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Nathaniel Mayer, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915)

Nathaniel Mayer ('Natty') de Rothschild, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) was the eldest son of Lionel and Charlotte de Rothschild and was born in London on 8 November 1840. Natty progressed to Cambridge after an education with private tutors, but he did not sit his final examinations. The time was not spent in vain: he joined the circle of friends of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. Natty took over the senior partnership of the London House from his father who died in 1879. Under Natty, the bank arranged over 70 loans, and was instrumental in establishing the Exploration Company to exploit new mining opportunities in the New World. Like his father, Natty was an MP, gaining Aylesbury for the Liberals in 1865. A baronet in succession to his uncle Anthony from 1876, Natty became the first Jewish peer in 1885, retaining his own name in his new title - Lord Rothschild of Tring.

Business papers of Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild


Many of Natty’s papers were destroyed (on his wishes) by his executors after his death, including many personal papers, and papers kept by the Rothschild bank, a practice that was followed by his brothers and sons. A series of copy letters, Private Letters to the Paris House, 1906-1914 is preserved in the records of the Correspondence Department. This series consists of copies of letters sent from New Court to the cousins in Paris, mainly signed by Natty, and occasionally supplemented by letters from Leopold or Alfred. They have survived in spite of the instruction from the first Lord Rothschild that his correspondence should be destroyed after his death, and sadly represent the only record of the thoughts of the senior partners as expressed to the sister house at this time, as no trace of the original correspondence can be found in the archives of de Rothschild Frères. The letters are concerned with political and financial developments at home and abroad, but also record family events. Go to the Correspondence Department »

See also the following published works:

  • The City of London: Vol I: A World of it Own, 1815-1890, David Kynaston (London: Chatto & Windus, 1994)
  • The City of London: Vol II: Golden Years, 1890-1914, David Kynaston (London: Chatto & Windus, 1995)
  • The World's Banker: the history of the house of Rothschild, Niall Ferguson (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998)
  • The Unexpected Story of Nathaniel Rothschild, John Cooper (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) 

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, 'Administration with the will and codicil annexed of Friedrich Wilhelm Elector and Sovereign Landgrave of Hesse, deceased', 1875

000/2244, 1 item

Parchment document Administration with the will and codicil annexed of Friedrich Wilhelm Elector and Sovereign Landgrave of Hesse, deceased, 1875. This document relates to the administration of the will and estate of Friedrich Wilhelm I (1802-1875), who was, between 1847 and 1866, the last Prince-elector of Hesse-Cassel. He was the son of Willhelm II, Elector of Hesse (1777-1847). In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 he chose the side of Austria; Cassel was occupied by Prussia, and, as a consequence of his refusal to negotiate, he was transferred as a prisoner to Stettin; Hesse-Cassel was annexed by Prussia in the same year. Friedrich Wilhelm never accepted the Prussian dominance over his territory, and died at Prague in 1875. He was succeeded, as titular Prince-elector of Hesse, by Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse, from the house of Hesse-Rumpenheim.

Letters of administration (the authority to administer the estate of someone who has died without making a will) were granted by the Court of Probate to Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) in 1875. In this capacity, Lord Rothschild was continuing a long tradition of service by the Rothschild family to the House of Hesse-Cassell; Crown Prince Wilhelm I of Hesse (1743-1821), (Friedrich Wilhelm's grandfather) is often cited as the first 'Rothschild client.' In 1769, Nathaniel's great-grandfather, Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) gained the title of 'Court Agent', managing the finances of Crown Prince Wilhelm I who became Prince William IX Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel on the death of his father in 1785.

See 000/235/1 for earlier correspondence of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse-Cassel (1747-1837), (Friedrich Wilhelm's great-uncle), giving power of attorney to Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777--1836), (Nathaniel's grandafther) for transfers of Annuities of the House of Hesse-Cassell, 1814.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: sundry business correspondence, 'Guinness' business, 1880

000/2618, 1 folder

Correspondence between Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1922) and Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915) and correspondence between NMR and their legal representatives concerning the proposed sale of the Guinness brewing business, 1880. Lord Iveagh was managing director of the Guinness Partnership and Company, from his father's death in 1868 until 1889, running the largest brewery in the world on 64 acres He subsequently became the chairman of the board for life. By the age of 29 he had taken over sole ownership of the Dublin brewery after buying out the half-share of his older brother Lord Ardilaun for £600,000 in 1876. Over the next 10 years, he brought unprecedented success to St James's Gate, multiplying the value of his brewery enormously. He then became the richest man in Ireland after floating two-thirds of the company in 1886 on the London Stock Exchange for £6 million before retiring a multi-millionaire at the age of 40. He remained chairman of the new public company Guinness, and was its largest shareholder, retaining about 35% of the stock. 

