Jeanne Rathbone

Lady Battersea Constance de Rothschild

Posted in Lady Battersea by sheelanagigcomedienne on October 27, 2019

Lady Battersea

Obviously, when I discovered that there was a Lady Battersea I had to blog about her if she was interesting.  I think she is another women from the past who has been overlooked. Also she was another women whom it transpires was married to a man who preferred men. There were a lot more men and women who married although one, other or both were gay or bisexual, which went unacknowledged or tacitly accepted. It reminds me of another Battersea connected woman Elsa Lanchester who was married to Charles Laughton. One significant difference being that Lord Battersea was a very handsome man and she and her husband came from an upper class background. She was a wealthy Rothschild.

Constance Rothschild  later Lady Battersea was born in 1843 at 107 Piccadilly. She was known as Connie. She and her sister Anne were the daughters of Baron Anthony and Louise (née Montefiore) de Rothschild who were cousins. Her father belonged to one of the wealthiest and most distinguished Jewish banking families in England. The Rothschild’s enjoyed pre-eminence among the network of aristocratic cousins who ruled Anglo-Jewish society in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. Niall Ferguson states in his History of the House of Rothschild that by the mid-19th century they regarded themselves as the nearest thing the European Jews had to a royal family and the equals of royalty.  Yet antisemitic feelings were prevalent in the upper echelons of society; particularly so among those closest to the Queen at court, where following the death of the Prince Albert in 1861 the Rothschilds became pointedly excluded.

This information on Constance Rothschild came from the Jewish Women’s Archive written by Linda Gordon Kuzmack. Linda Gordon Kuzmack

Constance spent her earliest years in Paris with her family. In 1847, she moved back to London where she had been born on 29 April 1843. She enjoyed a thorough education, including drawing lessons, which was enlivened by sessions of whist with her father.

Annie de Rothschild sister of Constance Lady Battersea

Anne de Rothschild sister of Constance Lady Battersea

Constance’s mother Louise Lady Rothschild launched Anglo-Jewish women into organized philanthropy when she founded the first serious volunteer philanthropic organization of Jewish women in Victorian England. In so doing, she inspired many upper- and middle-class Anglo- Jewish women to emerge out of the home and into public life for the first time.

So, with this influence Constance and her sister inherited their mother’s  strong sense of duty to the poor, a sense of confidence and an independent spirit as women to be part of elite English society. As girls they taught in the village schools surrounding their home and as young women at the Jews’ Free School for the poor in London. Together, the girls wrote a popular children’s book entitled The History and Literature of the Israelites, which was highly praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.


Aston ClintonHouse was their opulent home.

In October 1902, The Sketch visited Aston Clinton House, to the south-east of the village of Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, thought to have been the most charming of the country houses belonging to various members of the Rothschild family and their immediate descendants. As one observer said: “This typically English homestead gains rather than loses by contrast with its stately neighbour, Waddesdon.”

Both Lady Battersea and her mother showed a practical interest in the welfare of their poorer neighbours. Anthony Hall, a building erected by Sir Anthony’s widow in memory to him, formed a centre not only for those in the neighbourhood, but also for the many practical philanthropists who met there at the invitation of Lord Battersea. The Aston Clinton Coffee Tavern was another familiar benefaction conferred on the village by the Rothschild family, and successful had been the Training Home for Girls, an institution that had solved locally ‘that difficult modern problem – the servant question’.

Both were keenly concerned in what was going on in the political, artistic, and philanthropic worlds. The Sketch painted a lavish portrayal. “They are among those whom the nation should delight to honour, for they have done all in their power to make happier and better the many large circles of human beings with whom they are brought in contact. Lady Battersea has the energy of her wonderful race, and she is ardently interested in all that affects the welfare of her own sex.”

When Lady de Rothschild died in 1910, Aston Clinton reverted to the Rothschild estate, but Lady Battersea and her sister, Annie Henrietta (1844-1926), remained in occupation until the First World War. It was given over to the Commanding Officer of the 21st Infantry Division, then based on the Halton estate.

The Rothschild estate sold Aston Clinton for £15,000 in 1923 – a house with seven reception rooms, billiard room, ballroom, thirteen principal bedrooms and dressing rooms, seventeen secondary and servants’ bedrooms, four bathrooms and domestic offices. To commemorate the sale the Rothschilds placed a tablet in the wall of the portico recording that the family had owned Aston Clinton between 1853 until 1923, a period of 70 years.

