Alfred de Rothschild

Alfred de Rothschild

Alfred de Rothschild, by Leslie Ward, 1884
Born 20 July 1842
Died 31 January 1918
Resting place Willesden Jewish Cemetery
Residence Seamore Place, London, England
Halton House
Education King's College London, Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Banker, consul, art collector, philanthropist
Board member of N M Rothschild & Sons, Bank of England, National Gallery, Wallace Collection
Religion Judaism
Partner(s) Marie Boyer
Children Almina
Parent(s) Lionel de Rothschild & Charlotte von Rothschild
Awards Royal Victorian Order (1902)
Legion of Honour
Order of the Crown (Prussia)
Order of Franz Joseph

Alfred Charles Freiherr de Rothschild CVO (20 July 1842 – 31 January 1918) was the second son of Lionel de Rothschild and Baroness Charlotte von Rothschild of the prominent Rothschild family.


As a young man, Alfred attended King's College School, and subsequently Trinity College, Cambridge, England,[1] where he would study Mathematics for two terms. It was at Trinity College that Alfred formed a lasting friendship with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Alfred left Cambridge University without a degree.

Banking career

At the age of 21 Alfred took up employment at the N M Rothschild Bank at New Court in London. It was there that he learnt the business of banking from his father and made valuable contacts in European banking circles.

In 1868, at the age of 26, Alfred became a director of the Bank of England, a post he held for 20 years, until 1889. In 1892 he was one of those who represented the British Government at the International Monetary Conference in Brussels.

His career at the Bank of England was described in The Rothschilds: A Family of Fortune, by Virginia Cowles (London: Futura Publications 1975) page 159:

Alfred was not only a partner at New Court but a Director of the Bank of England, an appointment he had been given in 1868 because the Governor felt it would not be a bad thing to keep in close touch with the Rothschilds. The relationship came to an abrupt end of 1889, however, over a slightly unorthodox situation. Alfred had paid a very high price for a French eighteenth-century painting after being assured by the dealer that he, too, had been forced to pay an excessive sum for it and was making only a marginal profit. A day or two later Alfred discovered that the dealer had an account with the Bank of England. He could not resist taking a peep to see what, in fact, the man had given for the painting. He was outraged when he discovered that he had been charged a price 'out of all proportion to decency!' He spread the story about London and, not surprisingly, got the sack from Threadneedle Street.

He was the first Jew to be a Director of the Bank of England, and, after his departure, no other Jew was on the directorate for more than fifty years.

Upon the death of his father in 1879, Alfred inherited a 1,400-acre (5.7 km2) estate centered on Halton in Buckinghamshire. As Alfred lacked a country retreat and the Halton estate did not provide one, Alfred set about building a house in the style of a French chateau. Work started around 1880 and Halton House was finished in July 1883. Alfred remained in residence at Seamore Place in London and only ever used Halton House for social purposes. In 1889, he was appointed as the inaugural High Sheriff of the County of London.

His part in connection with diplomacy is described by T. G. Otte in "He interviews the Ambassadors": Alfred de Rothschild, High Finance and High Politics in Victorian Britain.[2] After he had served as British delegate at an international conference on bimetallism in 1892, Alfred de Rothschild later facilitated a series of informal meetings between ministers and contacts at the German Embassy with a view to Anglo-German rapprochement. Before the First World War he was Consul-General for Austria in London.[3]


He was made CVO in 1902, awarded the Legion of Honour by the government of France and the 1st Class Order of the Crown by the Kingdom of Prussia, and made Grand Cross of the Order of Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary.[1]


A patron of the arts, he also donated money to the National Art Gallery for acquisitions. He was trustee of both that gallery and the Wallace Collection.[3]


Alfred de Rothschild may have had an illegitimate child from a relationship with a Mrs. Maria ("Mina") Boyer Wombwell. The birth certificate states her father as "Frederick C Wombwell", but Alfred always acted as her guardian, and the girl's name, Almina, suggests the combination of "Al" and "Mina". However, it has also been assumed that Alfred was primarily homosexual, and it has been suggested Alfred encouraged an illusion of paternity as a way of deflecting attention from his orientation.[4]

In 1895, at age 19 Almina married George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and became Lady Carnarvon, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. Alfred enabled the union by providing a £500,000 dowry that allowed her financially strapped husband to maintain the family estate known as Highclere Castle. Beginning in 2010, the property became widely known as the location for the ITV series Downton Abbey.[5]

In later life Alfred did not enjoy good health and he died after a short illness on 31 January 1918, aged 75. He was interred in the Willesden Jewish Cemetery in the North London suburb of Willesden.

See also


Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.


  1. 1 2 "Rothschild, Alfred Charles (RTST860AC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. a chapter of On the Fringes of Diplomacy: influences on British foreign policy, 1800-1945, ed.s John Fisher and Antony Best (Ashgate Publishing, England and USA, 2011)
  3. 1 2 Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1913. Kelly's. p. 1487.
  4. Wilson, Derek A. Rothschild: A Story of Wealth and Power, André Deutsch, London 1988. (Revised edition 1994) p261-2
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