1774 - 1855 (81 years)
Has 4 ancestors and more than 100 descendants in this family tree.
||Salomon von Rothschild |
|Relationship||with Francis Fox|
||22 Sep 2001 |
- Achieved exactly the exalted station in imperial Vienna that remained Landgrave William's (von Hessen-Kassel) perpetual daydream
The Austrian Emperor had created him and his brothers barons
Quite early in the nineteenth century his Highness, Prince Metternich, Chancellor of Austria, had some public thoughts about bankers who interfered in matters of state. "The House of Rothschild," he said, "plays a much bigger role in France than any foreign government. . . . There are, of course, reasons for it which seem to me neither good nor gratifying: money is the great motive force in France, and corruption is quite openly reckoned with. Among us [in Austria] this commodity finds but few friends." For the mishpoche those were hardly hospitable words. Austria still maintained an anti-Semitic hauteur. In contrast to England and France, the Jews were not permitted to own land anywhere in the Habsburg domains. They could not serve in the government or the courts of justice.
The practice of law was closed to them, as was the teaching profession or any kind of political function. Jewish marriages, restricted in number, required special permission. A Jew must pay poll tax and report regularly to the "Jewish Office." If he was of foreign nationality, he was given a residence permit good for a short period only. In fact, the Austrian police bore down so conscientiously on aliens of the wrong religion that the clan did not risk sending a representative to the Congress of Vienna. Waterloo came and went, and no Rothschild had got within earshot of an Austrian minister. But after the explosion at Aix, the Danube became ripe for The Family. It acted with its usual dynastic prudence. The precisely most suitable brother assumed charge of the Habsburg department. He was not an ill-humored daredevil like Nathan; not a luxuriant dandy a la James. Those two would not have done nearly so well in the lofty shadows of the Hofburg. No, it was Salomon who went forth. Among all Mayer's sons, he most favored the father. A courtier by temperament, his specialty was ingratiation. He could talk to Austria's hallowed nobility as though they all sat perched in a splendid forest of family trees. Last, not least, he was a diplomat. No foreign minister could have planned his first move toward Vienna better. Casually he hinted to an Austrian official that the entire House of Rothschild might shift the center of its worldwide operations from Frankfurt to a more congenial place elsewhere. This inspired a confidential report which shortly afterwards reached some exalted desks. On September 26, 1819, the minister of the interior of the Empire, asked to comment on the matter by the finance minister, replied:
Your Excellency must be aware that foreign Israelites may reside here only on obtaining the special "toleration" permit . . . special exceptions can be made only with the personal approval of the Emperor.
Meanwhile your Excellency may rest assured that we are far too well aware of the advantages that would in many respects accrue to the Imperial State of Austria through the settlement of such an eminent firm within its borders not to advise his Majesty most emphatically to give his consent as soon as a formal application in this matter is received.
The house in toto did not move, of course. Salomon journeyed alone to Vienna, where he received a residence permit in expectation that the entire business of all the brothers was to follow. And though he only opened a firm of his own, disappointment never had a chance to set in. Salomon had a way with negative sentiments. Before the government could catch its breath, he floated an Austrian state loan of some fifty-five million gulden as an Austrian loan had never been floated before. It took the form of a lottery, an unusual and attractive feature. But that was just the beginning of Salomon's wisdom. He released only a fraction of the issue. Not a word was said about there being much more to come. The thing was to appetize, not to gorge, the Viennese investing public. And he made the hors d'ceuvre even more palatable by anticipating the mouth-watering arts of Madison Avenue. A public-relations campaign began. Articles in newspapers praised thrift, advised the investor, broadcast the meaning and the rewards of high finance. The issue rose mightily. When Salomon announced another thirty-five-millions worth of bonds, there was surprise, anger---and finally a rush to buy.
Everyone who got hold of the issue gained; most of all, Salomon. The operation, he was to confess later, had netted him six million gulden.
Such profits, of course, were apt to produce a little indignation. But it was not easy to stay indignant at the man. He bore himself so simply and modestly. Since he could not own a house, he rented a single room at the Romischer Kaiser, one of the city's better hotels. True, he soon rented another room, and then another, and then an entire floor, until---by accident, as it
were---he had hired all of the hotel. The parties he gave here were terribly pleasant and sympatisch to a select roster of guests that soon included Metternich himself. In an unpretentious way Salomon's inn radiated amusement, advice, even practical help. The Rothschilds' early Frankfurt rival, Moritz Bethmann, visited Vienna in the early 1820's and came away amazed. "Salomon has won the people's affection here," he said, "partly through his general modesty and partly through his readiness to be obliging. Nobody leaves him without being comforted."
