Nathan Mayer Rothschild

Nathan Mayer Rothschild (16 September 1777 – 28 July 1836) was a German Jewish banker, businessman and financier. Born in Frankfurt am Main in Germany, he was the third of the five sons of Gutle (Schnapper) and Mayer Amschel Rothschild, and was of the second generation of the Rothschild banking dynasty. Like his four brothers, he was from 1822, the Nathan Mayer, Freiherr von Rothschild, an Austrian Baron; however, he never used the title.[1] Once the wealthiest man on earth, he was the richest among the Rothschilds.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild
Born(1777-09-16)16 September 1777
Died28 July 1836(1836-07-28) (aged 58)
Known forRothschild banking family of England
Hannah Barent-Cohen (m. 1806)
Parent(s)Mayer Amschel Rothschild
Guttle Schnapper


In 1798, at the age of 21, he settled in Manchester, England and established a business in textile trading and finance, later moving to London, England and making a fortune in trading bills of exchange through a banking enterprise begun in 1805.

Rothschild became a freemason of the Emulation Lodge, No. 12, of the Premier Grand Lodge of England on 24 October 1802, in London. Up until this point, the few Ashkenazi Jews that lived in England tended to belong to the "Antients" on account of their generally lower social class, while the more established Sephardim joined the Moderns.[2][3]

In 1816, his four brothers were raised to the nobility (Adelung) by the Emperor of Austria. They were now permitted to prefix the Rothschild name with the particle von, although outside the German-speaking world it was common practice across Europe to use the language of diplomacy, rendering names and titles in French, in this case: de.[4] The offer appears to have been made to Nathan Mayer as well, but was evidently declined as being of little significance in itself in Great Britain.

It appears that Nathan Meyer was the originator of the family device of the 'Five Arrows'.[5] The origin is said to be a Persian tale told to the Patriarch, Mayer Amschel, as the family gathered around his death-bed, when he is said to have observed that the tale was applicable to his own family: individually an arrow may be easily broken, but when held as a bundle they would be unbreakable. In 1818, Nathan Meyer applied for a grant of arms, on learning that gentry status would suffice, and had the Five Arrows confirmed for himself and his wider family. Later, when only the British and the French Houses remained, a distinction was made between upturned arrows and downturned arrows, to determine which House was being indicated.

In 1822, all five brothers were granted the title of Baron, or raised to the Freiherrnstand, by the Emperor. From 1822, both Nathan Meyer himself, and any legitimate male descendant, could call himself: Freiherr von Rothschild, or in the language of diplomacy whether in France or not, Baron de Rothschild. In paractice, having accepted the aristocratic title for the benefit of his family, he chose not to use it himself and so did not request official recognition of the title. In 1838, two years after his death, Queen Victoria did authorise the use of this Austrian title in the United Kingdom.[6]


On 22 October 1806 in London, he married Hannah Barent-Cohen (1783–1850), daughter of Levy Barent Cohen (1747–1808) and wife Lydia Diamantschleifer. Their children were:

  1. Charlotte Rothschild (1807–1859) married 1826 Anselm von Rothschild (1803–1874) Vienna
  2. Lionel Nathan (1808–1879) married 1836 Charlotte von Rothschild (1819–1884) Naples
  3. Anthony Nathan (1810–1876) married 1840 Louise Montefiore (1821–1910)
  4. Nathaniel (1812–1870) married 1842 Charlotte de Rothschild (1825–1899) Paris
  5. Hannah Mayer (1815–1864) married 1839 Hon. Henry FitzRoy (1807–1859)
  6. Mayer Amschel (1818–1874) married 1850 Juliana Cohen (1831–1877)
  7. Louise (1820–1894) married 1842 Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1820–1886) Frankfurt

Business career

He operated first as a textile merchant in Manchester, England, then from 1804 he began to deal on the London stock exchange in financial instruments such as foreign bills and government securities.

From 1809 Rothschild began to deal in gold bullion, and developed this as a cornerstone of his business. From 1811 on, in negotiation with Commissary-General John Charles Herries, he undertook to transfer money to pay Wellington's troops, on campaign in Portugal and Spain against Napoleon, and later to make subsidy payments to British allies when these organized new troops after Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign.

In 1818 he arranged a £5 million loan to the Prussian government and the issuing of bonds for government loans formed a mainstay of his bank's business. He gained a position of such power in the City of London that by 1825–1826 he was able to supply enough coin to the Bank of England to enable it to avert a liquidity crisis.

