The Women of Roth­schild: The Untold Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty

  • Review
By – May 1, 2023

The Roth­schild fam­i­ly is so well-known that its name is vir­tu­al­ly a metonym for wealth. How­ev­er, the many tal­ents of its women have been large­ly over­looked — until now. Natal­ie Liv­ingston, author of an ear­li­er book about scan­dal, pow­er, and intrigue in an Eng­lish state­ly home, has found an abun­dance of fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries about Roth­schild women across sev­en generations.

Their his­to­ry begins in 1753, when a daugh­ter named Gut­le was born in the Frank­furt ghet­to to Bel­la Gans and Wolf Salomon Schnap­per. Their busi­ness was bank­ing; and despite all the legal and social lim­i­ta­tions imposed on women at the time, Gut­le mas­tered it and soon over­saw its count­ing house. In 1770, her father intro­duced her to a reli­gious boy who had also worked in a bank: May­er Amschel Roth­schild. They mar­ried lat­er that year.

It took just two gen­er­a­tions until Roth­schild women had moved from the ghet­to to the high­est ech­e­lons of British soci­ety. In 1838, Ben­jamin Dis­raeli, a ris­ing politi­cian, took an inter­est in Gutle’s grand­daugh­ter, Char­lotte de Roth­schild. Over time she became his close con­fi­dant. A few years lat­er she was intro­duced to Queen Vic­to­ria, who had ascend­ed to the throne at the age of eigh­teen and need­ed a young friend.

Charlotte’s moth­er-in-law, Han­nah Roth­schild, became active in British elec­toral pol­i­tics when the edi­tor of The Times invit­ed her son Lionel — Charlotte’s hus­band — to stand for elec­tion to Par­lia­ment in 1847. He became the first Jew to serve in the House of Com­mons. By 1885, when Charlotte’s son, Nathan May­er de Roth­schild, sat in the House of Lords as the first Lord Roth­schild, his cousin Con­stance was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor at Wind­sor Cas­tle. She would see her friend Princess Louise, the eccen­tric third child of Queen Vic­to­ria. The Queen, in turn, vis­it­ed Con­stance and her hus­band at their Buck­ing­hamshire estate, Wad­des­don Manor.

The Roth­schild women of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry are par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing. Rózsi­ka von Wertheim­stein, who mar­ried Charles Roth­schild, not only won a women’s ten­nis cham­pi­onship, but she also spoke four lan­guages and was a polit­i­cal enthu­si­ast as well as an advo­cate of Zion­ism. She gave birth to two extra­or­di­nary daugh­ters. One of them, Nica, became deeply involved with some of New York’s great­est jazz musi­cians: Cole­man Hawkins, Bud Pow­ell, Char­lie Park­er, and, in par­tic­u­lar, Thelo­nious Monk.

Rózsika’s daugh­ter Miri­am, the most inspir­ing of the remark­able women described in this book, excelled in mul­ti­ple ways. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War she led efforts to sup­port and res­cue Jews who were flee­ing from the Nazis. She secret­ly worked in the British intel­li­gence unit at Bletch­ley Park, trans­lat­ing inter­cept­ed ene­my com­mu­ni­ca­tions from Ger­man to Eng­lish. She lat­er became a nat­u­ral­ist who was rec­og­nized for her orig­i­nal research on ento­mol­o­gy. She even appeared on tele­vi­sion. Miri­am received eight hon­orary doc­tor­ates, and she con­tin­ued her research until the day she died, at the age of nine­ty-five, in 2005.

With her absorb­ing chron­i­cle of a famous fam­i­ly, Natal­ie Liv­ing­stone has added an impor­tant new dimen­sion to this peri­od in Jew­ish his­to­ry. The Women of Roth­schild is a must-read.

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