Rothschild’s rebel wives are the ones who made it: The story of how Rothschild bank dynasty women broke with their male relatives in order to pursue careers as zoologists and musicians

  • Rothschild men rose quickly to power becoming bankers or MPs with dizzying speed
  • Little is known about Rothschild women whose role  was to be ‘dutiful and fertile’
  • Natalie Livingstone is an author whose book examines the London branch and the unique lives of Rothschild females 


by Natalie Livingstone (John Murray £25, 480pp)

The Rothschild men are sometimes called “the Jewish royal family” and rose quickly to power, becoming advisers and bankers for sovereigns and statesmen.

Little is known, though, about the Rothschild women, whose role — publicly at least — was to be ‘industrious, dutiful and fertile’. But they were dynamic, spirited and sometimes rebellious behind their facade.

Author Natalie Livingstone’s book focuses on the London branch of the family, beginning with Nathan who — eight years after arriving in Britain from Frankfurt in 1798 — married the beautiful Hannah Barent Cohen. Although Nathan was focused on work only, Hannah, an English native, was a great hostess. She also had a keen business mind and advised Nathan often about investments.

THE WOMEN OF ROTHCHILD by Natalie Livingstone (John Murray £25, 480pp)

THE WOMEN OF ROTHCHILD by Natalie Livingstone (John Murray £25, 480pp)

The Rothschilds became richer and held extravagant parties in Piccadilly where they decorated the rooms with orange trees. Guests danced till dawn at the party.

Hannah was determined to annotate the family and make them look dignified, despite widespread anti-Semitism. One acquaintance observed that the Rothschilds were just like the Royal Family: ‘They all hate one another but are united … against the world.’

Lionel Rothschild was their oldest son. He married Charlotte Rothschild. His party invites are said to have been more popular than those of Queen Victoria. Charlotte was passionate about Lionel’s cause and made use of her party to promote his political career. He became the first Jew practicing to become an MP in 1847.

Nica Rothschild (above), the daughter of Charles Rothschild was perhaps the most bizarre Rothschild female. Nica, her husband’s wife, joined the Free French Forces in 1940. She sailed to Africa with him and spent two years driving troopers and decoding messages.

It was Jazz that was her greatest passion. In Paris, in the middle of the 1950s, she encountered Thelonious Montk and was instantly captivated. They later moved to New York. In 1988 she requested that Monk’s Round Midnight, his classic song be performed as she was dying.

Miriam, Nica’s younger sister was also unusual. She was a zoologist, who had a specialization in studying fleas. Her eccentricity is what once made her look like Beatrix Potter when she used amphetamines. Her keen intelligence was what made her a great codebreaker. Miriam was not like her coworkers and didn’t stay in uncomfortable Bletchley dorms. Instead, she lived close to one of the many elegant Rothschild homes.

Miriam was also a major influence in horticulture. Her early advocacy of wildflower sowing was very important. She allowed her home and garden to rest under a green canopy as she aged. Miriam best described the Rothschild woman’s life, which she called a ‘parallelel but distinct little world’.

Livingstone is a great marshal of many characters. She spans two centuries, and moves with ease between the Jewish Ghetto and the most grand houses in England. Livingstone refers to the Rothschild woman as an “overlooked resource of power, strength, imagination”, and this book is a fascinating read.