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The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire

David Kessler

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire DAVID KESSLER Anglo-Jewry's contribution to British society has, for the most part, been centred on its urban life-commerce, the professions and the arts. One of the distinctive features of the Rothschild family is its formidable contribution to country life and natural history. The family's role as a squirearchy still awaits an account worthy of the theme. This essay is adapted from the Sir Frank Markham Memorial Lecture which the present writer gave to the Bletchley Archaeological and Historical Society in March 1985.1 It attempts to cover within a small compass a subject which could justify a volume in its own right and for which this study may serve as a pointer. By any standard the arrival of the Rothschild family in Buckinghamshire was a remarkable and unusual phenomenon. In parentheses, for the purpose of this paper, Tring is considered not to be in Hertfordshire but in Buckingham? shire, which is where some Buckinghamshire people think it should be. It lies less than a mile from the county border, and on the western periphery of the vale of Aylesbury. The coming of the Rothschilds was not remarkable simply because they belonged to a Jewish family who bore an exotic German name. Other Jews had become landowners during the second half of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries-though very few in Bucking? hamshire-and England had already an established reputation for welcoming foreigners who made their homes in this country. There were other factors which gave the Rothschilds their unique position. By the time that they began to arrive in Buckinghamshire they were already, literally, fabulously rich, and were known to wield great power in financial circles as well as to exercise influence in the political world. They had reached a position where, even if they aroused some animosity, they were respected in the highest ranks of society. They first appeared in Buckinghamshire just eighteen years after Waterloo, by which time it was common knowledge that Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the head of the London bank, had played a prominent part in financing Wellington's army in the Napoleonic Wars and had been the first person to carry the news of the great victory to the prime minister, Lord Liverpool. By the mid-i830s their name had become legendary. Had not a Rothschild saved the Bank of England from bankruptcy in 1826 by accumulating a large amount of gold which was remitted from Paris? The family was international and closely knit. They had relatives and business connections in all the principal capitals of Europe, many of whom played an important role in the financial and political world. Thus, although Nathan Mayer's sons-Lionel, 231</page><page sequence="2">H I &lt;u a v?&gt; o m irs 00 00 H H tN.00 o d_ k3 ? cd X3 B c C? CO US 3 a -S L? a 2 00 p? H U Nti h2 d -g oo g &lt;r&gt; d a cd 7 o H hf! 5, g VSJ I s ? 3 H&lt; d CT&gt; O eg d S o h Cl. m o m 2 00 o H 00g oo ? oo h n h ? II r\ "cd ? d 7 5 ? T .a cd o *? i d 'o S h g 2 ? 1 i? &gt; cd iL ^3 W .Tlu T cd 00 "? cd 3 -s cd* r^jS O -13 i &gt; I - ?3 N . O 5 00 - 00 ?H?H cd M * 1 3d s-i . co tN.__ cd er? b -&amp;'I IS a o 00 n 3 W d o ?pej ? o 00 Cd O Q H 1-5 ~ 0-T3</page><page sequence="3">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Anthony, Nathaniel and Mayer-were all born in England, they must have seemed odd to the country folk and landed gentry of rural Buckinghamshire. Indeed, as they began to buy up large tracts of agricultural land, the district came to be dubbed Judaea by the locals, and one influential squire (Duncombe of Great Brickhill) boasted that the hill on which his house stood was the only one in the neighbourhood which had not a Jewish owner. The founder of the English bank which bore his name, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, had come to England in 1798 at the age of twenty-one from the Frankfurt ghetto where the family had already established an important and prosperous financial house. It was not a case, as is so often hinted, of a pauper immigrating from a slum. A ghetto is not necessarily to be associated with poverty, and Nathan Mayer was already a man of substance when he settled first in Manchester and later moved to London. He married a daughter of the wealthy and highly respected Levi Barent Cohen, the progenitor of what Chaim Bermant has aptly named the Anglo-Jewish cousinhood. Besides his four sons, Nathan Mayer was the father of three daughters, two of whom married other Rothschilds while the third, Hannah, to the consternation of her family, married the Hon. Henry Fitzroy, a younger son of Lord Southampton and a kinsman of the Duke of Grafton, a name which was well known in the North Buckinghamshire hunting field. The earliest connection between the Rothschild family and the Vale of Aylesbury seems to have been the occasion in 1833 when, according to Dr Miriam Rothschild,2 Nathan Mayer rented Tring Park as a summer residence from its owner, Mr Kay. It may be fairly conjectured that this was the decisive event which forged the link between the family and the Vale of Aylesbury, which has been maintained to the present day and which has proved such a fruitful experience for the county. At the time of this family holiday, William IV was still on the throne, the Industrial Revolution was yet young, the Reform and Corn Laws were burning political issues and the new London and North Western Railway was pushing its way through the counties of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and avoiding the gates of Tring Park (which one day the family would acquire) by a conveniently decent distance. The English Rothschilds, unlike their French relations, were suspicious of railway development, as they thought it gave a poor return, and they took no part in railway construction in the United Kingdom. When Nathan Mayer brought his family to Tring Park in that summer of 1833 he already possessed what was described as 'a beautiful country estate' of eight acres, between the London suburbs of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill, which, two years later, he sold to purchase a far more imposing country property at Gunnersbury Park in Acton on the western outskirts of the metropolis. The family had already developed a taste for the countryside which would seem to cast some doubt on Constance, Lady Battersea's recollection that her paternal grandmother, Nathan Mayer's wife Hannah, 'felt that her sons could not get enough healthy exercise whilst 233</page><page sequence="4">David Kessler Fig. 2 Sketch map of the Rothschild mansions. 