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Alice Charlotte von Rothschild (1847-1922)

Alice Charlotte von Rothschild was born in Frankfurt. She spent her early years in Vienna, and had a rather lonely childhood after the death of her mother Charlotte, Baroness Anselm Salomon von Rothschild (1807-1859). From 1860, Alice spent increasingly long periods of time in England; in London, she occupied 142, Piccadilly, next door to her brother Ferdinand (1839-1898) and in the country, she spent time at Aston Clinton in the company of her cousins, Constance (1843-1931) and Annie (1844-1926) daughters of Sir Anthony (1810-1876) and Lady Louise de Rothschild (née Montefiore) (1821-1910). She was also a regular visitor to Mentmore, spending time with her cousin Hannah (1851-1890), daughter of Mayer Amschel (1818-1874) and Juliana de Rothschild (née Cohen) (1831-1877), to whom she was especially close. Her cousins remarked on her plainness, but found her graceful and attractive. She was at home in the English countryside, a fearless horsewoman usually surrounded by some of her many canine companions.

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

In 1898, Alice inherited Waddesdon Manor, the grand French style country house built in Buckinghamshire built by her widowed brother Ferdinand whose constant companion she became after the tragic death in childbirth of his wife Evelina (née de Rothschild) (1839-1866). She also had her own adjoining estate at Eythrope. She further added to Ferdinand's impressive collections, contributing her own collection of arms and armour. That the collections and the house remained in such good order was largely due to her rigorous application of house rules. On the estate she was remembered for her concern for her employees and tenants, all of whom enjoyed the best conditions and care. Alice was precise, punctual and memorably, the 'all-powerful', a name she earned after ordering one visitor to Grasse, Queen Victoria, off her flower beds.

The Villa Victoria, Grasse

Alice had suffered from rheumatic fever, which encouraged her to spend the winter months on the French Riviera from 1887.  Finding the coast vulgar, in 1888 she became the owner of 135 hectares of land among the perfume fields of Grasse near Cannes in the Alpes-Maritimes, and began to build a house and possibly one of the most ostentatious and extravagant gardens ever seen.

In November of that year work commenced on the construction of a large house. The villa became most famous for its garden, however, which Alice laid out entirely unaided by landscape architects. The terraced hillside was landscaped into rolling parkland, where Alice planted citrus trees by the hundred, arranged in groups to make them appear more natural and integrate with the existing landscape.  Here she planted citrus trees in vast numbers, and exotic plants such as palm trees, yuccas, aloes and bamboo. There was a rock garden, a winter-flowering grotto and a spectacular three kilometre drive designed with hairpin bends; around every corner lay a surprise for the visitor as the planting became progressively wilder and the panorama extended itself further the higher one climbed. Following the path upwards, the visitor encountered palms and aloes, a retaining rookery wall of 30m which was planted with perennials, then woods under-planted with lavender, rosemary and citronella, higher still, a cascade and miniature lake, then finally at the very top, a Tea Pavilion.

A visitor to Alice von Rothschild’s garden once quipped that every twenty metres a gardener stood waiting for a leaf to fall so that he might pick it up – this might not be so far from the truth as Alice employed over 100 gardeners, dressed in the Rothschild colours of blue and yellow, to maintain her garden.  Each year they planted 55,000 daisies, 25,000 pansies, 10,000 wallflowers, 5,000 forget-me-nots and 23,000 bulbs of tulips and narcissi. The lawns of the villa Victoria, named in honour of the British Queen, were planted with thousands of violets.  A variety of single violet was named after Alice de Rothschild by one of her gardeners.

Alice never married and died childless in Paris in 1922. She is buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery. Waddesdon Manor passed to her nephew, James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957). The Villa Victoria passed to her French cousin Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934), who sold it to the town. It then became a hotel, 'The Parc Palace Hotel', but all that now remains is the tea house ('Pavillon de Thé').

[Note: some sources refer to Alice as 'von Rothschild', others 'de Rothschild'. Alice was born 'von Rothschild', and it would appear that she was known by ‘von Rothschild’ in continental Europe and ‘de Rothschild’ in England; Alice refers to herself as 'Alice de Rothschild' when at Waddesdon and in London, for example using 'AdeR' as her cipher on her letters, and for title deeds and other legal documents; The Archive, Windmill Hill, Waddesdon Manor holds some receipts from continental art dealers who address her as 'von Rothschild'].

Published sources

The following works are available in the Reading Room Library:

  • Alice de Rothschild: une hivernante passionée sur la French Riviera, Christian Zerry (éditions Campanile, 2014)
  • La collection de pipes et des boites d'allumettes de la baronne Alice de Rothschild (Grasse Museum, 2017)

Archive sources

The Rothschild Archive London holds few original sources relating to Alice von Rothschild. A handful of letters written from Alice to her aunt, Charlotte, Baroness Lionel de Rothschild (1819-1884) will be found in 000/31/3 and 000/31/6; these include letters written from Paris and Ireland, and a letter from Alice to her cousin, Leopold (1845-1917), in which she thanks him for his kind words of condolence on the death of her father Anselm Salomon (1803-1874).

