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on 8 August 2002
Grand Duchess Xenia was one of the 2 sisters of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. Her sister has merited 2 biographies so far, but Xenia seems to have been completely forgotten to history. This book rights that wrong whilst providing many a new slant on a period of history that has been extensively covered by all media. Xenia was born in 1875, 7 years after Nicholas, to the Tsarevich Alexander and his wife Marie, who would soon become rulers of the vast Russian empire. She was born into a grand life, of huge palaces, great wealth, magnificent clothes and beautiful jewels - beyond the wildest dreams of people today and certainly beyond the wildest dreams of 19th century Russian peasants. She had a happy childhood with loving parents, but there was always an undercurrent of insecurity engendered by the horrific assassination her grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, when she was 5 years old. She married a cousin, another Alexander, just a few months before Nicholas made his fateful union with Princess Alexandra of Hesse. For many years, Xenia remained close to her brother and his wife, but eventually the evil spectre of Rasputin forced them apart. This did not stop poor Xenia being devastated when Nicholas had to abdicate and was sent into exile in Siberia. Xenia herself lived through the revolution in St Petersburg and experienced all the dangers and privations herself, before escaping to her summer home in southern Russia. There she, her husband, mother, children, sister and various other relatives lived a fairly peaceful life until the Bolsheviks reached them. They were all evacuated by a British warship on the orders of George V, Xenia’s cousin, who then allowed her to settle in a grace and favour home in England for the rest of her life. Money now became a problem. The King helped her out but Xenia had to sell most of her jewels. Her 24 room house was a lot smaller than the palaces she was used to. Her family scattered around the world, including her husband who went to live with his mistress in France. Xenia kept the dignity of a Grand Duchess until the end of her life, but not the trappings associated with it.
Van der Kiste and Hall have done some amazing and painstaking research to tell this romantic tale. It is very difficult to access Russian archives, still trapped in a Soviet way of thinking. Not only have they mined out nuggets there, they have gone back to Xenia’s diaries, helpfully deposited in an American archive, and translated valuable material that has never before seen the light of day. They have also had the good fortune to find an archive in London with a wealth of good photographic material. The same staid pictures of the Romanov family always appear, but not in this book. There’s a mass of new ones - even the cover features a picture of Xenia with Nicholas that our own Royal Archives didn’t realise they had. I cannot emphasise enough the detailed research that makes this book stand out. Not only does it tell the tale of the Russian revolution from a new standpoint, but with fresh facts. It is a tale worth telling and I applaud Hall and Van der Kiste for bringing Xenia to light.
Just as a quick afterthought, the book is very well laid out. Excellent family trees at the beginning of the book and not hidden away at the end, good photo reproduction and captioning, thorough bibliography and index. Will stand as a valuable work for anyone interested in Russian history, and for the general student, it is a very good read.
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on 29 January 2007
Writting about a person who's personal life has little to tell wasn't a easy task for the authors. Indeed, Xenia Alexandrovna's life spices only with a small reference to a lover who's name is carefully hiden by her in her journals, with her troublesome and always wantig for more money sons and with her devoted daughter Irina, born to a grandeur destiny and who married a flamboyant- not to say excentric- figure like Felix Youssupov. In the end, the books gives us a story of a gentle, shy and family person, who led her life in a discreet way- let us remember that se was fully accepted in George V's England, but others weren't, like grand-duchess Elena Vladimirovna, despite the fact she was the duke of Kent's mother-in law!-. Do not expect to find great secrets in this book. You'll just find the life of a rich and afterwards destitued yet always modest lady of the Victorian era, who was the last tsar's sister.
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on 30 September 2005
'Once a Grand Duchess' has obviously been very well researched and contains a lot of information I didn't know before (and I study Russian history) particularly about Xenia. However, I thought the narrative was very hard to read. Anecdotes were patched together in what felt like a very haphazard manner which didn't give it much of a flowing feeling.
Secondly, there were so many characters each with a name, official title and nickname and it was very hard to keep up with who's who. For example, Princess Marie of Greece is also called Greek Minnie and Grand Duchess George. Often names are dropped in with no explanation of who they are, or their relationships to each other. I had to keep jumping around trying to find out who I was reading about which also disrupted the flow. A cast of characters at the start, like in Massie's excellent biography of Nicholas and Alexandra, would have greatly helped.
The photographs included were excellent, and so many of them. The family trees were also very extensive and useful.
All in all I would rate this book as good. The information it contains is excellent, so I'd still recommend people read it, but it could have been written more fluently.
