The Rothschild name has long been associated with wealth and finance. The endurance and success of the brand has often made it an easy target for antisemites. The history of hate is chronicled by historian Niall Ferguson in his two-volume The House of Rothschild, which traces the roots back to the late 19th century.
The Rothschilds were notoriously depicted as ‘The English Octopus’ with its tentacles stretched across the globe with the sub-title ‘It Feeds on Nothing but Gold’. The image was exploited by Rolling Stone magazine in its portrayal of another investment bank, Goldman Sachs, as the ‘vampire squid’.
The Rothschild name more recently has been debauched in some tweets from within Labour circles. One described Adolf Hitler as an ‘illegitimate Rothschild’. In another, it was suggested that allegations of antisemitism were ‘to close down criticism of Israel and the Rothschild family’.
The durability of the Rothschild family as pillars of the financial establishment makes it an exception to the rule. When many other famous banking names such as Lehman Brothers slipped beneath the waves in the financial crisis of a decade ago, the Rothschild companies came back stronger.
Now there is a changing of the guard. After three decades as chairman, Lord Jacob Rothschild, 82, the most senior member of the clan, is to slip gently into retirement from the Rothschild Investment Trust – RIT Capital.
In his period at the helm, RIT, which started out managing assets of £280 million, swelled in value to £3.2 billion making it one of the best performing asset managers on the London Stock Exchange.
Lord Rothschild founded RIT after a disagreement with his cousin Sir Evelyn de Rothschild over the management of the core family bank NM Rothschild. In addition to RIT, Lord Rothschild, along with insurance guru Sir Mark Weinberg, was responsible for the creation of financial house St James’ Place which is now itself a FTSE100 firm.
The family’s main giving arm, Yad Hanadiv, now known as The Rothschild Foundation, supported Jews in pre-Israel Palestine. More recently, the late Victor Rothschild injected funds into science and innovation helping to lay the foundations of the ‘start-up’ nation.
It may have been expected that Lord James Rothschild’s heir, Nat Rothschild, an adventurous financier, might have succeeded his father at RIT. But for the moment, the investment trust will have as its chair Sir James Leigh-Pemberton, a former chief executive of Credit Suisse.
Baron David de Rothschild, head of the French bank, has also taken on his responsibilities as a senior member of the Jewish community seriously. He has supported the Board of Deputies and has become deputy president of the World Jewish Congress. Among Baron David’s protégés is French President Emanuel Macron whose earlier career was at the French bank.
Baron David recently returned to France, leaving his son Alexander in charge of NM Rothschild at its swish modern headquarters on the original site of the bank at New Court, on St Swithin’s Lane, in the City. Down the centuries, the Rothschilds have been forced to put up with antisemitic slurs from both the right and more recently the Corbyn left.
But the family never distanced itself from its Jewish roots, continuing to campaign against antisemitism and to support Israel. The next generation taking over has big – and sometimes uncomfortable – shoes to fill.