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Messages - Louis_Charles

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« on: August 16, 2018, 03:51:53 PM »
   Excellent for what it is, not quite so for what Guy intended it to be. His aim was to portray Elizabeth with fresh insights that changed more traditional ways of looking at her, particularly the way she has been represented in popular culture. It is undeniably true that movies like Elizabeth and Essex, The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age have permanently shaped the way that Elizabeth I has been viewed (by the public at least), although somewhat oddly Guy focuses upon Fire Over England. He also mentions Glenda Jackson's towering performance in Elizabeth R. All of these represented the hagiography that grew up around her thanks to historians like Neale, although the elements of the legend were cemented within thirty years of her death by Camden's Annales.

I am not sure Guy has presented enough evidence to contradict the hagiography. If anything, his work reinforces the estimation in which Elizabeth can be held as a ruler, if not as a personality. She was essentially interested in two things, foreign policy and the Church. Guy is persuasive in debunking her fabled "marriage" to her average subjects as something that existed on anything but a theoretical level. The 1590s were excruciating in terms of harvests, and Elizabeth did nothing to alleviate the sufferings endured by commoners. Indeed, her taxation increased at the same time prices rose. Her view was strictly hierarchical, with herself at the top of the heap. This also caused her to be antipathetic to Puritans (not enough deference), Roman Catholics (ditto, with the allegiance to the Pope thrown in) and any attempt by ordinary citizens to limit the power of the Queen in terms of such things as granting ruinous monopolies to courtiers. However, in his epilogue, Guy admits that she was successful in (mostly) keeping England out of ruinous war. It is unpleasant, but not news, to read of her ingratitude to her soldiers and sailors after the Armada and sorties into France and Holland. Guy drily records again and again that the Queen did not stint herself on any significant level. At the very end of the book he uses Ralegh's phrase "she was a lady surprised by time" as a coda, then adds his explanation --- she ruled at a time when her concept of her authority's base had begun to be questioned. But surely most of her reign passed before this arose? It probably did gall Elizabeth Tudor that some of the hotheads who surrounded her --- Essex and Ralegh most prominently --- failed to take her seriously as a military leader because of course she could not take the field. Again, Guy gives numerous examples of the advice with which she peppered them, most of which they ignored. Guy has to admit that the majority of it was sound. Only a lunatic could have maintained that the English should have attempted to take and hold a coastal Spanish city as a port from which further attacks could have been launched. It is to Elizabeth's credit that she refused to play the role as arbiter of the Reformation and Keeper of the Military Flame for Protestants. She would have bankrupted England, as Philip II did Spain on the other side.

So Elizabeth pretty much stays the same figure. None of the material Guy has uncovered (to his credit) seriously alters her status as incredibly good at her job.

What The Forgotten Years does accomplish is provide a good look at the period of the reign most often ignored. Guy uses the end of her menstrual cycle as a liberating moment; she was no longer hostage to her council's insistence that she marry (although he fails to really confront the fact that she had ignored it when she might have had children) and could begin to really rule as herself. It would probably be more correct to date this from the execution of Mary Stuart and the following year's defeat of the Armada, when her personal stock was riding high. Guy relentlessly chronicles how stressful the last full decade of the reign was, with it effectively ending with the fall of Essex.

The writing is excellent, and the book is a pleasure to read. Recommended for anyone with an interest in her or the general period. (less)


History as conservative agitprop. McMeekin is out to demonstrate that the Bolsheviks came to power because of a small, organized coup d'etat that had little to no popular support. They were helped by Imperial Germany's support (d'uh, although McMeekin assigns a far greater role to the Kaiser in World War I than Wilhelm's generals and governments did; McMeekin keeps having the emperor making decisions that impact policy. Surely not by 1916?), the general ineptness of Kerensky and Rodzianko, and the lack of commitment by the Allies to overthrowing the regime during 1919-1920. All of this makes sense, and he tells the story briskly. Where he lost me was the description of Russia in February, 1917. The military was confident that the army was going to overwhelm the Central Powers on every front, the soldiers were not disaffected after three years of horrendous losses, military supplies were plentiful, there were no real food shortages in Petrograd, all, in fact, was going well when the Tsar was toppled by Rodzianko. McMeekin begins the story with Rasputin's murder and the semi-hysteria about the staretz that gripped the Russian aristocracy, who blamed him and the Tsarina for the "inevitable" collapse of the autocracy. Once Rasputin is safely tucked under the ice in the Neva, events cascade, and before you know it, Nicholas II is forced to abdicate. McMeekin finds this ironic, as Rasputin had famously advised Nicholas not to take the empire into World War I.