Professor Niall Ferguson in his history of the House of Rothschild, The World's Banker: the history of the house of Rothschild (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998) makes a brief reference to the flotation of the Guinness business in 1886 pp.814-815: “When Sir Edward Guinness sought to float his Irish brewing company on the stock market in 1886, the London house refused to handle the £6 million flotation, which was snapped up by Barings. The shares and debentures proved immensely popular (they were oversubscribed nearly twenty times) and Barings made a profit on the issue of around £500,000. Yet, when asked by a journalist if he regretted turning the business down, Natty replied: 'I don't look at it quite that way. I go to the House every morning and when I say "No" to every scheme and enterprise submitted to me, I return home at night carefree and contented. But when I agree to any proposal, I am immediately filled with anxiety. To say "Yes" is like putting your finger in a machine: the whirring wheels may drag your whole body in after the finger.' " The source of this quote is the Irish writer and journalist Frank Harris (1855-1931) who reported  Lord Rothschild’s conversation at dinner with Sir Charles Dilke, in his memoirs My Life and Loves, Vol. 2, (Cimiez [Nice]: Privately Printed, 1925), pp. 470-471.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: sundry correspondence concerning South African business, 1885-1900

000/185, 2 files

A small collection of correspondence and papers primarily concerning mining business in Kimberley, South Africa and correspondence with the British-born South African entrepreneur and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902). 

  • correspondence between Cecil Rhodes and Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), 1888-1889. This small folder of letters indicate clearly Lord Rothschild's support for the amalgamation of diamond mines in South Africa in the interests of the diamond trade. It is evident that the Rothschilds backing of De Beers projects through Rhodes was inspired by their confidence in the company's prospects and in the South African diamond trade in general. Lord Rothschild was to uphold the interests of the De Beers London Board against the personal interests of Rhodes, for example on the question of the company's investment policy.
  • copies of selected documents from the Rhodes and the Philipson Stow papers on relations between De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited and N M Rothschild and Sons 1885-1900.

The Rothschilds first became associated with Rhodes in 1887, during his struggle with Barnato for control of the diamond industry in South Africa. Rhodes visited London in July 1887 and secured the backing of Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild for De Beers in its bid for the French Diamond Company. Support for Rhodes had been encouraged by Randolph Churchill who had been acting as consultant to Rothschilds, assessing the prospects of gold and diamond mining in South Africa. Lord Rothschild later disagreed with Rhodes and his policies, although he was an executor of Rhodes's will and was instrumental in creating the Rhodes Scholarships from the estate. Frederic Philipson-Stow (1849-1908) was a diamond magnate. Born Frederic Stow, he had assumed by Royal licence the additional surname of Philipson in 1891. Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill was an intimate of the Rothschild family. He formed a close association with Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, on whose behalf he reported on the development of the mining industry in South Africa. Churchill was a frequent guest at Rothschild houses. The Rothschilds made extensive loans to Churchill.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, sundry papers, 'Reflections on the National 3% Debt of Great Britain', c.1895

000/254, 1 volume

Small notebook, with manuscript entry Reflections on the National 3% Debt of Great Britain in reference to a commutation of the interest thereon. The author and date of this text is unknown, but is estimated at c.1895. The document was possibly prepared at the request of the Senior Partner, Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915).

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: Pekin Syndicate, sundry papers, 1905

000/1853, 1 file

Booklet The Pekin Syndicate: showing its present position and prospects (London: Mathieson, 1905). With geological and other maps. Includes colour map of the Shansi and Honan coal fields. In 1897, the commitment of N M Rothschild & Sons to developing trade with China was further confirmed when the Bank joined The Pekin Syndicate, set up in London in 1897 to increase business links with China. The syndicate was chaired by a former senior clerk of Rothschilds, himself a distinguished banker, Carl Meyer. Correspondence between the London and Paris houses concerning the Pekin Syndicate will be found in XI/130A. For brief correspondence with the French bank concerning the Pekin Syndicate see XI/111/294. No other papers survive.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, Argentine Committee and Argentinian business, minutes and papers, 1891-1898

000/573/2, 000/573/4, 2 files

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: The Argentine Committee, minutes, papers and correspondence. Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild chaired this committee. The papers include correspondence with the Bank of England and other correspondence concerning Argentine affairs.

