Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Rothschild, Ferdinand James de
ROTHSCHILD, FERDINAND JAMES de (1839–1898), known as Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, virtuoso, born at Paris in 1839, was second son of Baron Anselm de Rothschild of Frankfort and Vienna, by his first cousin Charlotte, eldest daughter of Nathan Meyer Rothschild [q. v.] Both father and mother were grandchildren of Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the great financial house. He was educated in Vienna, but settling in England in 1860, became a British subject and completely identified himself with the country. Buying an estate of about eight hundred acres at Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire, he erected thereon the mansion of Waddesdon Manor, after the style of the Chateau de Chambord. In 1885 he entered parliament for the Aylesbury division and retained the seat as long as he lived. But he devoted himself more particularly to social life and to his duties as a country gentleman, building up a model estate, breeding stock, and entertaining numerous distinguished guests among the latter Queen Victoria (14 May 1890), the Shah of Persia, the German Emperor Frederick, and on several occasions King Edward VII when prince of Wales. He was extremely interested in painting, especially that of the Low Countries and the work of Gainsborough and Reynolds, and he formed a fine collection at Waddesdon. In a family of collectors he was pre-eminent for his ability. The attention which he paid to the art of the Renaissance, especially bindings, enamels, furniture, and goldsmith's work, was repaid by a splendid collection of rare objects of the highest quality. His collection of French books, many in superb bindings, was catalogued partially in 1897 (London, 4to, private issue, with sixteen plates). His own favourite reading was among the French memoir writers, and he published some of his gleanings in a volume entitled 'Personal Characteristics from French History' (London, 1896, seventeen portraits, no index). Of more interest is 'Three Weeks in South Africa' (printed for private circulation, 1895), a brightly written diary of a trip on board the Dunottar Castle, December 1894–February 1895. In July 1897 he achieved a considerable triumph as a collector by the successful purchase of a Terburg, a Gerard Douw, and Cuyp's 'View on the Maas,' from the Six Museum at Amsterdam—a collection hitherto intact (Times, 26 July 1897). He was elected a trustee of the British Museum on 7 Feb. 1896, and until his death he took a keen interest in the work of the institution. He died suddenly of syncope at Waddesdon on 18 Dec. 1898, and by his will left a superb collection of jewels, plate, and other works of art to the British Museum, on the condition that they should be kept in a room apart from the other collections, to be known as the 'Waddesdon Bequest Room.' This room was opened to the public on 9 April 1900 (Catalogue of Waddesdon Bequest). He also bequeathed to the museum library fifteen manuscripts, mostly of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, richly illuminated and on vellum (Addit. MSS. 35310-24). By far the finest of these is a Latin breviary (Addit. MS. 35311), a beautiful example of early fifteenth-century French work.
On 7 June 1865 Rothschild married his cousin Evelina, daughter of Baron Lionel Nathan Rothschild [q. v.] Upon her death, without issue, on 4 Dec. 1866, he erected and endowed as a memorial to her the Evelina Hospital for Children in the Southwark Bridge Road.
[Times, 19 Dec. 1898; Illustrated London News, 24 Dec. 1898 (with portrait); Cat. of Waddesdon Bequest (with portrait), 1899; Burke's Peerage, s.v. 'Rothschild'; Walford's County Families; Ann. Reg. 1898; Brit. Mus. Cat.]