What it’s really like to be a Rothschild

Histories of the dynasty have tended to skip over the women—a new book corrects that oversight
December 9, 2021
The Women of Rothschild
Natalie Livingstone
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The ubiquity with which the Rothschilds appear in antisemitic conspiracy theories can make it hard to see them as people. Scions of the banking dynasty Mayer Amschel Rothschild founded in the late 18th century pop up at pivotal points in recent history: Lionel Rothschild’s long battle to become the first Jewish MP in 1858; Walter Rothschild’s work in securing the Balfour declaration in 1917; Victor Rothschild’s role in British intelligence during the Second World War, and so on.

As Natalie Livingstone points out in her very read-able new book, histories of the dynasty have tended to skip over the women. Adding them to the story doesn’t just fill it out; it also tells us much more about how the family worked, and what it was—and is—like to be a Rothschild.

Their pivotal role started with the matriarch Gutle Rothschild, Mayer Amschel’s wife, who ensured the business was efficiently run in the early days. Nineteenth-century Rothschild women were crucial in the networking that ensured the British Rothschilds took their place in the aristocracy.

Being a Rothschild could be hard. In the 18th and 19th century, marriages were often arranged with cousins. But by the 20th, the family had expanded to the point where its members had the freedom to choose their own loves.

The remarkable life of Miriam Rothschild dominates the last section. A zoologist who worked at Bletchley Park in the war and contributed to the Wolfenden report that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, she died in 2005. She was her own person and as far from an antisemitic stereotype as could be imagined.