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Nathaniel Mayer (Victor), 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990)

The Rothschild Archive has very few private papers of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild. 

Nathaniel Mayer (Victor) Rothschild, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990), was a biologist, a cricketer, a wartime officer for the UK Security Service (MI5), a senior executive with Royal Dutch Shell and N M Rothschild & Sons, and an advisor to the UK governments.

Early life

Known throughout his life as Victor, he was the third child and only son of Charles and Rozsika Rothschild. The family home was Tring Park Mansion. He had three sisters, Miriam (1908–2005) who became a distinguished entomologist, Nica (1913–1988), who became a patron of highly influential jazz musicians, and Elizabeth, known as Liberty (1909–1988).

He attended Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge, where he worked in the Zoology Department before gaining a PhD in 1935. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he read Physiology, French and English. While at Cambridge Victor was said to have a playboy lifestyle, enjoying water-skiing in Monaco, driving fast cars, collecting art and rare books and playing cricket for the University and Northamptonshire. 

Victor married Barbara Judith Hutchinson (1911-1989) in 1933. The couple had three children; Sarah (1934-2018), Nathaniel Charles (Jacob), (b.1934), and Miranda (b.1940). The couple divorced in 1946. Victor became the third Lord Rothschild in 1937 on the death of his uncle Lionel (Walter) (1868-1937). He sat as a Labour Party peer in the House of Lords, but spoke only twice there during his life (both speeches were in 1946, one about the pasteurization of milk, and another about the situation in Palestine).

Wartime service

During the Second World War Victor worked for the Intelligence Service. In early 1939, he travelled to the United States where he visited the White House to discuss the issue of accepting Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1939, he was recruited to work for MI5 where he remained for the duration of the War. He was attached to B division, under deputy director Guy Liddell, responsible for counterespionage. In 1940 he produced a series of secret reports on German Espionage Under cover of Commerce and later founded section 'B1c' at Wormwood Scrubs, the wartime home of MI5. This was an 'explosives and sabotage section', and worked on identifying where Britain's war effort was vulnerable to sabotage and counter German sabotage attempts. This included personally dismantling examples of German booby traps and disguised explosives. For this, he was awarded won the George Medal in 1944 for dangerous work in hazardous circumstances. This involved dismantling a pair of German time bombs concealed in boxes of Spanish onions in Northampton. By late 1944, Victor was attached to the 105 Special Counter Intelligence Unit of the SHAEF, a joint operation of MI5 and X2, the counterespionage branch of OSS, a precursor of the CIA, operating in Paris.

In 1946, Victor married Teresa Georgina Mayor (1915-1996) who had been his secretary at MI5.  The couple had four children; Emma (b.1948), Benjamin (b.1952, who died in infancy), Victoria (b.1953) and Amschel Mayor (1955-1996).

Research and business

After the War, Victor combined his academic interests with work for industry, joining the zoology department at Cambridge University. For his work on fertilization, he gained a DSc in 1950. He served as Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council from 1948 to 1958 and in 1961 he began work for Shell Research Ltd., serving as its Chairman from 1963 until his retirement in 1970. Victor was the first Director General of the Central Policy Review Staff from 1971 to 1974 (known popularly as 'The Think Tank'), a unit which researched policy specifically for the Government. In 1976 Victor chaired the Royal Commission on Gambling. In 1982 he published An Enquiry into the Social Science Research Council at the behest of Sir Keith Joseph, and he continued to work in security as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Throughout his life he was a valued adviser on intelligence and science to both Conservative and Labour Governments.

N M Rothschild & Sons Limited

Lord Rothschild briefly served as Chairman of the family banking business N M Rothschild & Sons Limited in 1976. Later that year, he was succeeded as Chairman by his distant cousin Evelyn de Rothschild; Victor remained a partner in the business until his death. In the early 1980s, conflicting internal family politics led to the departure of Victor’s son Jacob from the family business; Jacob subsequently established his own highly successful business ventures. In 1981, Victor established Biotechnology Investments Limited which became one Europe's leading specialist biotech investment companies.

Later life

Lord Rothschild's later years were marked by unsubstantiated suspicion. When Anthony Blunt was unmasked as a member of the Cambridge Spy ring in 1964, Victor was questioned by Special Branch; he was aware of suspicions that there was a ‘mole’ in MI5 but he felt himself to be above suspicion. These rumours again surfaced in the mid-1980s, and in 1986, Victor took the step of publishing a letter in The Daily Telegraph on 3 December 1986 to state that the "Director General of MI5 should state publicly that he has unequivocal, repeat, unequivocal, evidence, that I am not, and never have been a Soviet agent". In a written statement, to the House of Commons, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher confirmed that there was no evidence that he was ever a Soviet agent.