The persons Salomon comforted became steadily more important and profitable. In 1825 he was called upon to finance Europe's most delicate affaire d'amour. It involved no less than the Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian Emperor and wife of the exiled Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna had considered her victimized by an errant deportee of a husband; as compensation, she got the dukedoms of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla. For additional relief Metternich provided a manly young majordomo named General Adam Albert von Neipperg. The General wore a black eye-patch (the result of a sword thrust during the war), had considerable social gifts and diverted the Archduchess so well that on May 1, 1817, and again on August 8, 1819, two events took place, both blessed.
Both were also clandestine, because Napoleon, far away on St. Helena while being fruitfully cuckolded, did not die until May, 1821.
The children of so august a womb had to wait many months before they came into anything like an official life. Their births were not registered. Their nannies nursed them in closed-off castle halls. Until Marie Louise's secret morganatic marriage to the General in September, 1821, she pretended even to her imperial father that little Albertine and little William Albert simply did not exist. The tots were the bastard offspring of an adulterous union, but they were also the grandchildren of the Emperor of Austria. His Majesty created them the Counts von Montenuovo, this name being the Italian equivalent of Neipperg (Neu-berg, or "new mountain"). Besides a name, they also needed a fitting inheritance. Their mother's dukedom---a kind of hardship grant---was not hereditary. Something had to be done, in a soundproof way. Something was. Salomon Rothschild tiptoed into the picture. It became his assignment to conjure a safe, no-risk patrimony for the Montenuovos without selling any of their mother's lands; without an unpopular increase in Parma's public debts; without raising an undue commotion. At the Romischer Kaiser the hotel tenant got busy with his army of clerks. As usual, he found an ingeniously comfortable solution. Marie Louise was to declare that she had spent much of her private revenue on an itemized list of public buildings in Parma; that as reimbursement she took some ten million francs of state funds for herself, a sum to be instantly converted into bonds by Rothschild and sold on Marie Louise's behalf to a great number of different people in different countries. Some four of the ten million would be reapplied for public purposes, so that, as Salomon stated, "any bad impression . . . would be counteracted by the argument . . . that the proceeds went to projects beneficial to the community. . ." The rest of the moneys would be the little Montenuovos' legacy, secure from anybody who might question their right to it or their ticklish genealogy.
"It is quite important," wrote Salomon to Metternich, that the claims of the Archduchess' legal heirs cannot be disputed. The preparation of bearer bonds (issued by an eminent firm like Rothschild's), the holders of which will be constantly changing, seems to me to meet any possible eventuality." A weapon more modern and more powerful than a great army's ten thousand muskets would prevent seizure of such bonds or of the money received for them ---the Rothschilds' hell weapon: loss of international credit standing.
"All governments," Salomon continued, "who have an interest in maintaining an inviolate credit system would use their influence to prevent such a thing from being done. . . . .I am pleased to say that I am confident of arranging this matter to the full satisfaction of her Majesty the Archduchess and of his Majesty the Emperor and King."
When it came to investing the sum thus produced, Metternich extended to the Archduchess "the guarantee that your Majesty cannot do better than act in accordance with Rothschild's suggestion." Was this the same lofty prince who had once sniffed at a Rothschild's interference in France? Now the first minister of the continent's first empire went to great lengths to avoid crossing the Jew Street boy. The year of the Marie Louise affair, Salomon intimated that he would like to have a decoration conferred on his coreligionist and executive employee, von Wertheimstein. A dematche from a great kingdom could not have aroused more wary diplomacy from Metternich. To Marie Louise's husband he wrote: Herr von Rothschild wants a little St. George (of the order of Constantine) for his managing clerk.
