
that the house of Rothschild had netted a
million by the transaction. Enough : the
foundations of the monetary dynasty of that
house were now secure.

Having thus gained their first couple of millions,
the Rothschilds soon found honour and dignities
showered thick upon them. The Emperor of
Austria raised all the five brothers to the rank of
hereditary nobles ; and seven years later granted
them patents of dignity as barons. And as
for Nathan, his career after Waterloo was
as prosperous as it had been before. " He made
money," says Mr. Martin, " even by speculations
which turned out bad; for instance, by the
English loan of twelve millions, for which
he became responsible in 1819, and which
fell to a discount: but this did not happen
until Nathan had relieved himself of all re-
sponsibility. His greatest successes, however,
were in foreign loans, which he was the first
to make popular in England, by introducing
the habit of paying in the London market the
dividends which previously had been paid abroad,
and by fixing the rate in sterling money."

From about the year 1819 the transactions of
the brothers Rothschild came to be spread over


the whole civilised world, and Nathan negotiated
in person or by proxy loans with the Czar of
Russia and with the South American Republics,
and drove his bargains with the Pope of Rome
and the Sultan of Turkey ; and yet, while
dealing with these world-wide matters, he could
calculate to a sixpence what each of his clerk's
wages should amount to ; and he took care that
they should never be overpaid a penny, even
when he was himself entertaining at his table
peers, bishops, and even Princes of the Blood
Royal. And yet he was not happy. His utter
want of education rendered him quite unfit to
enjoy the pleasures of London society, and at the
same time exposed him to the shafts of satire.
He was constantly made the subject of caricatures,
which nettled and pained him to a degree ; and
he was constantly in receipt of billets doux, sent
by the post anonymously, which contained threats
of assassination unless he sent large sums of
money to the writers.

In the year 1831 Nathan Rothschild did a
stroke of business which, while it brought him
and his house immense profits, also heaped upon
them not a little obloquy, freely expressed in
many English and foreign newspapers. It is
well known that the supply of mercury is
exceedingly limited, being almost entirely drawn


from two mines, those of Almaden, in Spain, and
of Idria, near Adelsberg, in Illyria. The mines
of Almaden, which were known to the Greeks
700 years before Christ, and which furnished
.700,000 annually to Rome during the Imperial
era, fell somewhat into neglect, on account of the
Napoleonic wars at the commencement of the
present century, so that the Spanish Government
derived less profit from them than formerly.
Under these circumstances, when the Ministers
of His Catholic Majesty were hard up for funds in
1831, they entertained the application of Nathan
to furnish them with a loan, on condition of the
Almaden mines being made over to him for a
number of years as security. The bargain was
struck, and the House of Rothschild entered into
possession of the mines, commencing the business
by immediately doubling the price of Almaden
mercury. The commercial world, much as-
tonished at this step, addressed itself to Idria ;
and then it was discovered that the mines of Idria
had passed likewise very quietly into the hands
of Nathan Rothschild, who had settled of course
the price of the mercury on the same scale as
that of Almaden. By this little transaction the
House of Rothschild obtained a complete monopoly
in the sale of mercury, and Nathan was able to
fix the price of the article, indispensable for


many purposes, at his counting-house in St
Swithin's-lane. This clever stroke of business
as profitable as it was clever had one notable
consequence for the sick and suffering of all
nations. Mercurial preparations, largely era-
ployed in medicine, are at present no more
manufactured from the pure metal as obtained
from the mines, but from the refuse of other
articles containing quicksilver, such as the foil of
old mirrors and looking glasses. It would be
interesting, if the statistics were to be obtained,
to calculate how many pounds sterling the House
of Rothschild made by the little mercury business,
and how many persons suffered in consequence of
bad mercurial medicines.

The grand secret and guiding principle which
has ensured the continuance of the prosperity of
the House of Rothschild has been the unity which
has attended the co-partnership of its members,
so strongly eujoined as a duty on his children by
its founder, Meyer Amschel, as he lay on his
death-bed. It is, after all, but a realisation of
the truth of the fable of the bundle of sticks, a
fresh example of the saying that " union is
strength." To cement and to continue this
bond of union, Nathan conceived the further idea
of linking the family still closer together by the
intermarriage of the broker's children. Ac-


cordingly in 1836 he summoned a meeting of
the family at Frankfort to discuss, and, if possible,
to ratify the question. His advice was followed,
and the congress broke up with an arrangement
for the marriage of the eldest son of Nathan
Rothschild with the eldest daughter of his brother

Nathan had arrived at Frankfort in the May of
that year in perfect health and spirits, and he
took part in the religious ceremonies which
attended the wedding of his son and his niece on
the 15th of June. Next day, however, he was
taken ill ; he grew rapidly worse, and it was
suggested that his physician in London, Dr.
Travers, should be summoned ; but the travelling
expenses of a London physician to Germany were
too heavy for the purse of a Rothschild, and a
cheap medical adviser from the city of Frankfort
was called in. Under his hands poor Nathan
Rothschild got worse and worse, grew delirious,
and talked only of his pounds, his notes, and his
thalers, and on the 28th he died.

Early on the morning of the next day a sports-
man, looking out for birds on the downs near
Brighton, shot a pigeon, which, when picked up,
proved to be one of the well-known carriers of the
House of Rothschild. It carried no letter under
its wings, but only a small bit of paper on which


were written the words // est mort, with two
initials. Who the it was there could be no doubt.
Next day there was almost a panic on the Stock
Exchange, and a great fall in the funds greater
even than that which occurred on the death of
Sir Thomas Baring.