The elite social circle of the Rothschild daughters, who were raised in a home where their parents entertained the leaders of English politics and society, was almost entirely Christian except for their cousins. These Christian visitors, combined with their mother’s discomfort with Judaism, influenced the sisters’ ambivalent attitude to Judaism as a religion. However, Constance never converted, but remained dedicated to Jews as a people, even though she and her sister Anne both married Christians, despite their parents’ acute unhappiness. Constance married Cyril Flower (1843–1907), later Lord Battersea, in 1877, while Anne married Eliot Yorke in 1873. Both marriages were childless.

Constance and Cyril Flower had met in 1864 through his friendship with her cousin, Leopold de Rothschild. He had been called to the bar and became a Liberal MP and was a patron of art and was widely referred to as “the most handsome man in the House of Commons”, was said he possessed a genius for friendship and was a great favourite of Gladstone[ who, in 1892, raised him to the peerage as Baron Battersea.

We don’t know if Constance was aware of Cyril’s sexual orientation when she married him when she was thirty four and had known him for many years before that. He was popular and had many friends. A close friend and possible lover was the psychical researcher Frederic Myers and  other friends included Henry James and Edward Burne –Jones. There are indications that Constance disapproved of some of his friends. (. Rothschild: A Story of Wealth and Power by Derek Wilson [15] and in her memoirs she cautiously comments that she had intuitively felt that “some of the very ardent and sudden likings he occasionally took to certain persons might lead to misplaced friendship”.

Rich, Handsome, Intelligent, Energetic, Politically Active, Enthusiastic Sportsman, Businessman, Art Lover, Ideal Victorian Gentleman

Lord BatterseaCyril Flower was one of nine children born to Philip William Flower, of Furze Down, Streatham, Surrey, and his first wife, Mary, daughter of Jonathan Flower. His father was a prosperous East Indian merchant who had earlier established a successful merchant house in Sydney, Australia. Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, Cyril was called to the Bar, Inner Temple, in 1870 at the age of 27. This started him on the career of being an innovative and upcoming barrister.

During this time, Cyril’s best friend was Leopold de Rothschild from the famous banking family. It was through this connection that he met his future wife and Leopold’s cousin, Constance de Rothschild. Daughter to Sir Anthony de Rothschild, 1st bart, Constance was an heiress in her own right and was soon drawn to the mind and body of Cyril. It was not long before the marriage of the banker’s daughter and the man, whom many considered the handsomest of his day, occurred in 1877.

In 1880 he entered Parliament for Breconshire, a seat he held until 1885 when the constituency was abolished, and then represented Luton until 1892. It was also during that time he served as Whip to the Liberal Party. Additionally, he served briefly as a Junior Lord of the Treasury from February to July 1886 in the third Liberal administration of William Ewart Gladstone.

Receiving a peerage in 1892 Flower was raised to noble rank and conferred with the title, Baron Battersea, of Battersea in the County of London and of Overstrand in the County of Norfolk. Apart from his political career he was also a great collector and patron of art. He was a patron of James McNeill Whistler and was involved with the Pre-Raphaelite set commissioning many pieces from Edward Burne-Jones.

Here is the Battersea connection. In  the 1890s Cyril Flower began to acquire vacant land on the south side of Prince of Wales Drive Battersea  from the Commissioners for Development. His first first mansion block to be developed along Prince of Wales Drive was Overstrand Mansions, which was begun in 1893. In 1894, most of the other mansions blocks were begun by Cyril Flower: Cyril Mansions was started on 26 April, Norfolk Mansions was started on 27 October, and both Sidestrand Mansions (now Park Mansions) and Primrose Mansions in November. These blocks were under construction, by different builders, at much of the same time, and are of an architecture style inspired by the Arts and Craft Movement. The leases for these buildings were taken up with enthusiasm when built.

Overstrand Mansions Prince of Wales Drive Battersea SW11

The names of these five mansion blocks were selected by Cyril Flower and Constance. Sidestrand Mansions (now Park Mansions), Norfolk Mansions and Overstrand Mansions were named after “Poppyland which was popularised by Clement Scott the theatre critic for The Daily Telegraph. This was the name he gave to the area of the Norfolk coast which included the village of Overstrand was a fashionable holiday destination during this time and this was where Constance and Cyril built their country home The Pleasaunce.

(Another snippet from Survey of London.  In 1906, 69 Primrose Mansions was in the possession of Mrs Edith Karno, the estranged wife of comedy impresario Fred Karno. From here, with a number of Music Hall friends, she helped to run the first office of the Ladies Music Hall Guild—founded in September 1906 with Marie Lloyd as its President. Edith Karno was its first treasurer.)

