Wealth is often associated with fame, and many of us are familiar with the wealthy families of the world, from the Rockefellers to the Trumps (and of course the Kardashians). But none are as shrouded in a veil of secrecy as the Rothschild family, who are likely the most wealthy family to have ever existed – and that is not an exaggeration.
Some 19th century members of the family were also members of the nobility. They played a significant part in world events such as the Napoleonic Wars and even Brazil’s independence from Portugal. One of their members contributed not to the field of finance but to zoology, owning the largest collection of animals and insects in the world. Of course their ties go beyond finance, they reach out to the mining and wine industries as well, believe it or not.
A family this wealthy and this private is no stranger to multiple conspiracy theories. These theories are certainly not helped by the fact that they throw rather strange parties.
Their story has even been told on stage and on screen; they’ve appeared as side characters in other popular works of fiction.
Intrigued? Keep reading for 15 crazy facts about the Rothschild family.
15. They played a part in Napoleon’s defeat
Believe it or not, the Rothschilds may have played a part in Napoleon’s infamous defeat at Waterloo. They were already pretty wealthy at the time of Napoleon’s Wars. Nathan Mayer Rothschild entered the fray in 1813 and helped finance the British side to end the wars. The amount he provided would be the equivalent of $900 million USD today. Precious metal shipments were made to the armies spread across Europe by the Duke of Wellington. Rothschild may have even known about Napoleon’s defeat before the officials knew with his reliable system of couriers. He bought up government bonds and sold them for a 40% profit years later.
14. They assisted Brazil with independence
In the early part of the 19th century, the Brazilian Empire was trying to gain independence from their overlords in Portugal. This meant war, so after a multitude of battles, Portugal complied… sort of. They agreed that Brazil could be independent if they basically paid Portugal for the honor. Well, here’s where Nathan Mayer Rothschild comes in. Portugal wanted 2 million sterling, and Rothschild was the one to pay up. Now, Brazil did have to agree to pay off any debt the Portuguese government owed to Rothschild’s company, which from interest alone must have netted a decent profit. This goes to show what an influence the Rothschild’s had on political affairs.
13. They owned the largest private zoological collection – ever
One of the Rothschilds, Lord Walter, was passionate about zoology. When he was a child, he even collected animals and insect. He seemed to have reluctantly gone into the family business of banking, and finally in 1908 he was free to explore the world for various animal species after his parents established a zoological museum. He even commissioned other explorers to collect on his behalf. He famously drove a carriage driven by zebras to prove that the animals could be docile. His collection of animals and insects eventually grew into the hundreds of thousands, the largest ever owned by a private individual.
12. They are behind one of the largest mining corporations in the world
Rio Tinto, a mining company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, was founded by a Rothschild venture. Founded in 1873 by a group of investors who purchased a mine complex in Spain from the Spanish government. It was at the end of the 1880s that the Rothschilds became involved with the company, and their production increased. The company now produces iron ore, copper, uranium, coal, diamonds and more. The company is all over the world and operates through multiple subsidiaries. Queen Elizabeth herself is rumored to be a shareholder through a private bank account. Mining is just one venture that the enterprising Rothschild family are a part of.
11. They come from a line of cousin unions
Like many families of royal and noble status, intermarrying was apparently a thing amongst the Rothschilds. Cousin marriages were not uncommon for centuries, it was a way of keeping royal / noble / financial statuses stratified and contained. Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the family, clearly fell in line with this way of thinking. He arranged things so that the female members were limited in whom they could marry… if they wanted their inheritance. If they wanted their vast inheritance, they had to marry their cousins. From Rothschild’s perspective, it was the best way of keeping the money in the family and out of the hands of outsiders.
10. They set the price of gold
In 1919, the Rothschilds and their colleagues, leading traders of the industry, began meeting twice a day to set the price of gold. Gold became one of the family’s most valuable assets, and it eventually became a benchmark amongst the world markets. The meetings apparently went down like this: several participants would send their representatives to the Rothschild offices. They would then call their trading room and raise the Union Jack. Once all the flags had been lowered, the price had been agreed upon. The daily meetings continued from 1919 to 2004, when Barclays took up the spot that the Rothschilds once held.
9. They are linked to a number of conspiracy theories
Given their relative privacy and enormous wealth, it comes as no surprise that the Rothschild family is ties to a multitude of conspiracy theories. One such theory is that they heavily influence the US Federal Reserve, a topic hotly debated to this day. Another is that they are invested or linked to secret societies such as the Illuminati. One such secret society rumor comes from World War I. The Rothschild family was present for the signing, so naturally rumors began that they were a part of the treaty that had them taking over the Bavarian Illuminati. There are more theories, but these are the ones that persist to this day.
