Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild

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Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild
Born (1910-10-31)31 October 1910
Died 20 March 1990(1990-03-20) (aged 79)
Ethnicity Jewish
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Biologist
Religion Non-religious
Spouse(s) Barbara Judith Hutchinson
Teresa Georgina Mayor

with Hutchinson:

with Mayor:

Parent(s) Charles Rothschild
Rozsika Rothschild (née Edle von Wertheimstein)

Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild Bt GBE GM FRS[1] (31 October 1910 – 20 March 1990) was a biologist by training, a cricketer and a member of the prominent Rothschild family.

Early life[edit]

Rothschild was the only son of Charles Rothschild and Rozsika Rothschild (née Edle von Wertheimstein). He had three sisters. Rothschild was educated at Harrow School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Physiology, French and English. He played first-class cricket for the University and Northamptonshire. At Cambridge he was known for his playboy lifestyle, driving a Bugatti and collecting art and rare books.

At Trinity, Rothschild joined the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society, which at that time was predominantly Marxist, though he "was mildly left-wing but never a Marxist".[2] There he became friends with the future Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, who were also members, and Kim Philby—not a member—who became the most important Soviet spy in Britain. Rothschild gave Blunt £100 to purchase "Eliezer and Rebecca" by Nicolas Poussin.[3] The painting was sold by Blunt's executors in 1985 for £100,000 (totalling £192,500 with tax remission)[4] and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum.[5] His flat in London was shared with Burgess and Blunt. This later aroused suspicion that he was the so-called Fifth Man in the Cambridge Spy Ring. Rothschild inherited his title at the age of 26 following the death of his uncle Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild on 27 August 1937, and sat as a Labour Party peer in the House of Lords.

World War II[edit]

Rothschild was recruited to work for MI5 during World War II in roles including bomb disposal, disinformation and espionage, winning the George Medal for "dangerous work in hazardous circumstances".[6] He was the head of B1C, the "explosives and sabotage section", and worked on identifying where Britain's war effort was vulnerable to sabotage and counter German sabotage attempts. This included personally dismantling examples of German booby traps and disguised explosives.[7]

Because of his association with Burgess and Blunt, he was questioned by Special Branch at the time of Blunt's unmasking in 1964 (though Blunt was not publicly identified as a Soviet agent until 1979 in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) and was apparently cleared, subsequently working on projects for the British government. Rumours continued to circulate, and Rothschild himself took the step of publishing a letter in British newspapers on 3 December 1986 to state "... I am not, and never have been, a Soviet agent." Roland Perry's 1994 book The Fifth Man (London: Pan Books, 1994) repeated the charges without firm authority, and there remains no hard proof to say that Rothschild in fact spied for the Soviet Union.[8] However, in 1993, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, six retired KGB colonels in Moscow including Col. Yuri Modin, the spy ring's handler, alleged that Rothschild was indeed the "Fifth Man". Perry writes: "According to ... Modin, Rothschild was the key to most of the Cambridge ring's penetration of British intelligence. 'He had the contacts,' Modin noted. 'He was able to introduce Burgess, Blunt and others to important figures in Intelligence such as Stewart Menzies, Dick White and Robert Vansittart in the Foreign Office...who controlled Mi-6."[9] By contrast, Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin's book "The Mitrokhin Archives" makes no mention made of Rothschild as a Soviet agent and instead identifies John Cairncross as the Fifth Man.

Post-war work[edit]

After the war, he joined the zoology department at Cambridge University from 1950 to 1970. He served as chairman of the Agricultural Research Council from 1948 to 1958 and as worldwide head of research at Royal Dutch/Shell from 1963 to 1970. He continued to work in security as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher. He was also head of the Central Policy Review Staff from 1971 to 1974 (known popularly as the "The Think Tank")[10] a staff which researched policy specifically for the Government until Margaret Thatcher abolished it. In 1982 he published An Enquiry into the Social Science Research Council at the behest of Sir Keith Joseph, a Conservative minister and mentor of Margaret Thatcher.

He appears several times in the book Spycatcher written by Peter Wright, who he hoped would clear the air over suspicions about his wartime role. He was still able to enter the premises of MI5 as a former employee. He was aware of suspicions that there was a "Mole" in MI5 but he felt himself to be above suspicion. While Edward Heath was Prime Minister he was a frequent visitor to Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence. Throughout his life he was a valued adviser on intelligence and science to both Conservative and Labour Governments.

