cover image CHARLOTTE AND LIONEL: A Rothschild Love Story

CHARLOTTE AND LIONEL: A Rothschild Love Story

Stanley Weintraub, . . Free Press, $27.50 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-2686-8

Weintraub, biographer of Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli, knows the Victorian world well, and here he profiles one of its oddly (given their Jewishness and British anti-Semitism) quintessential couples. Lionel Rothschild, scion of the British branch of the famed banking family, married his beautiful German wife, Charlotte, in 1836, when she was 16 (he was a decade older). The bride was, following family custom, also Lionel's cousin and would mature into a sparkling saloniste and hostess whose dinner invitations, Weintraub notes, were preferred over those from Buckingham Palace. Weintraub, author of the bestselling Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, intimately traces their relationship, which brought them "mixed blessings." Lionel fought to be able to take a seat in Parliament (as a Jew, he couldn't take the necessary oath "on the true faith of a Christian" until legislators amended the archaic oaths law, a process that dragged on for 11 years). Charlotte and Lionel were a fine match, she tending to charities, bearing children, hosting fabulous gatherings and nursing him through various health crises, he serving as banker to royalty in Britain and on the continent. Charlotte attracted passion not only from her husband: Benjamin Disraeli fictionalized her more than once; Endymion, Weintraub says, was an "extraordinary love letter" to her. While immortalizing her in his fiction, however, he apparently didn't act on his feelings, and there's no evidence to suggest she considered him anything other than a close family friend. Weintraub offers an enticing inside look at a storied family that played a central public role in Victorian England. (Feb.)