In later years golf took over from cricket as an active pursuit, but a love of jazz and the piano remained with him. In addition to his many scientific papers, reports and studies, Victor published an autobiography, Random Variables in 1984, and Meditations of a Broomstick, a collection of autobiographical notes and materials.  Numerous honorary degrees and awards were conferred upon him in his lifetime, and together with his sister Miriam, they share the distinction of being the only brother and sister to have both been made Fellows of the Royal Society.

Death and burial

Victor left instructions that his remains were to be buried next to those of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the English branch of the family, in a Jewish cemetery, the Brady Street Cemetery, in the East End of London, which had last been used for an interment in 1858. To re-open its gates, where his great-grandfather had been buried in 1836, involved him in several years of negotiation with authorities as various as the Privy Council, which made the necessary Order on 8 February 1984; the Beth Din, and Tower Hamlets Borough Council. Victor died on 20 March 1990, and his wishes were duly carried out.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild was Roy Plomley's guest on Desert Island Discs, on 7 July 1984. Listen to the broadcast on the BBC website here. 

For drawings of devices commissioned by Victor as part of his wartime intelligence work, see Named Collections: The Laurence Fish Collection (Counter-sabotage Devices Drawings). See also Named Collections, The Rushbrooke Collection for further scientific papers of Victor. A catalogue of Victor's collection of rare books, 'The Rothschild Library', Vols I and II, published by Dawsons in 1969 will be found in the Reading Room (ref 18/2017). 

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, sundry papers concerning Jewish relief, 1939; 1940

000/2003, 000/1251/4, 2 items

In the months before the official declaration of war in early September 1939, Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild had been active in campaigning for and raising the plight of Europe's Jews. As Lord Rothschild (a title he inherited from his uncle, Lionel (Walter) 2nd Lord Rothschild (1868-1937) in 1937, he received thousands of letters begging for help. He took an active interest in the Central British Fund for German Jewry, founded by Simon Marks and Herbert Samuel, which had its headquarters at New Court. The pressures were unabating after November 1938 when a Jewish boy living in Paris, whose parents had been sent to a concentration camp, shot and killed Herr von Rath, the third secretary of the German Embassy. The Nazi Party used the occasion to incite a pogrom in which thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps and millions of pounds' worth of Jewish property was destroyed. On 12 November 1938, Lord Rothschild wrote a letter to The Times, calling the attention of the British public to what was happening in Germany. Although some people warned, he said, "that criticisms made in foreign countries of the treatment of the Jews would only increase their torments," he had "no fear of doing this because their torments cannot be increased except by such refinements of torture as would create general horror in Germany itself ..." The following month, however, Lord Rothschild apologised to a large gathering at the Mansion House for his optimism. The occasion was the launching of Lord Baldwin's Fund for German Refugees which Victor himself had been instrumental in setting up. "I have discovered that I was wrong. Tortures have been invented and have been inflicted, and the word medieval which has so often been used to describe what is going on is an insult to the past." A few months later, in May 1939, Lord Rothschild put to auction at Christie's his most valuable picture - The Braddyll Family by Joshua Reynolds - and donated the proceeds to the Baldwin Fund. In early 1939, Lord Rothschild travelled to the United States where he visited the White House to discuss the issue of accepting Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1939, he was recruited to work for MI5 where he remained for the duration of the War. Sundry papers concerning Jewish Relief:

  • Open letter signed by Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild that appeared in the March 1939 issue of Connoisseur magazine calling for donations for a sale at Christie's in aid of the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees held on 25 and 26 May 1939.(000/2003); 
  • Souvenir Programme, Town Hall - Sydney, Farewell Appearance of Prof. Georg Schnéevoigt, the eminent Finnish Conductor and Madame Sigrid Sundgren, the celebrated pianist, in association withthe A.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, Monday October 28th 1940. The concert was in aid of Lord Rothschild's [Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild]Jewish Relief Fund for War Victims and Refugee Children in Britain. (000/1251/4)

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, seasonal card, 1956

000/992, 1 item

Example of Victor Rothschild’s Christmas card, 1956, featuring a version of the Five Arrows on the front and a photograph of a sea-urchin egg inside.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, sale particulars for 11 Herschel Road, Cambridge, c.1996

000/531, 1 item

Sale particulars produced by Bidwells for 11, Herschel Road, Cambridge, the former home of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990) and Teresa, Lady Rothschild (1915-1996). Victor Rothschild studied at Cambridge University, where he was a member of the Apostles Society After the Second World War he joined the Zoology Department at Cambridge, where he remained for twenty years. In the summer of 1996, Clare Hall, a college of the University of Cambridge, purchased Victor's former home at 11 Herschel Road.  It was renamed Clare Hall West Court and, after conversion and some major building works, now provides public rooms, studies, apartments, study bedrooms, a fitness centre and a swimming pool. Clare Hall had been founded in 1966 by Clare College as a college for advanced postgraduate study.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild and Miss Barbara Hutchinson, Marriage Order of Service, 1933

