A Waddesdon Manor story

Jews were not allowed to have family names in parts of Germany in the 18th century. Meir Rothschild got his family name from a red sign (that is the meaning of the family name in German) that was placed on the house where his family live.

When Meir and Guttle married in 1770, they were living in one of the worst places Jews could live in Europe. The city of Frankfurt made sure that her Jews would live in a tiny ghetto. They were not allowed to visit the city parks, and where allowed to choose between a very limited amount of professions. When the couple married, they were one of only 12 marriages that Jews were allowed to celebrate each year.

With so many rules and restrictions, it is almost unimaginable to think that during his own lifetime, Meir had managed to create with his sons a commerce and banking empire that stretched to London, Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt and Naples. On the other hand, perhaps these restrictions were exactly what motivated the father and sons to aim higher and higher.

From their early days, the Rothschild family created a very unique sets of rules to ensure that the secrets of their business would remain within the family. Meir and Guttel had five sons and five daughters. The Rothschild males became partners in the company while the girls received dowries, but their husbands were prevented from joining the family business. Four of the sons started new branches for the family banking and commerce empire. The first branch was opened in the UK the next one in France and than two more branches were opened in Austria and in Italy.

The Rothschilds developed a lot of unique ways to cooperate in a world where international communication was extremely limited. They developed tricks to outsmart the authorities whenever they tried to interfere with their own communications. For example, when Nathan Rothschild moved to the UK and started the local branch, he constantly delivered information about different currencies and stocks. The authorities in Frankfurt in those days censored all the letters that were sent to the Jewish ghetto. However they did allow the Jews to see the envelopes so they would know who sent them. The family used special codes to deliver commercial information, but by the time they finally got hold of the letters, a lot of it was irrelevant. So they developed a new coding system using the colors of the envelopes themselves to deliver crucial information about the market. They sent so many letters that sometimes Nathan used to send only the colored envelopes…

When the family grew and the branches evolved, it became harder and harder to keep all the secrets in the family, so the Rothschilds started to encourage their sons and daughters to marry their cousins. The first of these marriages occurred when the eldest daughter of Nathan Rothschild, the founder of the UK branch, married his youngest brother Ansalem who founded the Viennese branch. Waddesdon Manor was built by Ferdinand de Rothschild from the Viennese branch who married Evelina who was the granddaughter of the founder of the UK branch. Sounds complicated? Not when you are a Rothschild…

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