Life and career
Although Ferdinand von Rothschild was born in Paris, he was from Vienna and a part of the Rothschild banking family of Austria. He was the second son of Baron Anselm von Rothschild (1803–1874) and his English wife Charlotte von Rothschild née Rothschild (1807–1859)., and the great-grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. He held the hereditary title Freiherr (Baron) in the Austrian nobility. He became a British subject and moved from Vienna to London.
On 7 June 1865, he married his second cousin Evelina de Rothschild (1839–1866), the daughter of Lionel de Rothschild (1808–1879). On 4 December 1866 their son was stillborn, and Evelina died later the same day. In her memory, Ferdinand built, equipped and endowed the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children in Southwark, south London. He began terms as Treasurer of the Jewish Board of Guardians in 1868 and 1875, and as Warden of the Central Synagogue in 1870. An offer he made of £2,000 to anyone who could suggest a useful way of spending it led to the foundation of the Army Reservists' Home.
In 1874, he bought an estate near the village of Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire and between 1874 and 1889 built Waddesdon Manor, designed by Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur in an eclectic style based on the 16th-century French Chateau de Chambord.
In 1883, Ferdinand de Rothschild was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. He was adopted as Liberal candidate for the London constituency of St George's in the East but, on being invited he contested in 1885 another seat, at Aylesbury, which he won and held until his death. In 1886, over the issue of Irish Home Rule, he joined the Liberal Unionists, and he hosted meetings at Waddesdon Manor (where Joseph Chamberlain, Arthur Balfour and Lord Randolph Churchill were often guests) that led to the formation of the Unionist-Conservative alliance. From 1896 he was a Trustee of the British Museum, probably at the instigation of Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks.
Ferdinand von Rothschild died at Waddesdon Manor on his 59th birthday and was buried next to his wife in the elegant Rothschild Mausoleum in the Jewish Cemetery at West Ham. His death was hastened by a cold caught when last visiting his wife's tomb.
His collection of Renaissance objets d'art from the house was bequeathed to the British Museum as the "Waddesdon Bequest"; the Holy Thorn Reliquary was a highlight of the collection, though its distinguished provenance was still unknown. He willed the Manor to Alice Charlotte von Rothschild, his unmarried younger sister, who had lived with him there, and thence to their nephew, James Armand de Rothschild, who in turn bequeathed it to the National Trust.