Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: plans of New Court

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

The Alliance Assurance Company

The Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company Ltd commenced business on 23 March 1824 and was based at New Court for its first two years. Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) was the leading force in the founding of the Alliance.

Origins of 'The Alliance'

The Alliance Assurance Company, (today part of the RSA Group of insurance companies) can trace its origins back to St Swithin's Lane in the early 1820s. The story goes that the financier Moses Montefiore and Nathan Rothschild – married to sisters, and neighbours in St Swithin’s Lane in the heart of the City of London – fell into conversation one day as the latter was going to collect the dividends on shares he held in an insurance company. The two men agreed that with their many friends and contacts they themselves could supply a useful number of clients for any insurance company, and saw the advantages of setting up a new company themselves.

There were additional attractions for such a venture. Nathan was often forced to pay high premiums to insure his international shipments of bullion and other goods, and would have been particularly keen to break the monopoly held by Lloyd’s on marine insurance; Jews at that time were discriminated against by Lloyds. Nathan and Moses resolved to form an insurance company to rival and circumvent Lloyds, with a larger share capital and a more influential Board of Directors. The plan was quickly put into action. Joining Rothschild and Montefiore as founding presidents were the prominent Quaker, Samuel Gurney, and the financiers John Irving and Francis Baring. 50,000 shares of £100 pounds each were issued and rapidly sold, with only the first £10 of each share actually called up: £5,000,000 was a share capital far in excess of any of its rivals. The Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company Ltd commenced business on 23 March 1824 in temporary offices in Moses Montefiore’s home in St Swithin’s Lane. It was started with a capital of £5 million, enormous for the time.

The Company's prospectus claimed that the "extensive connections both foreign and domestic ... and large capital of their directors would provide 'the greatest individual benefit to the Proprietors." Between them, Nathan and Montefiore had important connections in the Jewish community. In a true alliance between share-holders and policy holders, a condition of share purchase was that the holder would take out either fire insurance to the value of their subscription, or £1,000 in the life department. As a result of the efforts of the Alliance Company's Board, an Act of Parliament was passed abolishing the monopoly on marine insurance shared by Lloyds and the two Chartered Corporations (London and Royal Exchange). The Alliance instituted a new sister company, the Alliance Marine Assurance Company in 1824, for the purpose of carrying out marine insurance business, after objections from a Lloyd's underwriter, one of the Alliance's shareholders. In addition to marine, fire and life insurance the Alliance Insurance and Alliance Marine granted annuities, endowments for infants and benefits. N M Rothschild & Sons were the major shareholders and always had seats on the Board.

As actuary and head clerk, the company secured the services of Benjamin Gompertz, mathematician and Fellow of the Royal Society. His 1825 law of mortality showed, through the application of differential calculus to the calculation of life expectancy, that mortality rates increased in a geometric – and hence predictable – progression. Gompertz was no stranger. Married to Abigail Montefiore, Moses’ sister, he was very much part of the extended Rothschild-Montefiore family circle. In 1821 his appointment as actuary to another insurance company had been vetoed by them because of his religion. The Alliance, however, would not practice discrimination in any aspect of its business.

As well as the success of the Alliance’s share issue, the company was quick to succeed in attracting clients. Nathan was active in soliciting business from his many contacts. Even before the official opening, John Smith & Brothers in Manchester wrote to him on 18th March 1824: "As soon as the Alliance Co. are prepared for business we shall send them an order for insurance, but in such an important town as this, you will doubtless have an active agent." And Down Smith & Co. wrote to one J. Hallifax on 16th April 1824: "My father desires me to offer you his best thanks for your kind recommendation and introduction to Mr. Rothschild and begs you will be so good as inform the gentleman, that although there are a great many insurance companies in this place, yet he has no doubt a great deal of business might be done, but previous to his making any application to that effect, he thinks it necessary that Down Smith & Co. should be regularly authorized. He therefore will be happy to receive any communication on the subject that the Alliance Company may think proper."

The inter-war years

In 1924 N M Rothschild & Sons, as London agents of the government of Brazil, turned to the Alliance in its centenary year to help Brazilian coffee planters insure the vast amounts of coffee stockpiled in warehouses to prevent that year’s bumper crop from flooding the market. The Alliance’s expertise in international market places and fire insurance was proved, not for the first time, invaluable. Again, in the early 1930s, the Alliance was used on behalf of the bank to insure stockpiles of tin. Given the uncertainty of the times, not only was the insurance against the threat of fire, but also: "Explosion directly caused by Riot, Civil Commotion, Rebellion, Insurrection, Military or Usurped Power (other than that caused by Foreign Enemy) Strikers, Locked-out Workers or Persons taking part in Labour Disturbances, or Malicious Persons acting on behalf of or in connection with any Political Organisation."

The Second World War 

Darker times were stalking central Europe, and in 1936 the Alliance Assurance Company were central to a bold attempt to save the Vitkovice steel works, owned by the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family, from falling into Nazi ownership. The strategic coal and iron works at Vitkovice, in the present day Czech Republic, had originally been purchased by Baron Salomon von Rothschild in 1843 to secure the manufacture of railway track to furnish the rapid expansion of the railways, not least those lines built by the Rothschilds in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Italy, France, Spain and Russia.

In an attempt to shift ownership into British hands at a time when the rise of Hitler was already recognised as a threat to Germany’s neighbours, the Rothschilds transferred their shares to the Alliance in 1936. For a time this arrangement stalled Göring’s ambitions for Vitkovice, but the partition of Czechoslovakia left the plant in German hands and it was turned over to munitions work for the Axis powers. In 1945 the new Czechoslovak government introduced legislation to nationalise the nation’s major industries: compensation for Vitkovice shareholders was negotiated by the Alliance with the Foreign Compensation Commission in 1951 and a final distribution made to shareholders alongside surrender of Alliance Vitkovice unit certificates in 1962.

Post-war

Business concentration within the insurance industry in the second half of the last century brought the Alliance to merge with the Sun Insurance Company in 1959, and in 1996 this entity merged with the Royal Insurance Company to produce the Royal Sun Alliance. N M Rothschild & Sons Limited maintained its links with the Alliance, by advising Sun Alliance on this merger. Up until this date, members of the Rothschild family had maintained a continuous presence on the management board. In 2008, the Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group plc changed its name to RSA Insurance Group.

Further information: See Alliance Insurance 1824-1924, by Sir William Schooling (Blades, East & Blades: London, 1924)

Members of the Rothschild family on the Boards of The Alliance and Sun Alliance Assurance Companies

Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836)
President 1824-1836

Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879)
Director 1836-1879

Anthony de Rothschild (1810-1876) 
Director 1842-1876

Nathaniel Mayer, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915)
Auditor 1872-1876 
Director 1876-1885 
Chairman 1885-1915

Charles Rothschild (1877-1923) 
Director 1905-1915 
Chairman 1915-1920 
President 1920-1923

Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942)
Director 1924-1930 
Chairman 1931-1942

Anthony de Rothschild (1887-1961) 
Director 1942-1948 and 1956-1958 
Chairman 1949-1956

Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2009)
Director 1956-1982

Leopold de Rothschild (1927-2012) 
Director 1982-1995

Amschel Rothschild (1955-1996)
Director 1995-1996

 

Badge of office (worn by Nathan Mayer Rothschild) of the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company 1825

Badge of office (worn by Nathan Mayer Rothschild) of the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company 1825

The Alliance Assurance building in Bartholomew Lane City of London

The Alliance Assurance building in Bartholomew Lane City of London