234</page><page sequence="5">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire leading their busy city life, so she strongly advocated their owning some land in the country and hunting during the winter months'.3 It is noteworthy that thus early the family displayed an interest in the sport. Unfortunately, Nathan Mayer did not live to enjoy Gunnersbury, because he died in 1836 at the early age of fifty-nine, while the house was being renovated. Throughout the lifetime of his eldest son, Lionel, and of his grandson, Leopold, Gunnersbury remained in the family. It was sold in 1925 and is now owned by the boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow and is open to the public. Leopold, a great racing man, used to conceal his identity on the race-course under the nom de guerre of Mr Acton, though, of course, his stud was at Ascott in Buckinghamshire. As their liking for the countryside developed, the younger generation showed a growing passion for riding and hunting. When Tring Park was rented in 1833, Nathan Mayer's four sons ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-five. It was a united family and the boys shared many interests. Their parents encouraged their addiction for hunting, and Sir T. F. Buxton recorded that Anthony, the second son, 'is a mighty hunter and his father lets him buy any horses he likes'.4 By 1835 the young men were enjoying hunting with the Puckeridge, a Hertfordshire hunt which was accessible from London, though their interest in horsemanship was already evidenced by their entry of a horse called 'President' in the first organized steeplechase run in 1830 from Harlington to Wrest Park in neighbouring Bedfordshire. In 1838 Mayer Amschel, the youngest son, who was later to build Mentmore Towers, was hunting as an undergraduate at Cambridge and received a stern caution from his mother to 'abstain from those indulgences such as riding on horse-back on Saturdays'.5 After the death of their father, and mindful of their mother's views, the brothers began to search for suitable stables and kennels, and found what they wanted at Hastoe, conveniently sited on the edge of Tring Park, where they took over a pack of harriers from Mr Adamson. The hounds were soon converted from hunting hares to chasing stags for, by 1839, the Rothschild stag-hounds had already made their appearance and were warmly welcomed in the neighbourhood. Stag-hunting was not a novelty in the area and, indeed, the sport was older than fox-hunting which only began to replace it in the eighteenth century. The country around Aylesbury had for long been visited by the Royal Buck Hounds, a very smart hunt, which was patronized by members of the royal family and was based at Ascot near Windsor Castle. The Vale was also the site of the second-oldest steeplechase meeting in the country. Both of these activities brought to the county town many members of high society and young bloods from Oxford. The meetings have been admirably described by J. K. Fowler, a local historian and sportsman, whose reminiscences have been preserved in three fascinating volumes,6 the last of which is dedicated to the first Lord Rothschild, then Lord Lieutenant of the county. Fowler's memoirs are 235</page><page sequence="6">David Kessler all the more valuable because, being an inveterate gossip with a weakness for the aristocracy, he has included the names of many famous and not so famous people whom he met as proprietor of the White Hart Hotel at Aylesbury, which he inherited from his father and where many of the horsemen lodged. He has left a vivid description of the gay scene when the Royal Hunt came to the Vale. He also described the famous episode, in 1851, at an early meeting of the Aylesbury Aristocratic Steeplechase, when J. Leech-Manning jumped his horse over the fully dressed hotel dining-table in an upstairs room. Among the horsemen of the Royal Hunt none, it seemed, could vie in sartorial elegance with Count Alfred d'Orsay, the young French nobleman who, as a conse? quence of the French Revolution, spent much of his time in England and had become the personification of the late Georgian dandy. He was a man of many talents who lived life to the full and was a frequent visitor to the Vale. Not surprisingly, his large circle of friends included the brilliant young Benjamin Disraeli, who recorded in 1834 that d'Orsay had taken a fancy to him, and in the same year he drew a portrait of the future prime minister. In 1842 d'Orsay also drew a portrait of Baron Lionel de Rothschild.7 A warm friendship developed between d'Orsay and Disraeli, which was extended to the beautiful and intelligent Countess of Blessington who was not only the Frenchman's mistress but also, as a result of his marriage to her step-daughter, his step-mother-in-law. D'Orsay entered the Earl of Blessington's household to form a remarkable menage ? trois, which lasted until the Countess was widowed in 1829. Disraeli soon became a familiar figure at Lady Blessington's famous salon in Seamore Place, and in 1837 he dedicated his novel Henrietta Temple to d'Orsay, whom he depicted under the disguise of 'the gay, gallant Count Mirabel'. Notwithstanding the libertarian atmosphere of the 1830s, d'Orsay's behaviour shocked certain circles of society, although among the sportsmen of the Royal Hunt he remained a popular and esteemed member. Though Disraeli bragged occasionally of his prowess as a horseman, there is, it seems, no record of his riding with the Royal Hunt, of whose activities he must have been well aware since his father's Buckinghamshire home at Bradenham, near High Wycombe, lay within