The Rothschild family motto is unambiguous: ‘Concordia, Integritas, Industria.’ Harmony comes first in the making and keeping of one of the world’s greatest fortunes.
But that ‘harmony’ was stretched to breaking point at the funeral of financier Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, who is understood to have left control of his share of the dynasty’s millions not to his three children, but to his widow Lady de Rothschild.
Relations were said to be strained between Sir Evelyn’s third wife, American entrepreneur, philanthropist and political power player Lynn Forester, 68, and her husband’s offspring – Jessica, David and Anthony.
Her expected inheritance means a multi-million-pound wedge of Rothschild wealth is likely to pass out of the 200-year-old British branch of the family empire, which helped finance Wellington’s armies at Waterloo, the Suez Canal and the London Underground.
‘We’re talking about one of the biggest upheavals of this kind in history,’ a source close to the family told The Mail on Sunday last night.
‘We think he’s handed over the Rothschild fortune, his part of it. It’s all expected to be going to Lynn, and it’s not as if he couldn’t have been very generous to everyone.’
The late Sir Evelyn de Rothschild pictured with his third wife Lynn Forester, to whom he has left most of his fortune
Anthony de Rothschild (pictured in 2009 with Tania Strecker) is one of Sir Evelyn’s children to miss out on much of the inheritance
The source believed Lynn would probably get ‘something in the region of £600 million’.
At the funeral two weeks ago, held at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London’s St John’s Wood, Lynn sat front and centre behind the coffin with her two sons from a previous marriage, while Sir Evelyn’s children sat at a pew to one side.
The financier’s 48-year-old daughter Jessica – a theatre producer married for more than a decade to Sacha Gervasi, an ex of Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – refused to join the family procession as her father’s coffin was carried out, in protest at having been left out of funeral arrangements along with her siblings.
The de facto head of the family, Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, was not invited to give the address. Instead, Lady de Rothschild invited former US President Bill Clinton to speak.
A source said: ‘Jacob not being invited to speak tells you everything you need to know. It’s a terrible misstep. He knew Evelyn the best and his reminiscences would have been relevant and in keeping with family, and not married-into family.
‘I don’t think anyone was unhappy that Bill Clinton was there – he’s Bill Clinton – but Evelyn had only met him 25 years ago. He was a 91-year-old man, what about the other 60-odd years? The kids had absolutely no say at all. The children have had to stand by and it’s not been helpful.’
It seemed the tension was not lost on the former US President, who made an extraordinary public appeal for unity during his address to mourners who included his wife Hillary Clinton, the Duchess of York, Princess Beatrice, her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and Tony and Cherie Blair.
Sir Evelyn’s daughter Jessica de Rothschild pictured at a cocktail party in 2019
Mr Clinton said: ‘I have been thinking a lot about Evelyn and the ambiguous privilege of bearing a famous name, inheriting physical resources and having to make decisions about what you will do with both the identity you have inherited, the resources, the advantages and the complications that go along with them.’
He pleaded: ‘For all of you who have come here with unresolved doubts, and lingering resentments, I ask that they be forgiven.’
But despite his pleas, there may be more turmoil to come. According to family members, there is one part of Sir Evelyn’s empire that will not be controlled by Lynn: his UK-registered Rothschild family charity Eranda.
Lady de Rothschild is on the board of trustees with two of her stepchildren, Jessica and Anthony.
The family are keen to ensure that the charity does not shift its philanthropic focus to American causes. ‘The family are gearing up for a fight,’ said a source close to the family.
Conspicuously absent from the congregation was King Charles, who Lady de Rothschild had hoped would attend.
One source told The Mail on Sunday that there were hopes Charles’s nephew Ben Elliot – who is also on the board of trustees for Eranda – might encourage the monarch along.
In the end the absent King sent an ‘elegant’ letter instead, praising Sir Evelyn, which Mr Clinton paraphrased in his address as ‘wow I liked this guy, he did a lot of good things’.
At least two family members also privately expressed bewilderment during the funeral at the absence of some de Rothschild relatives and friends who pre-dated Sir Evelyn’s marriage to Lynn.
Lady de Rothschild invited former US President Bill Clinton to speak at Sir Evelyn’s funeral
Another source added: ‘A lot of family members were not included in the funeral.
‘Many people were not invited to participate, who should have participated. Not just Jessica, but other family members who would have represented them better.’
A source close to Jacob said: ‘Jacob sent a message of respect and friendship for his cousin to President Clinton who gave the address and he generously referred to it. Jacob was not asked to speak at the service. Only the President.’
Mr Clinton’s only mention of Jacob in his address was made with reference to Lynn, when he credited her for reconciling Jacob and Evelyn after they endured a decades-long fall-out. Mr Clinton said in his address: ‘I particularly appreciated the fact that he [Evelyn] and Jacob were reconciled thanks in no small measure to Lynn.’
