Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: catalogues of bank files

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

Nathan Mayer Rothschild and 'Waterloo'

The part played by Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) and his brothers in helping the British Government to finance military operations against Napoleon is legendary. Nathan's London House, N M Rothschild, dealt in bullion and foreign exchange, and his remarkable successes in these fields earned him the contract from the British Government to supply Wellington's troops with gold coin in 1814 and 1815, leading up to the Battle of Waterloo.

'The best business I ever did'

Nathan himself is said to have described it as ‘The best business I ever did’ and The Times, in December 1823 reported that ‘Mr Rothschild played so important a part in the history of the present generation that it is most probable that his proceedings will never be forgotten’. In the later years of the 19th century, some commentators even believed that Nathan Rothschild had made a fortune after Waterloo, acting on his early knowledge of the victory and buying into the market in the certain knowledge that stocks would rise once victory was confirmed. Some writers declared that Nathan was actually present at Waterloo, and had personally brought back the first news of victory, riding a succession of horses through Europe and crossing the English Channel in the dead of night. Close analysis of Rothschild finances has proved that this is not the case.

Paying the troops

After years of campaigning, in 1814 Wellington, advancing north across Spain, had driven the French back to the Pyrenees, but was in desperate need of money to pay his troops. Nathan Rothschild, still a relative newcomer to British banking, was commissioned by the British Government to supply the Duke with the necessary funds, and together with his brothers he set up a network of agents to buy up coin and transfer it to Wellington in the form of local currency. The firm of N M Rothschild was approached it is believed because the Government had already failed to establish a similar network of its own and had been let down by other more established London firms, and the Rothschild courier and communications network had gained a justifiable reputation for speed and reliability. The pressure was on the Rothschilds to succeed. Nathan understood that success in this business could lead to further important commissions by Britain and her allies, a belief that was confirmed in the postscript of a letter from a Rothschild courier, John Roworth: 'I am informed by Commissary White that you have done well by the early information which you had of the Victory gained at Waterloo'.

A million out of Waterloo?

Although it is virtually part of English history that Nathan Mayer Rothschild made 'a million' or 'millions' out of his early information about the Battle of Waterloo, the evidence is slender: little more, in fact, than Roworth's letter to Nathan 'you have done well', bolstered by a persistent legend. In the absence of contemporary records at New Court, it is impossible to estimate the size of his gain. But knowing the structure of the market we can conclude that however much Nathan made out of Waterloo, it must have been very considerably less than a million pounds, let alone 'millions'.

The impact of Waterloo for the Rothschilds

For Wellington, Waterloo was the culmination of a long campaign against Napoleon: ‘Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest, was his prediction for the battle’. For Nathan Rothschild, whose brothers saw him as their commanding general in their own parallel campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo underlined the success of a business plan built on strong family ties and an unsurpassed communications network. ‘I, who know him so well, and who in the discharge of my public duty received so much assistance from him, can safely pronounce him to have been most capable, skilful, upright and liberal in the whole of course of his employment as an agent of the state’, an appreciation of Nathan Rothschild by John Herries, British Commissary-in-Chief at the time of Waterloo.

The Battle of Waterloo 1815

The Battle of Waterloo 1815