Like most of the other inhabitants of the Frankfurt Judengasse, the Rothschilds took their name from their house. Although their civil status was uncertain, the inhabitants of the Judengasse derived a proud sense of identity from their ancestral homes. Pictorial representations of names were engraved or painted onto keystones and doors, and people often retained their names, and emblems, when they moved to another house.
The Rothschild name can be traced back to a sixteenth-century ancestor of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), Isaak Elchanan who took the name Rothschild from a small house he occupied at the southern end of the Judengasse called zum Roten Schild ("House at the Red Shield").
When his grandson, Naftali Hirz left the "House at the Red Shield" in 1664 and moved to the Hinterpfann (a tenement in the back of a house at the northern end of the Judengasse), he took the name Rothschild with him.
By the early 18th century there were ten or twelve Rothschild families in Frankfurt, changing money or buying and selling cloth and second-hand goods. Mayer Amschel Rothschild was born in the Hinterpfann in 1744. He lived here throughout his childhood and much of his married life, until, in 1784, together with his wife Gutle and their first five children, he was able to buy a larger house in the Judengasse.
The property was known as the "House at the Green Shield" and Gutle was to remain here until her death in 1849. It was in this fourteen foot wide by thirty-eight foot long four-storey house illustrated here, that Mayer and Gutle's ten children grew up, their five sons to become the future bankers to European monarchs and governments.
The Green Shield House was made famous by the Rothschild brothers' success and was much photographed and described by contemporaries. The family bought it to save it from the City's demolition programme, turning it into a museum in the late nineteenth century. The property survived until the Allied bombing of Frankfurt during the Second World War.
For further information about life in the Frankfurt Judengasse, see Amos Elon's Founder: Meyer Amschel Rothschild and his time, (London: HaperCollins, 1996)
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