000/1251/3, 1 item

Order of Service at the Marriage of Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild to Barbara Judith Hutchinson, at Tring Park, Tring on Thursday December 28th 1933. In English and Hebrew. The service was held at Tring Park, Hertfordshire, the country estate inherited by Victor's uncle, Lionel (Walter) 2nd Lord Rothschild (1868-1937) from his father Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915). Victor would later inherit Tring Park, and the title, upon Walter's death in 1937; as a result of her marriage, Barbara Judith Hutchinson (1911-1989) was styled as Baroness Rothschild from 27 August 1937. The couple had three children; Sarah (1934-2018), Nathaniel Charles (Jacob), (b.1934), and Miranda (b.1940). The couple divorced in 1946.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, funeral Order of Service, 1990

000/2153, 2 items

Order of service for the funeral of Nathaniel Mayer Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild held Tuesday 15 May 1990 at the West London Synagogue. Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild left instructions that his remains were to be buried next to those of Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), the founder of the English branch of the family, in a Jewish cemetery, the Brady Street Cemetery, in the East End of London, which had last been used for an interment in 1858. To re-open its gates, where his great-grandfather had been buried in 1836, involved him in several years of negotiation with authorities as various as the Privy Council, which made the necessary Order on 8 February 1984; the Beth Din, and Tower Hamlets Borough Council. Victor died on 20 March 1990, and his wishes were duly carried out.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, obituaries, 1990

000/557, 1 file

Volume of photocopies of obituaries and reports of the death of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990), 1990. These news items appeared in the UK national press. The volume may have been prepared by the NMR Information Department.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, recording of appearance on 'Desert Island Discs', 1984

000/2378/1, 1 digital file

BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs with Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990). First aired on Friday 13 July 1984. 'Roy Plomley's castaway is academic and businessman Lord Rothschild.' Music played:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Chromatic fantasia and fugue in D Minor
  • Art Tatum: Get Happy (Castaway's favourite)
  • Honky Tonk Train Blues
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Oboe Concerto in C Major
  • Vladimir Horowitz: Étude in a flat
  • Teddy Wilson: Every Now and Then
  • Franz liszt: Funérailles (from Harmonies Poétiques et Réligieuses)
  • Cantor Samuel Malavsky & Family Choir: B'rosh hashono
  • Book choice: Book on pure mathematics
  • Luxury choice:  Pad of A4 paper

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, 'Lord Rothschild's Favourite Recipes', 1989, 2001

000/597, 3 items

Three copies of Lord Rothschild’s Favourite Recipes, Sarah Daniel (privately printed, 1989; 2001). This slim volume contains the favourite recipes prepared for Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild (1910-1990) by his cook Mrs Prentice. In 1922, Ena Mary Huxley (1907-1989), later Mrs Prentice, and affectionately referred to as ‘Mrs P’, started work as a scullery-maid at Palace Green, the London home of Victor's parents, Charles (1877-1923) and Roszika Rothschild (1870-1940). In 1953 she went to work for Victor at Merton Hall, Cambridge, where she married his chauffeur, Wally. Mrs P wrote down her recipes, many of them given to her by chefs of her era, in her own neat handwriting, in two hard-backed exercise books. After Victor's death, the recipe books were discovered by Sarah Daniel, Victor's daughter, who privately printed this volume in 1989 and again in 2001. One copy is inscribed 'To Ammy and Anita, with love, Sarah 31.10.89' [Amschel (1955-1996) and Anita (b.1957) Rothschild, Sarah Daniel's brother and sister-in-law].

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, secondary sources, monograph 'Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild G.B.E, G.M. Third Baron Rothschild (1910-1990)', 1993

000/2446, 1 item

Printed monograph Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild G.B.E, G.M. Third Baron Rothschild (1910-1990) by Suzanne Reeve, (The Royal Society, 1993).

Publications and scientific papers

The Archive does not hold copies of all of the published works of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild. A comprehensive list of all his published works, including books (on a variety of topics),  scientific books and articles and Government publications will be found here Rothschild bibliography: Victor Rothschild »

Copies of published works in the Archive collection are listed below, in order of publication date. In addition to the items listed below, a file containing 79 off-prints of articles by Lord Rothschild, largely on scientific subjects, will be found in the Ashton Wold Collection, 000/1323/24/1. Further publications will be found in the Reading Room Library.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, sundry scientific and research papers, c.1935-c.1990

000/2304, 13 boxes

A collection of scientific papers of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, from Rushbrooke Hall. The papers include research notes and published material.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, scientific publications, articles from 'The Journal of Experimental Biology', 1946; 1947

