Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Romanov Sisters

I have always been interested in the royal family of Great Britain and especially the descendants of Queen Victoria. What a royal dynasty she left behind as she arranged marriages for her children with so many of the royal families of her day.  The story of her granddaughter, Alexandra has always been of interest to me.  How did a royal family go from being  honored to being vilified and herded together in a room and killed in such a terrible manner?  Ms Rappaport's book focuses on the four young princesses of this family and I found it very interesting reading.

You cannot tell the story of the daughters without some background on the parents.  Nicolas II was the first cousin of George V of England. Their mothers were sisters, members of the royal family of Denmark. If you look at pictures of George V and Nicolas II, they look more like brothers than cousins.  Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and she and Nicolas were both descendants of George II of England. In that day, Royals married only royals.  Intermarriage is possibly what led to the disease of hemophilia that became the scourge of the royal families of Europe.  So you have a young couple, Nicolas and Alexandra who were fortunate to be a true love match. But their love for each other and their dismissive attitude to the times they lived in led to their ugly end.   The Tsar tended to be a family man and preferred the company of his family to attending to his royal duties. Alexandra who had been raised in Germany, was looked upon with suspicion by the Russian people. When she produced four daughters in a row, many thought she was cursed. The arrival of a son with hemophilia was also seen as a bad omen. The Russian populace of that time was poor, uneducated and very superstitious. Alexandra did herself no favors by seldom being seen and keeping her daughters forever "girlies".  Her friendship and dependance on Rasputin further alienated people.

So onto this rather strange stage stepped four sisters. While often spoke of as a group, each daughter was very much her own person.  Olga, the oldest, was a typical first child and the leader of her sisters. She seemed to want a husband and family but her parents put off arranging a marriage.  To put it bluntly, none of the Romanov girls were seen as a prize as their mother was a carrier of hemophilia. Would the girls produce sons with this dread disease? Tatiana, was the daughter most like her mother. Maria was the beauty of the family and found herself in the middle between the older daughters and the younger Anastasia and Alexey.  Anastasia was the monkey of the family...she was the person who cheered them in their exile.  She is also the most well known daughter as there have been several women who claimed to be Anastasia, saved somehow from the execution of the Romanov family. DNA testing proved that none of the pretenders were of the royal family.

What I did not know about these young women was that they were well educated for their time. They spoke French fluently and spoke in French while in exile to keep their captors from knowing what they were discussing.  They were all trained as nurses and worked tirelessly attending to the wounded soldiers who were sent to hospitals in St Petersburg. They were not just rolling bandages, they did the dirty work of nursing.  They seemed to be nice girls and obedient daughters which makes their murder even more horrifying.

When I turned the last page of this book, I found myself angry at Nicolas and Alexandra. They had opportunities to escape before they were taken prisoner but they disregarded the danger they were surrounded by  at that time.  Royal families were falling all over Europe in the wake of WWI. Just before they were taken prisoners, all the children came down with measles. Alexandra asked the royal physician about moving them and the doctor told the tsaritza that he would be more afraid of the revolutionaries than the measles.  Nicolas's cousin, George, refused them asylum and that was one of the major regrets of his life. George V said he had no idea that Nicky and his family would be killed by the revolutionaries.   So all in all, this book is a cautionary tale and a sad one at that.

I gave it three out of five stars because at times the writing became tedious with so many notes and facts. Also, while we catch a glimpse of the personalities of these sisters, we still do not feel we really know them as individuals. They were a band of sisters and will remain so in history.


Heather said...

Sounds like a book I would read. I love books about history, but so often they tend to be tedious with all the facts and not as easy to read as other stories.

Tif Nichols Fannin said...

So interesting! I used to be obsessed with this story when I was younger. . .so tragic!


Terri D said...

I will treat your review as having read the book. Those Russian novels with all the long names and tedious words make me tired, and that you mention the author gets bogged down with notes and facts tells me I would not enjoy the book. I read for entertainment and prefer something that keeps me entertained, page after page and moves fast. I did enjoy your post!! Hadn't thought of them in a long time.

Arlene Grimm said...

Well it was not an easy read but interesting to find out a bit more of their story. I had always hoped Anastasia had somehow survived but the lady who claimed to be her was a faker. They used Prince Philip's mitochondrial DNA to compare to the pretenders and it was not a match. Another thing I found sad was that their loyal servants were killed as well. I guess I am glad I am not a princesslol. Terry, glad to help you out donated it to my local library as I am sure I will not re read it.

Barbara said...

I love biographies and history based fiction. This sounds good.