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November 19: The Richest Woman in Great Britain

November 19, 2015

200px-Hannah_de_Rothschild,_later_Countess_of_Rosebery,_by_Julia_Margaret_CameronHannah Primrose, the Countess of Rosebery, who became the wealthiest woman in Great Britain when her father, Baron Mayer de Rothschild, died in 1874, herself died of typhus at only 39 on this date in 1890. Her marriage in 1874 to Philip Archibald Primrose, the Earl of Rosebery, was one of the most talked-about social events in their class-bound society: She did not convert to Anglicanism, and neither the Jewish community nor the British aristocracy was happy about the intermarriage. Nevertheless, the Prince of Wales was the guest of honor, and Benjamin Disraeli “gave the bride away.” With her money, ambition, and adoration at his back, the Earl of Rosebery worked his way up the political ladder to become Foreign Secretary under William Gladstone and, following her death, Prime Minister, though he held the post for little more than a year. After her death, he was subjected to public accusations of homosexuality by John Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry (who also harassed Oscar Wilde into prison). The public gossips, however, mostly wrote about the Rosebery marriage as a happy affair, and the Earl more or less fell apart after Hannah’s death. As a philanthropist, she supported many of the institutions her father had launched, and as a Jew, she was active in the Central Synagogue in London — but the Primroses’ four children were raised as Anglicans.

“[H]er judgment as a whole was singularly sound and calm... having the power of seeing through people quickly. She gauged the character of her fellow creatures with great perspicacity.” —Edward Hamilton