The first time I went for an interview in Rothschild in London more than two years ago I had memorized a few phrases every banker to be has to memorize. It is a bit ironic that I know what I must say and they know what they must hear and yet both parties participate in this self-inflicted circus because this is how the real world works. I distinctly remember my catch phrase: I believe that working in an institution with more than 200 years history of banking will prove to be very beneficial for my future development. A sentence full of grand words that mean absolutely nothing.
More than two years later upon joining Rothschild as a full-time analyst (slave) I knew more about investment banking but was still as ignorant as before about the history behind the Rothschild family. One of the many, many, many introductory events was a tour of the Rothschild archives. It’s funny how I spent nearly 10 months in the building on New Court, always asking myself while having a cigarette outside what is this building opposite the entrance and yet I never pursued my curiosity beyond those five minutes of nicotine-induced thoughts. Finally, as full-time analysts and bankers to be we were proven (somewhat) worthy to be introduced to at least the entrance room of the massive Rothschild archives that span more than 200 years of turbulent history. As a book addict, I instantly went around the bookshelves, smelling and touching the old books under the scrutinizing look of the man responsible. I am usually a quite reserved person but when it comes to literature the thong is faster than the brain and soon I was investigating which the best, best, best book about the Rothschilds is. Four days later and 5 pounds poorer (4 of which for postage, thank you very much, Great Britain) I was in possession of a dusty and worn-out novel that might as well have been as old as the Rothschilds themselves.
Like every wealthy and old family the Rothschilds are surrounded by numerous rumors and unconfirmed stories. From the idea that they control the world through their vast wealth (still not proven) to the story that they knew the outcome of the Waterloo battle before the British Government (true) they are one of the most hated and admired families alive. Back in the 18th century an uneducated Jew of the name of Mayer Rothschild living in the poor ghetto of Frankfurt set to conquer the merchant and banking world. For me it was quite a revelation that Jews were as hated and deprived back then as they were during Nazi time, which understandably adds to the admiration for the old Mayer, who managed to rise above the persecutions and restrictions and form one of the most wealthiest and powerful families ever. And I am not just saying that because I work there.
His five sons were strategically sent to the five banking capitals of the world at that time: London, Paris, Vienna, Naples and Frankfurt. The rest is a history of the constant interaction between the Rothschilds and whatever was happening in Europe at the time. They were involved in the opposition against Napoleon, they provided financing for numerous armies fighting the French emperor, they supported the Jews in establishing their new-found state of Israel, they participated both physically and financially in both World Wars. Any important political or social development in Europe was ultimately connected to or influenced by the Rothschilds in some way. Numerous generations continued the legacy of old Mayer and his five sons, establishing the Rothschilds as the most prominent bankers of the 19th century. Due to various reasons three of the branches (Naples, Vienna and Frankfurt) ultimately closed, but the supremacy of the French and British Rothschilds is evident up to this date.
Every morning at precisely 9 am I enter Rothschild’s building on New Court, a place they have occupied for nearly 200 years and basically are refusing to leave. While waiting for the elevators (which take unusually long time to arrive) I always look at the painting of a middle-aged 19 century guy with a shrewd yet somewhat intimidating face. Nathan Rothschild, the founder of the British dynasty and supposedly the smartest of Mayer’s sons is the man responsible for the fact that I will be working 16+ hours. Jokes aside, Nathan of London and James of Paris set the ground works for the development of the two most powerful branches. They also produced an indefinite amount of sons, most of which were named Nathaniel, Edmond or Lionel, which by page 200 of the book makes it absolutely impossible to keep track of who is who. Add to that the fact that the Rothschilds love marrying themselves, so a man is a woman’s husband, uncle, cousin and whatever at the same time. At some point I gave up trying to make sense of the complicated Rothschild family history and attempted to focus on their achievements. Which also proved to be futile because apart from bankers they were scientists, art collectors, racers, botanists, horse breeders, religious Jew supporters, etc, etc.
So far it seems as if the Rothschilds were one of those blessed 1900s families, who only produced men. No, they were not. But as per old Mayer Rothschild’s legacy all females that married outside of the family were to be excluded from the family dealings. As per the laws back then when a woman married she surrendered all of her rights to her husband. And old Mayer insisted on having only people bearing the name of Rothschild involved in the business. So women were left to be great entertainers, great hostesses and of course great beauties. This started changing in the middle of the 20 century, at the time when the Rothschilds decided that maybe it would not be the end of the world if people not blessed with the name Rothschild become partners in the firm. I am proud (um…) to say that out of nearly 30 people joining the office this year, there are 7 or 8 females. None bears the name of Rothschild, though.
Even though I understand that Virginia Cowles’s account of the Rothschild family history might be slightly positively exaggerated, I still found it an extremely engaging and entertaining read. Whatever the little tweaks and tricks were, you can never completely make up a history. And what stands is that the Rothschilds were involved in ultimately every major event in European history from the 1800s onwards. They may have benefited from speculations and bribes, but they certainly contributed to the development of banking, society and science. One of them even corrected a mistake of the famous Einstein, who subsequently thanked him for that. I think this will keep me warm at 4 am while I am doing comps. Nathan never had to do comps, I would imagine.