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Rothschilds dynasty { January 28 1998 }

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Wednesday, January 28, 1998 Published at 10:32 GMT
The making of a dynasty: the Rothschilds

Many have dreamt of coming to London to make a fortune. It has come true for only a few.

Which makes the success of a young German Jew who came to England and established one of the world's most powerful banking dynasties even more remarkable.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild arrived from Frankfurt am Main in 1798, unable to speak English. The 200th anniversary of his arrival is being celebrated in a new exhibition at the Museum of London.

For a decade he worked from Manchester, selling fine cloth. But the Napoleonic Wars stifled his trade, and he turned instead to lending money to other merchants, which led into banking, and a move to London.

Thus someone who only went into banking by accident became one of the most influential factors in the development of the modern financial world.

His success was not just weighed in bullion, however. He became well-acquainted with many monarchs and heads of government.

One job he did for the British Government was to arrange the finance of the Duke of Wellington's army which was in Southern France, advancing against French troops before the Battle of Waterloo.

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Working closely with his four brothers who were living in cities in France and Germany, Rothschild's agents bought up gold and silver,and smuggled them to Wellington's army. His records show that they collected 2 million, at 1815 prices.

The communication network established by the brothers was so effective that Rothschild knew about the British victory at Waterloo 24 hours before the British Government did.

Part of a coded letter written in Judendeutsch (German in Hebrew script)
But the code used in their letters, many of which were carried by pigeon post, has only recently been cracked by historians. The brothers wrote in Judendeutsch, German written in Hebrew letters, which they had learned in the Frankfurt Jewish ghetto where they grew up.

But their own secret codewords added an extra layer of security should their letters be intercepted. For instance, the phrase 'taking fish to Jerusalem' meant moving gold to London.

Huge fortune

Because their letters were encoded, the Rothschilds were able to write frankly, and often crudely, about some of the time's leading characters. The museum says the collection of letters will prove invaluable to historians.

Rothschild left a huge fortune, with which his children built a collection of grand houses and works of fine art. But the larger legacy is the bank which still bears his name. Its current chairman says it still owes its character to the Rothschilds' pan-European communication.

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild said: "The network of agents which he and his brothers set up around the world has today been transformed into a developing pattern of offices and partnerships in every continent.

"I like to think that N. M. would be pleased to see how far his aspirations had survived him and been carried forward over two centuries."

The exhibition in the Museum of London runs until July 26.

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