Natalie Livingstone on her new book The Women Of Rothschild

Virgin Radio

22 Nov 2021, 13:46

Chris Evans with Natalie Livingstone at Virgin Radio

Chris Evans with Natalie Livingstone at Virgin Radio

The historian joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about her second book, which focuses on the female members of the English branch of the Rothschild dynasty, and reveals the extraordinary women who defied the rules and shaped society across three centuries.

The Women Of Rothschild: The Untold Story Of The World’s Most Famous Dynasty, which is out now, focuses on the stories of 15 Rothschild women. Natalie told Chris: “Their story begins with an exclusion. There’s a will in 1812 and the founding father of the Rothschild dynasty excludes the women. He disinherits them, so he basically sets the tone for their lives for the following 250 years.”

Natalie, whose first book The Mistresses of Cliveden (2015) was a Sunday Times bestseller, explained how the Rothschild women responded. “They subverted expectations,” she said. “Every area of life that you can think of, from literature, science, art, music, they decided that they were going to dominate. And all of this was done in secret, and this is the story that we were not meant to hear.”

When Chris asked which of the women was Natalie’s favourite, she explained that it was Miriam Rothschild, who was known as a “Queen of Fleas” and was once described by a journalist as “Beatrix Potter on amphetamines”. Natalie told Chris: “Miriam was a true polymath. She was obsessed with fleas. She was a world expert on fleas. She would describe looking at fleas under a microscope as giving her a bigger high than marijuana.

“She was also a really, really passionate environmentalist. I mean, before there was Stella McCartney, there was Miriam Rothschild. She refused to wear leather, she in fact wore Wellington boots to go to Buckingham Palace because she was so passionate about not wearing leather. She was a vegetarian. She was at the forefront of fighting for mental health. She helped write the Wolfenden Report, in which homosexuality was decriminalised. And she was a decoder at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. And that was just in the first half of her life!” 

Continuing to explain how the women were silenced and had to make their own way, Natalie said: “Miriam, for example, wasn’t educated, but she took herself to polytechnic at night and she taught herself how to become a zoologist, and was awarded eight honorary doctorates and became the first female trustee of the Natural History Museum.

“The more successful they became, and the more they chipped away at it, the men just had to accept the fact that these were extraordinary women, and while the bank was something that the Rothschilds were originally associated with, actually it was the women who gave the family flavour, and colour and fascination.”

When asked why these amazing stories haven’t been told before, Natalie said: “The letters have been hidden… No-one’s really bothered to look at these amazing diaries that have been hidden away, and so it’s a treasure trove of information.”

The book has already been optioned for the screen. “Hopefully a TV show that I’m really keen on getting made, and more to come I hope,” Natalie said.

She added: “Nicole Kidman would make the most fabulous Miriam Rothschild!” 

When discussing the idea that the Rothschilds were the Spice Girls of their day, Natalie told Chris: “I love this idea of the Rothschilds being the original Spice Girls!

“While the Spice Girls influenced music, there’s not one area in which the Rothschild women were not The Spice Girls of that domain. Be it science, be it art, be it books, be it music. I mean they truly did Spice up the world!” 

The Women of Rothschild is out now.

For more great interviews listen to  The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or  catch up on-demand here.