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Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836)

Nathan Mayer Rothschild was born in Frankfurt at the house of the Hinterpfann on 16 September 1777. In the intervening 59 years, Nathan Mayer Rothschild (the name he never changed in spite of honours offered and declined) led his brothers to the pinnacle of the financial world.

Nathan almost burst out of Frankfurt, the first of his brothers to found a branch of the family firm, to settle in England in 1798, initially as a textile merchant in Manchester and subsequently as a London bill broker nonpareil. Nathan was a larger than life figure on the London exchanges, giving himself totally to his business, permitting no half measures. His brusqueness and off-handedness were legendary, and his tactics were examined and re-examined time and time again. No one knew quite how he became so supreme in his world, but all recognised the fact. His marriage to Hannah, daughter of Levi Barent Cohen, gave him a position in society and a range of business contacts which might have taken him years to achieve alone. Building on this foundation and wedding it to the Rothschild network, Nathan was credited by his brothers with securing for them the best opportunities to achieve their position in the world of finance.

Nathan in Manchester

Nathan was a popular 'Manchester man', acquiring his first Manchester premises in 1799. He lived in Manchester for a decade, revolutionising the burgeoning textile trade through his use of ready cash to buy up large quantities of materials and his reliance on a network of family and friends to ship Manchester goods throughout Europe. Nathan established Rothschild Brothers in 1799 as commission agents to coordinate the supply of British textiles to the continental market for his father's account. He built up an impressive reputation as a successful merchant operating on the principle of high turnover and modest profits, taking advantage of the opportunity to bypass the middle men and purchasing textiles direct from the manufacturers, quickly turning the £20,000 with which he arrived into £60,000.  

He was soon trading on his own account. Items in the Manchester warehouse, listed in his Stock Book, c.1805 include arungos, baftaes, bandanas, books (probably of material), beads (mock pearl), cambrics, corals (red), cane table mats, cornelian beads, dimities, emeralds, white flush cambric handkerchiefs, jacconets, ink (china), lappett sprigs, muslins, plain buff nankeens, pullicates, pearls, pockets, shawls (various), thicksetts, velveteens, vandykes, wine.

In October 1806, Nathan married Hannah Barent Cohen. Hannah became one of Nathan's closest associates, being consulted on business matters as well as taking care of the household and family. In late November 1806, Hannah went to Manchester to share her husband's home. Nathan was well established in a community made up of merchants, textile manufacturers and his own staff. They embraced Hannah wholeheartedly. Hannah took part in the work of the business, dealing with correspondence and orders and signing cheques on behalf of the firm. 

Nathan in the City of London

Encouraged by his success, Nathan probably registered as a merchant in London in 1804, moving to London to establish himself as a banker, founding N M Rothschild at New Court, St Swithin's Lane in the the City in 1809. The Manchester business was taken over by one of Nathan's clerks, Joseph Barber, and the company finally ceased trading under the Rothschild name in 1811. 

Temporary access to funds, invested by the Rothschild House in Frankfurt for William IX of Hesse-Cassel, greatly increased the scope of Nathan's London operations. These were based upon profitable speculation in British and foreign securities, and prominent dealing in foreign exchange and bullion. By 1814, Nathan was placed uniquely to fulfil the prestigious British Government contract to purchase and transport gold coin to finance Wellington's army on the Continent. After the latter’s victory at Waterloo, the London House won a further contract to handle English subsidy payments to the European allies. The position of Nathan Rothschild as the leading City merchant banker was consolidated in 1826, when the firm stepped in, with an instant injection of gold, to save the Bank of England. Nathan's London House issued 26 British and foreign government loans between 1818 and 1835 and in 1824 floated the Alliance Assurance Company.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his family

Nathan was an indulgent father, a respectful husband, and an admired (if occasionally feared) brother. In 1809 Nathan acquired the lease of No.2, New Court for £750, as a home for his family and as the centre of his London business interests. The family moved into New Court in March 1809, but by 1816 had found a villa at Stamford Hill to provide more space and better air. In 1825, the family's town home was established at 107, Piccadilly and in 1835, Nathan took on Gunnersbury Park in west London. 

Nathan and Hannah had seven children. Charlotte (1807-1859) married her cousin Anselm (1803-1874). Next came Lionel Nathan (1808-1879) who as Baron Lionel de Rothschild helped the British government secure the Suez Canal in 1875. Then Anthony Nathan (1810-1876) who married Louise Montefiore (1821-1910) and built Aston Clinton and Nathaniel (Nat) (1812-1870), who married his French cousin Charlottte (1819-1884) and lived in France purchasing Château Motuton. They were joined by Hannah Mayer (1815-1864), Mayer Amschel (1818-01874) who married Juiana Cohen (1831-1877) and built a grand mansion at Mentmore, and finally Louise (1820-1894) who married her cousin Mayer Carl (1820-1886)

In June 1836 Nathan travelled to Frankfurt for the wedding of his son Lionel to his niece Charlotte (1819-1884), but became too ill to return home and died in Frankfurt at the age of 58 on 28 July. When he died, Hannah spoke of the loss of her best friend. Hannah and Lionel were with him in his last days, during which time he drew up his final will. “My beloved wife Hannah ... is always to co-operate with my four beloved sons on all important occasions and to have a voice in all deliberations. Moreover it is my special wish that my sons shall not engage in any transactions of moment without having previously asked her maternal advice.” With Nathan’s death in July 1836, the City of London lost a financier whose name had become legendary in his own lifetime. On his father's death, Lionel became the senior partner in the new firm N M Rothschild & Sons, which he formed with his three brothers, and N M Rothschild & Sons would continue to prosper and grow at the centre of the London financial world.

For further information about the life of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, see the essay 'An off-hand man: the character of Nathan Rothschild' by Victor Gray and 'Nathan Rothschild in Manchester' by Bill Williams in The Life & Times of N M Rothschild 1777-1836 (N M Rothschild & Sons, London 1998), the exhibition catalogue of the 1998 Museum of London exhibition.

See also Hannah Rothschild »