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He was the son of Amschel Moses Rothschild, (born circa 1710), a money changer who had traded with the Prince of Hesse.
Born in the "Judengasse", the ghetto of Frankfurt, Mayer developed a finance house and spread his empire by installing each of his five sons in the five main European financial centres to conduct business.
Five lines of the Austrian branch of the family have been elevated to Austrian nobility, being given five hereditary titles of Barons of the Habsburg Empire by Emperor Francis II in 1816.
Another line, of the British branch of the family, was elevated by Queen Victoria, who granted the family two hereditary titles of Baronet (1847) From London in 1813 to 1815, Nathan Mayer Rothschild was instrumental in almost single-handedly financing the British war effort, organising the shipment of bullion to the Duke of Wellington's armies across Europe, as well as arranging the payment of British financial subsidies to their continental allies.
In 1818, he arranged a £5 million (equal to £340 million in 2016) loan to the Prussian government, and the issuing of bonds for government loans formed a mainstay of his bank’s business.
He gained a position of such power in the City of London that by 1825–26 he was able to supply enough coin to the Bank of England to enable it to avert a market liquidity crisis. They are well-planned, with great cleverness and adroitness in execution – but he is in money and funds what Napoleon was in war." —Baron Baring on Nathan Rothschild"...
The family network was also to provide Nathan Rothschild time and again with political and financial information ahead of his peers, giving him an advantage in the markets and rendering the house of Rothschild still more invaluable to the British government.
In one instance, the family network enabled Nathan to receive in London the news of Wellington's victory at the Battle of Waterloo a full day ahead of the government's official messengers.
The first member of the family who was known to use the name "Rothschild" was Izaak Elchanan Rothschild, born in 1577.
Changes made by the Rothschilds allowed them to insulate their property from local violence: "Henceforth their real wealth was beyond the reach of the mob, almost beyond the reach of greedy monarchs." Johnson argued that their fortune was generated to the greatest extent by Nathan Mayer Rothschild in London; however, more recent research by Niall Ferguson indicates that greater and equal profits also were realised by the other Rothschild dynasties, including James Mayer de Rothschild in Paris, Carl Mayer von Rothschild in Naples and Amschel Mayer Rothschild in Frankfurt.