on 28 January 2011
This book tells the story of the mass exodus of some of the Romanov family, members of the Russian court and their retainers, in 1919 from the Crimea. At the insistence of the Queen Alexandra the HMS Marlborough and a flotilla of British ships were sent to evacuate her sister, the Empress Marie, aka Dagmar. The Marlborough sailed from Yalta to Prince's Island outside of Constantinople, then to Malta.
The story of the Marlborough is one of the few Romanov stories which has a happy ending. If you are a hard core Romanovophile you will know the story and doubtless own Pridham's Close of a Dynasty on which this book relies heavily. So is it worth buying and reading? An emphatic yes. Not only are Pridham and Ingham long out of print but Welch has updated the story using more recently published texts, including Prince Roman's autobiography, Preben Ulstrup's fabulous book, and the Flight of the Romanovs. She adds to our knowledge of divisions within the greater Romanov family and provides insight into domestic life.
More than that, Welch is a good and conscientious writer (if a bit journalistic) who has undertaken her own research. She has consulted newspapers, unpublished memoirs and diaries, other archival material and she has conducted a number of interviews. Unfortunately her research draws attention to one of the major weaknesses of the book. As per her 2 earlier forays into the Romanov family there is not a reference or a footnote in sight. And bless her she doesn't feel the need to address this lack. There is also no index.
If you're hard core you'll probably be able to identify most of the sources but I have to say several had me stymied. Where for example do we find the underground newspaper produced at Ai Todor, the Merry Arnold? What is the source for Miss Henton's (the nanny) newspaper interview about house arrest at Ai Todor? Has Welch misquoted Radzinsky's translation Irina's letter to Felix Yussopov junior or is she using another source for that letter?
There are several points presented as fact which I think are open to dispute. And surely there is another adjective apart from `jolly' that could have been used in the 6 references to Princess Marina's appearance.
Welch has had Marie's diaries translated from the Danish which is a real bonus. She has translated sections of Prince Roman's autobiography from the German. However she doesn't translate some passages from the French into English, for example, Nikolosha's dinner speech. Presumably if you're properly educated you can read it in the original. A little pretentious in this day and age: un peu, peut-être?
According to Welch the book is dependent on its photographs. Unfortunately they are a real disappointment. They are small, cheaply and poorly reproduced. They are also completely unsourced although several of them look like they have been taken straight out of Pridham.
As a final comment, if you are indeed hard core, get yourself a copy of Ulstrop's Empress Dagmar's Captivity in the Crimea. Diaries and Letters 1917-19. Sure it's in Danish, sure it's expensive, but you will get the BEST photos: the people, but especially the estates in the Crimea, that are available in any publication.
This book, the second consecutive one I have read by this author on the Romanovs, tells the stories of those Romanovs and their families and associates who managed to avoid being captured or killed by the Bolsheviks after the revolution. After much negotiation and wrangling, they left from Yalta on HMS Marlborough in April 1919. There were two factions of Romanovs on board - that led by the Dowager Empress Marie Fyodorovna, widow of Tsar Alexander III and mother of the murdered Tsar Nicholas II, and that led by the imposing figure of Grand Duke Nicholas ("Nikolasha"), former C-in-C of the Russian army in the early part of the Great War, when Russia suffered humiliating defeats and losses, which were ironically a major contributory factor in the downfall of the monarchy in March 1917. The book is better written that the author's The Romanovs and Mr Gibbes, which I read immediately prior to this. It is divided into chapters, contains a bibliography (though still no notes), and more and better quality photos. Each chapter corresponds to one day of the approximately two week voyage to Malta, though Day 1 consists largely of background to the characters, and Day 16 mostly recounts their later lives, including those of the officers and ordinary sailors on the ship. These later lives throw up some interesting stories. Empress Marie tried to live in Britain with her sister Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII, but soon moved back to her native Denmark. Understandably she was extremely reluctant to believe that her son Tsar Nicholas and his family (not to mention her other surviving son Michael) could be dead and clung to hope for much of the remaining decade of her life that they may have escaped. Prince Youssoupov, the murderer of Rasputin, was during the Second World War offered the Russian throne by the Nazis, and, after the publication of his memoirs, was even invited back to the country by the Soviet authorities in the 1950s (the sort of quirky gesture one can imagine Khrushchov but no other pre-Gorbachov Soviet leader making). Princess Sofia Zinovieff was called the "Red Princess" when she became a communist after the war, and even acted a tour guide in the Soviet Union to the palaces and other places she had known as a child; ironically she was the only one of the refugees on the ship who lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union, dying in 1994; she was also awarded a medal by the Israeli government for rescuing Jews from the Nazis. An interesting book.
on 13 February 2011
This book was a joy to read if you're interested in Russian Royal History. It was very insightful reading about the day to day journey of the historic trip of the British ship HMS Marlborough during the escape & rescue from Russia of the many Russian royals & their staff during the Russian Revolution.It was also wonderful reading about the various interactions between the Royal passengers as well as between the passengers and the staff of the ship. It goes on even further to inform the reader of the aftermath of the lives of everyone involved in this famous journey. Highly recommend!
on 11 February 2011
Thought it was excellent, a fascinating insight into the lives of the surviving members of a decimated former imperial family. Sailing away from Russia to an uncertain future exile. Yet even though they'd escaped with their lives, still harbouring their familial old rivalries etc. Well worth a read I thought. Wish there could have been a little bit more on their subsequent lives, rather than the brief synopsis given.