their country. On one occasion he wrote to his sister, Sarah, that he 'hunted the other day with Sir Henry Smythe's hounds and although not in scarlet was the best mounted man in the field... and stopped at nothing'.8 In December 1838, in a letter to his future wife, he records how he 'met rather an adventure_A courtege of dandies and grooms riding up the lane to Bradenham, and lo! Count d'Orsay, Lord Albert Conyngham and Forester, about to call on me with an invitation from Lord Carrington to dine at Wycombe Abbey, where they were staying.9 It was earlier in the same year that Disraeli first met members of the Rothschild family at a 'most recherche concert at Parnther's, where I found all the elite of town', he wrote to his sister, Sarah.10 'The most pictur? esque group', he continued, 'was the Rothschilds. The widow [Nathan 236</page><page sequence="7">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire 237</page><page sequence="8">David Kessler Mayer's widow, Hannah] still in mourning, two sons, some sisters, and, above all, the young bride or rather wife from Frankfurt [Lionel's wife, Charlotte], universally admired, tall, graceful, dark and clear, picturesquely dressed, a robe of yellow silk, a hat and yellow feathers, with a sort of sevigne beneath of magnificent pearls, quite a Murillo.' After the first encounter he was soon on friendly terms with the family, which is not altogether surprising considering what they had to offer to an ambitious and thrusting young man, and he remained a close friend and staunch admirer of Charlotte's until the end of his life. The concert appears to have taken place at 5 Grafton Street, Bond Street, the London home of Robert Parnther, who also owned Bird's Place, near Hatfield, in the Puckeridge Hunt country. This event happened about the same time that the Rothschilds were forming their own pack of stag-hounds at Hastoe, and they too were well aware of the meets of the Royal Hunt in the neighbourhood. Indeed, one may speculate whether they did not create their own hunt as an alternative to the aristocratic and, no doubt, snobbish pack from Berkshire and whether d'Orsay himself may not have had a hand in it. At any rate, in June 1840, d'Orsay was described as a particular friend of Nathaniel's, the most fashionable of the four Rothschild brothers. During the following hunting season, Nat wrote a business letter to 'My Dear brothers' from Paris, ending with this splendid exhortation: 'Goodbye for today, mind you ride like Trumps and do not let the queen's people fancy we are all tailors.11 There could be no more obvious nor more disparaging reference to the Royal Hunt, nor a more defiant 'View-Halloo' echoing around the corridors of New Court. Although the Rothschild pack had already appeared on the scene it would seem from this letter that the brothers were also in the habit of riding with the Royal Hunt. In a short while the Rothschild hounds became firmly established as a very popular feature of life in the Vale of Aylesbury, offering a far less expensive hunt for those who could not afford or were not attracted by the Royal. The country, with its absence of woodlands and its extensive pastures, was ideal for the chase. One enthusiastic writer in the eighties declared that the Vale at its best 'presents a lovely succession of sweet scenting meadows from whose elastic face a horse bounds easily and gladly on to firm, sound banks to light with equal safety on to turf renewed beyond'.12 The chief advantage of the stag-hunt over fox-hunting, it may be mentioned, is that as the stag was brought by cart to a known destination and then let loose, the field knew roughly which way he would go and they did not have to waste time drawing a covert before putting up their quarry. On average, you were more likely to get a good gallop over open country chasing a semi-tame deer than a wild fox. The sport was, therefore, popular with city folk with limited time at their disposal. Another keen follower of the Royal was the fashionable artist, the future Sir Francis Grant, who was to become President of the Royal Academy in 1866 and had been commissioned by the sixth Earl of Chesterfield, the President of 238</page><page sequence="9">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Plate 2 'Full Cry', four Rothschild brothers hunting in the Vale of Aylesbury, by Sir F. Grant, 1841. I. to r. Nathaniel, Lionel, Mayer, Anthony (National Trust, Ascott). the Royal Hunt Club, to paint an equestrian group of its principal members, which also included both Count d'Orsay and the artist himself. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. Not to be outshone the Rothschild brothers in 1841 commissioned the same artist to paint their own equestrian group hunting their hounds in full cry over Creslow Great Ground, the same background as had originally been intended for the Royal Hunt picture. The original painting of the four horsemen can be seen at Ascott House. Among many pictures of famous people, Grant also painted a flattering portrait of Disraeli. The arrival of the Rothschild stag-hounds on the Buckinghamshire landscape was not without its problems, as Fowler has recorded in his Recollections of Old Country Life,13 and it contained both political and social implications. He wrote that in the second half of the 1840s the country was agitated by Sir Robert Peel's abolition of the Corn Laws, and he alienated most of his Tory supporters from him. Buckinghamshire was torn to pieces by the discussion which ensued between the two parties. The Rothschilds were free traders, and therefore were in favour of the abolition, while many of the farmers, believing the repeal would be ruinous to them, became very inimical to the hounds hunting over their land, and the Duke of Buckingham, whose seat was at Stowe, was not loth to make political capital out of this discontent, and prepared a notice to warn the Barons off the land, and obtained the signatures of all his tenants and a great number of friends, with several of the local squires, to carry the notice into effect. This was a serious blow to the Rothschilds as a large portion of the Vale of Aylesbury, including all the best grass