Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rothschild, Lionel Nathan de
ROTHSCHILD, LIONEL NATHAN de (1808–1879), banker and philanthropist, eldest son of Nathan Meyer Rothschild [q. v.], by his wife Hannah, daughter of Levi Barnet Cohen, was born in New Court, St. Swithin's Lane, London, on 22 Nov. 1808. After being educated at Göttingen, he entered his father's business, and on his father's death, in 1836, succeeded to the chief management of the Rothschild banking-house in England. On 16 June 1838 he assumed, by royal license, the dignity of baron of the Austrian empire, which had been conferred on his father. He possessed much of his father's ability. Although his three brothers were associated with him in the firm, he chiefly directed the firm's affairs, and under his guidance the London house maintained its influence in both England and Europe. During his lifetime his firm brought out as many as eighteen government loans. In 1847 he negotiated the Irish famine loan, and in his office was formed the British Relief Association for the Irish peasantry. In 1856 he raised 16,000,000l. for the English government, to meet the expenses of the Crimean war, and in 1858 he took up a Turkish loan of 5,000,000l. on the joint security of the French and English governments. He also played a prominent part in the operations for the funding of the United States national debt, and brought out several large loans for the Russian government. But he declined to take up the Russian loan of 1861, owing to his disapprobation of Russia's attitude to Poland. He actively co-operated with the Viennese branch of his firm in directing the finances of the Austrian empire, and with his cousin, Baron James of Paris, assisted in the construction of the Great Northern Railway of France. He was for many years a director of that company, as well as of the Lombardo-Venetian railway. At the close of the Franco-German war in 1871 Rothschild, at the head of a group of financiers, guaranteed the maintenance of the foreign exchanges, and thus facilitated the payment of the French indemnity. In 1876 his house advanced to the English government 4,080,000l. for the purchase from the khedive of his Suez Canal shares; the firm is said to have made 100,000l. by the transaction.
Meanwhile Rothschild took an active part in political and social life. Devoted to his race and religion, he continuously exerted his influence in behalf of his co-religionists, seeking for them freedom from persecution abroad and the full privileges of citizenship in England. In 1843 he co-operated with Sir Moses Montefiore [q. v.] in his efforts to ameliorate the condition of the Russian and Polish Jews. He did what he could to improve the position of the persecuted Jews of Roumania, and a letter from him in their behalf was read at the Berlin congress of 1878. He was a generous benefactor of the Jews of Jerusalem. In London he was a munificent supporter of Jewish institutions, and was for some time president of the great synagogue. But his charity was never confined to his co-religionists, and he showed practical sympathy with all manner of philanthropic movements.
The most striking incident in his personal history centred in his efforts to enter the House of Commons. In 1847 he was elected one of the whig members for the city of London, having Lord John Russell as a colleague, but, owing to his refusal as a Jew to accept the words ‘on the true faith of a Christian’ in the parliamentary oath, he was not allowed to take his seat. Since 1830 the House of Commons had five times passed a bill enabling Jews to take the oath in a form they could conscientiously accept, but on each occasion the House of Lords had thrown it out. Soon after Rothschild's return to parliament, Lord John Russell carried through the commons a new oaths bill for the relief of the Jews, Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli both supporting it, but it was rejected by the House of Lords in June 1849. Rothschild applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, and, coming forward again, was re-elected by the city of London by an immense majority over his opponent, Lord John Manners. Encouraged by the support of the city, he on 26 July 1850 presented himself at the bar of the house and demanded to be sworn on the Old Testament. On his withdrawal the attorney-general moved that Rothschild should be heard at the bar in support of his application. The motion was carried by a majority of fifty-four; but, after Rothschild had pleaded his case, the house on 5 Aug. resolved that he could neither sit nor vote without taking the oath in the usual form. He was re-elected in 1852, in 1854, and twice in 1857 (in March and in July after accepting the Chiltern Hundreds), but was still refused permission to take part in the proceedings of the house. Although an unsworn member, he was allowed to sit below the bar, and to remain there when notice was taken of strangers. Further oaths bills enabling Jews to take the parliamentary oath were passed by the House of Commons in 1851, 1853, and 1857, and rejected by the lords. At length, early in 1858, for the tenth time, an oaths bill, introduced by Lord John Russell, passed through the House of Commons. The House of Lords accepted it after rejecting the clause affecting the Jews. The lower house disagreed with the lords' amendment, and, on the motion of Thomas Duncombe, Rothschild was nominated a member of the commons' committee appointed to draw up reasons for disagreeing with the lords (11 May 1858). Before the conflict between the two houses went further, Lord Derby, the prime minister, accepted a bill drawn up by Lord Lucan enabling each house of parliament to determine the form in which the oath should be taken by its members. This was hastily carried through both houses, and in accordance with its terms, Rothschild, on 26 July, was permitted by resolution of the House of Commons to swear the oath of allegiance in the Jewish form, and to take his seat. The successful issue of the eleven years' struggle was largely due to the perseverance of Lord John Russell. In commemoration of his final triumph Rothschild endowed a scholarship at the City of London school. He subsequently took no active part in politics, although he long retained his seat in the House of Commons. He was re-elected by the City of London in 1859 and 1865. At the general election of December 1868 he was defeated, but was re-elected at a by-election in the following February. In 1874 he again lost his seat, owing chiefly to his opposition to the abolition of the income tax then contemplated by Mr. Gladstone. He himself advocated new property taxes and license duties, such as those recently imposed in Austria.
Rothschild was popular in social life, and was on terms of intimacy with a long succession of statesmen. Benjamin Disraeli, whose Sidonia in ‘Coningsby’ is an idealised portrait of him, was a close friend from an early period. Rothschild dispensed a generous hospitality at his houses in Piccadilly and Gunnersbury. In 1872 he purchased the Tring Park estate, Hertfordshire, and acquired much property in Buckinghamshire. He formed a pack of staghounds, with which he hunted until his health failed, and he owned a few racehorses, but was not a member of the Jockey Club. He raced in the name of Mr. Acton, and he won the Derby with Sir Bevys in 1879.
For many years before his death rheumatic gout deprived Rothschild of the use of his legs, but his activity was otherwise unimpaired. He died after an epileptic seizure at his house, 148 Piccadilly, on 3 June 1879, and was buried at Willesden.
He married, 15 June 1836, his first cousin Charlotte (1819–1884), daughter of Baron Charles de Rothschild of Naples. She published ‘Addresses to Young Children’ (1858, 1859, and 1861), and actively interested herself in Jewish and other charities until her death, at Gunnersbury, in March 1884. By her Baron Lionel had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Nathaniel Meyer de Rothschild (b. 1840), was created a baron of the United Kingdom in 1885. The second son, Alfred (b. 1842), was consul-general for Austria and a director of the Bank of England. Leopold (b. 1845), the third son, is a well-known owner of racehorses. Of the daughters, Leonora married at Gunnersbury, on 4 March 1857, her cousin Alphonse, eldest son of Baron James de Rothschild of Paris. The younger daughter, Evelina, married, 7 June 1865, Baron Ferdinand, son of Anselm de Rothschild of Vienna; she died on 4 Dec. 1866. The Evelina Hospital for sick children in Southwark was founded in her memory by her husband, who is now M.P. for the Aylesbury division of Buckinghamshire. [Reeves's The Rothschilds (with portrait); the Montefiore Diaries, ed. Loewe, 1890; Walpole's Life of Lord J. Russell, ii. 92, 307–8; Black's Jockey Club; Times, June 1879; Ann. Reg. 1879; Walford's County Families.]