It is well known that the Romanov dynasty in Imperial Russia came to a sad end. After the February revolution of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were placed under house arrest and in July 1918, the Bolshevik authorities shot Nicholas and his immediate family and servants in the cellar of the house they were staying in. They had been told that they were to be photographed to prove to the people that they were still alive and once they had been arranged for the photograph, they were shot by the very people who were supposed to be protecting them.
Frances Welch has written a fine "what happened next" book in The Russian Court at Sea, describing the escape from Russia of the remaining members of the Romanov dynasty as they departed Russia from the Ukraine port of Yalta on the British ship HMS Marlborough. The party consisted of the Tsar's mother, The Dowager Empress Marie and his sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia and fifteen others, including the man who killed Rasputin, Prince Felix Youssoupov.
The Romanov party was far from being one happy family. At least two squabbling factions were represented, and the British crew seemed bemused by the intricacies of the social relationships among the Russians. First Lieutenant Pridham had been led to expect a party of twelve and was taken aback at having to accommodate fifty refugees. The crew gallantly freed up all 35 officers' cabins and commandeered additional mattresses and sheets as they could find them. After the terrible events arising from the revolution, including the mass slaughter of other members of the family and the flight into the Ukraine is must have been a relief to find such hospitality on-board a British ship, even though at the time of embarkation they did not know where they were going.
Fortunately the Dowager and Princess Xenia had Anglophile tendencies and had visited Britain (The Dowager was the sister in law of King Edward VII) and we well-disposed to the officers and crew - who reciprocated with a degree of deference only to be expected towards royal guests. The family had brought with them incalculable riches including rolled-up Rembrandts, jewellery and silver.
A good relationship developed between the officers and their Russian passengers as the Marlborough sailed to Malta, where they finally parted company. They were impressed by the beauty of the island and were accommodated in a fine house belonging to the British government, San Antonio, Prince Dmitri writing,
Life in exile was never to equal that of a Royal family in their home country. They arrived in London and were greeted by King George and Queen Mary but although the Dowager tried to with her sister Alix at Marlbourough House, the two elderly ladies did not get on and she decided to return to Denmark. Even there life was difficult at times and her nephew King Christian was "particularly disagreeable", at one point telling her to turn off lights as she was using too much electricity.
Princess Xenia remained in England at the King's expense but was troublesome to the end, eventually being exiled to Wilderness House at Hampton Court. The young English Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were quite taken with their Russian relation, "merrily singing the Volga Boat Song whenever they passed Xenia's house".
The research that went into this book is impeccable, and the list of sources is impressive. Frances Welch evidently found many useful contacts while researching the book and translated documents from French and German. While the voyage is perhaps a footnote in history, is is always interesting to have small events recreated in this way, revealing as they do many different aspects on greater issues. I particularly liked the way in which the author followed up the history of the officers and their passengers right up to the 1970s and 80s (Marina died in 1981).
The book is nicely produced by Short Books and contains many photographs which illuminate the text. Another reviewer feels that the photographs are poor quality - but I thought they were what was to be expected from snapshots taken on-board the ship 90 years ago.
on 25 August 2011
This is a great read but could do better, as my school reports used to say.
I began at the beginning, with the Dramatis Personae. Top of the bill is the mother of the Tsar, the Dowager Empress. Then we have the Tsar's sister and her children - two sons and a daughter, who are therefore the Tsar's nephews and niece. But the Dramatis Personae insists they are the Tsar's grandchildren! No, they're the Dowager's grandchildren.
Six pages in we read about the Dowager's five grandsons. Five? Back to the Dramatis Personae. Just two grandsons there. Help! Which arrives on page 49, in the form of a photo of, yes, five grandsons. So three of them were spear-carriers who didn't make it to the Dramatis Personae, poor darlings. But then it's a big cast. Talking of which, the Dramatis Personae is useful but even more useful would be a family tree for the two branches of the Romanovs, the Ai-Todors and the Dulbers - I kept getting lost without one. Before embarking on a second reading (geddit?) I made one for myself and found it much easier to keep tabs on who was who.
Ai-Todor and Dulber we quickly learn are the names of relevant Romanov palaces; and it would have been good to have had photos of them - Dulber in particular is a wonderfully OTT Moroccan pleasure dome. There are photos on the internet but in this book all we get is a scrappy snap of another palace, Koreiz. And could we not have a little map of how they and Yalta, the principal port, sit on the Crimean coast? And Sevastopol while we're at it, as that features also.
