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Lionel de Rothschild

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Political party
Nathan Mayer Rothschild

British Politician

Lionel Rothschild


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Resting place
June 3, 1879, London, United Kingdom

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Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (22 November 1808 – 3 June 1879) was a British banker, politician and philanthropist who was a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of England. He became the first practising Jew to sit as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom.


Life and career

The son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Hanna Barent Cohen, he was a member of the prominent Rothschild family. He was born in London, where his father had founded the British branch of the Europe-wide family.

In his earlier years, he studied at the University of Göttingen, before embarking on an apprenticeship in the family business in London, Paris and Frankfurt. Lionel was admitted to the family partnership in 1836 at a family gathering in Frankfurt.

Like his father, he was a Freiherr (Baron) of the Austrian Empire, but unlike his father he used the title in British society. In 1838, Queen Victoria authorized the use of this Austrian title in the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Gladstone proposed to Queen Victoria that he be made a British peer. She demurred, saying that titling a Jew would raise antagonism and furthermore it would be unseemly to reward a man whose vast wealth was based on what she called "a species of gambling" rather than legitimate trade. However, in 1885 the Queen did raise Rothschild's son Nathan to the peerage; he became the first Jewish member of the House of Lords.


Rothschild was responsible for raising large sums for the government, especially in the Crimean war, and for philanthropic relief of the victims of the Great Irish Famine. On 1 January 1847, he founded the British Relief Association, alongside Stephen Spring Rice, John Abel Smith and other notable aristocrats. The Association went on to raise £500,000, and was the largest private provider of relief during the Irish Famine and Highland Potato Famine. In 1861, in protest at the suppression of the Polish uprisings, he (initially) refused to contract a loan to Russia. His most famous undertaking was financing the government's purchase of the Suez Canal shares from Egypt for £4 million.


In 1847, Lionel de Rothschild was first elected to the British House of Commons as one of four Members of Parliament for the City of London constituency. Because Jews were at that point still barred from sitting in the chamber due to the Christian oath required to be sworn in, Prime Minister Lord John Russell introduced a Jewish Disabilities Bill to remove the problem with the oath. In 1848, the bill was approved by the House of Commons but was twice rejected by the House of Lords. After being rejected again by the Upper House in 1849, Rothschild resigned his seat and stood again winning in a by-election to strengthen his claim.

In 1850, he entered the House of Commons to take his seat but refused to swear on a Christian Bible asking to use only the Old Testament. This was permitted but when omitting the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" from the oath he was required to leave.

In 1851, a new Jewish Disabilities Bill was defeated in the House of Lords. In the 1852 general election, Rothschild was again elected but the next year the bill was again defeated in the upper house.

Finally, in 1858, the House of Lords agreed to a proposal to allow each house to decide its own oath. On 26 July 1858, Rothschild took the oath with covered head, substituting "so help me, Jehovah" for the ordinary form of oath, and thereupon took his seat as the first Jewish member of Parliament. He was re-elected in general elections in 1859 and 1865, but defeated in 1868; he was returned unopposed in a by-election in 1869 but defeated a second time in the general election in 1874.

Personal life and family

A patron of thoroughbred horse racing, under the assumed name of Mr Acton, his colt "Sir Bevys" won the 1879 Epsom Derby.

In 1836, Lionel de Rothschild married his first cousin Baroness Charlotte von Rothschild (1819–1884), the daughter of Baron Carl Mayer Rothschild of the Rothschild banking family of Naples. They had the following children:

  1. Leonora (1837–1911)
  2. Evelina (1839–1866)
  3. Nathan Mayer (1840–1915)
  4. Alfred Charles (1842–1918)
  5. Leopold (1845–1917)

Illness and death

Lionel de Rothschild suffered from gout for more than 20 years. He suffered a seizure on 3 June 1879 and died the next morning at his city home at 148 Piccadilly in London, aged 70. His body was interred in the Willesden Jewish Cemetery in the North London suburb of Willesden.


Lionel de Rothschild Wikipedia