This collection of papers originates from a tin trunk labelled 'Box 64' from the New Court vault. The trunk contained sundry 'documents of historical interest' selected from the Archive by an unknown hand.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, Constantinople Quay Company: sundry correspondence and papers, 1906-1907

000/573/12, 1 file

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: Constantinople Quay Company: correspondence and papers, inlcuding correspondence with the bank of England, 1907-1907 concernig purchase of shares. In an effort to contain Germany's peaceful penetration of Ottoman Turkey after May 1906, Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, was ready to commit money to the joint Anglo–French purchase of the Constantinople Quays Company. The venture proved less than profitable, and it was not, as some diplomats hoped, the precursor of a successful “industrial entente” between Britain and France in the Near East. Indeed, if anything, it highlighted the difficulties faced by diplomats in seeking to reconcile the interests of business and state in the conduct of foreign policy.

This collection of papers originates from a tin trunk labelled 'Box 64' from the New Court vault. The trunk contained sundry 'documents of historical interest' selected from the Archive by an unknown hand.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild: business with Japan, photographs, 1905

000/1631, 1 item

Copy photograph (from the Archives of the Royal Bank of Scotland), with key, of the farewell dinner to Viscount Korekiyo Takahashi (1854-1936) at the Savoy Hotel, December 14 1905. Guests include Takahashi, Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), Carl Meyer and CF Parr.

It was the intention of the Japanese government to issue a major loan in Paris as well as London and the United States in 1905 that first brought Takahashi and the Rothschilds together.  After arriving in London on 1 April, Takahashi met with many of the most important London bankers and financiers of the time, and on 13 April, met with Lord Rothschild and his brother Alfred (1842-1918) at New Court. Although Natty and Takahashi shared a personal respect for one another, relations between Russia and France complicated the negotiations (the Rothschilds were cautious about the business, concerned about the impact on Jews by the Russian Government, and were only prepared to enter into business with Japan after the war had ended), but both the Paris and London Rothschild banks applied considerable skill and diplomacy in order to bring the loan to a successful conclusion. On 28 November 1905, the first series of the Imperial Japanese Government 4% Sterling bonds went on sale in London, New York, Paris, Hamburg and Berlin; £12 million issued in Paris by a syndicate led by MM de Rothschild Frères and £6.5 million issued in London by a syndicate headed by N M Rothschild & Sons and comprising Parr's Bank, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and the Yokohama Specie Bank Limited. In 1907, Yoshio Sakatani, Japanese Minister of Finance, again approached Rothschilds for the conversion of the 1905 4% loan.  Once again, negotiations were rendered difficult by diplomatic conflicts, this time between Russia and the United States, and once again Rothschilds in London and Paris were instrumental in smoothing the passage of the loan.  The 1907 5% Imperial Japanese Government loan for £23 million was raised in London and Paris by the same issuing syndicates as the 1905 loan, both headed by the Rothschild banks. 

Viscount Takahashi Korekiyo (1854-1936) was born in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), and from humble beginnings  quickly rose through the civil service to become vice-president of The Bank of Japan in 1898, president of the Yokohama Specie Bank in 1906, and Governor of the Bank of Japan in 1911. In 1913, he was appointed Minister of Finance by Prime Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyōe and joined the Rikken Seiyūkai political party. After Prime Minister Hara was assassinated in 1921, Takahashi was appointed both Prime Minister and the Rikken Seiyūkai party president; however his term of office was brief, lasting less than seven months. In the Japanese coalition cabinet of 1924, Takahashi became Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, and in later administrations served as Finance Minister. Despite considerable success, his fiscal policies created many enemies, and he was among those assassinated by rebelling military officers in the February 26 Incident of 1936.

The Exploration Company

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the City definition of a mine was 'a hole in the ground owned by a liar', the Rothschilds began to address to problem of judging the soundness of mining investment opportunities. They thus established a close business relationship with Hamilton Smith, one of the most influential American mining engineers, who encouraged by Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild, settled in London and opened a mining engineering consultancy in partnership with Edmund de Crano. In 1886, these links were formalised in the Exploration Company, a guaranteed company with 20 members and a £20,000 exploring fund in lieu of capital.  It was reconstructed in 1889 as a joint-stock venture and moved into the sphere of company promotion.

'The Exploration Group'

By 1896 the Exploration Company was recognised as the strongest institution of the kind in the world. Initially, the Exploration Company derived its financial strength from the involvement of the Rothschilds, and while their stake in it diminished over the years, they continued to play a key part in the business. The Exploration Group, as it became, operated from premises close to N M Rothschild’s offices in St Swithin's Lane.