country, would be alienated from them. My father, who had a farm at Broughton, situated between Aylesbury and Tring, although a staunch Tory, felt very indignant at the conduct of the Duke. He thought the Rothschilds had been shamefully treated and got up a 239</page><page sequence="10">David Kessler counterblast, and wrote to Baron Lionel, inviting him to his farmhouse to breakfast and to turn out the stag in the best field on his farm. The Baron readily accepted the invitation and most of the independent gentry and farmers of the district were pleased at my father's pluck and came in large numbers to the breakfast and the meet. The Barons Rothschild were delighted at the spirit shown and for a time forebore to meet on or near the Duke's estate. This was a prelude to the well-known hospitality shown for many years afterwards at every farmhouse at which the hounds met. During the agitation which surrounded the movement for the Repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840 s, the Rothschilds and Disraeli took up positions on opposite sides. The former, as supporters of the party which championed Jewish emancipation, and also as members of the mercantile class, were Liberals. Disraeli, although their ally in the cause of emancipation, was a leading Tory and became a spokesman for the country landowners. Their political differ? ences, and the fact that from 1847 onwards Dizzy sat in Parliament for the county of Buckinghamshire, does not seem to have affected their close friendship, though an element of mistrust occasionally became apparent, engendered, it may be, by the perception that Disraeli was in their eyes a religious renegade. If their advocacy of free trade and their stalwart adherence to their religion sometimes antagonized the landed gentry, the Rothschilds soon found that they were gaining the confidence of the ordinary people, and especially of the large non-conformist element who not only admired Baron Lionel's long struggle for parliamentary emancipation but also appreciated their generosity as landlords. Nevertheless, they were not above exploiting their membership of the squirearchy for political purposes when the occasion arose. Fowler relates how, at a General Election in the early 1860s, the Rothschilds were irked to find that a gentleman called Vernon Wentworth had been put up as a Whig candidate in opposition to Sir Richard Bethell, later Lord Westbury and Lord Chancellor, the sitting political member, who was their nominee. There was a suggestion that a bargain could be struck with the Tories whereby they would withdraw their Mr Smith (a kinsman of Lord Carrington) if the Whigs agreed that Wentworth should stand down, thus allowing Bethell to be re-elected. Apparently the Tories refused to cooperate, and a friendly discussion took place one day in the hunting field. Fowler writes: It was the beginning of the month of April, and I had invited Baron Lionel Rothschild to a hunt breakfast at my house, with all those who hunted with him, to turn out the deer on my farm afterwards. There were a great number present, a brilliant field, with many ladies, the day being fine and the sun warm. The stag, after being turned out, took towards Wendover and then up the Chiltern Hills; the pace was severe and, although only a five mile point, men and horses were much fatigued. After breasting the hills I returned, and whilst riding home, overtook Lord Burghersh14 who was one of the hunting party and like myself was fagged out, and came into my house to have some 240</page><page sequence="11">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire refreshment. On entering the breakfast room, we found Baron Lionel already seated, refreshing himself with lobster salad [sic\] and we began at once to refer to the conversation we had had in the morning about our withdrawing Mr. Smith and the Whigs Mr. Wentworth. Baron Lionel struck the table angrily and said 'Mark my words, if any of my tenants vote for that fellow Wentworth I will turn them out of their farms'. Lord Burghersh burst out laughing, and dropping his knife and fork said 'What! is this the way of the great Liberal member for the City of London? I thought it was only we old Tories who did this sort of thing!' 'I don't care', said the Baron, If Wentworth stands Bethell shall retire at once'; and he did, for he left the town that night for good. I mention this to show how bitterly the Rothschilds and the landed gentry, Liberal as well as Tory, at the time resented any interference with their power-for a great power this family had become in the Vale of Aylesbury. After this election, Mr Nathaniel Rothschild, Baron Lionel's eldest son, became M.P. for Aylesbury, and retained his seat until he was called to the House of Lords as the first peer of the Jewish persuasion that ever entered that august assembly.15 It seems clear that while it was their enthusiasm for hunting that brought the four brothers into the Vale of Aylesbury, it was not long before they decided that they wanted to cement their connection by owning property in it and spending much of their time there. Most important, it was easily accessible from London. In 1858 Lionel was able to write to his wife that: 'it is so long since I have been out hunting that I have made up my mind to go down today to Mentmore to take a gallop and return home early enough for the House. I write these few lines before I leave and hope to finish them on my return.... I went down to Mentmore and had a ride for an hour just to have a little fresh air and came back with an early train. I had a very nice run and left them in the middle or nearly at the end of the run. We had a good many out... \ The Vale was perfect hunting country and in the middle of the last century many of the old estates were being broken up and good land was available for purchase. The example was set by Baron Mayer, the youngest brother, Master of the stag-hounds, who was nicknamed Tup or Muffy in the family. Advised by James James, a leading Aylesbury solicitor who counselled the family to concentrate their land acquisitions rather than scatter them over a wide area, Mayer, in 1842, purchased from Captain Harcourt a small estate of several farms in the parishes of Mentmore and Wing, not far from Leighton Buzzard. Other purchases in the same area followed in fairly rapid succession. A farmhouse was converted into a hunting box and very soon kennels and stables were built and the hounds were brought to Mentmore from Hastoe. The famous Mentmore stud was founded in 1843 and rapidly achieved enormous success on the Turf, first under Baron Mayer and subsequently under his son-in-law and his grandson, the fifth and sixth Earls of Rosebery. It is no part of this essay to describe in detail the mansions erected in the Vale of Aylesbury by the Rothschilds or to recount the fabulous treasures they contained. It must suffice to enumerate the principal houses and the dates 241</page><page sequence="12">Plate 3 A Meet of the Rothschild Hunt at Mentmore Towers, with Mayer Amschel's daughter, Hannah, in a carriage in the foreground. (From Dear Lord Rothschild, Hutchinson.) they were built or acquired. Thus, Baron Mayer took up residence in Mentmore village several years before 1851 when he began to build his sumptuous home. He engaged as an architect one of the most notable figures of his time, Sir Joseph Paxton, the designer of the Crystal Palace, a Bedfordshire man, assisted by his son-in-law, G. H. Stokes. Architect and client may well have met when Mayer, like his relative Sir Moses Montefiore, was on the committee for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The design of the house was inspired by the Elizabethan Wollaton Hall, near Nottingham, and contained many novel features. It was finished in 1853, but it was not until December 1855 that the Baronial Hall, as Sir Moses Montefiore called it in his diary, was consecrated, 'when Dr. Kalisch read prayers also several psalms and affixed mezuzas or Phylacteries to the doors. A splendid breakfast and dinner followed the ceremony.'16 Anthony, the second brother, nicknamed Billy in the family, who had been created a baronet in 1846, was next in the field. According to Miriam Rothschild he was a great spender and gambler and he, too, was addicted to hunting and country life, and bought the Aston Clinton estate, halfway between Tring and Aylesbury, from Lord Lake in 1851. The house, unlike some of the others owned by the family, was not ostentatious, even after its enlargement. It was once said by the sixth Lord Rosebery to be the only Rothschild mansion which could be called a gentleman's house. Sir Anthony enjoyed his role as a country squire, and his wife, Louise, a niece of Sir Moses Montefiore, and their two daughters (both of whom married non-Jews) entered fully into the spirit of eleemosynary patronage which was usual in Victorian village life. The property was sold in 1922 and the house subsequently 242</page><page sequence="13">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire destroyed by fire. The grounds now belong to Buckinghamshire County Council. The early 1850s was a period of great activity for the Rothschild brothers in the real-estate market around Aylesbury. Mayer and Anthony were the pace-makers, followed by Lionel (nicknamed Rabbi), the head of the family, who in 1853 completed the purchase of the Halton estate together with 1,400 acres and the advowson of the rectory close to Anthony's property at Aston Clinton. By then he had inherited Gunnersbury from his father and had built the magnificent no. 148 Piccadilly in London. He was content to buy Halton with a view to future occupation rather than immediate residence. Indeed, it was not until 1879 that Alfred, Lionel's bachelor second son, who inherited the estate, built his little palace there on the hill overlooking the Vale, where he entertained lavishly and filled the house with artistic treasures. Halton was bequeathed to Alfred's nephew, Lionel, who sold the property to the Air Ministry after the First World War and bought the Exbury estate in Hampshire, where he developed his splendid garden with its superb collection of rhodo? dendrons. Nathaniel, nicknamed Stag, the third brother, suffered from a serious riding accident and decided to live in France where he became the owner of the Chateau Mouton vineyard. He was the great-grandfather of Baron Phillipe, who has recently published his memoirs under the title of My Lady Vine. He was also the father of Arthur, who made a reputation as a bachelor bon viveur and earned the sobriquet Eros. Thus, by the middle of the nineteenth century, two of the four brothers were in occupation of their land in the Vale of Aylesbury, one was living in France, and the head of the family came down from London to hunt whenever possible on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not on Mondays-when duty called him to the Bank-and, of course, never on Saturdays. One consideration which had possibly inhibited the family from undertaking earlier large-scale purchases of property in the country remained effective until 1846, for in that year Parliament solemnly repealed the ancient Statutum de Judaismo of 1270 which prohibited Jews from owning land.17 Doubts about the legal ownership of land by Jews had been discussed by lawyers for a long time without being resolved but the new Act finally settled the matter. However, a quite different consideration may also have affected the Rothschilds' thinking: the possible influence of Benjamin Disraeli in encouraging the brothers to establish themselves as his neighbours in Buckinghamshire, though, it is true, their love of hunting had already drawn them to the Vale as visitors before that first meeting at Parnther's house in 1838. Disraeli's introduction into the Rothschild family developed into a warm relationship despite certain reservations, for, although they had much in common, they also had some profound differences. Disraeli, who as a boy had been baptized in the Church of England, was now in his early thirties and sitting for the first time in the House of Commons as Tory MP for Maidstone, 243</page><page sequence="14">David Kessler having been returned in 1837. It was not until ten years later that he gained a seat as county member for Buckinghamshire, which was the first step towards fulfilling a long-cherished ambition to join the ranks of the landed gentry and represent the shire. In order to complete the process he was anxious to acquire the estate and manor house of Hughenden, which he had long coveted and which lay some two miles away from his father's home where he had spent much of his youth. Isaac D'Israeli had moved into the country for the benefit of his family's health and had lived at Bradenham House since 1828 as a tenant. It is a large and elegant Carolean building which now belongs to the National Trust. Both of Benjamin's parents are buried in the adjoining parish church. Disraeli had grown immensely fond of the county and proudly proclaimed himself a Buckinghamshire man. The coincidence cannot be ignored that he and the Rothschilds were simultaneously contemplating the purchase of estates in the same county and within reasonable distance of one another. Both parties, exotic and somewhat strange in the eyes of the local population, would benefit from each other's company as neighbours. It is only fourteen miles from Hughenden to Aston Clinton, the nearest Rothschild home, with the others all within a radius of eight miles. In fact, the Rothschilds got in first-in the village of Mentmore-and Mayer AmschePs status as a country gentleman was recognized by his appointment as High Sheriff of the county as early as 1847, before his mansion was built. Disraeli had to wait until 1848-the year of his father's death-to buy the Hughenden estate, when he obtained a loan from his friends the Bentinck brothers (not, as is sometimes suggested, from the Rothschilds). He was, of course, already well known in the locality, for, as Fowler reports, when he first stood as candidate for High Wycombe in 1832, he was dubbed by his opponents the 'Bradenham Braggart'.18 Be that as it may, the proximity of these various estates was mutually convenient and operated to the satisfaction of both parties. Visits between the Rothschild houses and Hughenden were frequent. Indeed, the Rothschilds were the only close friends Disraeli could number among the county families, who never found it easy to accept him as a genuine member of the squirearchy. A letter written by Disraeli on 30 September 1862, from Hughenden to Baroness Lionel, illustrates the friendly relations which existed between the families both in the country and in London. He began by telling her about a social occasion, and that 'the only fault of the party was that it contained no Rothschilds, but that was not our fault for we tried not only the English, but the French and Austrian dynasties in vain', and he went on to refer to the annual Agricultural Society dinner at Aylesbury to which he had been invited, as on previous occasions, as principal speaker. 'The carriage is at the door', he wrote, 'and we are going to Aston Clinton when we shall hear some news of you and support Sir Anthony at Aylesbury tomorrow.'19 Anthony, in fact, was the President of the Society, and his health was proposed by Mr Dupre, a former MP, who observed that the benevolence of 244</page><page sequence="15">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Plate 4 Sir Anthony de Rothschild on his pony. the worthy baronet and of his amiable lady was too well known to require any comment from him. Though they were popular in the countryside the Rothschilds occupied a slightly ambiguous position in Buckinghamshire society. They wished to be integrated into the neighbourhood and no doubt they employed their wealth to achieve their ends. They were deeply imbued with a sense of social responsibil? ity, and no one could question that they exercised the virtue of philanthropy on a grand scale. They also never forgot-even when they married out-that they were Jews, and they were proud of it. Fowler recounts a number of anecdotes about the Reverend Christopher Erie, the sporting rector of Hard wick, which illustrate, though perhaps a little crudely, how the Rothschilds were regarded by some of their neighbours. The parson, who was blessed with a peculiar sense of humour and was, according to Lady Battersea, 'much addicted to the pleasures of the bottle', was a keen follower of the Rothschild hunt and once explained to his friend, Dr Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, irreverently known as 'Soapy Sam' and an outspoken opponent of Jewish emancipation, that he did not greatly care for hunting, but he liked to follow the Baron's hounds 'as he wished particularly to promote Christianity amongst the Jews'.20 245</page><page sequence="16">David Kessler The rector seems to have had a fascination for the subject, for Fowler describes another occasion when the hounds were running pretty hard, and the Duke de Gramont, who was a tolerably good man across country, got into the Cublington Brook. Baron Lionel de Rothschild was there and did not attempt to jump it but was very solicitous to get the Duke out of the water safely. Mr Erie was there also and strongly urged the Baron to go in and fetch the Duke out, which the Baron resolutely declined to do notwithstanding all Mr. Erie's arguments and entreaties. Some time afterwards the Baron asked him why he was so anxious to get him into the brook. The Rector told him, if he had once got him in he would have kept him there till he had baptised him and made him a Christian.21 The Duke de Gramont was another victim of the French Revolution who had taken refuge with the exiled French king Louis XVIII at Hartwell House, near Aylesbury. This nobleman had served with the British Army in the Peninsular War, had married a sister of Count d'Orsay and became a friend of Disraeli's. His son, the tenth Duke, who had married a Scotswoman, was the luckless French Foreign Minister at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, and his grandson, the eleventh Duke, married Margaretha Alexandrine, a daughter of Mayer Carl von Rothschild of Frankfurt and a sister-in-law of the first Lord Rothschild. She became a Catholic and was cut out of her father's will.22 Since hunting played such an important part in the life of the family, the fate of the Rothschild stag-hounds cannot be overlooked. The kennels had been moved from Hastoe to Mentmore in the 1840 s, and were moved