The Rothschilds are a remarkable pan-European Jewish family. Taking their name from the house of their 16th century ancestors, “zum roten Schild” (at the sign of the red shield) in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto, they became one of the wealthiest and most powerful 19th century dynasties; bankers to monarchs and governments, builders of great houses and collectors of the finest art. Mayer Amschel (1744-1812), who founded the banking business, came from a modest merchant family who set up as a dealer in antique coins before becoming Court Agent to William, the future Elector of Hesse.
As the business expanded into trading government bonds and textiles, Mayer Amschel drew his five sons into the business, the “five arrows” of the family crest, who went on to establish the family name in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna and Naples. A key figure in the family’s expansion was Mayer Amschel’s third son, Nathan (1777-1836), who set up NM Rothschild and Sons in London, and their financial future was assured when they won the contract to fund the Duke of Wellington’s army during the Napoleonic campaign. During this period they established what would become a Rothschild trademark – the ability to support complex government transactions combined with an intricate, rapid system of communication and total discretion. As Europe became increasingly industrialized, the Rothschilds also became involved in financing large-scale infrastructure projects such as railway networks or providing government financing for the building of the Suez Canal.
In 1822 the brothers were made Barons by the Austrian Emperor. Their coat of arms is quartered with a fist holding the five arrows, symbolizing the brothers and their unity. Their motto, “Concordia, Integritas, Industria” refers to the qualities which lead to their success; unity, integrity and hard work. The family has also been involved in British politics: Lionel de Rothschild was admitted to his seat in the House of Commons in 1858, a turning point in the history of British Jewry; while in 1885 Queen Victoria granted a peerage to Nathaniel (Natty) Rothschild.
Alongside their financial activities, the Rothschilds are renowned as collectors of paintings and works of art, as architectural patrons and the creators of spectacular gardens. Several members of the family developed a keen interest in racing and horse-breeding and the Rothschild name is also synonymous with wine, particularly the great Bordeaux vineyards Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild, both of which have been in the family ownership since the 19th century.