The Exploration Company's unrivalled mineral intelligence enabled it to predict gold booms in the Transvaal and Western Australia; in both regions it promoted two exploration companies, (Transvaal & General Association and Western Australia & General Association), essentially in the image of the parent. The Exploration Company distinguished itself in the 1890s by relying on a steady turnover rather than the plundering tactics employed by other operations. None of its promotions failed and those "with the slur of the Exploration refusal on it" were unable to make an issue.

It was the Exploration Company and its mining experts that paved the way for the Rothschilds' financial involvement with Rhodes, who visited London in July 1887 and secured the backing of Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild for De Beers in its bid for the French Diamond Company. Support for Rhodes had been encouraged by Randolph Churchill who had been acting as consultant to Rothschilds, assessing the prospects of gold and diamond mining in South Africa. On the Rand, the Exploration Company played a key role in the association between Rothschilds and Wernher, Beit & Co, a firm that had established control over gold production on the Central Rand.  Both companies took an interest in the Deep Level Co., promoted by the Exploration Company in 1892, an interest that expanded in its successor companies, Consolidated Deep Levels and Geldenhuis Deep. An influential article in The Times of 17 January 1893 by Smith, claiming that the Rand fields had reserves worth over £300 million, was widely quoted, and taken as confirmation of Rothschilds' faith in gold mining in the Transvaal. Rand Mines Limited, a giant holding company, was promoted and developed shortly after the appearance of Smith's article and the Exploration Company had a holding in what was the most profitable concern on the reef. The Exploration Company provided access to the enormous capital required for deep level mining and also technical expertise - Henry Cleveland Perkins, an Exploration Company consultant was appointed the first general manager of Rand Mines. Lord Rothschild later disagreed with Rhodes and his policies, although he was an executor of Rhodes's will and was instrumental in creating the Rhodes Scholarships from the estate.  

The inter-war years; winding up of the Exploration Company, 1937

The relationship between the Rothschilds and the Exploration Company changed after the First World War. In the 1920s, the Paris Rothschilds were instrumental in organising the re-shaping of the expanded diamond industry of South West Africa and Transvaal, while the London Rothschilds strongly supported Rio Tinto in new fields of copper deposits in Northern Rhodesia. In the 1930s the Exploration Company took part in the expansion of mining activities in Rhodesia and southern Africa.  In 1936, a new company called Salisbury (Rhodesia) Goldfields Ltd was set up with a capital of 300,000 shares of which the Exploration Company got half.  The company was set up to take over the property on the Iron Mask Range, Southern Rhodesia on which substantial deposits of low grade ore were discovered. The discovery was considered to be so unique that it was called 'a gold mining quarry'. The reverse proved to be the case. In July 1937 the Exploration Company was finally wound up following the failure to secure adequate output from the venture.

Few records of The Exploration Company survive in the collections of The Rothschild Archive London.  The Company itself was never part of N M Rothschild & Sons (although Lord Rothschild was an investor), and kept its own records. It is assumed that most of the company’s records were destroyed when it ceased trading in the late 1930s, or were lost during the Second World War, as few records of the company appear to survive in any public archive.

A copy of the prospectus for the First Issue of shares in The Exploration Company in 1886 will be found in 000/2284. (This issue was not handled by N M Rothschild & Sons, but Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild was a Founder Shareholder). During the 1890s, Rothschilds, through its close links to the Exploration Company, became interested in mining ventures. Papers, including reports on particular mines and invitations to invest in projects, and investment opportunities will be found in the Correspondence series of the London house (Sundry Correspondence and Special Subject Correspondence), and in Loans business, Private Papers (000/73).