In 1824 he founded the Alliance Assurance Company (now Royal & SunAlliance) with Moses Montefiore.

In 1830 he funded, along with other notable bankers, the country of Belgium, which had just gained independence and was looking for investors. He loaned them upwards of 3 million Belgian Franks.

In 1835 he secured a contract with the Spanish Government giving him the rights to the Almadén mines in southern Spain, effectively gaining a European mercury monopoly.[7]

He set up his London business, N. M. Rothschild and Sons at New Court in St Swithin's Lane, City of London, where it trades today. He also purchased a country house at Gunnersbury Park near Acton in western London.


An anonymous contemporary described Nathan Rothschild at the London Stock Exchange as "he leaned against the 'Rothschild Pillar' ... hung his heavy hands into his pockets, and began to release silent, motionless, implacable cunning":[8]

Eyes are usually called the windows of the soul. But in Rothschild's case you would conclude that the windows are false ones, or that there was no soul to look out of them. There comes not one pencil of light from the interior, neither is there one gleam of that which comes from without reflected in any direction. The whole puts you in mind of an empty skin, and you wonder why it stands upright without at least something in it. By and by another figure comes up to it. It then steps two paces aside, and the most inquisitive glance that you ever saw, and more inquisitive than you would ever have thought of, is drawn out of those fixed and leaden eyes, as if one were drawing a sword from a scabbard. The visiting figure, which has the appearance of coming by accident and not by design, stops just a second or two, in the course of which looks are exchanged which, though you cannot translate, you feel must be of most important meaning. After this, the eyes are sheathed up again, and the figure resumes its stony posture.

During the morning, numbers of visitors come, all of whom meet with a similar reception and vanish in a similar manner. Last of all the figure itself vanishes, leaving you utterly at a loss.[9]


By the time an infected abscess caused his death in 1836, his personal net worth amounted to 0.62% of British national income.[10] He had also secured the position of the Rothschilds as the preeminent investment bankers in Britain and Europe. His son, Lionel Nathan Rothschild (1808–1879), continued the family business in England.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his wife Hannah are buried in the Brady Street Ashkenazi Cemetery in Whitechapel.[11]

Waterloo legend

In the 19th century a story arose that accuses him of having used his early knowledge of victory at the Battle of Waterloo to speculate on the stock exchange and make a vast fortune.[12]

Frederic Morton relates the story thus:[13]

To the Rothschilds, [England's] chief financial agents, Waterloo brought a many million pound scoop. ... a Rothschild agent ... jumped into a boat at Ostend ... Nathan Rothschild ... let his eye fly over the lead paragraphs. A moment later he was on his way to London (beating Wellington's envoy by many hours) to tell the government that Napoleon had been crushed: but his news was not believed, because the government had just heard of the English defeat at Quatre Bras. Then he proceeded to the Stock Exchange. Another man in his position would have sunk his work into consols [bank annuities], already weak because of Quatre Bras. But this was Nathan Rothschild. He leaned against "his" pillar. He did not invest. He sold. He dumped consols. ... Consols dropped still more. "Rothschild knows," the whisper rippled through the 'Change. "Waterloo is lost." Nathan kept on selling, ... consols plummeted – until, a split second before it was too late, Nathan suddenly bought a giant parcel for a song. Moments afterwards the great news broke, to send consols soaring. We cannot guess the number of hopes and savings wiped out by this engineered panic.

Research by the Rothschild family[14] and others[15] has shown that this story originated in an anti-Semitic French pamphlet in 1846, was embellished by John Reeves in 1887 in The Rothschilds: the Financial Rulers of Nations, and then repeated in other popular accounts like that of Morton and the 1934 American film directed by Alfred L. Werker, The House of Rothschild. Many of the alleged facts are clearly untrue. For example, the size of the market in government bonds at the time could not have supported a gain of anything near one million pounds.