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on 7 August 2002
This is an excellent book about Grand Duchess Xenia with lots of interesting new facts in it. It makes a nice change to have a book about someone, who has not been written about on her own before. It covers her whole life, both in Russia before the Revolution & afterwards in exile. It will add to the knowledge of everyone who is interested in The Russian Imperial Family.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2003
"Once a Grand Duchess" the title is taken from the Grand Duke Alexander's (Xenia' s husband) memoirs "Once a Grand Duke". For me, this title kind of boils it down what Xenia was all about: just following, passive, with no particular interest or talents. She was properly just a very nice, lovable lady, a product of her up-bringing and good mother. But that's about it. Therefore, I understand the disappointment of one reviewer who found the book dull. However, I did not find the book dull but the subject.
Nevertheless I liked the book as it fills in a gap in one' s biography collection on the last Czar' s family. While tons of books have been written on Czar Nicolas and quite a considerable amount on his brother Michael and his other sister Olga, Xenia was - at least to my knowledge - not the subject of a biography. I feel that Michael and Olga much in common, while Nicolas II and Xenia are quitesimilar. They had this extremely irritating passive approach to life. No real inititive, no fighting back and always chess pieces instead of chess players. This well written book complements as well the Memoirs of Grand Duke Alexander and sets some records straight. Well, all in all, a book to be read by all those who are interested in the fall of the Romanov dynasty. It will give you an inside into the Romanov Family in its final days. But do not expect to much of the personality you are going to read about.
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on 20 February 2004
I have read other books by Van der Kiste and always found them to be of interest and quality. This collaboration with Coryne Hall is a must read book.
Anything to do with the Romanovs has interest and appeal but this book comes from a different angle. It looks at the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty and the lives of the surviving members of the family. The book concentrates on the Grand Duchess Xenia, the younger sister of Tsar Nicholas II. Although this period in history has been well documented, nothing has been written about Xenia before. This gives a very different perspective to the norm.
This is a book full of detailed descriptions of the lifestyle of the Russian aristocracy prior to the revolution. I found this very helpful in setting the scene for what was to come.
Much new material was found and researched. Thirteen boxes of archive material were found in the Hoover Institution, among them Xenia's diaries covering the Rasputin affair and the Tsar's abdication. As a point of interest, the late Queen Mother provided some insights into Xenia's life in Britain in what proved to be her last ever interview.
We are taken from the opulence and magnificence of her childhood in Russian palaces through to her death in exile in England at the age of eighty five.

Xenia was no stranger to personal heart ache, and the book deals with the Rasputin saga and the downfall of the Romanovs. Her son in law was involved with Rasputin's murder which caused her some angst. She was increasingly exasperated by her sister in law the Empress Alexandra, who seemed to her, to be bringing disaster on them all. For months Xenia did not know what had happened to her brother the Tsar, and eventually rumours of execution began to circulate. One can barely imagine what she must have felt when the appalling truth came to light.
This wonderful book covers in lavish detail the life of the Russian Imperial family immediately before and after the revolution,it is also an excellent insight to the problems faced by the Romanovs in exile.
There are 75 plates, many of which have not been seen previously, the quality and quantity of the research was self evident. The text brought the family to life and I was especially struck by the quiet dignity of Xenia.
The book is beautifully laid out and has detailed family trees at the beginning of the book, which are very interesting. Unlike some historical biographies this book is not at all heavy going. I could barely put it down.
I cannot recommend this book enough. If you already have an interest in the Russian Revolution you will be captivated, as I was. If not, I can think of no better place to start.
The authors should be very proud of themselves- my best read of the year so far.
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on 28 June 2014
Obviously well researched, this book is sadly let down by the poor style in which it is written. The subject is an extremely interesting one and the author has gone into great detail of Xenia's life. However, it is difficult to read as it seems as if the author has merely strung his notes together without using any devices to make the text flow. It is further complicated by referring to the same person by a variety of different names and titles. Good history made difficult to read by less attention to style.
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on 20 September 2013
I read this book after I had read Russia's Last Grand Duchess, about Zenia's sister Olga. Whilst I enjoyed reading it and having another take on imperial Russian life and the events and characters involved, I felt that this was not quite to in depth as the other. Nevertheless, it was interesting. It must have been hard to go from unimaginable wealth to comparative poverty and reliance on the goodwill of others.
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on 9 May 2014
Found this book very intriguing and extremely interesting. It is always pleasant to read about other royal families in Europe. It would be also good if there was a book about her younger sister, the Grand Duchess Olga.
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on 18 August 2015
Superb reading of a long lost way of life and the unfortunate life of "the haves" who became "the have nots".
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