1827 - 1905 (78 years)
Has 8 ancestors and 25 descendants in this family tree.
||Alphonse de Rothschild |
||22 Sep 2001 |
- In France the clan's social eminence was perhaps most easily established. Eighty years of intermittent revolution had demolished the Bourbons, dethroned the Orleanists, discredited the Bonapartists. Only the Rothschilds kept their scepter. After the smoke of the Paris Commune cleared in 1871, Baron Alphonse emerged as the head of the family with the most unbroken ruling record. Genealogically, the French branch was the closest of all to the ghetto. It skipped a generation. James, the dynast, was the youngest of the five founding brothers and did not have offspring until comparatively late in life. His children were the contemporaries of his brothers' grandchildren. The four sons--Alphonse, Gustave, Salomon and Edmond---cut as luminous a track through the social history of their country as did their counterparts across the Channel. But of the Paris quartet, the first- and the last-born left the strongest impress.
Alphonse, as small and stout and cannily relentless as pere James, was even more suave and comme il faut. It was said of him that he owned the best pair of mustaches in Europe. Altogether he made an awesome, handsome standard-bearer of the name. A railroad journey with a fabulous mishap conveys something of the aura of that name in France. One of Alphonse's clients, the King of Belgium, had asked him to a strictly private dinner at the Belgian capital. To avoid publicity, Alphonse took a simple first-class train ticket to Brussels. But a few miles from the border the express stopped and rolled to a siding. Inquiries revealed that the main track had to be cleared for a private train. Now, the Baron was not accustomed to being on the short end of someone else's priority. Furthermore, he arrived in Brussels too late for the royal soiree. The telegraph wires between France and Belgium quivered with his wrath. Finally, sheepishly, they disclosed the root of the trouble. Alphonse's valet, having forgotten to pack the baronial dinner clothes, had used the master's name to send them after him via private train. His own dinner jacket had shunted the Baron to a side track. On more important occasions Alphonse managed to be in the right spot at the right time. His career intertwined with a great French cataclysm---the destruction of Louis Napoleon and the violent birth of the Third Republic. Through it all, Alphonse manned the traditional Rothschild station: right behind the scenes. On July 5, 1870, an imperial adjutant summoned the Baron hastily and brought him to the palace at St. Cloud. The Emperor was deeply disturbed. He explained that Prussia had overdone it at last. She had made one long sore out of the Franco~German border, and now she was foisting a Hohenzollern onto the throne of Spain, to get at France from the back.
Her persistence must mean war. Only England might be able to restrain Bismarck, and England must be asked to act immediately. But since the English happened to be without a foreign minister---the incumbent Lord Clarendon having just died, and a new one (it was to be Lord Granville) not yet appointed---Napoleon wished to make use of Rothschild channels.
Alphonse read between his Majesty's words. An official French request for British mediation might smack of French weakness. In this case, a discreet Rothschild hint would be more diplomatic than a diplomatic move. The Family, of course, was an old hand at this sort of thing. On the same afternoon a cipher telegram flew from rue Laffitte to New Court. The same night Natty decoded Alphonse's message. The next morning he reached the Prime Minister's residence just as the P.M. was about to leave for Windsor Castle and an audience with the Queen. The two drove together to the station, and Natty conveyed the message from Napoleon. Gladstone listened, pondered. Finally he said he did not think his government was in a position to influence Prussia. With that brief conversation Napoleon's empire began to fall. Again the wires buzzed between New Court and rue Laffitte. Hours later the Emperor knew that his bid to save both face and peace had failed. Bismarck had his way. Twelve days afterwards, on July 19, France unmuzzled her feeble cannon against Prussia. On September 1, Napoleon capitulated at Sedan. Within a week the monarchy was erased, the German armies ringed Paris, and the House of Rothschild prepared for the next round with history. The Family was about to play a particularly neat trick. It had failed in its intervention on behalf of the victim. But it was to best, rather entertainingly, the victor.
By the middle of September the siege of Paris began in earnest. On September 19, Wilhelm I, General Moltke and mighty Bismarck established their high headquarters at Ferrieres, the principal mishpoche country seat. The Prussian monarch wandered through the Renaissance vasts of the chateau, admired the thoroughbreds teeming in the stables, smelled a lake of orchids in the hothouses, tasted the Goshen-sized fruit, surveyed a whole private landscape of parks and gardens---and was frank enough to be thrilled. "Kings couldn't afford this," he said to his staff. "It could only belong to a Rothschild." Bismarck did not feel quite so exhilarated. It was his misfortune that King Wilhelm regarded Ferrieres' owner as a very powerful colleague. His Majesty therefore refrained from commandeering Baron Alphonse's munificent bedroom, using a modest chamber instead. Wilhelm issued, besides, a strict edict to the General Staff, who were billeted with him: even touching the various art treasures was verboten. And Bismarck---Bismarck himself!---received orders not to indulge his hunter's passion in the gorgeous shoot. Baron Alphonse's chief steward, as the enforcer of these nasty prohibitions, was the bane of the Iron Chancellor at the hour of his triumph. Today, in the chateau's blue drawing room, Baron Guy still keeps a copy of the steward's report. The stout fellow refused to serve Bismarck, who wanted to mitigate his annoyance with a few good drops, any bottles from the famous Rothschild cellar. When Bismarck, enraged, forced the steward to sell him a case for good payment, the latter lodged a complaint with his master in Paris. Baron Alphonse was amused by the German bogyman who must fight for his wine at Ferrieres while the rest of Europe cowered before him.
The Rothschild amusement became the property of the haut monde in besieged Paris. In December the Prussians shot down a balloon containing a letter to the Countess de Moustier with the following words: "Rothschild told me yesterday that Bismarck was not satisfied with his pheasants at Ferrieres, but had threatened to beat his steward, because the pheasants did not fly about filled with truffles." These lines, relayed to Prussian headquarters, upset the Iron Man no end. He saw in them a hint that he had breached the King's proscription. And, to be petty about it, he had sneaked a tiny bit of pheasant shooting on the sly.
"What will they do to me?" he is quoted in his collected works. "They won't arrest me, for then they won't have anybody to arrange peace."
They did have him to arrange the peace. They also had, on the French side, the eldest Rothschild brother, who would not stop trying the Chancellor's nerves. For one thing, Alphonse consistently scooped German news services on the armistice by sending pigeon post from rue Laffitte to New Court; thus the Rothschild system overcame even the rupture of telegraph connections. When it came to actual negotiations, he was not easy to deal with, either. The little Jew squared up very calmly to the huge Prussian. He even insisted on speaking French, though Bismarck reminded him angrily of the German origin of The Family and harped on his own friendship with old Amschel of Frankfurt.
Alphonse, adamant, stuck to his guns, his language, and his indispensability. No one but Rothschild could guarantee a food supply to starved, beaten Paris (in London Alfred, Leo and Natty headed the French relief efforts). No one but Rothschild could underwrite the five-billion-franc indemnity to Prussia.
No one but Rothschild, aided by his foreign cousins and the bankers in his group, could have paid off this monstrous sum so much less ruinously than Bismarck expected---and two years ahead of schedule. It was this performance, above others, which assured the continued eminence of the Paris house throughout the newest French republic. Bismarck ruled and thundered, receded and departed. Rothschild ruled and whispered---and remained. Ferrieres still stands as the mightiest Family chateau.