The Royal links that go back to ‘Natty’ Rothschild

A hundred and thirty years ago, he made history in the relationship between the Royals and Britain's Jews


Later this month, the Prince of Wales will make his first official visit to Israel, for Holocaust commemorations.

This follows a reception last month that he hosted at Buckingham Palace. These events have brought his relationship with the Jewish community into focus.

But history shows that this is nothing new and — and that these events were eclipsed by the situation over one hundred years ago.

One hundred and thirty years ago, Lord Nathaniel "Natty" Rothschild (1840-1915) made history in the relationship between the Royals and the Jewish community.

His appointment in 1889 as Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire was the first time any Jew had occupied the role. Natty went one step further than his Uncle, Mayer, who had been High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire.

The ‘LLs’ serve as the Queen’s ambassadors in the regions. They wear ceremonial uniform when a Royal visits their patch and perform other civic duties, such as giving out awards for volunteering and other honours.

There are now 98 Lord Lieutenants, based on the county system. One of them, Robert Voss, a retired metal trader, is LL for Hertfordshire. He is thought to be the first Jew to occupy the post since Lord Rothschild.

There have also been a smattering of Jewish Deputy Lieutenants, such as Sir Samuel Montagu (1832-1911), Natty’s great rival, who was Orthodox and a banker. In the modern era, the businessman and philanthropist David Dangoor is a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London.



Samuel Montagu

Rothschild was not only the first Jewish LL but also the first Jew to sit in the House of Lords, after he was awarded a peerage in 1885. The Liberal PM William Gladstone appointed him a hereditary peer.

Rothschild followed in the footsteps of his father, Lionel, who had become the first MP to take his seat as a Jew, in 1858.

Natty’s appointment as Lord Lieutenant was a personal breakthrough but also significant for the Jewish community. He succeeded the blue-blooded Duke of Buckingham.

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, enjoyed a close friendship with Natty but had to exercise diplomacy to those who lost out.

The Prince apologised to Lord Carrington for overlooking him: “It would have been strange ten years ago but times change. He [Lord Rothschild] is a good fellow and a man of business, and he and his family own half the County.”

Natty’s close relationship with the King developed over several decades. They had met as students, when the Prince came up to Cambridge in January 1861 (a year later Edward embarked on a four-month tour of the Middle East, including the land of Israel).

As head of the Rothschild bank, the Prince was reliant on Natty’s generosity, such as making available £100,000, a huge sum in those days, by taking out a mortgage on the Sandringham Estate.

In 1883 Edward wrote him a gushing letter: “My dear Natty, I cannot find words too extreme in gratitude for your kindness and liberality, which you may be convinced will never be forgotten by me.” It was no surprise that Natty was invited to join the privy council after the King’s Coronation in 1902.

Rothschild was friendly with the other giant figures of his age: Disraeli, Balfour and Asquith as well as Theodor Herzl and Cecil Rhodes. He benefited from Britain’s imperial expansion - and also played a role in this, particularly in Egypt and South Africa. His friendship with Rhodes enabled him to invest heavily in the diamond mines of South Africa, particularly De Beers, and to participate fully in the expansion of the deep gold mines in the Rand.

Rhodes had a gargantuan vision of the British Empire obtaining mastery over the entire world. He thought that Britain should take over the whole African continent. Rothschild shared this vision to a limited extent and at times intervened to assist British imperial ambitions in Southern Africa and Egypt.

Until the end of Herzl’s life, Natty supported his colonization schemes in El Arish and East Africa but vetoed any suggestion of Jewish self-government. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Rothschild was prepared to see British control of Palestine, though the Jewish side of the question remained a secondary concern.

Natty Rothschild was a commanding figure of his age, enjoying a particularly close relationship with Royalty.

He was a man of many different dimensions but of everything he did, his role as Lord Lieutenant highlighted his close Royal relationships, and reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun about today’s positive engagement between our community and the Royal Family.

John Cooper is the author of 'The Unexpected Story of Nathaniel Rothschild' (Bloomsbury)

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