8. They throw weird parties
Photographs emerged from a party the family held back in 1972. The strangeness of this party starts with the invitations themselves – they were sent in reverse, only readable if you held up a mirror to read it. Upon arriving at the building, the lights in the front were all red. Guests at these parties would wear animal style heads and masks with multiple faces. Birdcages were also a thing at these parties. This may not seem as crazy or influential as some of these other facts, but it certainly doesn’t help the rumors of the family being tied to a number of secret societies.
7. They are the wealthiest family… ever
We’ve heard of the Rockefellers, the Trumps… the Kardashians. And yes, we’ve heard of the Rothschilds, but their relative privacy compared to other wealthy families makes it hard to believe that they’re actually the wealthiest family… ever. You won’t find their names on the Forbes list, however. The wealth has been distributed over the centuries amongst dozens and dozens of heirs, diluting the fortune. But make no mistake, they’re pretty wealthy. The estimate – the low estimate, mind you – is that they have $350 billion USD assets. Higher, and possibly more accurate estimates, put their wealth in the neighborhood of $1 trillion USD.
6. Some members of the family were nobility
Mayer Amshel Rothschild’s five sons became members of the Austrian aristocracy by the Austrian Emperor Francis I. This all happened in 1816 and 1818. The brothers were: Amschel Mayer, Salomon Mayer, Nathan Mayer, Calmann Mayer, and Jakob Mayer. In 1822, they were all upgraded to the status of baron by the governor. To this day, some members of the Rothschild family style their names with as de Rothschild or von Rothschild as reference to this noble status. Other members of the family who became noble include Anthony Rothschild and Nathan Mayer Rothschild II; they were made baronet and baron respectively.
5. Their story has been told on stage and screen
With their wealth and influence on world events and politics, it’s not that surprising that their would be fictionalized stories about the family. There was the 1934 film, aptly title The House of Rothschild, starring Loretta Young and George Arliss. This film portrayed the life of both Mayer Amschel Rothschild and Nathan Mayer Rothschild. There was even a Broadway musical, The Rothschilds, that dealt with the family’s history up to 1818 – it was so well received that it was nominated for a Tony in 1971. Even when they’re not appearing in stories about them, they’ve shown up in other fictional universes: an early Rothschild makes an appearance in Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager as a coin seller.
4. They’re in the winemaking business
Not only are they fabulously successful in the finance, mining and various other sectors, they’re also in the winemaking industry. For 150 years, in fact. Back in 1853 Nathaniel de Rothschild opened
Château Mouton Rothschild, renaming it from what it was previously called, Château Brane-Mouton.
James Mayer de Rothschild expanded upon it by purchasing Château Lafite, which was right next door, and naming it Château Lafite Rothschild. Now the Rothschild family owns a multitude of wine estates in France – Château Clerc-Milon, Château de la Muette, Château Rothschild d’Armainvilliers, and more. Their wines at the original two estates are under the classification of wines from France’s Bordeaux region.
3. They live in palace-like homes
When you’re as wealthy as the Rothschilds, your real estate is going to reflect that. There are many homes and estates owned by the Rothschilds that we can cover, but let’s focus on one grand residence in particular. Château de Ferrières was built in 1855 in France for Baron James de Rothschild. It remained in the family for over a century, passing down its ownership through the male line. It is the largest 19th century chateau in France, and certainly one of the most extravagant. It was built in the No Renaissance style with massive gardens. In 1975, Guy de Rothschild donated the chateau to the University of Paris.
2. They have ties to the Vatican
Back when Italy was not yet Italy, a bank owned by the Rothschilds donated large loans to the Papal States and various kings of Naples, the duchy of Parma, and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. When Italy unified in 1861, the Italian aristocracy declined, and the Rothschilds were forced to close their Naples bank. But rather than this being the end of things in Naples, the Naples branch of the Rothschild family had become closely tied to the Vatican Bank, and association which continued into the 20th century. In fact, when Carl von Rothschild met Pope Gregory XVI in 1832, he was not required to kiss the Pope’s feet.
1. They bailed out the US government
Long before the 2008 recession, there was another recession, one that preceded the famous one of the 1920s that led to the Great Depression. This one was the recession of 1895. During this year, the US was going through one of the worst recessions in its young history. The government was running low on gold, and was concerned about not being able to pay off their debts. Naturally, President Grover Cleveland wanted to avoid defaulting on the government’s depts. He reached out to Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild. Rothschild worked with J.P. Morgan, and they loaned the government the money to pay off its outstanding debts. This prevented a dreaded default and rescued the US Treasury.