This Day in Jewish History

1876: The Playboy of the Rothschild Clan, Relatively Speaking, Dies

Anthony 'Fat Bill' de Rothschild played a key role in founding UK Jewish institutions, and railroads, but knew how to enjoy his leisure too.

Anthony Nathan de Rothschild, shown seated, wearing a light-colored suit. The photograph is believed to date from around 1875.
Wikimedia Commons

On January 3, 1876, Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild died, at the age of 65. As the grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the Frankfurt-based Rothschild banking family, Anthony de Rothschild was largely responsible for running the London branch of the business in the mid-19th century, and also played an important role in the founding of several British Jewish institutions during the period when English Jewry was moving toward full emancipation.

Unlike his older brother Lionel, however, who was the first Jew to enter the House of Commons, after a long public battle, Anthony was a less conspicuous presence in English life, and was happy to spend much of his leisure time hunting, and breeding racehorses, on his Buckinghamshire estate.

Anthony Nathan de Rothschild (known within the family as “Billy,” or as “Fat Bill”), was the third child, and second of four sons, of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Hannah Barent Cohen. It was Nathan Mayer’s father, Mayer Amschel (1744-1812) who started the family firm, and dispatched his five sons around the continent to open the offices that enabled Rothschild to become the world’s most powerful banker.

Anthony studied at the Abraham Garcia School, an elite Jewish institution in Peckham, London, and then at the Universities of Goettingen and of Strasbourg. Following that, he began his apprenticeship in the family firm, which took him from N.M. Rothschild, in his hometown, to de Rothschild Freres, in Paris, and the home office of M.A. Rothschild and Sohne, in Frankfurt.

Auditorium University of Göttingen, Germany, built in 1826–1865, where Anthony Nathan de Rothschild studied.
Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons

Railroads and gold bars

Anthony was made a partner in the bank in 1836, with the death of his father, and as his brother Lionel became increasingly occupied with a political career, and his two younger brothers were focused on other pursuits, it was he who became largely responsible for the London firm.

That meant becoming involved in the financing of railroad construction, a critical component of the industrial revolution then underway. Anthony took part in the creation and management of the family-owned Chemin de Fer du Nord, a French rail-transport business established in 1845, and also in the funding of railways in Italy, Brazil and Mexico.

In 1852, he negotiated the family’s acquisition of the lease to run the Royal Mint Refinery in London – a lease that remained in the family’s hands for more than a century. The refinery, which Rothschild then managed, was responsible for the minting and supply of gold bars, a major tender of trade, for Her Majesty’s government

He also took the initiative in purchasing the rights to exploit some 50,000 square miles of land in Newfoundland, Canada, territory that was rich in lumber and mineral resources.

Meanwhile, in Rothschildshire

In 1840, Anthony married his cousin Louise Montefiore, who was the daughter of Abraham Montefiore (brother of Moses) and Henriette Rothschild, Anthony’s aunt. The couple had two daughters, Constance and Annie Henrietta. In 1870, the sisters co-authored “The History and Literature of the Israelites,” a retelling of Bible stories for young audiences.

In 1851, Anthony bought Aston Clinton House, an existing manor in Buckinghamshire (a part of the country where the family had so many holdings that some people referred to it as “Rothschildshire”).  There he bred thoroughbred racehorses. Also, and there, in response to a 16th-birthday request from his daughter Constance, who said she’d like a school for the occasion, he established the Aston Clinton Infants' School. (In general, Anthony and Louise took a protective attitude toward their employees, building cottages on the grounds for them and providing a variety of educational and welfare services.)

Sir Anthony also had a proprietary relationship with the Jewish establishment. He served as the "warden" of Ashkenazi Judaism's Great Synagogue, in London, and in 1870, when it joined with the capital's other Ashkenazi shuls to form the United Synagogue, he became the federation's president, serving until his death. He also served as president of both the Jews' Hospital and, for 28 years, of the Jews' Free School.

After his death, which took place on this day in 1876, Anthony's title was passed on to his nephew Nathan Mayer Rothschild, son of Lionel.