Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild

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The Lord Rothschild
Walter Rothschild.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Aylesbury
In office
6 January 1899 10 January 1910
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Branch/service Territorial Army
Rank Major

Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild, [1] FRS [2] [3] (8 February 1868 – 27 August 1937) was a British banker, politician, zoologist and soldier, who was a member of the Rothschild family. As a Zionist leader, he was presented with the Balfour Declaration, which pledged British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. Rothschild was the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews from 1925 to 1926.


Early life

Walter Rothschild was born in London as the eldest son and heir of Emma Louise von Rothschild and Nathan Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild, an immensely wealthy financier of the international Rothschild financial dynasty and the first Jewish peer in England. [4]

The eldest of three children, Walter was deemed to have delicate health and was educated at home. As a young man, he travelled in Europe, attending the University of Bonn for a year before entering Magdalene College, Cambridge. In 1889, leaving Cambridge after two years, he was required to go into the family banking business to study finance.

At the age of seven, he declared that he would run a zoological museum and, as a child, he collected insects, butterflies and other animals. Among his pets at the family home in Tring Park were kangaroos and exotic birds. As a boy, Rothschild was once dragged off his horse and assaulted by workmen while on a hunting ride near Tring, an experience he attributed to antisemitism. [5]

At 21, he reluctantly went to work at the family bank, N M Rothschild & Sons in London. He worked there from 1889 to 1908. He evidently lacked any interest or ability in the financial profession, but it was not until 1908, at the age of 40, that he was finally allowed to give it up. However, his parents established a zoological museum as a compensation and footed the bill for expeditions all over the world to seek out animals.

Rothschild was 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) tall, suffered from a speech impediment and was very shy, [6] but he had his photograph taken riding on a giant tortoise and drove a carriage harnessed to four zebras to Buckingham Palace to prove that zebras could be tamed.

Though he never married, Rothschild had two mistresses, one of whom bore him a daughter. [6] :98

Zoological career

Rothschild with his famed zebra (Equus quagga) carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public WalterRothschildWithZebras.jpg
Rothschild with his famed zebra ( Equus quagga ) carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public
Lord Rothschild on a giant tortoise RothschildTortoise.png
Lord Rothschild on a giant tortoise

Rothschild studied zoology at Magdalene College, Cambridge. [7] Meeting Albert Günther sparked his interest in the taxonomy of birds and butterflies.

Although Rothschild himself travelled and collected in Europe and North Africa for many years, his work and health concerns limited his range and beginning while at Cambridge he employed others (explorers, professional collectors and residents) to collect for him in remote and little-known parts of the world. He also hired taxidermists, a librarian and, most importantly, professional scientists to work with him to curate and write up the resulting collections: Ernst Hartert, for birds, from 1892 until his retirement at the age of 70 in 1930 and Karl Jordan for entomology, from 1893 until Rothschild's death in 1937.

At its largest, Rothschild's collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds' eggs, 2,250,000 butterflies and 30,000 beetles as well as thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles and fishes. They formed the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.

The Rothschild giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi), a subspecies with five ossicones instead of two, was named after him. Another 153 insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm also carry his name.

Rothschild opened his private museum in 1892. It housed one of the largest natural history collections in the world and was open to the public. In 1932, he was forced to sell the vast majority of his bird collection to the American Museum of Natural History after he had been blackmailed by a former mistress. [8] [9] [10]

In 1933, he was one of eleven people, [lower-alpha 1] involved in the appeal that led to the foundation of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), an organization for the study of birds in the British Isles. [11]

On his death in 1937, his museum and all of its contents were given in his will to the British Museum (of which the Natural History Museum, London was then a part), the greatest accession that the institution has ever received. [12] The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring is now a division of the Natural History Museum. [13]

Following a visit to Hungary in 1902, Rothschild brought six live edible dormice ( Glis glis ) back to Tring. Some of them escaped and started breeding successfully in the wild. They have now become a localized pest over an area of approximately 200 square miles in a triangle between Luton, Aylesbury and Beaconsfield, and there are estimated to be at least 10,000 of them. Even though considered an invasive species, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. [14]

Rothschild was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Giessen in 1898, was elected a Trustee of the British Museum in 1899 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1911. [2] [3]

