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The Naples house: history

C M de Rothschild & Figli, Naples

Origins

Carl von Rothschild (1788-1855), the fourth of the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild of Frankfurt, was born in 1788 and married Adelheid Herz (1800-1853)  in 1818. Carl went to Naples in 1821 in the wake of a popular uprising in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Ferdinand I, the King, called for support from the Austrian Emperor who sent in Imperial troops.  It was in order to arrange the details of the financing of this army by the Neapolitan Government that Carl was sent to Naples from Frankfurt to negotiate a loan to the Government of Ferdinand II which made possible the payments to Austria to support the presence of the Empire's army in Naples.

Continued need for additional funds on the part of the Government increased involvement with the Rothschilds and kept Carl in Italy as official banker to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, trading as C M de Rothschild & Figli from 1821.  

Business of the Naples house

The Naples business followed the pattern of the other firms, in the field of acceptance and exchange, complemented by successful trade in commodities, such as sulphur, tobacco, silver, oil and corn. The Rothschilds' successful management of Neapolitan securities caused other Italian states to seek their services in raising credit, notably the Papal administration in Rome, on whose behalf five loans were issued between 1831 and 1850. Further loans were issued to Tuscany and to Piedmont, of which the fourth in 1859 financed Cavour's victorious Austrian campaign, heralding the formation of a united Italy. 

The business also participated fully in the development of the railway system in Europe, supplying engines and track for railway development in Sicily in the 1840s. In 1843, C M de Rothschild won a major contract to furnish the Royal Tobacco Manufactory in Naples with Kentucky and Virginian tobacco, a business that was to continue until 1863.

Carl took up residence in Italy with his wife Adelheid and their five children.  For the rest of his life he divided his time between his native Frankfurt and Naples, which always remained a ‘daughter-office’ of the Frankfurt bank. Among Rothschilds who spent time in the Naples bank was Nat, the fourth son of Nathan Mayer of London, who was eventually to settle in France and acquire Château Mouton. The business establishment was in Santa Maria di Portico, and in 1841, Carl bought a neo-classical villa overlooking the river Chiaia and originally built in the 1820s for Sir Ferdinand Acton. The family took up residence in the following year and Carl added two extra floors to house staff and officials.  Here he and Adelheid entertained distinguished guests, including Queen Victoria’s favourite uncle, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg who was to become King of Belgium.

Carl was never as dynamic or proactive a banker as his brothers and much of the family’s business with Italy – with Piedmont and the Vatican, for example - was handled through the Paris office. However, Carl possessed considerable diplomatic skills which enabled him to negotiate further government loans at a time when Jews were not officially permitted to reside in Naples. Carl never lost an opportunity to make use of his position in society to try to improve the lot of his fellow Jews.  He and his family established a number of charitable institutions in their adopted city, many of them to support the Jewish community.  

Closure of the Naples house, 1863

The last Rothschild House established in Europe was the first one to close. Carl's increasing identification with a reactionary monarchy and his own growing disenchantment with banking after the death of Adelheid in 1853, meant that the new forces of liberalism – particularly in the person of Cavour – effectively bypassed him.  He died in 1855, leaving the business in the hands of his son Adolphe (1823-1900), whose two surviving brothers assumed responsibility of the Frankfurt office on the death of their childless uncle in the same year.

Adolphe was soon faced with major problems.  In 1860 a revolt, led by Garibaldi and financed by Cavour, drove King Francis II into a five-month resistance.  He turned to Adolphe for finance, offering the entire royal treasure as security.  With his campaign ending in defeat, he went into exile, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies came to an end, and the royal collection of gold and silver objets d’art, jewels and regalia passed to Adolphe to form the core of his own collections.

The unification of the kingdoms of Italy in 1860 saw the diminution of influence of Naples, and the maintenance of a Rothschild House in the city was no longer viable. Adolphe, rather than entering into business with the new regime, chose to leave Naples and opted to end his involvement in the Rothschild banking partnership. At a family meeting in Paris in September 1863, Adolphe was bought out of the partnership by his cousins, and the affairs of the Naples house were terminated, and the accounts settled. C M de Rothschild & Figli ceased to trade in 1863.

The Villa was sold to the Duke of Monteleone, Don Diego Pignatelli Cortes. Adolphe retired to Lake Geneva where he employed Joseph Paxton to build his château of Pregny.  He died, childless, in 1900 and in 1907, his widow, Julie (1830-1907) bequeathed the entire estate and collections to her second cousin, Maurice (1881-1957), son of Edmond (1845-1934) and grandson of Baron James of Paris.