Correspondence between Alice von Rothschild and N M Rothschild & Sons, 1898-1899 regarding the financial arrangements and settlement of her brother Ferdinand's estate will be found in 000/110. Ferdinand's will, dated 9 December 1897, in which he bequeaths to Alice 143 Piccadilly, Waddesdon Manor, all his personal correspondence and papers, and an annual sum of £24,000 will be found in 000/108. 

Details of Alice von Rothschild’s account at N M Rothschild & Sons can be found in Papers of the London banking house; see Accounts Current Series I/2; these volumes record payments on the estates, staff wages and charitable donations. Letters from Alice can also be found occasionally within the Private Sundry Correspondence, XI/109; letters in the 1890s, in particular, concern her accounts with the bank. The Home Ledgers series, VI/10 comprises accounts for members of the family including Alice. Sundry accounts and account transfers from other members of the family to Alice can be found in a series of Accounts Current from the Paris Bank of de Rothschild Frères; see Named collections: The Lafite Papers, volumes OB 18, OB 53-55. 

Alice changed her will several times. A copy (in French) of Alice's will, dated 20 October 1905 in which Alice bequeaths her property in Grasse to Edmond de Rothschild will be found in Named collections: The Lafite Papers OE 461. A typed draft copy of her will, dated 22 September 1919, in which Alice bequeaths Waddesdon Manor and 142 Piccadilly to her cousin Lionel's son Anthony Gustav de Rothschild (1887-1961) will be found in Named collections: The Moscow Papers (58 series), 58-1-447. A typed copy of Alice's will, dated 22 September 1919, with a codicil dated 1 May 1922 in which Alice revokes her previous will and leaves Waddesdon to James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957) plus a valuation of Alice's estate will be found in Private Client packets, 000/145; this file also includes sundry papers concerning the settlement of Alice’s estate and shares and accounts held by N M Rothschild & Sons.

Two files in Named collections: The Lafite Papers concern Alice's property after her death; OE 461 contains correspondence between Edmond de Rothschild and solicitors regarding the settlement of Alice’s estate and matters relating to the Villa Victoria, Grasse, including a copy of Alice's will, dated 20 October 1905, and a copy of a letter from Edmond de Rothschild in which he grants 25,000 francs to the town of Grasse to be made available for local charitable organisations as per the wishes of the late Alice von Rothschild. OE 462 contains papers and printed material concerning the Villa Victoria, Grasse, formerly the property of Alice von Rothschild: booklets advertising Grasse with maps and plans, a printed auction catalogue for the Rothschild estate at Grasse, correspondence relating to the sale of the Villa Victoria, a tariff for the 'Pavillon de Thé', newspaper cuttings concerning the acquisition of the Rothschild estate by the municipality of Grasse, an advertisement for 'The Parc Palace Hotel', c.1929, and correspondence relating to Alice's collection of pipes donated by Edmond to the town for its museum.

Several photographs of Alice will be found in an album of carte de visite in Named collections: Rushbrooke Collection I, (000/848/47/1); further carte de visite of Alice will be found in Named collections: the rue de Courcelles collection, (000/2089). See also Estates: Waddesdon Manor and Estates: Villa Victoria for further material relating to these properties.

Further papers relating to the Rothschilds at Waddesdon are held by The Archive, Windmill Hill, Waddesdon Manor »

Alice von Rothschild, correspondence, 1892

000/303, 1 item

Letter in German from Alice von Rothschild, Grasse, 1892.

Alice von Rothschild, memorial by her cousin, Constance, Lady Battersea, 1922

000/2730, 1 item

Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922): memorial by her cousin, Constance, Lady Battersea (nee de Rothschild) (1843-1931): Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) – In Loving Memory by her cousin, Constance Battersea, written from Aston Clinton, 3 May 1922.

Alice von Rothschild: sales catalogues of collections, 1922-1923

000/2657, 4 items

Photocopies of four sales catalogues of the collections of Miss Alice von Rothschild (1847-1922), 1922-1923:

  • Catalogue of Fine French Furniture, Objects of Art and Porcelain, the Property of Lady [Alice von Rothschild], A legatee under a Will, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 23 November 1922.
  • Catalogue of Drawings by French Artists of the 18th century and Ancient and Modern Pictures, the Property of Lady [Alice von Rothschild], A legatee under a Will, etc. Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 November 1922.
  • Catalogue of Old English Silver Plate etc, and English and Foreign Silver,  the Property of Lady [Alice von Rothschild], A legatee under a Will, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 28 November 1922.
  • Catalogue of Pictures & Drawings, also water colour drawings etc, [from collections including that of Alice von Rothschild], Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 23 November 1923.

Alice von Rothschild, estate papers, 1926

000/1052, 1 item

Share certificate for 100 francs of the Société Immobiliere du Domaine de Rothschild, Grasse, 21 June 1926. Alice de Rothschild bought an olive grove of 135 hectares in 1887 in Grasse She built the Villa Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria who visited the area in 1891. A talented landscape gardener and botanist, she created a beautiful park maintained by more than 50 gardeners. At her death, the estate was given to the city of Grasse to build housing estates. This share  certificate was issued by the company that subsequently developed the property.