A lot of this flies in the face of what we know about Nicholas and Alexandra. They were wilfully stupid people, and that is putting it mildly. Nicholas wound up undercutting every competent minister he ever had, zestfully aided in this by his wife and her faith healer. During the war he went to Stavka and assumed "command" of the army. In practice, this meant he was blamed for every defeat the Russians suffered. Meanwhile, Alexandra wrote reams everyday to him demanding appointments for hacks because Rasputin recommended them. No autocracy could survive this level of executive incompetence. I had the impression that because what followed Nicholas II was so much worse than the imperial system for the vast majority of Russians that McMeekin turns Romanov rule into a false positive. The fact is that imperial autocracy collapsed extremely quickly. And while it is interesting speculation about the capabilities of Russia's armies in 1917, they did not, in fact, want to continue fighting. The moment a central government in Petrograd loosened its hold on the General Staff, the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary virtually ended.

McMeekin is entitled to be bitter about the Allied response to Nicholas' overthrow. The Russian Empire had bought the West precious time against the Central Powers by sacrificing millions of soldiers. And yet the Entente was always embarrassed by the alliance with an absolute autocracy, and prematurely rejoiced after the February Revolution.

McMeekin cherry picks his facts in support of his thesis, which is simplistic (he draws a straight line from Bolshevism to Bernie Sanders) and fails to account for the undeniable support communism picked up from Russians after the October overthrow (which really was a small coup, he is dead right) and subsequent chaos. There were a number of interesting nuggets of information in the book: the Okhrana, or Tsarist secret police, was infinitely smaller than the Bolshevik equivalent, theCHEKA. Lenin had a taste for luxury, negotiating an extreme sum with Rolls Royce for parts for the limousine he used, commandeered from Grand Duke Michael. The level of invective directed at the government by the Duma was unbelievably open during late 1916/early 1917. No one, not even Lenin, was in complete control of anything. Indeed, it was left to Stalin to consolidate the Revolution for what it was --- a naked power grab. But much like the French Revolution, the Russian spiraled out of control until it ended once again . . . in autocracy.

   Hmm. Lawhon tries to pull off a tricky timeline in telling the story, and I am curious. If you are not familiar with the Anna Anderson story, was it difficult to follow? I am very familiar with it, and found it more annoying than anything else. Fascinating moments (the meeting with Hitler, the Manahan marriage, the encounter with Maria Rasputin) hurtle by in reverse order, and it gets a bit frustrating. Before you can invest in the scene, you're off to the next and it will (1) never be mentioned again and (2) have no discernible repercussions. Meanwhile, the story of the Grand Duchess is approaching from the opposite end of the century. If you know the Anderson story, it all works out in a thoroughly predictable moment. And while I won't provide spoilers, there are enough casual clues strewn throughout to let the attentive reader deduce who is telling the story. Pay particular attention every time "Anderson" mentions her age. That being said, the payoff is pretty much on the money.

The writing is okay, better when it is Anderson's narration. Anastasia's is a complete wash as far as the original girl's personality is concerned. Lawhon also plunges into all sorts of controversies without fear . . . or documentation. The Romanov girls (Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia) are gang-raped while they are traveling to rejoin their parents and sister Maria at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. The usual location for this story is aboard the steamer Rus, but Lawhon shifts the action to a train. She also puts Alexei in the train compartment with Anastasia, but fortunately the boy goes back to sleep after the screaming starts. Yeah. Anyway, Maria is up to sexual hijinks of her own just down the tracks a bit. The discovery of her affair with a guard leads to a scene so absurd it grinds the story to a halt while the reader tries to make sense of what he has just read.

There are some minor quibbles with actual, knowable facts. The Grand Duchesses Xenia and Olga were the Tsar's younger sisters, not elder. Nagorny is never mentioned. Nor are any of the other retainers who went to Ekaterinburg but were not allowed into the House of Special Purpose, which seems hard cheese considering that the Reds shot quite a few of them. Gilliard stands in for everyone.

Anyway, it's a thriller, not actual history. Although I think she wanted it to be more than that.