Cyril Mansions was named after himself, and Primrose Mansions was named after  Constance’s cousin, Hannah, who was married to Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosberry.  Rosebery Villa abuts Primrose Mansions on Alexandra Road. Another, interesting story as Lord Roseberry eventually became Prime Minister.,_Countess_of_Rosebery


After her marriage to Cyril Flower, Constance combined a lavish social life with charitable activities. The Rothschild daughters’ marriages and subsequent gilded lifestyle among the Christian aristocracy continued the process of isolating them from Judaism as a religion. Moreover, Constance felt Judaism regarded her as inferior because she was a woman. Disillusioned with Orthodoxy, Constance felt some sympathy for the new Liberal Judaism that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, but never joined the movement. She attended church services because she liked the spirit of public worship.

She became active in philanthropy, and in the temperance movement as she became aware of the need for temperance when her servants abused liquor and  joined the British Women’s Temperance Association in the 1890s and became a leader of temperance campaigns in London and the provinces. Constance was introduced to the women’s movement in 1881 by suffragist and temperance worker Fanny Morgan (whom she helped to undertake a political career that resulted in her election as mayor of Brecon).

Her reputation for social activism led her to become involved in the movement for reforms of English women’s prisons. She only encountered three Jewish female convicts during her visits to Aylesbury prison.

In 1885 she was jolted into struggling with the issue of white slavery by a an exposés of child prostitution and white slavery—trafficking in girls and women. The articles by journalist W. T. Stead’s also fanned prejudice against Jewish immigrants by accusing East European Jews of being the source of the traffic in prostitutes and of corrupting English girls and women. Also a crusade against the sweatshop system of employing immigrant garment workers fuelled further prejudice against Jews. Constance learnt that Jewish prostitutes believed that only Christian missions would give them food and lodging and that no Jew would help them.

The Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women JAPGW was composed of Jewish women closely connected to women’s temperance, suffrage and educational campaigns.

They worked closely with feminist and inter-denominational anti-white slavery organizations. Founding the JAPGW launched these Anglo-Jewish women into organized English feminism and established the roots of an Anglo-Jewish woman’s movement seventeen years before the founding of the Union of Jewish Women.

She had to overcome the resistance of the organized Jewish community, which was reluctant to even admit there was Jewish prostitution in England. She also had to overcome English feminists’ resistance to accepting Jewish women.

Constance and her women’s committee handled the rescue, job training and provision of residential homes for women and girls and after World War I, after the partial winning of votes for women they  joined the male JAPGW representatives in the leadership of international rescue operations. She continued to lead the organization and to represent the JAPGW at international meetings through the early 1920s.

Her work in temperance, prison reform and white slavery had drawn her into the English woman’s movement by the 1890s. She was introduced to the National Union of Women Workers (NUWW) of Great Britain and Ireland (later the National Council of Women of Great Britain and Ireland), which became the umbrella organization for all women’s philanthropic groups in Great Britain.

She brought Jewish women into the Union, encouraging them partly for the opportunity the organization afforded middle-class women to become active outside the home, partly to help less fortunate women, and partly because she and others saw membership as a sign of social acceptance for Jews. Jewish women’s involvement ultimately helped to broaden the movement’s political base, thereby strengthening English feminism.

Lord Battersea died in 1907 aged 64 . He seems to have faded from political life by then.

Constance had some books published. You can read them here.

Reminiscences, Lady Battersea (Constance) de Rothschild Longmans, Green, 1871

A Buckingham Story of 1663, Baroness Constance Flower Battersea Watson and Hazell, 1875 – 107 pages,



Waddesdon Manor NT another Rothschild’s home has this letter on display from Constance to the mother of the bride about the wedding of  Connie’s cousin Jimmy to Dorothy Pinto constance_battersea1letter

Constance died in 1931 at The Pleasunce.

According to her obituary in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency k                                                                                            Lady Battersea was the friend of Queen Victoria, King Edward and Queen Alexandra, and eight Prime Ministers, including Disraeli and Gladstone, and was well known to many distinguished men and women, among them Thackeray and Lord Morley.

Here is a photo of her in Overstrand with her neighbour Lady Shackleton. Lady Battersea and Lady Shackleton

Constance died at The Pleasaunce  on 22 November 1931, the anniversary of her marriage. She is undoubtedly another interesting woman associated with Battersea. I don’t know if she ever visited our Borough or the mansions in Prince of Wales Drive and the Park Town Estate that was bult by Lord Battersea but nevertheless I think her life is quite fascinating despite her privilege and her contribution to Jewish women’s involvement in social and political life is worthy of being remembered.

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