The Exploration Company Limited: sundry correspondence with NMR, 1897-1930

000/76/1-2, 2 boxes

The Exploration Company Limited: sundry correspondence with NMR and related papers;  correspondence with NMR concerning various companies and business opportunities. Includes correspondence, reports, memoranda, balance sheets, prospectuses, contracts and other investment information: African Ventures Syndicate; Afrikanische Bergwerkes Berlin; Brazilian Warrant Co.; British Western Isles Syndicate; Burlington Investment Co.; Beaconsfield (Tasmania) Syndicate; Boma Trading; China Clay Exploration Syndicate; Cramp’s Patent Reversible Turbine; Consolidated Esmerelda; Clogau Gold Mine; Cie Gen. Traction Paris; Cie Tramways de l‘Ouest Parisien; Cie Tramways de Nord Ouest Parisien; Cie Tramways Mecaniques des Environs de Paris; Consolidated Gold Fields New Zealand; Durand Gold; Esmerelda Ltd; Eileen Alannah Mining Co.; El Oro; “Flower” Motor Ship Co.; Gemsah Oilfields; Gold Fields Rhodesian Development; Gold Coast Amalgamated Mines; Hydraulic Power & Smelting Co.; Horo Syndicate; Italian American Lottery Syndicate; Laguna Nitrate Co.; Lucifer Light Co.; Ross Rosemain Reef and Mining Co.; New Comet; Norse Power & Smelting Syndicate; North British Diesel Engine Works; Navalturn Ltd.; Orange River Ostrich Farm Syndicate; Otavi Eisenbahn; Otago Syndicate; Porges, Jules & Co. Syndicate; Peruvian Gold Mining Co.; Pekin Syndicate; Perak Tin Mines; Queensland Smelting Co.; Radium & Tin; Rhodesia Exploration Development; Rhodesian Congo Border Concession Sale Liquidation; St Ives Consolidated Mines; State of San Paulo (Brazil) Pure Coffee Co.; Santa Lucia Syndicate; St Augustine Mine; Sudan Gold Field Co.; Steeple Rock Development; Sun Gas Co.; Soc. Expl. Mines Oro del Rio de la Plata; Société Westinghouse; Smelting Corporation; Telephone Development Co. (1912);Tasmania Gold Mining Co.; Triple Tin Syndicate.

The Franco-British Exhibition, 1908

At a meeting of prominent business and noblemen chaired by the Lord Mayor held at the Mansion House (near to the Rothschild bank at New Court) on 11 July 1906, a General Committee for the Franco-British Exhibition was set up. The President was the Earl of Derby; his Grace the Duke of Argyll served as Hon. President. Vice Presidents included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Mayor of London, and Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915), Senior Partner, N M Rothschild & Sons Limited.

The General Committee decided that the enterprise’s main objective should be the commercial prosperity of the two nations, and decreed that all potential profits should be devoted to some public purpose. Organising and Finance Committees were duly established, together with Group Committees covering every subject - arts, education, sport, commerce, manufacturing and industry , Lord Rothschild led a syndicate of six financiers in advancing the substantial sum of £100,000 (some £9 million today) to the Franco-British Exhibition Incorporated, “for the purposes of the Franco-British Exhibition at Shepherd’s Bush.”

The year 1908 was an important one for public spectacle in London, with both the Franco-British Exhibition and the Olympic Games taking place in the city. The brainchild of the staging of these events, which were held concurrently, was the impresario Imre Kiralfy. The Franco-British Exhibition opened on 14 May 1908 and closed on 31 October. It was the largest exhibition of its kind ever held in Britain. The site covered an area of some 140 acres (0.57 km2), with pavilions dedicated to the arts, sciences and nations and continents. The Exhibition attracted over 8.4 million visitors from all classes, a figure unprecedented for a privately organised and financed exhibition venture in Britain. Lord Rothschild’s investment of £20,000 proved to be a wise decision. Exceptionally, the Exhibition more than paid for itself, with receipts totalling £1.2 million, eventually turning in a profit of £38,902 (£3.6 million today).

Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, accounts, correspondence and sundry papers, 1908

000/573/14, 3 files

The Franco-British Exhibition of 1908: accounts, correspondence and sundry papers: loan agreements, correspondence, memos and other sundry accounts including balance sheets and receipts. Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild was a Vice-President of the organising Committee, and he led a syndicate of six financiers in advancing the substantial sum of £100,000 to the Franco-British Exhibition Incorporated. N M Rothschild actd as bankers for the Exhibition. The venture was a huge success.

The Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, sundry ephemera and printed works, c.1908; 1978

000/2264, 1 file

A small collection of secondary source material relating to the Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, collected by the Archive:

  • a collection of 18 original souvenir postcards showing the exhibition pavilions, views etc, 1908;
  • original postcard with view of the exhibition and English and French flags celebrating the 'Entente Cordiale', 1908;
  • facsimilie copy of the Official Souvenir of The Franco-British Exhibition, 1908; facsimile copy of The Franco-British 'White City' London Exhibition of 1908 - an Edwardian Magic Lantern Show;
  • page from the Building News, July 31, 1908 showing a detailed drawing of one of the towers of one of the Exhibition pavilions;
  • copy of The Exhibitions, Great White City by Donald R Knight, published on the 70th Anniversary of the Exhibition in 1978.