   I hate to whine (which will be news to my wife and several of my closest friends), but I read this book because my friend Maggie guilted me into it. Although to be fair, it didn't take much. I am a sucker for novels about my historical obsessions --- my dream novel would probably have Wallis Simpson, Richard III and Marie Antoinette all traveling together on the Titanic, only to wind up adrift in a lifeboat with Grand Duchess Anastasia and the Kaiser. Some enterprising fanfic writer should get on it.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. It didn't take all that much arm-twisting because, hello, Romanovs. I write this review after 1) purchasing the book, because I support authors 2) actually reading the book, because I am constitutionally incapable of not finishing a book I start --- honest to God, I have even read Mike Huckabee's memoirs, people! --- and 3) experiencing the dread of writing a review about a Subject Close to People's Hearts (Romanovs, royalty, Nicholas, Alexandra). This can be dangerous territory, because people who develop inappropriate crushes on dead people can get judgy about these kinds of things. What kinds of things, you ask? Oh, Kevin. I could unfold a tale that would freeze thy young blood. Ahem.

Anyway . . . ever since Shakespeare decided to write Richard III, we have been dealing with authors' efforts to rewrite history so as to conform to their peculiar literary needs. Which I get. We know literally nothing about Richard's interior life, so why not make it up if you wind up with a villain that Laurence Olivier made into a romp for his audience? Marie Antoinette and Anastasia, alas, come through loud and clear in the historical evidence. Both were dull and immature until the time came for a display of courage. But we do know what they were actually like because of surviving letters and journals, so if you are going to reinvent them, that may crop up. I once read a YA novel (still sitting on my shelf) in which the Tsarevich was texting some 8th grade girl in 2007 with a burner phone she managed to get to him. There is another in which Grand Duchess Tatiana is turned into a vampire. SPOILER ALERT: She is not happy with that. One other masterpiece has Alexandra shooting death rays from her eyes! Romanovs in particular suffer from reinvention.

Gortner isn't that nuts, yet there is not one single character in his novel about the life of Maria Feodorovna, Nicholas II's mother, who is true to his/her actual historical avatar. This despite a blurb touting The Romanov Empress' "authenticity." Assuming that the reader knows anything at all about the last Imperial Family, this book will disappoint. Assuming that the reader has any interest in literature, this book will do worse than that. Gone With the Wind works because Mitchell creates a "real" world despite the fact that it bears no actual relationship to the Confederacy. But we get invested in Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, Ashley (not really, no one cares about Ashley) and Mammy. We want to see what happens to them. Again, not Ashley. It's kind of the pleasure that Harry Potter gives me, because Tara is as realistic as Hogwarts, but I do want to know what happens to all of them.

If Gortner had replaced the actual personalities of the Romanovs with new and improved models, he might have had a chance, although a quick look at his thud-thud-thud style probably means he still would have been in trouble. The dialogue ranges from incredible to --- well, boring. When Maria talks to Nicholas about the Duma and takes the time to carefully explain to both her son and the reader what a Duma is, things get a bit slow. And while I do get the temptation to shove Alexandra under the bus, Gortner never offers an opinion as to what made the marriage work. The net result is that she rolls through the book as a sort of Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein. Other characters are picked up and dropped like Polish last names at Ellis Island. Sometimes Gortner is just historically wrong, and I am curious as to why he deviated. Rasputin puts the mystic moves on the Dowager Empress. Maria and her daughter Olga show up at Spala during Alexei's medical crisis, where they meet Anna Demidova. Natalie Wulfert is described by MF as unattractive in The Romanov Empress, when in real life she was considered a great beauty. Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna is pictured as a general blue meanie to her mother when in fact she was so devoted that she stayed with Matushka Dearest long after older sister Xenia lit out for the territory. It was the Queen Alexandra "limp" that society women copied, not the use of a cane. Alix giving Minnie advice on how to let your children have independent lives is hilarious given the way the real Queen Alexandra treated her sons and daughters. I could go on, but suffice it to say that you will know less about Maria Feodorovna when you finish the novel than when you started.

One last thing. What on earth is up with all the smoking? It's too bad Bette Davis is dead, because she would be dream casting as Maria, with maybe Miriam Hopkins as Miechen. The two of them smoke their way through The Romanov Empress, constantly lighting up and stubbing the ashes out in cut-glass bowls and such. They carry their cigarettes in Cartier cases. Because . . . luxury. Honestly, their scenes together (as well as with Felix Yusupov's mom) reminded me of nothing so much as Dynasty, with Joan Collins swanking around popping grapes into her mouth and smoking those cool-looking Silva Thins from the 80s. But only Davis would probably have been right for the Great Scenes in The Romanov Empress. "Alexis has hemophilia?!!! Nicky, light me up!" They had real tobacco stamina back in the day. (

