Jacob Rothschild created his own version of Englishness and Jewishness

He personified the humanist universalist spirit of generosity


Lord Rothschild pictured at Waddesdon Manor. (John Nguyen/JNVisuals)

March 01, 2024 11:05

The death of Jacob Rothschild is the end of the era but even in his era, there was only one Jacob.

Even though his achievements mean that he lives on in works of art and architecture, in the National Library of Israel, the restored Waddesdon and Spencer House, he personified a great spirit too, the humanist universalist spirit of generosity not just in terms of munificent philanthropy but of openness, curiosity and gentility. As a Rothschild heir, he could have rested on golden laurels or retired to crusty rusticity but he was ambitious and successful in all sorts of realms.

He adored history and was part of it: he created his own version of Englishness and Jewishness, liberal, tolerant, generous, acting like his ancestors as a patriarch of the British Jewish community and also like his ancestors as a philanthropist in Israel. He was multifaceted: an intellectual, philanthropist, leader, collector, impresario, iconoclast and traditionalist, restorer of the old and curator and commissioner of the new, at home in many worlds.

He was an urbane prince of the open world but in person he was modest, self-deprecating, shy, almost diffident – but also familial and warm of heart, highly intelligent and cultured, very sensitive, blessed with bold taste and charming demeanour, but deeply playful and fascinated by everyone in a quicksilverish, amused way.

Nothing in human nature would surprise him but much delighted him. When I was teenager and he was a famous financial buccaneer, he gave me a holiday job; when I started to write, he encouraged me; later, he discussed books and history with me and invited me to fascinating gatherings.

I thought of him as a friend – and there were few things more fun, more flattering, than to be spotted at some gathering by Jacob and invited to join him sitting far from the crowd to discuss great events and small.
There was no one like Jacob and wherever he is now, he will be enjoying the company, amused by the intrigues, encouraging the talented and helping the needy, thinking of fresh ideas and commissioning new works.

Simon Sebag Montefiore is author of The World: A Family History of Humanity

March 01, 2024 11:05

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