1793 - 1868 (75 years)
Has 4 ancestors and more than 100 descendants in this family tree.
||James de Rothschild |
|Relationship||with Francis Fox|
||22 Sep 2001 |
||Baroness Betty von Rothschild, b. 1805, d. 1868 (Age 63 years) |
||11 Jul 1824
|+||1. Baroness Charlotte de Rothschild, b. 1825, d. 1899 (Age 74 years)|
|+||2. Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, b. 1827, d. 1905 (Age 78 years)|
|+||3. Baron Gustave de Rothschild, b. 1829, d. 1911 (Age 82 years)|
|+||4. Baron Salomon de Rothschild, b. 1835, d. 1864 (Age 29 years)|
|+||5. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, b. 1845, d. 1934 (Age 89 years)|
||20 Sep 2001 |
||Group Sheet | Family Chart
- was to lord it in France during Republic and Empire
The Austrian Emperor had created him and his brothers barons
If the classic English backdrop of the nineteenth century is the counting house, the classic French one is the drawing room. If Nathan Rothschild became Britain's most formidable business myth, his small red-haired brother, James, cast the longest shadow through the best French salons.
This youngest of Mayer's boys had come to Paris early enough to speak quite well the language in which he loaned. Soon he joked, laughed, and almost scintillated in it. Before long he became an odd but triumphant combination of beau and octopus. His red hair was always carefully curled in the latest dandies' fashion. In 1817, when he was less than twenty-six and had hardly washed the gold dust of the Wellington smuggle off his hands, he already knew how to throw a dinner that included the Austrian ambassador and Paul von Wurttemberg, one of the gayer princes of the blood. Four years later, at the age of twenty-nine, he was considered for the general consulship of the Austrian Empire in Paris---an honor coveted by some pedigreed grand seigneurs.
A confidential report to the Austrian Emperor was decisive:
It is true that in the decision regarding the appointment of the London Rothschild as Consul . . . your Majesty expressly laid down that it would have to continue to be the rule that no Israelite be appointed Consul.
Yet if the exception made by your Majesty in favor of the London Rothschild has proved in the highest degree beneficial, it is likely to be no less so in the case of the Paris Rothschild. . . . He is a young man of parts, who is intimately acquainted with several members of the Polytechnical Institute in Paris and of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, as well as with many of the most cultured French manufacturers and businessmen. . . . I cannot suggest a more suitable person for his Majesty. . . .
On August 11, 1821, our young man of parts received the appointment. To house his dignity in style, he bought the magnificent Palais Fouche in rue Laffitte. Formerly occupied by Napoleon's police commissioner (the very one who had once tried to arrest James), it now opened its portals to the finest and most expensive paintings, sculptures, meubles ---and guests. The youthful Baron could even afford what George IV of England kept trying, vainly, to lure away from him: the ineffable, the historic, the by-ordinary-millionaires-quite-unattainable chef Careme.
But James did not truly begin to reign until he had found a consort. Betty Rothschild, his niece, became not only his bride but his foremost social engine. She was a dark beauty in the grand manner. Ingres painted her in a famous portrait. She excited gallantries in breasts as different as Heinrich Heine's---who immortalized her in a poem called "The Angel"---and General Changarnier, commander-in-chief of the National Guard, whose sentiment de coeur for the Baroness furnished some luscious Paris gossip. At rue Laffitte, Belle Betty and Beau James held a continuous glittering levee.
Heine and the general were not the only attendant luminaries. Rossini came almost daily and composed little musicales for Rothschild receptions. Meyerbeer was a close friend. Honore de Balzac quaffed James's coffee by the liter. The writer had noticed Rothschild at Aix-les-Bains, and made his acquaintance and borrowed his money at almost the same time. The debt was repaid with an amusing story about the creditor, "Roueries d'un Creancier," dedicated to James. Another tale, "L'Enfant Maudit," Balzac inscribed to Betty. At the great novelist's funeral Baron James was among those walking immediately behind the coffin. Relations between James and George Sand were somewhat more acidulous. At a charity bazaar he kept avoiding
the perfume booth manned by the author in her renowned trousers. Finally she left her station to waylay the rich
man: Baron James simply must buy a bottle for 5,000 francs.
"What would I do with perfume?" James grinned. "Give me your autograph. I'll sell it and we'll split the proceeds." Sand wrote a few words on a sheet and handed it to James. It read, "Receipt for ten thousand francs for the benefit of the poor oppressed Poles. George Sand."
