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NEW INSIGHTS ON THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL FAMILY
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.