Political career

Rothschild caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1900 Walter Rothschild Vanity Fair 1900-09-13.jpg
Rothschild caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair , 1900

Walter Rothschild was a Liberal Unionist Party Member of Parliament for Aylesbury from 1899 until he retired from politics at the January 1910 general election. [12]

Military activities

Despite his health, Rothschild served part-time as an officer in a Territorial Army unit, the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, where he was a captain from July 1902, [15] promoted to major in 1903 and retiring in 1909. [16]

Zionism and Balfour Declaration

As an active Zionist and a close friend of Chaim Weizmann, he worked to formulate the draft declaration for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. On 2 November 1917, he received a letter from the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to his London home at 148 Piccadilly. In the letter, the British government declared its support for the establishment in Palestine of "a national home for the Jewish people". The letter became known as the Balfour Declaration.


Bookplate designed by Charles William Sherborn Walter Rothschild Bookplate.jpg
Bookplate designed by Charles William Sherborn

Walter inherited the British peerage title "Baron Rothschild" from his father Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild in 1915. He died in 1937 at Tring Park, Hertfordshire, aged 69, and was buried in Willesden Jewish Cemetery, London. He had no legitimate children and his younger brother Charles Rothschild had predeceased him, so the title was inherited by his nephew (Nathaniel Mayer) Victor Rothschild.

Furthermore, he also inherited the title "Baron de Rothschild" ( Freiherr von Rothschild) of the Austrian nobility, which was an authorized title in the United Kingdom by Warrant of 27 April 1932. [17]

In 1838, Queen Victoria had authorized the use of this Austrian title in the United Kingdom. [1]


See also


Rothschild is the author of around 765 publications. Of these 27 were co-authored with Ernst Hartert and 16 with Karl Jordan. He published 278 articles in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club and 318 articles in the Novitates Zoologicae , [19] a journal which he established in 1894 with himself, Hartert and Jordan as editors. [20]

His publication include:

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baron Rothschild</span> Title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom

Baron Rothschild, of Tring in the County of Hertfordshire, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1885 for Sir Nathan Rothschild, 2nd Baronet, a member of the Rothschild banking family. He was the first Jewish member of the House of Lords not to have previously converted to Christianity. The current holder of the title is Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, who inherited the barony in 1990.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernst Hartert</span> German ornithologist (1859–1933)

Ernst Johann Otto Hartert was a widely published German ornithologist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Miriam Rothschild</span> British natural scientist and author

Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild was a British natural scientist and author with contributions to zoology, entomology, and botany.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nathan Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild</span> British banker and politician (1840–1915)

Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild, was a British banker and politician from the wealthy international Rothschild family. He was also a hereditary Baron of the Austrian Empire.

Albert Stewart Meek was an English bird collector and naturalist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karl Jordan (zoologist, born 1861)</span> German entomologist

Heinrich Ernst Karl Jordan was a German-British entomologist. He took a special interest in the taxonomy and classification of butterflies, beetles and fleas. Jordan was a founder of the International Congress of Entomology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tring Park Mansion</span> Country house in Tring, Hertfordshire

Tring Park Mansion or Mansion House, Tring Park, is a large country house in Tring, Hertfordshire. The house, as "Tring Park", was used, and from 1872 owned, by members of the Rothschild family from 1838 to 1945.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Natural History Museum at Tring</span> Museum in Hertfordshire, England

The Natural History Museum at Tring was the private museum of Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild; today it is under the control of the Natural History Museum, London. It houses one of the finest collections of stuffed mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in the United Kingdom. It was known as the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum until April 2007. The museum is located on Akeman Street, in Tring, Hertfordshire.

William Doherty was an American entomologist who specialised in Lepidoptera and later also collected birds for the Natural History Museum at Tring. He died of dysentery while in Nairobi.

<i>Parides klagesi</i> Species of butterfly

Parides klagesi is a species of butterfly in the family Papilionidae. It was thought to be endemic to Venezuela before being discovered in Brazil. A recent, freely available article by Olaf Mielke and Mirna Casagrande (2007) summarizes the known geographical distribution of the species. Because of the prior CITES listing and apparent rarity, this species was placed in the endangered species list for the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

Louis Beethoven Prout (1864–1943) was an English entomologist and musicologist.

