The World's Richest Family - You Didn't Know About (Part 1)

May 25, 2011Marketsby David Smith

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The World's Richest Family - You Didn't Know About

25 May 2011.

It is difficult to conceive today of how rich and powerful the Rothschilds became in the 19th century. It is necessary to imagine all the great modern banks, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch, forming one gigantic conglomerate.

From their five European bases, the Rothschilds became masters of the political universe. They lent money to Kings, including England’s George IV, dined with Prime Ministers like Disraeli and Gladstone, funded the creation of a pan-European rail network and financed wars, including both sides in the Napoleonic Wars. 

Their status was put most eloquently by the contemporary newspaper Nile’s Weekly Register in 1835:

“The Rothschilds are the wonders of modern banking...peering above kings, rising higher than emperors, and holding a whole continent in the hollow of their hands....not a cabinet moves without their advice.”

Of Baron Nathan Rosthchild, the head of the English branch, the newspaper said:

“He holds the keys to peace or war. They are the brokers and counsellors of the Kings of Europe and of the Republican chiefs of America. What more can they desire?”

The Rothschilds didn’t just lend money to royals, they also behaved like royalty by marrying each other constantly. In 1836 Nathan’s son Lionel married his first cousin Charlotte Rothschild, who was herself the daughter of Nathan’s brother James, who had married his niece. In other words, her father was also her great uncle. Of Nathan’s seven children, four married Rothschild first cousins. Such inbreeding was genetically questionable, but it bred loyalty and kept money safely in the family.

The Rothschilds ability to form symbiotic links with the powerful became notorious. In 1878, the Earl of Rosebery married Hannah, the only child of Baron Mayer de Rothschild, and the greatest English heiress of her day. Rosebery went on to become British Prime Minister in 1894. Such close links to power continued well into the 20th century. One famous example was the election of the former Rothschild general manager George Pompidou as President of France in 1969. The satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine reacted with a barbed remark exposing the connection between wealth and power: “RF=Republique Francaise=Rothschild Frère.”

The Rothschilds today have nothing like the power of the 19th century family, but they are still enormously influential, advising Margaret Thatcher over privatisations in the 1980s, and the US Government over the car industry more recently. And they are still mixing socially with high-level politicians. When Sir Evelyn de Rothschild married New York businesswoman Lynn Forester in 2000, they spent the night of their wedding dinner in the White House as guests of Bill Clinton. In the UK, the current British chancellor George Osborne is a close friend of his Oxford contemporary, the multi-millionaire Nat Rothschild. The friendship has provoked rumours of illegal donations to the Tories.