The Rothschild family has been recently highlighted in the media due to the very recent nuptials of young James Rothschild to Nicky Hilton, “hotel heiress” daughter to the famous Hilton family, and sister to the infamous reality star and socialite Paris Hilton. The two were married this past weekend on July 10th. Although Hilton is likely a more familiar name to many Americans (or at least associated with more notoriety), the Rothschild family has a history much longer and a fortune much grander than the Hiltons’.
In fact, the Rothschild family is one of the oldest and largest banking families in the world. They also happen to be Jewish.
The family dates back at least to the 1760s, when Mayer Amschel Rothschild established a German banking business. Rothschild then had five sons who carried on his successful business, and conveniently spread out around the world to five very important trading hubs: Frankfurt, Vienna, Naples, Paris, and London (this last branch being the one which produced young James, new son-in-law to the Hiltons). The crest of the Rothschild family shows a fist clenching five arrows that represent these five branches of the Rothschild family. Through carefully arranged marriages and strict governance, much of the Rothschild’s fortune remained within the family for over 150 years. Today, the Rothschild family is less well known than they were a century ago, but they still have enormous financial power, with the family’s net value in excess of 350 billion dollars.
Judaism has long been linked with the banking tradition. Despite the many anti-Semitic movements throughout history, notably the Jew’s expulsion from England in 1290, their expulsion from Spain in 1492, and many others including the Holocaust, Jews have had significant power over money markets for nearly one thousand years. In fact, the tensions between Christianity and Judaism were the catalyst that created banking as we know it. Due to the Christian immorality of charging interest on loans, Jews were often the only people in trading communities like Venice, Frankfurt, or other financial hubs who would loan money to the population at large. As a result, individual Jews often banded together in order to get enough capital to be effective lenders. This type of behavior is exemplified in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when Shylock and Tubal work together to run Shylock’s finances and keep meticulous records of all his transactions. Eventually, these groups of Jewish people formed the larger institutions that became modern banks.
The strategies that arose from these early Jewish bankers have established a long tradition of banking and financial services that remain strong today. And who knows? Perhaps with this past Friday’s wedding, the Rothschild crest will gain a new arrow, in reference to America’s new ties with this illustrious Jewish banking family.