Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Michael Romanov: Brother of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1916-1918

Update:  this book will be seen as scholarly achievement.  I had the privilege of reading a pre-published version of the book.  It is well worth the wait.  You can pre-order the book from   

I cannot wait for this book to be published by Academia Press, a Washington, D.C. based publisher.  The book is scheduled to be published on July 1.  It will be released in hard and softcover editions.   The hardcover will cost $99.00 and the paperback's price, I am told, will be between $25-$30. 

No British publisher at this time.

This book will appeal to historians and general readers who are interested in the Russian Imperial family.

From the Amazon listing: "In Michael Romanov: Brother of the Last Tsar, translator Helen Azar and Romanov historian Nicholas B. A. Nicholson present for the first time in English the annotated 1916-1918 diaries and letters of Russia's Grand Duke Michael, from the murder of the Siberian mystic Grigorii Rasputin through the Revolution of 1917, which dethroned the Romanov dynasty after Michael briefly found himself named Emperor when his brother Nicholas II abdicated. Michael's diaries provide rare insight into the fall of the Empire, the rise and fall of the Provisional Government and brief Russian republic, and the terrifying days of the February and October Revolutions after which Michael found himself a prisoner who would meet his end in the Siberian city of Perm. Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia (1878-1918) was born the youngest son of Tsar Alexander III, but with the death of his brother Grand Duke George in 1899, Michael was thrust into the spotlight and the role of Heir-Tsesarevich to Emperor Nicholas II, then the father of three girls. Even after the birth of an heir in 1904, Michael found himself pushed closer to the throne with each of the boy's bouts of hemophilia. By 1916 during World War I, Nicholas and Alexandra found themselves deeply unpopular not only in political circles but also with other members of the House of Romanov, who felt that the parlous times required drastic change. Michael found himself at the center of these events."

Friday, June 12, 2020

Books on Leopold II and the Congo.

Prince Laurent of Belgium suffers from foot in mouth disease.  Earlier today, in response to reports to remove statues of King Leopold II,  Laurent said:  "He never went to the Congo.   I do not see how he could have made people suffer on the ground.  You have to understand that there were many people who worked for Leopold II and those people really committed abuse that does not mean Leopold II did."

It is estimated that at least 10 million died during Belgium's brutal occupation of the Congo.

Let me recommend three books about Leopold II and the Congo: The King Incorporated by Neal Ascherson,  Leopold II of the Belgians King of Colonialism by Barbara E. Emerson and King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild.    The first choice is King Leopold's Ghost.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Queen Victoria and the Romanovs by Coryne Hall

Noted Royal biographer Coryne Hall has a new book out, Queen Victoria and the Romanovs, which was published a few weeks ago by Amberley.  It is available on both sides of the Pond from Amazon.   Coryne recently appeared on a podcast to discuss her latest book.  The link is at the end of this post.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Monarchy in Modern Greece by Costa M Stamatopoulos

The few books in English on the Greek monarchy do not tackle the true complexities of the monarchy and the royal family's history.  Greek historian Costas M. Stamatopoulos is the author of Monarchy in Modern Greece, published by Kapon Editions in 2017. I learned about the book a few months ago,

This book is in a word a masterpiece, a truly objective study of Greece's monarchial experiment that began with the election of Bavarian prince Otto as King Othon, the first modern Greek sovereign.   This first experiment failed, not a surprise, and Otto was forced to leave.  A new king, a Danish prince, Wilhelm, the youngest son of King Christian IX (although Wilhelm was actually a sovereign before his father succeeded to the Danish throne),  took the name George and reigned from 1863 until his assassination in 1912.

The history of George I and his family is filled with the intricacies of politics, right and left, personalities, international influence (Great Britain and then the United States), too many wars, and changing views of the Greek people.

The book is divided into three sections.  The first focuses on the history and ramifications of that history.  This section of the book is difficult to wade through as it was not written in chronological order, as the author weaves together the different thread that led to the final instability from the 1940s until the crisis of 1965.

Stamatopoulos' book was written originally in Greece and translated into English by Geoffrey Cox.  It is suffice to say that the monarchy would not survive.  There were too many variables that led to the political crises that brought down the monarchy.

The second part of the book offers portraits of George I, the best of all the Greek sovereigns, according to the author, with few exceptions, including failing to prepare and include his heir, King Constantine I, who is the subject of the second portrait.   Tino was proclaimed as a hero during the Balkan wars but he found himself between a rock and a hard place during the first world war.  The Allies, left by Great Britain, had their own interests with Greece, with Germany also knocking at Greece's door, for other reasons.  It was not easy for Constantine to weigh the precarious decisions he had to make,   It also did not help him that his brother-in-law was Kaiser Wilhelm II.   Tino's wife, Sophie, who had before the war embraced charitable work, did not hide her disdain for her sisters-in-law, Helen, and Alice, both of who were supporting the Greek cause.  

Sophie, whose mother was a British princess, had made it clear that she was pro-German.  This blew me away because earlier writers have tried to portray Sophie supporting the Allies, but Stampatopoulos provides conclusive evidence that Sophie was pro-German.    The Greek royal family was forced into exile in 1917, pariahs, with the exception of the second son, Alexander who succeeded to a throne.  When the young king became ill, only his grandmother, Queen Olga, was allowed to return but she arrived too late.  Alexander was dead, and the throne was empty.