. . . I feel that it is not in the best of taste . . . that such an order be conferred upon a clerk, and I suggest that you reply that the order of Constantine constitutes a genuine religious brotherhood, and is not simply a distinction, and, as the Jewish religion forbids its adherents to take the statutory oath of the order, the chancellor of the order would not be able to confer the cross. Temper your refusal with appropriate expressions of your extreme regret, and the matter will be disposed of. Write to Herr Salomon on these lines, but do not mention me, as nobody can take offense at a statutory provision, while a single personal remark can do untold mischief, and I myself have committed the great offense of making it impossible for the Rothschild family to obtain an Austrian decoration. If he thought I was implicated he would regard me as a positive cannibal.
The Metternich-Rothschild alliance endured. In 1835 a deathbed intrigue in the Imperial palace welded it still closer. During the early March days of that year, old Emperor Francis was bled three times, and still his fever increased and his lung inflammation grew worse. Not only the life of a man but the future of the Empire trembled in the dark halls of the Vienna Hofburg.
Chancellor Metternich was the dying Francis' strong man. Ferdinand, his heir, had somewhat less-than-normal brains and seemed likely to be influenced by his uncles, Archdukes Joseph, Carl and John---all Highnesses of a not necessarily pro-Metternich bent. Count Kolowrat, the chancellor's opponent, began to loom large in the hushed proceedings by the Emperor's bed. On the bourse the sudden uncertainty produced a panic that rattled the economic foundations of Metternich's government.
Chancellor and banker bestirred themselves. Metternich summoned Bishop Wagner, the Emperor's confessor, to his office. Here a will was drafted containing the provision: 'I hereby name-----as the man whom I most emphatically commend to my son as a loyal counselor worthy of his fullest confidence." The Bishop took the paper to Francis' chamber, and the failing Emperor inserted with his own hand the right name in the right space just before he died at midnight on March 2, 1835.
Not only that: speaking about advice within the family, the imperial will took the extra precaution of passing over the Archdukes Joseph, Carl and John; and instead enjoined Emperor Ferdinand to resort to his youngest uncle, Archduke Ludwig---who was almost as weak and malleable as Ferdinand, the ultramalleable, himself. While Metternich put things in order at the palace, Salomon (who was kept au courant on the latest developments) sped to the bourse. He announced that he had the greatest confidence in the continuity and prosperity of the government. He went further and lined up James in Paris. Both brothers made a radical offer. If anyone wanted to sell any Austrian securities, they would buy them instantly, at the top price of the day. The market listened. The market calmed. The pro-Metternich investors carried the day. "I must admit," reported Metternich's ambassador from Paris, "that the enormous influence exercised by the House of Rothschild succeeded in immediately curing the panic which had begun to affect nervous spirits."
Some spirits did remain a trifle fidgety. "It is quite well known," a high government officer wrote in his diary, that the new Emperor's illness has made him feeble-minded. He is prepared to sign anything that is put before him. We now have an absolute monarchy without a monarch."
There was an absolute chancellor, however, in the form of Prince Metternich. And there was Rothschild, his absolute banker. Nothing withstood Salomon. David Parish, that most fashionable of Central European bankers, with whom The Family had been thrilled to conclude an alliance a few years earlier at Aix---David Parish went bankrupt and jumped into the Danube. Other great Viennese banks, like that of Geymueller, crashed. Salomon survived at their expense and waxed.
Through a complicated series of transactions he obtained the lease of Austria's huge mercury mines in Idria. The only other known mercury deposit was in Spain, with whose government Nathan happened to be negotiating at the moment. Couriers careered between the brothers' offices, and soon the House of Rothschild exercised a world monopoly in a key metal, whose price they fixed at will.
Salomon was also the chief banker behind Lloyd, Austria's big steamship line. He financed the first important Central European railways, a quaint and important event of which more in a separate chapter. He became as dazzling a myth as James or Nathan. His first two initials, S. M., happened to be the same as the Austrian abbreviation for his Majesty ("Seine Majestat"), and a popular saying spoke of two local suzerains, Emperor Ferdinand and King Salomon. It was more than a joke. Among the people besieging Salomon's office were those who begged a royal "laying on of hands." King Salomon only had to touch his palm to some bond or stock, and its owner went away certain of its rise.
And yet he knew no rest. After all this he was still a Jew in a very gentile Austria. He was still a hotel guest, although a most glorified one. His brothers luxuriated in castles, and he, who was as infinitely rich as they---was he to leave behind a dynasty living on room service?
