Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination

Why does anyone want to be a billionaire?

I’m not sure why the opening line of the passage below spoke to me. Perhaps because I am two days away from my annual migration south for the winter and I’m worried about leaving something essential that I will need. Not to mention the limits of the space in the car, which I also have to share with my parents’ stuff. But it has occurred to me periodically in my life that possessions are a burden, even though I cannot get myself to give enough of them away to relieve the burden.

In these moments, I find myself exceedingly grateful not to be a billionaire. Or in the case of the subject of today’s post—a millionaire. I can’t think of anyone who would want to kill me for my possessions, at least. It does happen, though, so perhaps Mr. Rothschild had good reason for his fears. In our time, I’m thinking of Bison Dele, former NBA player who was murdered for his money by his own brother. And the homeless Abraham Shakespeare who won the lottery, but ended up murdered by someone he trusted to help him manage his money. (Yes, I am addicted to the ID Discovery Channel.)

The Penalties of Avarice

Nathan Mayer Rothschild

Nathan Mayer Rothschild

Possession naturally brings apprehension as to the power of retaining it. There were periods in the career of Rothschild, the millionaire, when his gigantic capital seemed likely to be scattered to the four quarters of the globe. He had also other sources of apprehension. Threats of murder were not unfrequent. On one occasion he was waited on by a stranger, who informed him that a plot had been formed to take his life; that the loans which he had made Austria, and his connection with Governments adverse to the liberties of Europe, marked him for assassination; and that the mode by which he was to lose his life was arranged. But though Rothschild smiled outwardly at those and similar threats, they said who knew him best, that his mind was always troubled by these remembrances, and that they haunted him at moments when he would willingly have forgotten them. Occasionally his fears took a ludicrous form. Two tall moustachioed men were once shown into his counting-house. Mr. Rothschild bowed; the visitors bowed; and their hands wandered first in one pocket and then in another. To the anxious eye of the millionaire, they assumed the form of persons searching for deadly weapons. No time seemed allowed for thought; a ledger, without a moment’s warning, was hurled at the intruders; and in a paroxysm of fear he called for assistance to drive out two customers, who were only feeling in their pockets for letters of introduction. There is no doubt that he dreaded assassination greatly. “You must be a happy man, Mr. Rothschild,” said a gentleman who was sharing the hospitality of his splendid home, as he glanced at the superb apartments of the mansion. “Happy—I happy!” was the reply. “What! happy, when just as you are going to dine, you have a letter placed in your hand, saying, ‘If you do not send 500l I will blow your brains out?’ Happy—I happy!” And the fact that he frequently slept with loaded pistols by his side is an indirect evidence of a constant excitement on the subject.*

Gunnersbury House, near Acton (home of the Rothschild family)

Gunnersbury House, near Acton (home of the Rothschild family)

The late Nathan Meyer Rothschild was the most famous foreign exchange broker in London. “He never hesitated for a moment in fixing a rate, either as a drawer or purchaser of a foreign bill of exchange on any part of the world; and his memory was so retentive that, notwithstanding the multifarious transactions in which he was engaged on every foreign post-day on the Royal Exchange, he never took a note of them; but on his return to his office could dictate to his clerks the whole of the bargains he had made, with the various rates of exchange, and the names of the several parties with whom he had dealt, and the most perfect exactness.”

*Characters of the Stock Exchange


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse