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.((Sir Frank Markham (1897-1975) was a local historian and MP for the Buckingham? shire Division, 1951 to 1964.)) 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, 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