When Nathan Mayer Rothschild arrived in England in 1800 he was worth £20,000. At his death in 1836 his fortune was valued at approximately £3.5 million, which made him the richest man in England outside the circle of great landowners. With his premature death, due in no small measure to a dodgy German doctor, his mantle fell on his four sons: Lionel (1808–79), Anthony (1810–76), Nathaniel (1812–70), and Mayer (1818–74). The old man would have been gratified by the uses to which they put their inheritance and the care they took to protect the good name of the family and the bank, N&M Rothschild. As Niall Ferguson observed in his definitive history of the family, one of the most remarkable things about the Rothschilds in the nineteenth century was their ability to produce sons to carry on the business; and there was also their diligence and their ability to get on with one another well enough to keep the family fortune intact.
The letters they exchanged throughout their lives give many clues as to how they managed these amicable relations. It is this rich correspondence, expertly and lovingly tended in the Rothschild Archive in London, that provides the main source for George Ireland’s elegantly written account of the lives and times of