The remains of Nathan Rothschild were
brought over to England, placed in a sumptu-
ously gilded coffin, and buried with great pomp
and state in the Jewish cemetery at the East-
end of London, his hearse being followed by a
train of mourning carriages nearly a mile in
length, and the cavalcade included not only the
Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of London, but also
the Austrian, Russian, Prussian, and Neapolitan
ambassadors. Verily, if money be not a king, it
sometimes has a royal following.

The fortune left by the head of the family was
variously estimated at three, six, and even ten
millions. It is probable that the exact sum was
never really known, as large sums had been
made over to various members of his family in
his lifetime. After declaring that he had an in-
terest in all the houses conducted by his brothers
on the Continent, he ordered that his four sons
should join their uncles in carrying on the tran-
sactions I suppose I must not call it "business"
of the house, and to each of his three daughters


he left a paltry ,100,000, forbidding them to
marry without the consent of their mother and
brothers. " This," as Mr Martin remarks, " was
but a furtherance of the guiding thought of the
latter part of his life, when he dreamed that he
was destined to elevate his family into a distinct
class or caste, equal to that of the Royal families
of Europe, and all united in the close ties of
blood alliance. Perhaps, at times, he even looked
forward to the day when the house of the "Red
Shield " should stand far higher than those of
Hapsburg and Coburg, by the right of a power
far higher and more stable than that of ancestry
the power of gold."

Such a dream, if Nathan Rothschild ever
dreamed it, has not come true, nor does it seem
likely ever.now to be realized. Another generation
has sprung up ; the head of the English house is
a baronet, and two of the Rothschilds have seats
in Parliament; the Rothschilds now own Gun-
nersbury Park in Middlesex and Tring Park in
Hertfordshire, and Meutmore in Buckingham-
shire ; and some of their handsome Jewish
daughters have exchanged their Israelitish
maiden names for Christian surnames.* The

* Hannah, sister of Baron Rothschild and of Sir A. Roth-
schild, married in 1839 the late Right Hon. Henry Fitzroy,
M.P. for Lewes, brother of the late Lord Southampton ; and


caste is broken in upon ; the wall of severance is
no longer standing ; and Jewish wealth has now
become in the matrimonial market an article of
exchange for Christian blood and noble titles.
May the blending of the two principles be happy
in its results!

more recently a daughter of Baron Rothschild, of Mentmore
has entered the bonds of matrimony after the Christian rite
with the Hon. Mr. Yorke, a younger son of the Earl of



AMONG our " great families," whose names
are coeval with the Norman Conquest,
whose heads in the days of the last Stuart sove-
reign " held the realm in pawn," are the Harleys,
who for a century and a half after the extinction
of the heroic House of Vere enjoyed the dignity
of Earls of Oxford, and one of the last of whom
figured in his day as a merchant, Alderman, and
Lord Mayor of London. The old peerage-makers
tell us that that the family " can be traced to a
period antecedent to the Conquest," at which date
its position was so eminent that it forked, like the
Harcourts, into two rival branches, one on each
side of the English Channel, bearing their original
name of Harlai in France.

We find that in or about the reign of our
Edward II., a certain knight, Sir Robert de


Harley, married Margaret, eldest daughter and
co-heiress (with her sister, Elizabeth, wife of Sir
Richard de Cornwall, Son of Richard, Earl of
Cornwall, King of the Romans, brother of Henry
II.) of Sir Bryan de Brampton, in virtue of which
marriage he gained the magnificent estate and
noble castle of Brampton Bryan, near Ludlow,
which has continued down to this "day in the
hands of his descendants. And Sir Bernard
Burke tells us that his grandson, Sir John Har-
ley, of Brampton Bryon, received the honour of
knighthood from Edward IV. on the field of
battle. From him, eighth or ninth in direct
lineal descent, was Sir Robert Harley, of
Brampton Bryan, M.P., for Herefordshire, Master
of the Mint under Charles I., a man whose
name is worthy of remembrance, if for no other
reason, because he refused to coin money at the
Royal Mint in the Tower with any other die than
that of his Royal Master. For this offence he
was deposed by the Parliament, and he does not
appear to have lived to see the Restoration. His
wife, Lady Brilliana Harley, was a niece of
Dorothy, daughter of Sir John Tracy, of Tod-
dington, Gloucestershire, and sister of Mary, wife
of Sir Horace Vere, Lord Vere of Tilbury, through
which union the Harleys became allied with the
Veres, ancient Earls of Oxford, whose name is


or rather was for twenty generations a
synonym for the very flower of English nobility >
Ludy Brilliana was almost as celebrated for her
defence of Brampton Castle, when invested by
the Parliamentary forces in 1643, as was Lady
Blanche Arundell the Wiltshire heroine of the
same period for her defence of Wardour Castle,
near Salisbury. Her story is rather a touching
one ; for although she had held the place for seven
weeks against her assailants, she forced them to
raise the siege, yet she died a few weeks after-
wards, her end being hastened by her annoyance
and grief at the siege. After her death the
Roundheads returned to their work, and laid
siege a second time to the castle, which they took,
and then burned to the ground. A mass of noble
ruins still remains to show what the size of the
castle must have been in the days of its splendour.
The son of the owners of Brampton Castle, Sir
Edward Harley, was a member of the Parliament
that called back Charles II. to his throne, and
was appointed Governor of Dunkirk in reward of
his father's services and losses in the Royal cause.
His eldest son, Robert Harley, successively
Speaker of the House of Commons, Secretary of
State, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was
created Earl of Oxford and Mortimer in 1711,
and four years later was impeached and com-


mitted to the Tower. His public trial and his

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Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 16)