Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild

Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild

Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild (February 24, 1868June 30, 1949) was a French financier and a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of France.

Born in Paris, Édouard de Rothschild was the only son of Baron Alphonse James de Rothschild (1827-1905). His mother was Leonora de Rothschild (1837-1911), the daughter of Lionel de Rothschild of the English branch of the family. He was raised in a Paris mansion at 2 rue Saint-Florentin that is now home to the United States Embassy as well as at Château de Ferrières in the country.

On March 1, 1905, Edouard de Rothschild married Germaine Alice Halphen (1884-1975). They had the following children, but according to his daughter Jacqueline, neither parent paid much attention to them:
# Édouard Alphonse Émile Lionel (1906-1911)
# Guy Édouard Alphonse Paul (1909-2007)
# Jacqueline Rebecca Louise (b. 1911)
# Bethsabée Louise Émilie Béatrice (1914-1999)

Career in business

Only a few months after Édouard's marriage, his father died and he formally took over the running of de Rothschild Frères bank. His grandfather and the French bank founder, James Mayer de Rothschild, had stipulated "that the three branches of the family descended from him always be represented." As such, Édouard would be joined by the sons of two different uncles: cousin Robert Philippe de Rothschild (1880-1946) and cousin Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957). Édouard was cautious by nature and often old-fashioned in his ideas, an attitude which extended to his personal dress and office décor. Like his father, Édouard too was appointed a director of the Banque de France. In 1911, he negotiated a deal with Henri Deterding for his Royal Dutch Shell company to purchase the Rothschilds' Azerbaijan oil fields.

In 1937, the government of France nationalized the country's railways including a major Rothschild railway asset owned in partnership with the English branch of the family. They had owned the Chemin de Fer du Nord rail transport company for almost 100 years and had an interest in the Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée railway which Robert represented for the family on its board of directors.

Because of cousin Maurice's perceived flamboyant playboy image and his conduct in political and business activities, Édouard considered him to be something of a black sheep. They tolerated each other for the sake of the business but by the middle of the 1930s their differences reached a point where Édouard and cousin Robert decided to force Maurice out of de Rothschild Frères bank. After extensive and bitter negotiations, a buyout was reached through an arbitrator.

Édouard de Rothschild inherited a share of the Château Lafite Rothschild vineyard in Bordeaux plus he also came into a valuable art collection from his father which he expanded through a number of important purchases. His large collection included pieces by prominent sculptors such as Jean-Louis Lemoyne and paintings from Vigée-Lebrun and Rembrandt, amongst others.

Being Jewish, Édouard de Rothschild and his family before him had to deal with many societal obstacles that persisted throughout Europe. French journalist Édouard Drumont made the Rothschilds and their banking empire a frequent target of his anti-Semitic writings but ended up in court after he falsely accused a National Assembly deputy of having taken a bribe from Édouard de Rothschild to pass a piece of legislation the banker wanted. During the heated rhetoric surrounding the Dreyfus Affair, Édouard ended up challenging someone for sullying his reputation and fought a duel with swords in which neither party was seriously injured.

Thoroughbred horse racing

Like his father, Édouard de Rothschild invested in thoroughbred horse racing. A horse enthusiast who also liked to ride, he was a good polo player and a member of a team that competed in Polo at the 1900 Summer Olympics. He inherited Haras de Meautry, a thoroughbred horse breeding farm in Touques, Calvados about 130 miles north of Paris. His sister Béatrice married Maurice Ephrussi whose family owned an estate at the village of Reux about eight miles away. In 1868, Édouard acquired the property and the Château de Reux remains in family hands to this day.

Édouard kept a stable of thoroughbreds at the Chantilly Racecourse in Chantilly, Oise and raced horses in major competitions throughout France. His stable scored many victories and was a four-time winner of the Grand Prix de Vichy-Auvergne. In 1907 and 1935 his horses won the Grand Prix de Paris and in 1934 and 1938 captured the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the country's most prestigious race.

Effects of the German occupation, 1940-1944

The rise to power of the Adolf Hitler party in Germany and the subsequent Anschluss of Austria to Germany saw a wave of Jews, and others the Nazis labeled as "undesirables," seek refuge in France. Most of these people escaped with little more than a suitcase of clothes. In March of 1939, Édouard's wife Germaine converted an old house near the Château de Ferrières into a hostel for some 150 of these displaced persons. However, with the onset of World War II and the subsequent German occupation of France in 1940, Édouard de Rothschild and his family themselves were forced to flee the country. In 1939, Édouard's son Guy joined the French Army and daughter Jacqueline escaped with her husband Gregor Piatigorsky to the United States. Faced with losing virtually everything, before escaping, Édouard de Rothschild tried to hide as much of his valuable art collection as possible on the grounds of the Haras de Meautry farm and at his Château de Reux. With his wife and second daughter Bethsabée, he escaped France and they made their way to Lisbon, Portugal from where they were able to go by plane to New York City. Édouard's daughter Bethsabée returned to enlist in the Free French forces and was part of the landing force for the Battle of Normandy. She moved with the army to liberate Paris, where she served as a liaison between the French and United States military forces.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, the Nazis seized some of the best racehorses in the country, shipping more than six hundred of them to Germany for racing and/or breeding. Among the horses stolen was Édouard de Rothschild's champion Brantôme who was sent to the German National Stud. The horse was repatriated at the end of the war in 1945 and became a leading sire.

With the Allied liberation of France in 1944, Édouard de Rothschild and his wife returned home where he died in Paris in 1949 at the age of eighty-one. His son Guy took over as head of the family bank.


* See list of references at Rothschild banking family of France

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