When Lionel de Rothschild, from the famous banking dynasty, wrote to his mother to thank her 'for my bride', he had just met his cousin Charlotte in Frankfurt. She was sixteen, and beautiful. An arranged family marriage joining two branches of Europe's most powerful banking firm, it seemed an unlikely love match. Yet it lasted through tragedies and triumphs, as Charlotte became one of the grand chatelaines of the Victorian era, while Lionel became England's leading financier, and the first of his faith to win a seat in Parliament. That dramatic campaign was a prolonged battle that, Charlotte wrote, was 'screaming about the house' for eleven years. Despite - perhaps because - of a surfeit of wealth, and her realization of what money could not buy, she concealed beneath a stubborn will and a sparkling wit an inner melancholy that only her great admirer (and Lionel's best friend) Benjamin Disraeli seemed to recognize.
Love and money were the cardinal preoccupations in Victorian life, and the Rothschilds abundantly possessed both, as well as an iconic name. But life works in mysterious ways, often with mixed blessings. This is their enthralling story, told by one of the masterful biographers of nineteenth-century figures - of Victoria and Albert, and Edward Prince of Wales; and Disraeli, Whistler, Rossetti, Beardsley and Shaw.
Stanley Weintraub is Professor of Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University and writes as a book critic for the NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL and WASHINGTON POST.