Dynasty of fabulous riches but also tragedy and feuds
The Rothschild banking dynasty was founded in England at the end of the 18th Century by Frankfurt-born Nathan Mayer Rothschild.
It funded Britain’s Napoleonic wars and by the mid-20th Century was a major global financial player under Anthony de Rothschild.
But when Anthony’s son Evelyn became chairman in 1976, he and cousin Jacob Rothschild became locked in a bitter feud over strategy.
Jacob’s father Victor, the 3rd Baron Rothschild, de facto head of the family, joined the bank as chairman but the former wartime MI5 officer failed to secure a rapprochement and Jacob quit.
Evelyn’s 27-year tenure as head of the bank saw him build £4.6 billion of assets. He was a feared, autocratic figure but with weaknesses including exotic cars and chocolate.
In 1982 his first wife, British model Jeanette Bishop, was found dead, believed murdered, on an Italian mountain road.
By then he had remarried US tycoon’s daughter Victoria Lou Schott, mother of his heirs Jessica, Anthony and David.
They divorced in 2000 – and the arrival of third wife, Lynn, that year began the rift between her and Evelyn’s children.
Whether Lady de Rothschild will be able to reconcile with her stepchildren remains to be seen, but hopes are not high – particularly with the will due to be read out in the coming days. The source added: ‘Jessica was very much loved by her father and felt very much locked out by the principal lady in his life, by marriage.
‘With the two boys [Anthony and David], there was a bit of a coming back together, the boys spent time with him [Sir Evelyn] in the last few months. But it’s quite well known in social circles that the three children don’t speak to her [Lynn].
‘Lynn seems to have got everything. The three children are likely to have been disinherited, but I don’t think it’s a new thing, like they’ve woken up and found out they’re not in the will.
He has drifted apart from them and his grandchildren for a decade or so because they believed the will has been changed and all the money was going to, or has already gone to, Lynn.’
According to the family friend, Sir Evelyn is feared to have broken the cardinal rule of dynastic wealth: that it passes down the family line to future generations.
The source said: ‘There’s a big distinction: if you make the money in your lifetime, give it to the zoo, give it to anyone. Sir Evelyn inherited a bunch of money. Some may think it wasn’t his to give away.’
Significantly, however, the family friend does not underestimate how happy Sir Evelyn was in his latter years. ‘There’s no doubt that he was in love with her [Lynn],’ the friend said. ‘The word I would use is “enthralled”, in the sense that she’s glamorous and suddenly he’s with the Clintons.’
Lynn entered into politics in 1976, when she worked on New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s first senatorial campaign. She later met the Clintons when she became involved in Bill’s presidential run in 1992, and has remained close with them ever since.
The friend added: ‘Evelyn was an old man and suddenly he was given a new lease of life. I remember him saying that private planes are incredibly vulgar, and within about three years of being with Lynn, he was flying all over the world – in an enormous private jet.’
The couple spent a night of their honeymoon in the Lincoln Bedroom of the Clinton White House and had a dinner held in their in their honour in the State Dining Room attended by the President and the First Lady, launching a shared transatlantic life of business and philanthropy.
They divided their time between the US and the UK, where they owned painter John Singer Sargent’s house and studio in London’s Chelsea, and a sprawling estate in Buckinghamshire.
Their country seat was the timbered Victorian mansion Ascott House, a former Rothschild hunting lodge.
In the US, as well as a home in New York, they had a holiday retreat on the exclusive island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where Sir Evelyn found peace in his later years.
These strong ties to America are now worrying some members of the Rothschild family in the UK, according to the source.
Sir Evelyn chaired the Eranda Foundation, a charity named after himself and his sisters Renee and Anne. (The acronym E, R and A was created by their father Anthony de Rothschild when he wrote to his children after they were evacuated to the US during the Second World War.)
Founded by Sir Evelyn in 1967, Eranda has donated more than £74 million to medical research, education and arts charities.
Now there are suggestions that Lynn may seek to take the helm of the charity and could potentially want US causes to benefit more. ‘It is feared there may be a resulting lawsuit,’ said one source. ‘It would not be out of character for her to try to do that.’
Other Eranda trustees include former Burberry chairman Sir John Peace and Elliot, the founder of luxury concierge service Quintessentially and nephew of Queen Camilla.
Sir Evelyn was a close friend of Camilla’s buccaneering late brother Mark Shand, with whom he founded an elephant preservation charity. (Elephants, along with flat racing and gourmet chocolate were three of his passions outside of merchant banking.)
Meanwhile, the family waits to hear if Lady de Rothschild will indeed inherit control of the bulk of the fortune. As for Sir Evelyn’s belief that ‘the first important strength of the family is unity’, that’s beginning to look rather rocky.
When approached for comment, Lady de Rothschild refused to be drawn on the details of our story, saying that she was grieving and adding: ‘You are not accurate in what you say and I will not make any further comment on the matter.’