University of Cambridge > > Financial History Seminar > Jewish Financiers in the City of London: Reality and Rhetoric, 1830 – 1914

Jewish Financiers in the City of London: Reality and Rhetoric, 1830 – 1914

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The association of Jews with the City of London is taken for granted. Jews have long been identified with the world of money and the City of London has long been one of the leading financial centres of the world. One has only to mention the Rothschilds and the case is deemed to have been proved for the 19th century. Embodied in any reference to the Rothschilds is a belief that the City of London was dominated by Jewish financiers who exercised enormous power through their wealth and the ability to influence markets. However, no attempt has been made to assess the number of Jews active in the City of London and the particular role that they played at a time when it emerged as the dominant financial centre in the world. This paper presents no more than a few preliminary steps in this direction.

Of equal interest in this paper is an attempt to gauge the changing popular perception of the Jewish financiers who inhabited the City of London. Over the course of the 19th century many Jewish financiers became accepted members of British society, acquiring large landed estates, marrying into the aristocracy, and becoming confidants of royalty. Initially, this growing acceptability of Jewish financiers in society appeared to be matched by a decline of anti-Semitic antagonism towards them, judging from mid-19th century novels. However, towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th this antagonism appeared to acquire renewed virulence, again judged from contemporary fiction. Why that happened is the second theme of the paper and a number of explanations are suggested.

This paper will be accompanied by a drinks reception.

This talk is part of the Financial History Seminar series.

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