James Mayer de Rothschild

James Mayer de Rothschild

James de Rothschild (May 15, 1792 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany - November 15, 1868 in Paris, France) was a banker and a member of the prominent Rothschild family.


James de Rothschild was the fifth son and youngest child of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). de Rothschild moved to Paris in 1811 and in 1817 expanded the family banking empire to the city, opening de Rothschild Frères. An advisor to two kings of France, he became the most powerful banker in the country and following the Napoleonic Wars, played a major role in financing the construction of railroads and the mining business that helped make France an industrial power. Along the way, he added to his fortune with investments in such things as the importation of tea and the purchase of a vineyard. A strong-willed and shrewd businessman, James de Rothschild amassed a fortune that made him one of the richest men in the world.

In 1822, James de Rothschild, along with his four brothers, was bestowed with the hereditary title of "Freiherr" (Baron) by Austria's Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. That same year he was appointed consul-general of the Austrian Empire and in 1823 was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

On July 11, 1824 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, Baron James de Rothschild married Betty Salomon von Rothschild (1805-1886), the daughter of his brother, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855). They had the following children:

*Charlotte (1825-1899) married Nathaniel de Rothschild
*Mayer Alphonse (1827-1905)
*Gustave Samuel (1829-1911)
*Salomon James (1835-1864)
*Edmond Benjamin (1845-1934)

Following the July Revolution of 1830 that saw Louis-Philippe come to power, James de Rothschild put together the loan package to stabilize the finances of the new government and a second loan in 1834. In gratitude for his services to the nation, King Louis-Philippe elevated him to a grand officer of the Legion of Honor.

In 1817, James de Rothschild purchased Château Rothschild, Boulogne-Billancourt where his children were born and raised. In 1838 he purchased a large residence in Paris at 2 rue Saint-Florentin on the Place de la Concorde from Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. It remained in the family until 1950 when it was sold to the government of the United States and today serves as the Consular section of the American Embassy. James de Rothschild and his sophisticated Viennese wife were at the center of Parisian culture. The chef for their lavish receptions was Antonin Carême [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/foodmonthly/story/0,9950,1058696,00.html] . They patronized major personalities in the arts including Gioacchino Rossini, Frédéric Chopin, Honoré de Balzac, Eugène Delacroix, and Heinrich Heine. As an acknowledgment of the many years of patronage extended by Baron James and his wife Betty, in 1847 Chopin dedicated his "Valse Op. 64, N° 2 in C sharp minor" to their daughter Charlotte. In 1848, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres painted Betty de Rothschild's portrait.

Louis XVIII refused to receive Jame's wife at court because she was not Christian. Thereafter, he refused to do business with the king.

In February 1848, King Louis Philippe of France was dethroned, to the temporary alarm of his friend James de Rothschild. Banking competitor Achille Fould was a friend of the new President of the French Republic, Napoleon III, and for a time it appeared the Rothchilds might lose government patronage and influence. However, despite some difficuties, the family business survived and prospered under the new regime.

In 1854, Baron James de Rothschild commissioned the famous architect Joseph Paxton to build the Château de Ferrières in Ferrières-en-Brie, about 35 km east of Paris. The property remained the home of his inheriting male descendants until 1975 when Guy de Rothschild gifted it to the University of Paris.

In addition to his banking business, in 1868 James de Rothschild purchased Château Lafite, one of France's most outstanding vineyards. Located in the Bordeaux region, it is a business that remains in the family to this day.

Beyond his business activities, James de Rothschild made the first significant acquisitions for what became the French family's massive art collections. His art included Vermeer's 1668 work "The Astronomer" which remained in the family until it became the property of the Louvre in the 1970s. He also used his enormous wealth for philanthropic works and became a leader of the French Jewish community. James's contributions to France, along with those of his offspring can be found in many fields, including medicine and the arts.

Baron James de Rothschild died in 1868, just three months after purchasing the Chateau Lafite vineyard. According to the writings of his nephew Nathaniel, 4,000 people passed through the Drawing room, 6,000 people stood in the court yard and the streets from the Rue Laffitte to the Père Lachaise cemetery were lined with onlookers. James de Rothschild had remained active in business throughout his life, expanding his continental railway interests so successfully that by the time of his death, the capital of the Paris house far exceeded that of his other family members. In his book, "The House of Rothschild (vol. 2) : The World's Banker: 1849-1999", Niall Ferguson wrote that according to the records, in 1815 the capital of the Paris house James Mayer de Rothschild founded amounted to £55,000; by 1852 the figure was £3,541,700 and just ten years after his death £16,914,000.

Sons Alphonse and Gustave took control of the French business empire.


* "Baron James: The Rise of the French Rothschilds" by Anka Muhlstein. Rizzoli International Publications (1983) ISBN 0-86565-028-4

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