< Back

Miscellanies: The First Jewish Peer

Albert M. Hyamson

<plain_text><page sequence="1">THE FIRST JEWISH PEER 287 THE FIRST JEWISH PEER The first member of the Jewish Community to be called to the House of Lords was Sir Nathaniel Rothschild, eldest son of Baron Lionel de Rothschild who was himself the first Jew to be admitted to the House of Commons. This was in 1885 when, on the nomination of the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, the head of the English Rothschild family and the active civil head of the Anglo-Jewish Community was created a peer with the title Baron Rothschild. However, a Jew might have been summoned to the House of Lords almost twenty years earlier if the wishes of some highly placed men in public life, prominent among whom was Antony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, for many years widely known as Lord Ashley, philanthropist and social reformer, had been met. When Benjamin Disraeli, the first man of Jewish birth1 to enter the House of Lords, became Prime Minister in 1868, Shaftesbury approached him with the suggestion that Sir Moses Montefiore, who also had secured wide fame as a philanthropist, should be created a peer. Shaftesbury and Montefiore had co-operated in many a philanthropic undertaking. Both had shown themselves deeply and practically interested in the re-settlement of the Jews in Palestine. On the subject of the political emancipation of Jews they however differed. Shaftesbury had on religious grounds been a consistent opponent of the grant of political rights to Jews. It was somewhat surprising therefore that he should advocate the admission of a Jew to the Upper House. However he had continued the fight only so long as it could be effective. He had recognized his defeat and generously accepted the decision. Disraeli was obviously, in view of his origin, in a difficult position and this was realized. He replied to Shaftesbury pointing out that he was "less than any other Prime Minister in a position to grant the request," although he would do anything in his power to attain the object. Disraeli remained in office for only a few months and before the end of the year had been succeeded by Gladstone, Shaftesbury thereupon immediately renewed the suggestion. December 22, 1868. Dear Gladstone ... I have an impulse, which I cannot restrain, an impulse both from opinion and feeling, to suggest another movement, and I make it far less in the presumption of tendering advice than of disburdening myself of a strong desire. The Jewish question has now been settled. The Jews can sit in both Houses of Parliament. I myself resisted their admission, not because I was averse to the descendants of Abraham, of whom our Blessed Lord came according to the flesh; very far from it, but because I objected to the mode in which that admission was to be effected. All that is passed away, and let us now avail ourselves of the opportunity to show regard to God's ancient people. There is a noble member of the House of Israel, Sir Moses Montefiore, a man dignified by patriotism, charity and self-sacrifice, on whom Her Majesty might graciously bestow the honours of the Peerage. It would be a glorious day for the House of Lords when that grand old Hebrew were enrolled on the lists of the hereditary legislators of England. Truly yours, Shaftesbury.2 1 Samson Gideon had been created an Irish peer with the title of Baron Eardley in 1789. He was the son of the most prominent English Jew of his day, but his mother was not a Jewess and the new Lord Eardley had never been a member of the Jewish Community. 2 Edwin Hodder, "The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, K G." (1886) vol. Ill, p. 240,</page><page sequence="2">288 MISCELLANIES Gladstone in reply promised carefully to consider the suggestion and went so far as to have enquiries made regarding the extent of Montefiore's fortune and whether he had children?In those days it was practically without precedent for a peerage to be conferred on a man with means inadequate to support the honour and in particular if he had no fortune to leave to a son. However, nothing came of the proposal. Peerages were not distributed indiscriminately and were reserved for reliable members of the party in power. And Montefiore, who seems to have committed himself to no political party was not and at his age (84 years) certainly could never be an active member of the Liberal Party. Gladstone, however, had no objection to the entry of a Jew into the House of Lords, as soon became evident. In the summer of 1869 he was considering the creation of a number of Liberal peers and when discussing the subject with his closest personal and political friend, Lord Granville, the name of Baron Lionel de Rothschild, at the time a Liberal Member of Parliament for the City of London, came forward. Both statesmen were in agreement that Rothschild ought to be included in the batch of new peers. Very strong opposition, however, showed itself. The proposal was broached to the Queen, whose approval was necessary, at the end of August and her immediate reply was "To make a Jew a peer is a step she could not consent to. It would be very ill taken and would do the Govt. great harm." Lord Granville who was in attendance however, pressed the matter. (August 23rd, 1869). The notion of a Jew Peer is startling. 