Despite being an opposition Labour party peer, in 1987, during the Thatcher Government, Victor played a role in the sacking of BBC Director General Alasdair Milne, who had backed the programmes 'Secret Society', 'Real Lives',[11] and 'Panorama: Maggie's Militant Tendency' which had angered the Thatcher government. Marmaduke Hussey, who was Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors at the time, implied Rothchild initiated the Milne sacking in his autobiography Chance Governs All.[12]

At the end of his career, he joined the family bank as chairman in an effort to quell the feuding between factions led by two of his younger relatives. In this he was unsuccessful.


In 1933, he married Barbara Judith Hutchinson (born 1911). They had three children.[13]

In 1946, he married Teresa Georgina Mayor (1915–1996). Mayor's maternal grandfather was Robert John Grote Mayor, the brother of English novelist F. M. Mayor and a greatnephew of philosopher and clergyman John Grote. Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Beatrice Meinertzhagen, was the sister of soldier Richard Meinertzhagen and the niece of author Beatrice Webb.[14][15] They had four children:[13]

Born into a nominally Jewish family, in adult life Rothschild declared himself to be an atheist.[19]

His sister Miriam Louisa Rothschild was a distinguished entomologist.

His sister Nica de Koenigswarter was a bebop jazz enthusiast and patron of Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.

Honours and awards[edit]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reeve, Suzanne (1994). "Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild, G. B. E., G. M. Third Baron Rothschild. 31 October 1910-20 March 1990". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 39: 364–326. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1994.0021.  edit
  2. ^ Kenneth Rose, "Rothschild, (Nathaniel Mayer) Victor, third Baron Rothschild (1910–1990)", rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 9 March 2007
  3. ^ Rose (2003), pp47-48.
  4. ^ The Art Fund – Eliezer and Rebecca
  5. ^ Fitzwilliam Museum – OPAC Record
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36452. p. 1548. 4 April 1944.
  7. ^ MacIntyre Agent Zigzag Bloomsbury p 172-173
  8. ^ The ODNB concludes: "The carefree friendships of Rothschild's early Cambridge years that had continued throughout the war cast a shadow over the last decade of his life. The defection of Burgess to Russia and the uncovering of Blunt as a Soviet agent exposed Rothschild to innuendo and vilification in press and parliament. Rather than let his name record of public service speak for themselves, he sought unwisely to clear himself through the testimony of Peter Wright, an investigator employed by MI5 had every reason to know of his innocence. Clandestine association with so volatile a character aroused further suspicions that Rothschild had broken the Official Secrets Act. Only after voluntarily submitting himself to a long interrogation by Scotland Yard did he emerge with honour and patriotism intact." Kenneth Rose, "Rothschild, (Nathaniel Mayer) Victor, third Baron Rothschild (1910–1990)", rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 9 March 2007
  9. ^ Roland Perry, "The Fifth Man" (1994, Sedgwick and Jackson), 89.
  10. ^ Wright, Peter (1987). Spycatcher. Toronto: Stoddart. p. 347. ISBN 0-7737-2168-1. 
  11. ^ "History of the BBC: Real Lives 1985". BBC. 
  12. ^ Hussey, Marmaduke (2001). Chance Governs All. Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 9780333902561. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The Rothschild Foster Trust: "The descendants of Charles Rothschild" retrieved 27 September 2012
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ New York Times: "INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS;Rothschild Bank Confirms Death of Heir, 41, as Suicide" By YOUSSEF M. IBRAHIM 12 July 1996
  17. ^ a b The Daily Mail: "Rothschild heiress's marriage to Goldsmith scion is over... after she falls for a rapper called Jay Electronica" By Katie Nicholl 2 June 2012
  18. ^ US Magazine: "Nicky Hilton Is Engaged to James Rothschild: Hotel Heiress to Marry Banking Heir" By Esther Lee and Brody Brown August 12, 2014
  19. ^ Wilson, p. 466.
  20. ^


  • Wilson, Derek (1994). Rothschild: A story of wealth and power. London: Andre Deutsch. ISBN 0 233 98870 X. 
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Walter Rothschild
Baron Rothschild
Succeeded by
Jacob Rothschild
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Walter Rothschild
(of Tring Park)
Succeeded by
Jacob Rothschild