Chamanthedon amorpha is a moth of the family Sesiidae. It is found in Mozambique.

<i>Lophocampa distincta</i> Species of moth

Lophocampa distincta, is a moth of the family Erebidae. It was described by Walter Rothschild in 1910. It is found in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.

<i>Charaxes cowani</i> Species of butterfly

Charaxes cowani is a butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. It is found in eastern Madagascar. The habitat consists of montane forests at altitudes above 1,000 meters.

<i>Novitates Zoologicae</i> Academic journal

Novitates Zoologicae: A Journal of Zoology in Connection With the Tring Museum was a British scientific journal devoted to systematic zoology. It was edited by Lionel Walter Rothschild and published between 1894 and 1948 by the Tring Museum. Articles were mainly in English, but some were in German. It was succeeded by the Bulletin of the British Museum, Zoology Series.

William Warren was an English entomologist who specialised in Lepidoptera.

The Reverend Arthur Miles Moss (1873-1948) was vicar of the largest Anglican parish in the world in Pará, Brazil, and also a noted amateur lepidopterist, artist and musician. His collection of watercolour drawings of Lepidoptera larvae are held at the Natural History Museum, London who bought them from his patron Lionel Walter, Baron Rothschild.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cecil F. Underwood</span> British ornithologist (1867–1943)

Cecil Frank Underwood was a British scientific collector of mammal and bird specimens in Central America.

Claudia Bernadine Elisabeth Hartert was a British/German ornithologist and illustrator. She was a British citizen born in the Kingdom of Prussia.

Oscar Theodor Baron was a Silesian engineer, explorer and naturalist who collected insect and bird specimens around the world. The lepidopteran genus Baronia is named after him as are several other species from his collections.


  1. The letter was signed:
  1. 1 2 Bulletins of State Intelligence, 1838, p. 220
  2. 1 2 "Fellows 1660–2007" (PDF). Royal Society . Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  3. 1 2 Jordan, Karl (1938). "Lord Rothschild. 1868–1937". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society . 2 (6): 385–386. doi: 10.1098/rsbm.1938.0023 .
  4. Handelzalts, Michael (27 December 2007). "Pen Ultimate Sticking my neck out". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 18 October 2015.
  5. Ferguson, Niall (2000). The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World's Banker: 1849-1999. Penguin. ISBN   978-0-14-028662-5.
  6. 1 2 Rothschild, Miriam (2008). Walter Rothschild: The Man, the Museum and the Menagerie. Natural History Museum. p. 81. ISBN   978-0-565-09228-3.
  7. "Rothschild, the Hon. Lionel Walter (RTST887LW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  8. Naish, Darren (17 February 2006). "Walter Rothschild and the rise and fall of Sclater's cassowary" . Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  9. Barrow, Mark V. (2000). A Passion for Birds. Princeton University Press. p. 192.
  10. Rothschild, Miriam Louisa (1983). Dear Lord Rothschild: Birds, Butterflies and History. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-09-153740-1
  11. "Observers of Birds" (PDF). The Times . 1 July 1933.
  12. 1 2 "Rothschild, Lionel Walter". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35843.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. Thackray, John C.; Press, J. R. (2001). The Natural History Museum: nature's treasurehouse. London: Natural History Museum. p. 144. ISBN   978-0-565-09164-4.
  14. Strand, Richard (January–February 2010). "Mice with clogs on" (PDF). Pest Magazine: 16–17. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  15. "No. 27454". The London Gazette . 15 July 1902. p. 4515.
  16. "Rothschild, Lord". Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes. London: Kelly's Directories. 1916. p. 1276.
  17. Velde, François (28 June 2007). "Foreign Titles in the UK". Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  18. "Genealogy". Rothschild Archive. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  19. "Bibliography for Lionel Walter (Walter) Rothschild (1868–1937)". Rothschild Archive. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  20. Rothschild, Walter; Hartert, Ernst; Jordan, Karl (1894). "Title page". Novitates Zoologicae. 1: Title page.

Further reading

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Aylesbury
1899Jan 1910
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Baron Rothschild
Succeeded by
Titles of nobility
of the Austrian Empire
Preceded by Baron de Rothschild
Succeeded by
Victor Rothschild