Heine, who was watching the baronial face that moment, put his arm around his friend's shoulder and said with mock emotion, "For a great sorrow it is always difficult to find words."
James did not really grieve. His social standing gained if he lost interesting amounts in interesting ways to interesting people. It was his policy to figure in chic anecdotes connected with the beaux arts. When Eugene Delacroix wanted to paint him as a beggar, he agreed instantly. The following morning a pauper in rags rang the bell of Delacroix's studio. A disciple answered, looked at the pitiful creature, and sent it away with a franc piece.
He thought no more of the incident until twenty-four hours later a liveried servant handed him the following letter:
"Dear Sir, You will find enclosed the capital which you gave me at the door to M. Delacroix's studio, with the interest and compound interest on it---a sum of ten thousand francs. You can cash the check at my bank whenever you like. James de Rothschild."
The story enriched his pleasant notoriety. So did the fact that he bought the great Lafite vineyards (for four million francs, or 1,540,000 dollars) merely because their name resembled his Paris address. For all his Bohemian dalliance, James never forgot to be the richest man in France. His bank, de Rothschild Freres, outpaced every rival. His wealth was estimated at over 600 million francs, or about 150 million francs more than all other French financiers put together. He loaned the King of Portugal twenty-five million francs. He increased the five million francs the King of Belgium had left in his safekeeping to twenty million. He became one of the principal creditors of the French treasury.
I like best to visit the Baron in his office at the bank, where, as a philosopher, I can observe how people . . bow and scrape before him. It is a contortion of the spine which the finest acrobat would find difficult to imitate. I saw men double up as if they had touched a Voltaic battery when they approached the Baron. Many are overcome with awe at the door of his office, as Moses once was on Mount Horeb, when he discovered that he was on holy ground. Moses took off his shoes, and I am quite certain that a lot of these financial agents would do the same if they did not fear that the smell of their feet would be unpleasant to him.
This private cabinet of his is a very remarkable spot, inspiring one with lofty ideas, as the sight of the sea or the starry heavens does. Here we see how little man is and how great God!
The passage suggests Heine's ambivalent thoughts about his friend. This German Byron realized he was just another exotic item in the great Rothschild collection. Once, when James threw a great feast for a select company of bankers, the poet was invited to brighten the dessert with intellectual display. Dessert arrived, but not Heine. A footman, sent to his lodgings, brought back Heine's regrets to James: "M. le Baron, I usually take my coffee where I have had my dinner."
In the same mood he would write: ". . . I went to see M. de Rothschild, and saw a gold-laced lackey bringing the baronial chamber pot along the corridor. Some speculator from the bourse, who was passing, reverently lifted his hat to the impressive vessel. . . . I have committed the name of the man to memory. I am quite sure that he will become a millionaire in the course of time."
There were commentaries still sharper than that. Ludwig Borne was, like Heine, a prominent German writer resident in Paris; like James, he had been brought up on Frankfurt's Jew Street. He bore down sardonically on those other local boys made good:
Would it not be a great blessing for the world if all the kings were dismissed and the Rothschild family put on their thrones? Think of the advantages. The new dynasty would never contract a loan, as it would know better than anybody how dear such things are, and on this account alone the burden on their subjects would be alleviated by several millions a year. The bribing, both active and passive, of ministers would have to cease; why should they be bribed any longer, or what would there be to bribe them with?
All that sort of thing would be ancient history, and morality would be greatly promoted.
In point of fact, all French kings after Napoleon (except Louis XVIII, who died in office) were dismissed. James participated crucially in every reign. But as each ruler toppled, the Baron emerged more powerful than ever. He and Betty ran a salon so lavishly balanced that it always rode the crest, no matter what the wave. On July 31, 1830, for example, the rule of Charles X suddenly collapsed. It seemed only logical that Baron James would harmoniously collapse with it. In many ways he had been the monetary arm of the regime. The Bourbon had entrusted to him the conversion of a series of 5 per cent state loans into 3 per cent---a gigantic deal. He had financed the Bourbon side of the Spanish civil war of the 1820's. The badge he wore of the Legion of Honor was pinned on him by a Bourbon. To all intents and purposes, he was an integral part of the Bourbon plague.