'Rothschild le premier Baron Juif does not sound as well as 'Montmorency, the premier Baron Chretien' but he represents a class whose influence is great by their wealth, their intelligence, their literary connections, and their numerous seats in the House of Commons. It may be wise to attach them to the Aristocracy, rather than to drive them into the Democratic camp. The Carlton Club sent a Jew to be their candidate at Sandwich.1 Lord Shaftesbury wrote to Mr. Gladstone to press Sir M. Montefiore's claim to a peerage.2 Two days later the Queen replied to Granville, giving way on her objection to the creation of any peers at that time, "but she cannot consent to a Jew being made a Peer? tho' she will not object to a Jew baronet3?and she is quite certain that it would be to the Government's harm instead of good."4 Granville and other advisers of the Prime Minister were of opinion that, in view of the opposition that would be aroused, it would be better to postpone pressing the nomination for the time-being. In the words of Granville, quoting Sir Thomas Biddulph, the Keeper of the Queen's Privy Purse, "the Jew will frighten all the old women."5 Gladstone's comment was "The 1 This is a reference to the future Lord Pirbright, in 1868 Mr. Henry Worms, later Baron Henry de Worms, who was one of the Conservative candidates for Sandwich in November of that year, the first member of the Jewish Community to stand for Parliament in the Conservative interest. He was elected for Greenwich in 1880, in succession to Gladstone, but at the intervening general election in 1874 Saul Isaac was elected for Nottingham, thus becoming the first Jewish member of the Conservative party in parliament. In 1885 de Worms was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, returning to that office in Lord Salisbury's second administration, in 1886, and being promoted to the Parliamentary Under Secretaryship for the Colonies two years later. 2 Philip Guedalla, "The Queen and Mr. Gladstone" (1933), Vol. I, pp. 199-200. 8 This referred to David Salomons who was created a baronet two months later. Three Jews had previously been created baronets?Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid in 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore in 1846, and Sir Anthony de Rothschild in 1847. In the cases of Rothschild and Salomons there was special remainder to their nephews. 4 Ibid. p. 201. 6 "The Political Correspondence of Mr. Gladstone and Earl Granville 1868-1876." Edited for the Royal Historical Society by Agatha Ramm, M.A. (1952), p. 48.</page><page sequence="3">THE FIRST JEWISH PEER 289 merit of Rothschild is that his position is well defined and separated [from the qualifica? tions of other nominees for peerages]. By my plan of delay, perhaps the Queen might give way ? Her argument is null and void. If it be sound she has been wrong in consenting to emancipate the Jews."1 Gladstone did, however, make one further attempt, when he was Minister-in-attendace at Balmoral a few weeks later, to induce the Queen to give way. "The Queen holds out about Rothschild," he wrote to Granville,2 "But she is in such good humour (I think) at the respect with which she has been treated in the whole matter, that I have never formally abandoned him : taking into view that he stands so much for the promotion than anyone whom we can put in his place." How? ever, Gladstone still hesitated. Granville was very doubtful. "I also doubt pressing the Queen again about Rothschild this time. She will yield, but reluctantly, and there will be criticism enough reaching Her to confirm her in the opinion that she was a better judge than her Govt., and make her more difficult on another occasion. But pray do not be biased by me in this matter?my opinion is not very strong." (Oct. 13, 1869).3 There, except for a reference to an inexact precedent in the case of Lord Eardley4 by Gerald Wellesley, the Dean of Windsor and Domestic Chaplain to the Queen, the matter rested. Gladstone's final effort was made on October 28, 1869. Your Majesty will remember that the list [of recommendations for the Peerage] contains the name of Baron Lionel de Rothschild, which Your Majesty held to be open to exception on the ground of his profession of the Jewish religion. Under ordinary circumstances Mr. Gladstone would be able at once and without a word to defer to any objection