A well-known ‘fact’
For many years the name of Rothschild has been associated with Waterloo, as Chapter Eight of THE NEWS FROM WATERLOO explains:
‘If there is one well-known fact about the news from Waterloo, it is that the first man in London to know of the victory was Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the British bank N. M. Rothschild and Sons. You can find this in histories both academic and popular, in novels both literary and romantic, in children’s books, reference books and business manuals, in films and television documentaries and on websites by the dozen.
‘It has featured as a fact or a probable fact in Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography as well as in histories of the City of London, of Jews and Judaism and, of course, of the Rothschild family and of Waterloo. Wellington’s most prominent biographer, Elizabeth Longford, repeated it in the 1970s, as did Niall Ferguson in recent works of financial history. The one-time CIA director Allen Dulles told the story in his 1963 book The Craft of Intelligence, and it also appears in a 2009 novel by Sebastian Faulks.’
‘In these many, many tellings the story has taken a great variety of forms, but most of them have in common two points: first, that Rothschild acquired exclusive word of the victory; and second, that he exploited it to make a fortune on the Stock Exchange.’
THE NEWS FROM WATERLOO goes on to dissect the legend in its principal forms and to tell its history, exposing the role played by anti-Semitiism in creating and propagating it. It concludes that not only is there insufficient evidence to justify the two principal claims – about exclusive knowledge and about the stock market killing – but there is also strong evidence disproving both.
So far as the historical record shows, Nathan Rothschild was not the first nor nearly the first person in London with authentic information about Wellington’s victory. Equally, though it seems likely that the news brought him some profit, that profit was almost certainly dwarfed by the gains that others made – perfectly legitimately – and the often-repeated allegation that Rothschild manipulated the market to enhance his gains is unfounded.
The chief evidence and arguments challenging the myth are set out in THE NEWS FROM WATERLOO. But so diverse are the stories associated with it, and so deep-rooted are the beliefs, that there was room to deal with only the principal elements. Plenty of loose ends remain, and these pages examine some of those.