   If you're going to write one of these, there should be a compelling reason, or at least a treasure trove of new information. Aside from some really over-the-top details about the sex life of Alexander II and the woman who became his second, morganatic wife, there wasn't much new material to be gleaned. And if there was a compelling reason we needed another overview of a dynasty that may very well have ended with the accession of Catherine the Great, I failed to discern it. M0ntefiore cannot identify an autocrat who succeeded much at the job, aside from Catherine and Peter the Great, and even they failed to secure a decent succession thanks to the usual issues that occur in a system founded upon the vagaries of genetics. In addition, this is the most cluttered text I have read in a long while. There are substantial footnotes on almost every page, and not many of them turn out to be interesting. The basic "if it's Tuesday it must be Belgium" nature of the book forbids really digging in to any one character, and I get that, but Montefiore cannot resist spritely commentary in the footnotes about how this particular Dolgoruky was the illegitimate great-nephew of the Dolgoruky we met in another footnote one hundred pages ago. The narrative becomes almost as unwieldy as the autocracy.

There is, however, a one-paragraph description of the Congress of Vienna that is worth the entire book. In addition, Montefiore sprinkles weird little asides about marriage and children throughout. If you get bored with the Romanovs (and think about that for a minute), you can spend happy hours constructing an imaginary Montefiore Marriage.

He did, and he was also a gentleman of the old school.

The Russian Revolution / Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« on: February 20, 2014, 09:31:25 PM »
Instead of guilt or blame, could we use the word "responsibility"? Because under that term, I think that all of the European powers deserve criticism. What struck me most during the past three or four weeks of reading is (1) the lack of intelligent leadership in Austria-Hungary aside from Franz Ferdinand and (2) what an utterly un-modern state Serbia was in 1914. Essentially she functioned under the influence of what for lack of a better term might be called terrorists. The history of the country for the thirty or forty years before 1914 is horrifying, incoherent and a potential threat to both herself and her neighbors. These two countries are at the epicenter of the events because two powerful empires backed them. Had Germany and Russia kept their client states under control, there would have been no war. Instead, they encouraged the bad behavior. France fails because she created a situation in which Germany felt encircled, and Britain failed because she paid too little attention to continental politics.

I'm in an irritable mood.  ;) Can you tell?


The Russian Revolution / Re: World War I - Reassessing the Blame
« on: February 20, 2014, 07:53:10 PM »
Will be teaching an upper level on the topic of this thread come fall, and so I have been reading a great deal that has been recently published. I think it is acceptable to say that if there had been no assassination at Sarajevo, there would have been no world war. The impression from the reading is of people of very limited talent dealing with a situation above their pay grade, but not that it was inevitable. I think McMeekin actually makes some very good points, Janet, including the idea that Sazonov bears far more responsibility for things than he is usually given. And Germany really does carry some substantial guilt --- had Wilhelm and Bethmann not essentially given Austria-Hungary a blank check in regard to punishing Serbia, Berchtold wouldn't have pushed the envelope. There is also the interesting sidebar about French/British naval arrangements that all but guaranteed UK involvement in a war between Germany and France, far more so than Belgium (the Germans violated Luxemburg's neutrality a day or so before Belgium's, and no one seemed especially bothered). Where I parted company with McMeekin is his assertion that Germany began the war knowing it would lose, which just strains credulity. The happy surprise was Nicholas II, never what you might call the sharpest tool in the shed, warning his ministers that he didn't want to be responsible that would ensue if Russia mobilized. One of the few involved who actually thought in terms of the human cost of war.

 And thanks for the thread, you guys, it will give me a forum to try out some theories if that's okay.


Thanks so much for the help!

Thanks so much for the information, FA!

I have searched the forum, and there was a reference to this in 2004, but it never had any replies, and the links it provided don't seem to exist any longer. Specifically, did he meet Poincare in July 1914 aboard a yacht named <i>Alexandria</i> or the <i>Standart</i>?

Thanks for any help!


I am reading JULY 1914 by Sean McMeekin. It contains an account of Poincare's visit to Russia that month, and keeps saying that Nicholas II met him aboard his imperial yacht, the ALEXANDRIA. Was there in fact such a yacht? I have never heard the name before. Of course, McMeekin also refers to the Grand Duchesses (OTMA) as "archduchesses", which is surely incorrect? Thanks for any help.


Books about the Romanovs and Imperial Russia / Re: Duplicate Books
« on: March 28, 2013, 11:14:22 AM »
I have a copy of Charles Ross' biography of Edward IV in the English Monarchs Series, if anyone wants it.


Gee, Rob. That's really some image.

You only think he's kidding.

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