The author lives at Aldeburgh, on the coast of our sea-girt island home, with boats galore bobbing about the briny, so why on earth aren't we told more about the boat at the centre of the tale, HMS Marlborough? All we get is "a distingushed (sic) Iron Duke battleship, still bearing the scars of a torpedo hit at Jutland in 1916", and then, at the very end of the book, a small photo of the vessel wrapped in Piranesian gloom. Come now, Frances: chaps read your salty tale and we want to know that she was launched in 1912, 25000 tons, length 622 ft, beam 90 ft, speed 21 knots, crew 925, ten 13-inch guns in five twin turrets... You get the idea. Or could we settle for a plan of the ship, complete with cabins?
And while I'm being picky (moi?), the Dowager Empress may have mistaken the Bosphorus for the Dardanelles (p.123) but our bending author shouldn't.
Nunquam mens, this is a gripping yarn - there are very few books I read twice in quick succession. Roll on the second edition.
on 29 September 2012
Unfortunately, this book was not as good as I expected it to be. First and foremost, I found Frances Welch's writing style very confusing. She makes lots of references to all sorts of people and events without fully explaining them, sometimes you can figure them out and sometimes you just have to move on with the text. Second, she sites French sources three times without translating the quotes. While she may be fluent in French, I would assume most of her readers are not and it is such a pity that we cannot appreciate these few passages which seem to be significant, but are unfortunately incomprehensible to most of us. Third, it would have been nice to have a complete passenger list, explaining in greater detail who each of the characters were and their relationship to the Tsar. Her dramatis personae are incomplete. Fourth, as history books go, this is not too deep. It is a sweet story, and there is a bit of background information on just how our characters got to be on the HMS Marlborough for those who are unfamiliar with the story of the Bolshevik Revolution, but there does not seem to be great depth to the research. I found her discussion of the Russian refugees particularly confusing. She doesn't really explain who they were or why they were so scared. I guess we are supposed to deduce that most of them were members of the aristocricy, but everything is so unclear. Perhaps giving some names and background information would have helped. And she mentions many foreigners, as well. Who were they? A little more background on the revolution and its effects on the Crimea would have been helpful. She also mentions problems with the French which could have been discussed more at length. Also, I would have liked to know, for example, more about the fight over succession to the throne. She mentions some dispute but we don't get much further details. In general, I would have liked to know more about the lives of these people in exile.
All in all, I would have liked to give this book three stars, but I have given it four because the topic, the rescue of many of the remaining members of the Imperial family, is really fascinating. Their story, and how the crew of the Marlborough grew to really like them, is touching and sweet. It is worth a read just for this, but the reader should be aware of the limitations mentioned above.
on 1 March 2011
This really is quite a good read. Its major drawbacks are a lack of referencing and an index. Surely these are not too difficult for a writer such as Welch to achieve? The story of Maria Feodorovna and the other Romanovs rescued from the Crimea in April 1919 is a fascinating one. Thank goodness that they were saved and not massacred like so many other Romanovs at the hands of the Bolsheviks. I would recommend the book most heartily to anybody interested in the Romanovs. It is great to see a new book and not a rehash of existing ones.
I only came across this book quite recently.
It is about the voyage of HMS Marlborough, an Iron Duke-class battleship built 1912, evacuating surviving members of the Russian Imperial family,from the Crimea. The key source seems to the memories of Sir Francis Pridham, later Vice Admiral and at the time the First Lieutenant of the HMS Marlborough.
The the whole episode is very much described from an English and Romanov point of view. That puts a great limit to its value. Sad to learn that the Romanov family arguments were continued (not openly). There is never a reflection why it came to such a situation the devils. The "hardship" of these Imperial refugees is of course of a limited nature. The English are superb (especially compared to the French), just mentioning btw that it was the George V refusing exile to the last emperor. It all a bit simplistic for my taste.
It is interesting to read however as it gives one a clue why the Romanovs were ousted. That the Bolsheviks regime was muderous does not mean that the Czarist regime was a nice one. The Romanovs and the last Czar failed miserably. The "great war hero" Grand Duke Nicolas was responsible for crushing defeats and a disorganized army. If a family rules absolute, they have to take absolute responsibility.
On a more positive side: it is an easy read and well-structured. I like that the author follows the fate of the principle figure in exile or lives of the officiers of the Marlborough. Independently how one assesses the whole situation the trip on the Marlborough had an impact on all directly concerned.
The title was well choosen: a Court at sea! Yes indded, it was a court and hardly a bunch of poor refugees.
on 2 October 2011
This is a great little book, very well put together, the deatil of information is great from start to finish. They should have sailed off on a liner rather than a warship and it is there that the fun begins, court life put into the confines of small cabins rather than state rooms. It is sad to read of people used to a very large stage, taken away from the world they knew, going into a very changed world.
A joy for every Royalist or anyone interested in history.