Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879) was the eldest son and second child of Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), the founder of the British branch of the banking dynasty. Lionel was born in England, his father having left Frankfurt in 1798 to enlarge the family textile interests. In 1808, shortly after Lionel's birth he bought 2 New Court, St. Swithin's Lane, London, which remains the London headquarters of the bank that bears the family's name.
Lionel was educated at Dr. Schwave's school in Stamford Hill, having previously attended a school in Peckham. He later attended the University of Göttingen from 1825 and from 1828 he started work at the London branch of Rothschild's, moving to the Paris office in 1830. By 1834 he was negotiating with the Spanish Government over mining rights for quicksilver. He married in Frankfurt in 1836, when he also formally entered the family partnership. His bride was Charlotte, the daughter of his uncle, the founder of the Naples branch of the bank, Baron Carl Mayer de Rothschild (1788-1855). Charlotte von Rothschild (1819-1884) was Baron de Rothschild's eldest child and her marriage to her cousin followed the pattern of similar marriages in the family. The wedding celebration on 15 June, two days after Charlotte's seventeenth birthday, were to be later overshadowed by the death of Nathan, her father-in-law, on 28 July. Lionel therefore took control of the London business at the young age of twenty-eight. The date of these candelabra suggest they were a wedding gift.
Lionel and Charlotte lived first on Hill Street, off Berkeley Square, while sharing the Gunnersbury Park estate with his mother. He would later buy the Halton estate from Sir George Dashwood and move his London residence to 148 Piccadilly in 1841, the enlargement of which enabled him to display his magnificent art collection. Michael Hall in his essay "The English Rothschilds as Collectors" (G. Heuberger ed., The Rothschilds, Essays on the History of a European Family, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, p. 268) notes that 'Baron Lionel de Rothschild was without doubt the greatest of all the Rothschild collectors.' Charlotte was fluent in German, French and English and was a noted hostess. She campaigned tirelessly for her husband's political aims and was a great supporter of many charities.
On Lionel's return to London following his marriage he built on the success of his father. The range of clients expanded with much business being conducted, in association with the Paris office, concerning the rapidly developing railway companies in the New World. Loans were made to the British government in the 1850s to finance the Crimean War and again in 1875 to enable the Khedive of Egypt to take a 44 stake in the Suez Canal.
Lionel's business interests were complimented by his considerable charitable works. The British Relief Association, formed to help the victims of the Irish famine was founded in the Rothschild offices at 2 New Court and raised £8 million in loans with £1,000 personally donated by Lionel. He and his wife entertained lavishly at their house in Piccadilly. The editor of The Times, John Delane, was a close friend, as was Benjamin Disraeli, although they were politically in opposition to each other. Lionel entered politics standing as a Liberal candidate for one of the City of London seats in the election of 1847. He was unable to take up his seat in the House of Commons as it required an oath sworn on the New Testament. It would not be until 1858 that he would be able to attend the Commons, the oath finally having been amended. He sat until 1874. He was offered a baronetcy in 1846 which he declined. He had already been given leave to use the Austrian barony in 1838. Disraeli recommended him for a peerage in 1869 but it would his eldest son Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1885-1915) who would be elevated to the upper house. His final years were plagued by illness and he died at his house on Piccadilly in 1879.