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Short review: Not worth buying (maybe worth borrowing from a public library).

Long review:

Robert Conquest is a British historian who has written biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky, but Imperial Russian is neither his field of expertise nor a interest of his. He starts the book thanking his wife in the acknowledgements section and goes on admitting that "the last of the Russian tsars is a new interest for me".

Conquest does not feel much sympathy for Nicholas or Alexandra and the general impression is that the book was a suggestion of his agent: "Why don't you write something about Nicholas II for the centenary of his abdication?"

The author states about Nicholas: "Longevity in power had given an unwarranted confidence in his own judgement" (p.7) and "His actions were those of a ruler who always thought he was right" (p.8). That is certainly a novel view: almost any other source claims that the problem was exactly the opposite: an autocrat who lacked completely confidence and hesitated before taking any important decision.

But Alexandra gets a worse treatment in the book than Nicholas. She is "ignorant, opinionated" (p.9), "imperious and opinionated" (p.39), "opinionated" (p.40) [He obviously likes the word], "predictably vociferous" (p.56), "had a hauteur" (p.28) [I had to look the word up in a dictionary: it means "haughtiness, arrogance"], "was behaving with her usual hauteur" (p.178)....
Conquest does not explain why an empress with such a "hauteur" would train to become a nurse and work at a military hospital, replacing dirty bandages and assisting at operations. Something, as far as I know, no other queen or president's wife did.

Rasputin is a "monk" (a interesting fact you probably did not know): "The grumbling persisted in the Duma, where disappointment mounted about Nicholas's refusal to compromise after the Rasputin murder. At court, it was understood that the Imperial couple wanted no mention of the monk by name: they found the whole matter acutely painful." (p.17)
The desecration of his tomb and the disappearance of his body is described as "one small episode": "Nicholas and his immediate family adjusted themselves to their new circumstances, but one small episode disturbed them" (p.37). If something similar happened to one of his friends recently passed away, would Conquest talk about it as "one small episode"?

Robert Service does not avoid common cliches: "He who had dispatched thousand of political prisoners to Siberian forced labour, imprisonment or exile would himself be transported to detention in Tobolsk" (p.5). Well, I have read Conquest's biographies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky and I have not found in them the less evidence of political prisoners doing forced labour: they got a pension from the government that covered all their basic expenses, they translated books, they studied Marxism, they hunted, they fished, they got together, they bickered among themselves and when they decided so, they escaped from exile [Stalin had also time to impregnate a local girl in her early teens] But no evidence of "forced labour".

"Here was the quintessence of the Romanov family outlook: anti-Semitism mixed with Christian monarchism, expressed in a language that combined racialist slang and pious pomposity" (p.101) - Here is the quintessence of Conquest's style: wide generalizations and intrusive judgements, expressed in the language of scholarly pomposity.

Eastern Front, Eastern Front.... The Russian Empire had not had an "Eastern Front" since


I have finished reading The fate of Admiral Kolchak, by Peter Fleming.

The books describes how, before leaving the country, French General Janin, who was in Siberia to assist the Whites fighting against bolshevism, received from General Dieterikhs "three suitcases and a chest containing a number - 311, to be exact - of Imperial relics from Ekaterinburg. Besides a dossier of documents and photographs, his precious burden contained "about thirty fragments of bone, a little human fat which had dripped off the logs [on which the bodies were burnt], some hair, an amputated finger which expert knowledge identified as one of the Empress's ring-fingers, charred remains of jewellery, small ikons, scraps of clothing and of shoes, such metal accesories as buttons, shoe-buckles, the buckle of the Tsarevitch's belt, bits of blood-stained carpet, revolver bullets, etc."

As nobody in the French government took responsibility for these relics, Janin took everything to his villa near Grenoble. The Grand Duke Nicholas, who had to receive them, "declined their custody on the grounds that he was now only a private citizen."

"In the end Janin received instructions from the Grand Duke to transmit the relics to a senior member of the Russian diplomatic service and was given a receipt for them, in triplicate. He was told that they would be sent to Wrangel's headquarters in the Crimea, but shortly after this Wrangel collapsed, and Janin never heard what finally became of the strange cargo which he had been at pain to salvage from Harbin."

The Fate of Admiral Kolchak, pp. 236-7

According to the Russian Orthodox Church, these are relics in the religious meaning of the word: "the body, a part of the body, or some personal memorial of a saint, martyr, or other sacred person, preserved as worthy of veneration."

Does somebody know what happened to them afterwards?   


This is my first post and I am afraid that my English is not better than the Grand Duchesses' when they were 7. Nicolas is my real (family) name, not any kind of tribute to the Tsar.

I have finished reading "Ekaterinburg", by Helen Rappaport and what I found most interesting in the book was the attempts to save the Imperial families done by the European royal families (most of them, their relatives). Whereas the British monarch George V (Nicholas II's cousin who looked like his twin brother) does not play a very honourable role, King Alfonso XIII of Spain (a remote relative through his wife, Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, a cousin of Empress Alexandra's) made any possible effort, up to offer to send a ship of the Spanish Navy to collect Nicholas II and his family and asylum in Spain (this does not appear in Helen Rappaport's book, it is from a Spanish article), in the middle of a World War, with European waters filled with mines and German submarines which sunk neutral ships. And with a lot of revolutionary agitation and violence going on in Spain (George V supposedly withdrew his offer of asylum to the Imperial family because of the opposition of the "public opinion", that is, a handful of angry articles in the press).

Victoria, Alexandra's eldest sister, Louis of Battenberg (then Mountbatten)'s wife, aknowledged the generosity of the Spanish King:

[This is my translation from the Spanish translation of the English original, so I suppose it sounds a bit weird

"Dear Alfonso,
Now that there is unfortunately nothing to hope for my dear sister and his children [The bolshevists had initially acknowledged the murder of the Tsar, but they have said that the Empress and her children were alive in this life, now that it is clear that death has liberated them from further suffering, passing from the cruel hands of men to those of Fair and Generous God, I fell that I must send you some lines to heartfeltly thank you for everything you have tried to do to save them from their enemies.
The King that had a more direct influence on the revolutionary government in Russia [the Provisional Government, after the February Revolution, the King who had met my sister when she was a child, the King who had the same blood in his veins, I am afraid that he abandoned her in her hour of need, whereas you, to whom in comparison she and her family were strangers, strived to help them. I will never forget the gratitude I owe you for that."

Does anyone has more information about any other attempts (the Danish royal family, the Vatican. They are mentioned in Rappaport's book) to save the Imperial family?

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