entertained by Your Majesty, but in this case he thinks it his duty to state briefly the considerations by which he was governed in proposing the name. He knows well that Your Majesty will freely and deliberately weigh them. If they are still judged insufficient, Mr. Gladstone will trouble Your Majesty no further on the subject. But he feels that they ought to be submitted. They are these It is extremely desirable to connect the House of Lords, in a few carefully selected cases, with the great representatives of the commerce of this country. But, from the sort of parity which prevails among commercial men of the higher stamp it is extremely difficult to make the selection. Excellent candidates may easily be found but they do not stand out sufficiently from the body. As the head of the great European house of the Rothschilds, even more than by his vast possessions, and his very prominent political position after having represented the City of London since the year 1847, Baron L. de Rothschild enjoys exactly that exceptional position, which disarms jealousy, and which is so difficult to find. His amiable and popular character needs only to be named as a secondary recommendation. It would not be possible in this view, to find any satisfactory substitute for his name. And if his religion were to operate permanently as a bar, it appears that this would be to revive by prerogative the disability which formerly existed by statute, and which the Crown and Parliament thought proper to abolish. Mr. Gladstone has now troubled Your Majesty to the full extent incumbent upon him, and will not think of pressing Your Majesty beyond what Your Majesty's impartial judgment may approve.5 The Queen's reply was (November 1, 1869)6 The Queen thanks Mr. Gladstone for his Letter and for promising her not to press the subject of Sir [sic] L. Rothschild's Peerage. 1 Ibid. p. 49. 2 Ibid. p. 60. 3 Ibid. p. 67. 4 See note on p. 287 5 "The Queen and Mr. Gladstone/' Vol. I, pp. 206-7. 6 Ibid. p. 207-8.</page><page sequence="4">290 MISCELLANIES The Queen really cannot make up her mind to it. It is not only the feeling of which she cannot divest herself, against making a person of the Jewish religion, a Peer; but she cannot think that one who owes his great wealth to contracts with Foreign Govts. for Loans, or to successful speculations on the Stock Exchange can fairly claim a British peerage. However high Sir L. Rothschild may stand personally in Public Estimation, this seems to her not the less a species of gambling, because it is on a gigantic scale?and far removed from that legitimate trading which she delights to honour, in which men have raised themselves by patient industry and unswerving probity to positions of wealth and influence. In December, 1871, the proposal was revived by Granville, but was not taken up by Gladstone. But Rothschild's claims were not forgotten. In August, 1873, when a list of creations was under consideration, Gladstone wrote to Granville "I have not yet before me a complete list of Peerables. Rothschild is one of the best I know, and if I could but get from him a mem. of certain services of his father1 as to money during the war I think it would carry the case over all difficulty. But though I have begged and they have promised for about 4 years, I have never been able to get this in an available form."2 Granville was agreeable, but still nothing happened. Gladstone went out of office in the following year. Baron Lionel de Rothschild died in 1879. Six years later his eldest son who had inherited by special remainder the baronetcy of his uncle, Sir Anthony de Rothschild, was raised to the peerage at the instance of Gladstone who was again prime minister. The Queen seems no longer to have objected to the creation of a peer professing the Jewish faith. There is a footnote to this story. In December, 18843, the Queen herself suggested that Sir Moses Montfiore's baronetcy should be given a special remainder to "the son of his favourite nephew." "She understands (tho' they have not asked for it) that it would greatly gratify the excellent old Centenarian Patriarch Sir Moses Montefiori (sic) as well as all his belongings &amp; the Jewish Community ... Sir Moses Montefiori is an excellent man, charitable to the highest degree &amp; universally respected?&amp; the Queen wd. be very glad to pay him this mark of respect." Gladstone at once took up the suggestion, but reported to the Queen that he had reason to believe that Montefiore was averse from the proposal, which was thereupon abandoned. Montefiore died in the following year, and the baronetcy was then revived in favour of "the son of his favourite nephew," Francis Montefiore. Albert M. Hyamson. 1 Nathan Meyer Rothschild. 2 "The Political Correspondence/' etc., p. 401. 3 "The Queen and Mr. Gladstone/' Vol. II, pp. 319-20.</page></plain_text>