At any rate Rothschild appeared quite unprepared for the change that threatened in July, 1830. His rivals took obvious precautions, but Beau James gave balls attended by the Duke of Chartres and the Duke of Brunswick. He seemed to sleep through the summer dawn while barricades mushroomed in the streets, the old king fled and the people cheered into power Louis Philippe, son of the famous Philippe Egalite of the Revolution and himself a supposedly zealous proponent of liberal ideas. Conservative Rothschild seemed in for a brute awakening. Then---surprise!---a month after the overturn a deputation called on the "Citizen King" to congratulate him on ascending the throne. And who should be among them but Baron Rothschild? Who was signaled to remain behind after the ceremony was over, who was given the honor of a long, intimate chat?
James, that Bourbon conspirator, turned out to be a long-time friend, dinner companion and financial advisor to the newest Majesty. Louis Philippe was even more nouveau to the purple than James to multimillionairedom. Out of this fact Rothschild welded a powerful camaraderie between two self-made men. Under his flatteries the new king's reign turned into a paradise for the haut bourgeoisie. The Baron's star shone high. De Rothschild Freres was given a virtual monopoly on all state loans; it handled Louis Philippe's private investment accounts. James became a shaper of French foreign policy. The royal presence often graced Betty's parties. Her husband now received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.
Eighteen years later the barricades were up again. Again James, apparently unconcerned, seemed to dance into the very muzzles of the revolution. On February 23, 1848, he attended a ball at the Austrian ambassador's. On February 24 the Citizen King fled. Mobs began to loot the Palais Royal, to destroy the royal castle at Neuilly and to burn capitalist pleasances like the Rothschild villa at Suresnes. James sent his wife and daughter to the safety of London. He also paid 250,000 francs to M. Ledry-Rollin, Interior Minister of the Revolution, "for patriotic purposes." Furthermore he wrote and publicized a letter to the pro-visional government which today hangs in the office of Baron Guy de Rothschild. In it James offers to give 50,000 francs to those wounded in the street fighting. The letter is dated February 25---the very first day of the post-Louis Philippe era. He was still the old magician. He had lost nothing in speed, calm and efficiency since the days of the Wellington gold smuggle. And he still came out on top. After a few weeks, even fanatical republicans considered him indispensable.
The editor of the radical Tocsin de Travailleurs wrote:
You are a wonder, sir. Louis Philippe has fallen, the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary methods have gone by the board. . . But you have survived. The banking princes are going in liquidation and their offices are closed. The great captains of industry and the railway companies totter. Shareholders, merchants, manufacturers and bankers are ruined en masse; big men and little men are alike overwhelmed; you alone among all these ruins remain unaffected. . . . Wealth fades away, glory is humbled and dominion is broken, but . . . the monarch of our time has held his throne; but that is not all. You might have fled this country where, in the language of your Bible, the mountains skip about like rams. You remain, announcing that your power is independent of ancient dynasties, and courageously extend your hand. . . . Undismayed you adhere to France. . . . You are more than a statesman, you are a symbol of credit. Is it not time that the bank, that powerful instrument of the middle classes, should assist in the fulfillment of the people's destiny?
After gaining the crown of money, you would achieve the apotheosis. Does that not appeal to you?
It did not---once more for shrewd reasons. The ministers whose ranks James had been invited to join were replaced in turn. Louis Napoleon swept them away when he was elected President of France in December, 1848. Four years later he proclaimed himself Napoleon III, by the grace of God and the will of the people, Emperor of the French. But now James really seemed stranded. He had no positive connection with this new power. Quite the contrary.
Everyone knew how he and his brothers had made their first great fortunes at the expense of Napoleon I, the present Bonaparte's uncle. And as if that were not sufficient, Louis Napoleon's favorite financiers were James's worst rivals. The Baron, however, was his usual unfazed self. "Ah," he is reported to have said with a smile when the news broke that Achille Fould, his archenemy, had been appointed the new Napoleon's finance minister. "I think I smell a new Waterloo."
It was a premature remark. The battle into which he launched now was so long and so intricately vehement that a separate chapter must accommodate it. And yet the long run proved Beau James right. The history of Rothschild is the history of other people's Waterloos.
The Rothschild interest in wine came about through a coincidence: the name of the Lafite vineyard in Bordelais resembled the name of the Paris street on which James Rothschild lived, the rue Laffitte. This moved James to purchase the vineyard in 1868. Its evolution to one of the great wineries owed as much to its privileged geographical position as to its later owners urge to perfection.