again on the death of Baron Mayer in 1874 to his nephew Leopold's estate at Ascott, a couple of miles away, where they remained until 1986. On the outbreak of the First World War hunting ceased but it was resumed after the Armistice when the Ascott pack was converted to hunting foxes. It covered much the same country as the Whaddon Chase-an off-shoot of the Duke of Grafton's hunt-under the almost hereditary mastership of the Selby Lowndes family based at Whaddon Hall. Perhaps it was inevitable that sooner or later a clash would develop between the two hunts, and, sure enough, it came in 1920 when a heated and unseemly altercation took place at Mursley between the two Masters, the Rothschild hunt then being under the leadership of Lord Dalmeny, the future sixth Earl of Rosebery. The quarrel made hunting history and was eventually resolved by merging the two hunts under the mastership of the Earl of Orkney, who, after three years, again gave way to Lord Dalmeny.23 With the passing of the generation of the four brothers who had pioneered the Rothschild presence in Buckinghamshire, an era of consolidation began in the 1870s. After Nathaniel, who had gone to live in France, the first to die was Mayer, the builder of Mentmore, in 1874. Sir Anthony, the owner of Aston Clinton, died two years later, and Baron Lionel, the eldest brother, who lived mostly in London and at Gunnersbury but visited the Vale frequently, died in 246</page><page sequence="17">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Plate 5 'Master of Stag-Hounds'. An engraving, dated 1887, of Lord Rothschild in Tring Park. 1879. Lionel had taken care, and in good time, to ensure that his three sons should each inherit a country estate. Presumably with this in view he had acquired Tring Park and 4000 acres of land in 1872 for his eldest son, Nathaniel Mayer (Natty), who in 1885 became the first Lord Rothschild and four years later-thanks, partly, to the intervention of the Prince of Wales was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the county. Tring Park was sold after the Second World War, and is now occupied by a girls' school. Lionel's second son, Alfred, took over the Halton property which had been bought in 1851, but not occupied until he built his own mansion on a superb site in 1883. Leopold (Leo), the youngest, became the owner of Ascott, near Wing, which had been acquired in 1873. Thus began the era of what Cecil Roth called 'The Magnificent Rothschilds'. In addition, a new recruit was added to the English branch of the family. Baron Ferdinand (Ferdy), a nephew of Baron Lionel and a scion of the Austrian branch, who had been married to the unfortunate Evelina, herself a sister of the 'three magnificos', had long been a staunch anglophile. When his father Anselm died in 1874, he lost no time in transferring funds to England and in acquiring the land at Waddesdon, west of Aylesbury, on which to build his 247</page><page sequence="18">David Kessler vast mansion. Left a childless widower in 1866, after only one year of marriage, Ferdinand had for many years depended on his unmarried sister, Alice, to act as hostess for him both in town and in the country. A year after he purchased the Waddesdon estate, Alice bought the neighbouring Eythrope property and began building 'her own little Waddesdon'. In contrast to her brother, who employed a French architect, Alice engaged an Englishman, George Devey, who was well regarded in the neighbourhood and was also responsible for the reconstruction of Ascott House for Leo. Brother and sister were drawn to the district not only by the proximity of their English relatives, but also by their own addiction to hunting with both the Whaddon Chase and the Rothschild stag-hounds. Before they built their mansions, they had enjoyed the sport for some years from a hunting-box called Leighton House in Leighton Buzzard, which was grand enough to allow them to entertain the Prince of Wales. Once firmly established the couple became very active in local affairs of every kind and Ferdinand represented Aylesbury in Parliament for fourteen years until his death in 1898. Waddesdon Manor was bequeathed by Alice to her great-nephew James de Rothschild, the elder son of Baron Edmond of Paris, a Liberal MP, a great racing enthusiast and a keen Zionist, who left it to the National Trust, while his widow still resides at Eythrope. Although Mentmore passed into the Rosebery family on the marriage of Baron Mayer's only child, Hannah, to the fifth Earl in 1878, it remained a part of the Rothschild scene almost until its sale in 1977. It is now occupied and maintained by the strange Maharishi University of Natural Law. Hannah's marriage did not meet with general approval on either side, but the Roseberys' contacts with the Rothschilds remained cordial and members of the family were frequent visitors to Mentmore even after Hannah's early death in 1890. At a dinner at the Towers, to welcome the birth of the twentieth century on 31 December 1900, half of Lord Rosebery's guests were Rothschilds or members of their family. A wooden plaque recording the names of those present was placed under a window in the dining room and is now preserved in the Jewish Museum in London. Leo's eldest son, Lionel, and Rosebery's heir, Lord Dalmeny, were born within two weeks of one another and they celebrated their coming-of-age at a huge party given jointly by their parents at Ascott in 1903. During the First World War Neil Primrose, Rosebery's second son, and Evelyn de Rothschild, Leo's second son, served together as officers in the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars Imperial Yeomanry in the Palestine campaign and suffered the same fate. Evelyn was mortally wounded in the famous cavalry charge at El Mughar on 13 November 1917, and died four days later in the Citadel military hospital in Cairo. On the same day that his cousin died Neil was killed by a stray bullet, the last shot of the engagement, near Gaza, after the Turks had surrendered their position. Evelyn was given a full military funeral in Cairo at which Lord Dalmeny, who was serving on Allenby's staff, was the chief mourner. Ironically, these tragic events took place just a fortnight after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, which took the form 248</page><page sequence="19">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Plate 6 Walter, later 2nd Lord, Rothschild in the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Bucks Hussars. (From Dear Lord Rothschild^ Hutchinson.) 