The Romanovs, 1818-1959
John Van der Kiste
Sutton (Stroud, UK), 2004
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This collective biography covers the lives and families of the last three Tsars of imperial Russia, from Alexander II (born in 1818), to the death of his youngest daughter Princess Catherine Yourievsky in 1959.
Alexander II was by nature a liberal ruler, in whose reign the serfs were emancipated. However his reforming zeal was tempered by the conservatism of those around him and repeated threats on his life. In 1881, shortly before he was due to sign a constitution designed to lead the way for parliamentary government in Russia, he was assassinated by a group of nihilists. His son and successor, Alexander III, was a reactionary who promptly destroyed the draft constitution.
He reigned for thirteen troubled years, to be succeeded by his tragic son as Nicholas II. Nicholas's reign was overshadowed by the disaster of their coronation celebrations when over a thousand people were crushed to death while trying to obtain coronation gifts, overwhelming defeat in war with Japan, the ill-health of his only son Alexis from 'hemophilia', the bleeding disease, and then the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Within three years, he had abdicated and he and his family were imprisoned, to be massacred by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
The book also looks at the lives of the Tsars' families, among them Alexander III's brothers Vladimir, whom he regarded as a threat and a rival, and Alexis, the unsuccessful naval commander and bon viveur whose life was said to be all 'slow ships and fast women'; Alexander II's mistress Catherine Dolgoroulky, whom he married only a few months before his assassination; and Catherine's youngest daughter and namesake, who settled in Hayling Island, England, briefly pursued a career as a professional singer, and survived until 1959.
The review of this Book prepared by John Van der Kiste