Historian Niall Ferguson agrees that the Rothschilds' couriers did get to London first and alerted the family to Napoleon's defeat, but argues that since the family had been banking on a protracted military campaign, the losses arising from the disruption to their business more than offset any short-term gains in bonds after Waterloo. Rothschild capital did soar, but over a much longer period: Nathan's breakthrough had been prior to Waterloo when he negotiated a deal to supply cash to Wellington's army. The family made huge profits over a number of years from this governmental financing by adopting a high-risk strategy involving exchange-rate transactions, bond-price speculations, and commissions.[16]

The Rothschild family archives confirm that, although "it is virtually part of English history that Nathan Mayer Rothschild made 'a million' or 'millions' out of his early information about the Battle of Waterloo, the evidence is slender". It notes the presence in the archives of a contemporary letter from a Rothschild courier, John Roworth, who wrote to Nathan: "I am informed by Commissary White that you have done well by the early information which you had of the Victory gained at Waterloo." The archivists suggest that this comment – the only hard evidence of Rothschild making a fortune going long on UK gilts – may, in fact, have been a reference to business dealings between Rothschild and the British Government, as suggested by Ferguson. (The contract for supplying cash to Wellington's army had been offered precisely because of Rothschild's international network. "The Government had already failed to establish a similar network of its own and had been let down by other more established London firms, and the Rothschild courier and communications network had gained a justifiable reputation for speed and reliability.") It confirms that the Rothschild couriers brought news of victory at Waterloo "a full 48 hours before the government’s own riders brought the news to Downing Street", but the archive has no records to estimate the size of any gain Rothschild made. "But knowing the structure of the market we can conclude that however much Nathan made out of Waterloo, it must have been very considerably less than a million pounds, let alone 'millions'."[17]

It is also very commonly reported that the Rothschilds' advanced information was caused by the speed of prized racing pigeons, held by the family.[18][19][20] However, this is widely disputed and the Rothschild archive states that, although pigeon post "was one of the tools of success in the Rothschild business strategy during the period c.1820-1850,... it is likely that a series of couriers on horseback brought the news" of Waterloo to Rothschild.[21]

More recently, Brian Cathcart has refuted the claim that Rothschild was the first man in London to know of the victory at Waterloo.[22] He traces the earliest news to a dispatch Wellington sent via his messenger to Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of War, which was received on the evening of 21 June.[22]

See also


  2. "Jews in English Freemasonry". Jewish Communities and Records. 20 April 2015.
  3. "Selected Jewish Masons 1717 – 1860". Synagogue Scribes. 12 October 2017.
  6. Bulletins of State Intelligence, 1838, p. 220
  7. Rothschild (1 January 1912). "Bullion Department". Retrieved 8 July 2010.
  8. Morton, Frederic. (1962). The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait. London: Secker & Warburg. p69.
  9. Morton, Frederic. (1962). The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait. London: Secker & Warburg. pp69–70. [Morton does not cite the source of this quotation].
  10. Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money (2008), p. 88: "When Nathan died in 1836, his personal fortune was equivalent to 0.62 per cent of British national income. Between 1818 and 1852, the combined capital of the five Rothschild 'houses' (Frankfurt, London, Naples, Paris and Vienna) rose from £1.8 million to £9.5 million. As early as 1825 their combined capital was nine times greater than that of Baring Brothers and the Banque de France. By 1899, at £41 million, it exceeded the capital of the five biggest German joint-stock banks put together."
  11. "Brady Street Cemetery". United Synagogues. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  12. Gray, Victor; Aspey, Melanie (May 2006) [2004]. "Rothschild, Nathan Mayer (1777–1836)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 May 2007. Contrary to stories emanating from an article about the family in a late nineteenth-century magazine with decidedly antisemitic undertones, Rothschild's first concern on this occasion was not potential financial advantage; he and his courier immediately took the news to the Government.
  13. Morton, Frederic (1962). The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait. London: Secker & Warburg. pp. 53–54.
  14. Rothschild, Victor (1982). The Shadow of a Great Man. N.M.V. Rothschild London (New Court, St. Swithin's La.).
  15. Ferguson, Niall (1998). The World's Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-81539-6.
  16. The House of Rothschild, Volume 1: Money's Prophets, 1798–1848. Niall Ferguson (1999), New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-024084-5
  17. "Contact Us ‹ FAQs :: The Rothschild Archive". Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  18. Sharf, Samantha. "Carrier Pigeon Commerce: How Knowing First Helped The Rothschilds Build A Banking Empire". Forbes. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  19. "Nathan Rothschild's carrier pigeons". Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  20. "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  21. "Contact Us ‹ FAQs :: The Rothschild Archive". Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  22. Lewis Jones (29 April 2015). "The News from Waterloo: the Race to Tell Britain of Wellington's Victory by Brian Cathcart, review". The Daily Telegraph.

Further reading

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