By immense charities (from the erection of whole hospitals to subsidizing the municipal water supply) and by immense pressures, he forced Vienna to make him the legal equal of his valet. He became a full-fledged citizen. Now he could buy the Hotel Romischer Kaiser. But he was a Rothschild. His retinue would not fit into a single building. He could easily afford a domain on a par with those of the greatest princes in the Empire. By way of the next step he first coleased and, once more by special permission, subsequently bought outright the immense coal and iron works of Vitkovitz in Silesia. Under Hitler and even in our day this purchase was to produce dramatic repercussions. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century Vitkovitz meant to Salomon the possession of industrial real estate---which was almost, but not quite, as good as being a regular landed magnate. Yet no less than a regular landed magnate Salomon burned to be. Soon a brief was brought before the Emperor for the acquisition of a Rothschild demesne in Moravia. Instantly the nobles of the province were up in arms. Their privilege to be shared, and thus defiled, by a Jew! Salomon sighed. It would have to be the old room-by-room technique of the Romischer Kaiser all over again. He smoothed the jeers off noble lips by putting something pleasant into noble hands. From Prince Esterhazy on down, practically every other aristocrat began to enjoy his loans. He made himself more serviceable than ever to his old friend Metternich. In the vivacious Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris, the Chancellor married his third wife and a Rothschild debtor. There was now a great deal of just plain social entertaining back and forth between the Metternichs' Schloss Johannisberg and Salomon's house in Vienna; "our Salomon" Melanie did not hesitate to call him even before the Emperor.
Baroness James de Rothschild of Paris got Melanie frocks; Baroness Kalmann in Naples sent Melanie picturesque scarves; from London came Rothschild gifts in the form of exquisite plant cuttings. There were all these pleasant things. There were Salomon's incomparable philanthropies (the governor of Silesia reported that the institutions set up by Salomon in Vitkovitz were "a blessing and model for the whole country"). And there were unobtrusive but unflagging hints.
In 1843 it came to pass. The last bulwark of prerogative opened. Salomon received permission to purchase inheritable agricultural real estate. He bought, almost at once, four huge and splendid demesnes in Moravia, Prussia and Silesia, all complete with castles, moats, waterfalls, lakes, swans, peacocks, cattle, grottoes, kennels, stables, stud farms and game preserves. Abruptly he had become one of the largest landed proprietors of the realm.
He became more. During the sudden drop on the Vienna bourse in October, 1845, he happened to be attending a Family conference in Frankfurt. An express message conveyed through the Austrian minister begged him to return. The Chancellor cried that it was essential for the state's finances that either Salomon or a deputy in the form of another Rothschild be in constant residence in Vienna. Salomon's bodily presence had grown indispensable to Austria.
That is, to Metternich's Austria. But what if the time of the absolute chancellor were drawing to an end? What would then become of the absolute banker?
In February, 1848, Louis Philippe fell off the throne of France, to the temporary discomfiture of his friend James de Rothschild. Salomon was not pleased, either. The clangor from the Paris barricades rose with such sudden democratic fury that it was heard in Vienna's innermost drawing rooms. His Majesty's first minister was now in his seventy-sixth year, but his ear remained acute.
"If the devil fetches me," Metternich said to old Salomon, "he will fetch you too."
At eight o'clock in the evening of March 13, his Highness was fetched. All day long the citizenry marched through the streets, burning the Chancellor in effigy. Metternich resigned. Twenty hours later the bearer of Europe's most formidable name fled to Frankfurt with a thousand ducats' cash loan from Salomon plus a Rothschild letter of credit.
The financier's turn came in a few months. On October 6 another insurrectionary mob broke into the Romischer Kaiser to besiege the nearby Arsenal. S. M. took flight to Germany and never came back, even after order was restored. Yet the devil could fetch him only as a person, not as a Rothschild. First and last Salomon incarnated the clan, which continued the Vienna house in the resplendent incarnation of Anselm, his son. Great families are not nearly so perishable as great men. The absolute chancellor, too, had descendants. Each year the present Prince Metternich sends a case of his Schloss Johannisberg wine, the Rhineland's greatest vintage, to Baron Elie de Rothschild of Paris. Each year Elie reciprocates with a choice shipment of his Chateau Lafite, one of the great Bordeaux labels. Each year the two families visit each other's palaces
So far, at least, the nobs have outlasted the mobs.