The capriciousness of the situation -- of course, politics played a role -- led to Tino being recalled.  The author believes that Constantine should have abdicated in favor of his eldest son, as this would have prevented what followed.  Even before World War I erupted, Tino was firmly against war in Asia Minor, and now, nearly a decade later, he was trapped into a war that began before his restoration - and now he was unable to react.  Poor decisions and a fickle population, as well as political issues, led to Tino giving up his throne in favor of his son, George II.

The third portrait is of Queen Frederica, a princess of Hanover, a granddaughter of Wilhelm II, who married the future King Paul in 1937.  Stamatopoulos writes that Frederica "was adored as no other Queen before her had been -- until the moment when her popularity was snatched from beneath her feet like a carpet."

She was devoted to Greece, but she never fully understood the history nor learned the Greek language properly.   By the 1950s, the situation became precarious as Greece was caught between too many sides - in Greece and outside, namely the United States,   Frederica was passionate about her role, "her sacred function as a woman and as a queen," and she knew how to instill hope.

But there were too many rumors (only rumors) that were voiced in the press and salons.  Rumors that spread throughout the international press (and were believed although most of the rumors were not true.)   The monarchy was caught in the middle of changing political factions and it did not help the monarchy as the criticism was on all sides.

The emotions, the "path of the heart," the sacred functions of monarchy and the delicate relationship between the people and their sovereign, forms the third part of the book.   

Although the monarchy ended nearly 50 years ago,  "kingship continues to be treated in Greece as a taboo subject."

Monarchy in Greece is a prodigious achievement.  Yes, it can and will take time to read, to embrace all that Stamatopoulos offers in this mammoth and honest study of Greece's monarchy  This is true scholarship.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Princess Margaret - 60th anniversary of her wedding

Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong-Jones on May 6, 1960.  He was created Earl of Snowdon on October 6, 1961.

Several books were published to commemorate the wedding.   The two best biographies of Princess Margaret were written by Theo Aronson and Christopher Warwick.  The two books are Princess Margaret: A Biography and Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts.

I make a few pennies when you purchase items through my Amazon links or search boxes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Windsor Diaries 1940-1945

I am looking forward to this book, the Windsor Diaries 1940-45, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard.  During the second world war, Alathea, who was several months younger than Queen Elizabeth II, lived with her grandfather at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.  She would have her academic lessons at Cumberland Lodge but would join Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret for drawing and dancing lessons at Windsor Castle.

The Hon. Alathea Gwendoline Alys Mary Fitzalan-Howard was the elder daughter of Henry FitzAlan-Howard, 2nd Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent.  She was a great-granddaughter of the 14th Duke of Norfolk.   Her marriage to the Hon Edward Frederick Ward was childless. 

Her papers, including her diaries, were inherited by her niece-in-law, Lady Isabella Naylor-Leyland.

The book will be published on Oct 8 by Hodder & Stoughton.  The book does not have a US publisher.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Few Years before the Catastrophe by Sofia Ivanova Tyutcheva

This book is a bit slim (52 pages) but Sofia Ivanova Tyutcheva's memoirs, A Few Years Before the Catastrophe, offers a glimpse into court life when 1896,  Sofia was appointed as a Maid of Honor to the young Empress Alexandra.  Eleven years later, she became a governess to the four grand duchesses, a position she held until 1912. 

Sofia was informed of her dismissal by Alexandra's Mistress of the Robes.  It was due to the "mutual misunderstanding, the raising of children is impossible, and it would be better for her to leave."

But her discomfiture may have more to do with her "negative attitude" toward Anna Vyrubova, Alexandra's confidante, and Rasputin.

Unfortunately, for historians and biographers,  Sofia's memoir offers few details about her feelings as she did not put her thoughts on paper until 1945.

When Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna married Prince Wilhelm of Sweden in 1908,  Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna and her husband, Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, attended the wedding with their two young daughters, Princess Olga and Princess Elisabeth.

At tea, five-year-old Elisabeth sat next to Alexis.  The Greek princess spoke Greek and English, but Alexis spoke only Russian.  Alexis would scream into Elisabeth's ear, thinking she would understand him.  Sofia offered to translate,  Alexis said: "Elizabeth, I love you."  Elizabeth responded: "I also love little Alexis."

Sofia's time at Court included the Imperial visit to England and Darmstadt and the assassination of Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911.

After leaving court, she returned to her family home in Muranovo, where she remained for the rest of her life.  She died in 1957.

The text was translated by George Hawkins, who lives in New Zealand and is fluent in Russian

It is an informative and recollective read.  I think the text itself, probably a direct translation, needed a bit of tidying up, to make the text more readable.  One particular glaring error (due to the translation) is when Hawkins describes Maria Pavlovna as Greek Queen Alexandra.  Grand Duke Paul married Princess Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, not the queen of  Greece.  Alexandra was the daughter of King George I and Queen Olga of the Hellenes.

I would also recommend redoing the layout of the book, especially for the photos and their captions.  The book is available in a print edition ( $12.00)and Kindle. 

The book is a quick read and brings a new voice to courtiers who served Nicholas II and his family.