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Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879)

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild was born in London on 22 November 1808, the eldest son and main business heir of Nathan Mayer Rothschild. He spent some time 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 to celebrate his marriage to his cousin, Charlotte, on 15 June. Nathan's death just days later left Lionel as senior partner in the new firm N M Rothschild & Sons, which he formed with his three brothers.

Business continued steadily under Lionel; by the 1860s, N M Rothschild & Sons was at the peak of its powers. ; the traditional clutch of sovereign clients was nurtured and extended, and railway loans became a strong feature. In 1860, the Partners, led by Lionel agreed that it was time for a new building, reflecting the firm's position in the world. Between 1860-1865, the domestic feel of the old New Court building was swept aside in favour of something more imposing and business-like, in a style which echoed the palazzi of the great Italian banks. The second New Court survived for almost exactly a century. “New Court...seems to me quite marvellous, and intended for magnificent business”  said Lionel's wife, Charlotte in 1865. Lionel is remembered in business for his assistance to the British Government in 1875, helping his friend, Disraeli, secure the necessary sum to procure the Khedive of Egypt's share in the Suez Canal. 

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild MP

Lionel undertook a lengthy campaign to become the first Jewish Member of Parliament; standing in 1847 as a Liberal candidate for the City of London. On 8 July in that year a meeting of Liberal electors endorsed him as a candidate along with Lord John Russell, James Pattison and Sir George Larpent. Throughout the campaign, people had been aware that Lionel, if he was elected, would face the problem of having to take an oath on the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments), on 'the true faith of a Christian'. Lioenl was finally able to take his seat in 1858 and remained in the House until 1874.

Later life

Lionel and Charlotte entertained a wide circle of friends at 148 Piccadilly and at Gunnersbury Park, many of whom actively supported Lionel's campaign to become the first Jewish Member of Parliament. In the 1850s, Lionel began to acquire large tracts of land in the Vale of Aylesbury which he children finally inherited and developed still further. He also bequeathed to them his magnificent collection of Old Master paintings.

The last years of Lionel’s life were marked by painful rheumatic gout and he died at his home in Piccadilly of heart disease on 3 June 1879.

See also Charlotte von Rothschild »