000/2048/2-3, 23 items

Off-prints of articles by Victor, 3rd  Lord Rothschild from The Journal of Experimental Biology: 

  • 'The Theory of Alternating Current Measurements in Biology and its Application to the Investigation of the Biophysical Properties of the Trout Egg', Lord Rothschild [Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild] from the Department of Zoology, Cambridge, October 1946
  • 'An Electro-Magnetic Mixer for Manometric Experiments', H. Laser and Lord Rothschild [Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild] from the Molteno Institute and Department of Zoology, Cambridge, December 1947

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, publications, 'The Lycurgus Cup', 'The Nelme Cup', 1954; 1957

000/1756, 2 volumes

Published works by (Nathaniel) Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild on pieces from 'Rothschild' collections:

  • The Lycurgus Cup, Victor Rothschild (Cambridge: Victor Rothschild, 1954); The Lycurgus Cup, also known as 'The Rothschild Lycurgus Cup' is an important 4th-century Roman glass cage drinking-cup made of a dichroic glass, which shows a different colour depending on whether or not light is passing through it: red when lit from behind and green when lit from in front. It is the only complete Roman glass object made from this type of glass, and has been described as "the most spectacular glass of the period, fittingly decorated, which we know to have existed". The piece is covered with scenes representing the death of King Lycurgus, rim mounted with silver-gilt band of leaf ornament, plus silver-gilt foot with open-work vine leaves. The early history of the cup is unknown, and it is first mentioned in print in 1845; this is probably shortly before it was acquired by the Rothschild family. Certainly Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879) owned it by 1857; in 1862 he lent it to an exhibition at what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, after which it virtually fell from scholarly view until 1950. In 1958, (Nathaniel) Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild sold it to the British Museum, in whose collection it remains.
  • The Nelme Cup, Victor Rothschild (Cambridge: Victor Rothschild, 1957). The Nelme Cup is a unique gold standing cup made in England in 1726-1727. Its decoration and technique are typical of the work of the London goldsmith Anthony Nelme, but he died before it was made so must be the work of his son, Francis.  It is engraved with the name Samuel Lambert Esq, about whom nothing is known, but who was perhaps the original owner. It must have changed hands soon after it was made, because the engraved coat of arms, of Sir Thomas Mostyn was added later. In the 19th century, it had richly enamelled filigree bands added to the bowl and stem. The originality of these bands was the subject of long debate until (Nathaniel) Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, to whom the cup descended in the 20th century, established that the scratch weight engraved on the base of the cup, which records its weight when made, is less than the weight including the bands, proving that they were indeed later, so it was decided to remove them. The cup has a long Rothschild family history. It was one of two belonging to Mayer Carl von Rothschild (18201-1886), from the Frankfurt branch who bequeathed it to his daughter Emma (1844-1935), who married Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) of the English branch. It then descended to Victor who in turn gave it to his son, Jacob the present Lord Rothschild, as a wedding present. It is now in the collection at Waddesdon Manor, and is on perrmanent display in 'The Rothschild Treasury' exhibition.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, publications, 'The Rothschild Family Tree', c.1970-1973

000/140, 000/279, 1 file, 1 microfilm reel

Research notes and papers of Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild concerning compilation of the 1973 Rothschild family tree. In the early 1970s, Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild commissioned the first fully comprehensive Rothschild family tree, tracing the family's origins back to c.1450. The resulting research was privately printed, primarily for the benefit of Rothschild family members. Copies of The Rothschild Family Tree, 1450-1973 (Privately printed, London, 1973) and subsequent volumes The Rothschild Family Tree (Privately printed, London, 1981) and The Rothschild Family Tree (Privately printed, London, 1988) will be found in 000/1829. A reel of microfilm containing a copy of The Frankfurt Memorial Book, 1626-1900, acquired by Lord Rothschild for research into the family tree, c.1970. will be found in 000/279.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, publications, 'You Have it, Madam', c.1980

000/294, 1 file

Research notes and papers of Victor, 3rd Rothschild relating to his research into the loan by his great-grandafther, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879) to enable the British government to purchase shares in the Suez Canal in 1875. Lord Rothschild's research was privately published as You Have It, Madam': the purchase, in 1875, of Suez Canal shares by Disraeli and Baron Lionel de Rothschild (Privately printed, London, 1980). A copy of You have it, Madam is available in the Reading Room.

Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, publications, 'The Shadow of a Great Man', c.1982

000/221, 5 boxes

Research notes and papers of Victor, 3rd Rothschild relating to his research into his great-great-grandfather, Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836). Lord Rothschild's research was privately published as The Shadow of a Great Man (Privately printed, London, 1982). A copy of The Shadow of a Great Man is available in the Reading Room.