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Lionel Walter Rothschild

Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild (8 February 1868 – 27 August 1937), a scion of the Rothschild family, was a British banker, politician, Zionist, and zoologist.



Walter Rothschild was the eldest son and heir of Lord [Nathan] Rothschild, an immensely wealthy financier, and the first unconverted Jewish peer in England.[1]

The eldest of three children, Walter was deemed to have delicate health and was educated at home. As a young man he traveled in Europe, attending the university at Bonn for a year before entering Magdalene College at 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. As a child, he collected insects, butterflies, and animals.[1] Among his pets at the family home in Tring Park were kangaroos and exotic birds.[1] At 21, he reluctantly went to work at the family bank, N M Rothschild & Sons in London. He worked there from 1889 to 1908.

Нe evidently lacked any interest or ability in the financial profession, but it was not until 1908 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. [1]

Rothschild was 6' 3" tall, suffered from a speech impediment and was very shy, but he had his photograph taken riding on a giant tortoise, and drove a carriage harnessed to six zebras to Buckingham Palace to prove that zebras could be tamed. [1]

Though he never married, Rothschild had two mistresses, one of whom bore him a daughter.[2] In 1929 he bought one of the largest mansions in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York, at 70th Street, with over 11,000 square feet.

Zoological career

Rothschild with his famed zebra (Equus burchelli) carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of Zebras to the public
Lord Rothschild on a Giant Tortoise

Rothschild studied zoology at Magdalene College, Cambridge.[3] Meeting Albert C. L. G. Günther sparked his interest in the taxonomy of birds and butterflies.

Although Rothschild himself traveled 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.

He was the first to describe the Rothschild giraffe (Giraffa camelopardis rothschildi], a subspecies with five horns instead of two, which was named after him.[1] It also known as the Ugandan or Baringo Giraffe, and is the most endangered of the nine subspecies.[citation needed] Another 153 insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede, and one worm also carry his name.[1]

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 being blackmailed by a woman.[1][4] In 1936 he donated the rest of the collection to the Trustees of the British Museum. The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum at Tring is now a division of the Natural History Museum.[citation needed]

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 member of the Royal Society in 1911.

Political career

Walter Rothschild was a Liberal and Liberal Unionist Member of Parliament for Aylesbury from 1899 until he retired from politics at the 1910 general election. [1]

Zionism and the Balfour Declaration

As an active Zionist and 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 this letter the British government declared its support for the establishment in Palestine of "a national home for the Jewish people". This letter became known as the Balfour Declaration.[1]


Walter inherited the British peerage title "Baron Rothschild" from his father Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild in 1915. He died in 1937 in Hertfordshire aged 69. 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.

He also inherited the title "Baron de Rothschild" of the Austrian nobility, which was an authorized title in the United Kingdom by Warrant of April 27, 1932. [5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pen Ultimate / Sticking my neck out - Haaretz - Israel News
  2. ^ Hannah Rothschild, "The Butterfly Effect", Bonhams Magazine, Spring 2009, pages 18-21.
  3. ^ Rothschild, the Hon. Lionel Walter in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  4. ^ Barrow, Mark V. (2000) A Passion for Birds. Princeton University Press. p. 192
  5. ^ Foreign Titles in the UK -


See also

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ferdinand James de Rothschild
Member of Parliament for Aylesbury
Succeeded by
Lionel Nathan de Rothschild
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Nathan Mayer Rothschild
Baron Rothschild
Succeeded by
Victor Rothschild


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