Jacob Rothschild, British financier, dies aged 87

Member of European banking dynasty founded various City institutions and was prominent patron of the arts

Financier and philanthropist Lord Jacob Rothschild has died aged 87, his family has said.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Rothschild’s family said “our father Jacob was a towering presence in many people’s lives” and that he would “be buried in accordance with Jewish custom in a small family ceremony”. No cause of death was given.

Born in April 1936, Mr Rothschild was educated at Eton College before studying history at Christ Church, Oxford. A scion of the well-known British banking dynasty, he joined NM Rothschild after university.

The bank rose to fame in 1815 when Nathan Mayer Rothschild made a fortune buying British government bonds in anticipation of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.


Jacob Rothschild ultimately left the family business in a dispute over strategy with his cousin, Evelyn, selling his stake and forming RIT Capital Partners. He chaired the listed investment trust from 1988 until 2019.

Mr Rothschild also cofounded J Rothschild Assurance Group – now known as wealth manager St James’s Place – alongside Mark Weinberg and Mike Wilson in 1991.

RIT said in a statement: “It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of our founder and former chairman.” Mr Rothschild’s daughter, Hannah, remains on the board of RIT.

The City veteran held many other notable roles in his decades-long career. Between 2003 and 2008, Mr Rothschild was deputy chair of BSkyB Television, and he was on the international advisory board of a United States private equity giant Blackstone. He backed Martin Sorrell’s investment vehicle S4 Capital after Sorrell’s departure from advertising group WPP.

Alongside his corporate life, Mr Rothschild was a noted philanthropist and patron of the arts, leading several cultural institutions and personally financing architectural restoration projects across the United Kingdom.

He served as chair of trustees of the National Gallery between 1985 and 1991 and chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund from 1994 until 1998.

“Brilliant, knowledgeable and refined, Lord Rothschild had an ability to make things happen and to bring people and institutions with him”, said Gabriele Finaldi, National Gallery director. “Transformations in the late 1980s and early 1990s was in large measure due to his energy and vision.”

He helped restore London neoclassical landmark Somerset House and spent £16 million (€18.7 million) on the renovation of Spencer House, an 18th-century mansion next to Green Park.

His contributions to the Waddesdon gallery make it one the jewels of the British Museum. Smart, curious, full of new projects and with a dry humour – he will be missed

Another personal project was the reinvigoration of Waddesdon Manor, the neo-Renaissance chateau built in the 1880s by Ferdinand de Rothschild in Buckinghamshire, where he lived next door in a former tea pavilion. He filled it with artworks by contemporary artists and designers such as Jeff Koons and it became the National Trust’s most visited house.

“Sad to hear the news about Jacob Rothschild – he made the very most of the privilege he was born into, contributing hugely to the cultural and commercial life of Britain”, George Osborne, former UK chancellor and chair of the British Museum, wrote on X.

“His contributions to the Waddesdon gallery make it one the jewels of the British Museum. Smart, curious, full of new projects and with a dry humour – he will be missed.”

A 2010 profile in the Financial Times said the family had “tended to offset their astounding wealth and lavish properties with a sober, retiring private demeanour”. He told the newspaper: “I don’t, you know, usually give interviews. So if you decide to write anything, I’d rather it wasn’t about me.”

Still, Mr Rothschild was a prominent figure in UK society, accepting an honorary fellowship from the British Academy in 1998 and being appointed to the Order of Merit – which has only 24 members – by the Queen in 2002. Lucian Freud painted him, while he was chair of the National Gallery, in a 1989 portrait called “Man in a Chair”. He also sat for David Hockney.

As well as contributing to cultural life in Britain, Mr Rothschild was active in Israel, serving as chair of Yad Hanadiv, the family foundation, from 1989 until 2018.

In a post on X, the Rothschild Foundation said it was “deeply saddened to announce the death of Lord Rothschild, businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and cultural leader”.

“He will be greatly missed by his family, his colleagues and his many friends,” it said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024