249</page><page sequence="20">David Kessler of a letter from A. J. Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, addressed to Walter, the second Lord Rothschild, who received it while he was at Tring Park.24 The Rothschilds provided four members of Parliament for the district - Natty, Walter, Lionel and Ferdy-spanning a continuous period of fifty-eight years, from 1865 to 1923. They were also active as County Councillors and magistrates, in addition to Natty's Lord Lieutenancy. Three members-Mayer, Anthony and Ferdinand-became High Sheriffs, in 1847, 1861 and 1883 respectively. Although they suffered from some prejudice and a certain amount of more or less good-humoured badinage when they first appeared on the scene, it was characteristic of the Rothschilds that, assisted by ample funds, they soon settled comfortably into the role of country squires while maintaining their traditional ties with the City. They succeeded with skill and dignity in bridging the gap both between town and country and between the squirearchy and leadership of the Anglo-Jewish community. Their success in this sphere contrasts with Disraeli's more limited attainment. He tried so hard to act the squire that he managed occasionally to look ridiculous, while his attitude to the Jewish community from which he sprang always remained ambivalent, though he never attempted to conceal his origins. To mark his deep-seated attachment to country life he left instructions that he should not be honoured with a burial in Westminster Abbey (to which he was entitled) but should lie beside his wife in Hughenden churchyard, to which Queen Victoria made a pilgrimage four days after the interment-an act of respect chivalrously characterized by Harold Beeley as 'the Empress of India acknowledging her subjection to a Jew'.25 The Rothschilds were generous and humane landlords and spared no expense in bringing their properties-which at one time covered at least 30,000 acres-to the highest possible standard. They set an example of good and efficient husbandry and displayed great skills as breeders of race-horses, as well as of cattle, poultry and domestic animals. Miriam Rothschild has included in her book an impressive diagram to show the contributions of her family to animal husbandry and scientific publications. Their success on the Turf was legendary, and included four Derby winners. They have left a lasting impression on the villages where they owned property, for everywhere they supported schools, hospitals, alms houses, village halls, literary institutes, sports grounds, inns and workers' housing. Tring has been called a miniature welfare state. They frequently assisted in the repair and renovation of parish churches. Their enterprises brought a large measure of employment to an agricultural district when it was badly needed. It is probable that nowhere in the rural areas of Britain has one family in so short a time made such a profound impression as the Rothschild squirearchy. Besides their contribution to the local scene they have also made a lasting impact on the national life by their princely gifts to the country of the Tring Museum of Natural History-the creation of the second Lord Rothschild-of Waddesdon Manor and Ascott House, complete with their superb collections 250</page><page sequence="21">The Rothschilds and Disraeli in Buckinghamshire Plate 7 The Squire of Hughenden'. Benjamin Disraeli (a widower) addressing a meeting at Hughenden in 1874, accompanied by Lady Bradford on his left and Lady Wharncliffe on his right. (Oxfordshire County Libraries.) 251</page><page sequence="22">David Kessler and art treasures, to say nothing of independent donations to the British Museum. For many years historians have felt frustrated because of the difficulty they experienced in gaining access to the family's archives. Now, thanks to the foresight and generosity of the present, third, Lord Rothschild, their vast collection of letters and papers has been made available for research near the London office of the bank, in St Swithin's Lane, thereby placing the world of scholarship under one more abiding debt of gratitude. Fig. 3 The first Lord Rothschild's seal as Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, 1889. NOTES 1 Sir Frank Markham (1897-1975) was a local historian and MP for the Buckingham? shire Division, 1951 to 1964. 2 Dear Lord Rothschild (London 1985) 4. 3 Reminiscences (London 1922) 27. 4 Richard Davis, The English Rothschilds (London 1983) 65. 5 Ibid. 55 6 Echoes of Old County Life (London 1892); Recollections of Old Country Life (London 1894); Records of Old Times (London 1898). 7 See A. Rubens, Anglo-Jewish Portraits p. 94 8 Letters, 13 February 1834, from South end. Sir George Henry Smyth (1784-1852) was Tory MP for Colchester. 9 Monypenny, The life of Benjamin Disraeli H, p. 48. 10 Ibid. 20. 11 R. Davis, The English Rothschilds, p. 93. RALR Fam C/4/53 104/0/139, 21 Nov. 1840. 12 R. Greaves, A Short History of the Whaddon Chase Hunt (London 1951). 13 p. 167. 14 He became the twelfth Earl of Westmor? land. His father had been a distinguished soldier and diplomat and a founder of the Royal Academy of Music, who had tried to prevent Count d'Orsay's marriage to the Countess of Blessington's step-daughter. 15 Echoes of Old County life pp. 31-2. 16 Diaries of Sir Moses and lady Montefiore U (London 1983) 58. 17 Vide H. S. Q. Henriques, The Jews and the English Law (Oxford 1908). 18 Echoes of Old County life, p. 53. 19 RAL R.Fam C/2/4. 20 Echoes of Old County Life, p. 98. 21 Ibid. 100. 22 Dear Lord Rothschild, p. 321. 23 As a result of growing pressure on its country from urban development, especially from Milton Keynes, the Whaddon Chase Hunt merged with the Bicester and Warden Hill Hunt in Spring 1986. 24 Dear Lord Rothschild, p. 266. 25 H. Beeley, Disraeli (London 1936). 12</page></plain_text>