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In this centenary year, his story, shorn of all the awkward facts, is safer and has mass appeal. Then come the shots — so many — and those bloodstains black against the grainy image of a cellar wall. With romance of this kind in prospect, Robert Service has written a timely and important book. The Romanovs are a new interest for this prolific historian, whose habitual subjects have been Bolsheviks such as Lenin , Stalin and Trotsky. A few years ago, however, Service came across some long-forgotten documents in the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California. The story that he makes of them may be familiar, but he brings to it rare clarity and common sense.

Service takes pains over his tsar, presenting a fastidious Nicholas, a nervous man of simple tastes who liked to dine on beetroot soup, not stuffed peacocks and caviar. He constantly put duty first, but lacked the flexibility of mind to steer his country in a crisis, let alone the first world war. Even as he signed his abdication papers he dreamed that his future might resemble an extended Crimean holiday, complete with family and faithful staff.

When guards refused to shake his proffered hand, the shock must have been rude indeed. Now under house arrest near Petrograd, the princesses were horrified as soldiers in the palace grounds took pot shots at their goats. The British had a plan to rescue him in the first weeks brokered by their ambassador, Sir George Buchanan.

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  4. Three months later, when George V withdrew his asylum invitation on personal and diplomatic grounds, both he and Buchanan were blamed for throwing the tsar to the wolves. But Service argues that the scheme was always doomed. The Tsar hoped to go into exile in the United Kingdom following his abdication, but King George V his cousin denied the request, as did France. The family stayed at the Governor's Mansion featured above until the spring of Then, they were transported to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where they would later be executed. Some questioned the Kerensky government's motivations behind the decision to send the family to Tobolsk instead of Crimea.

    Kerensky claimed that it was for matters of safety. But according to Nicholas Sokolov, the judge who conducted the judicial inquiry into the murders' circumstances, all relatives of the imperial family who reached Crimea were eventually saved. Sokolov later wrote that there was "one reason for the choice of Siberia—the dethroned Autocrat of All the Russias must be made to taste the bitterness and dreariness of exile in Siberia, must be made to experience the icy blasts of that House of Dead Souls to which he and his ancestors had banished so many Russians!

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    The Romanovs at their home in Tobolsk. For a time, the family continued to live "normally" -- even though they were not permitted to go to town. Alexei, seen here while in Tobolsk, would take care of the poultry. Nicholas, sometime between and , would engage in simple manual work, such as cutting wood. For a time in Tobolsk, the children continued their studies as normal.

    Nicholas and Alexandra by Massie, Robert K

    From left to right: Maria, Olga, Anastasia and Tatiana. In Christmas of , Olga wrote "Everything is peaceful and quiet, thank God. We are all healthy and not losing hope. Today my sisters' and brother's vacation begun. There is still not a lot of snow, the frost reaches C, and the sun shines almost all the time, it rises and sets bright and beautiful.

    It's so nice to go for walks. Mama works all day or draws and paints, keeps herself busy all the time and the time flies quickly. Anastasia and Maria make playful gestures while held in captivity.

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    The Romanovs sit in Tobolsk, western Siberia, sometime during and During this period, they remained hopeful that help was on the way and that their exile would be temporary. During the family's last Christmas together, Tsarina Alexandra wrote to her lady in waiting, Sophia Karlovna Buxhoeveden. Said Alexandra, "Perhaps the word 'joyful Christmas' sounds like a joke now, but after all this joy of the birth of our Lord. He will manifest His mercy when the time comes, and before that we have to wait patiently.

    We cannot change what is happening - we can only believe , believe and pray and never lose love for Him. Tatiana and Olga sit with their mother in According to the writings of reporter Edmund Walsh, "The townspeople showed themselves courteous and sympathetic, frequently sending gifts, particularly fresh food, and saluting the members of the family respectfully or blessing them with the sign of the cross when they appeared at the windows of the Palace.

    Walsh continued, "It was only, the unending monotony, the drab Siberian monotony, that oppressed, together with the almost complete absence of news.

    The Romanov Empress

    Alexei and his mother take what is likely the last photo of the two in As the Kerensky government fell to Bolshevist power, treatment of the exiled family was increasingly severe. At the end of April , the family began their trip to Ekaterinburg, the headquarters of the Ural Soviets, where they would be killed.

    The cellar of the Ipatiev House, where the family was systematically killed. Walsh describes the family's final days this way: "Under the moral torture and physical confinement—toward the end the prisoners were allowed but five minutes in the garden each day —the ex-Tsar maintained that astonishing external calm and passivity which characterized his whole life. His health did not seem to weaken, nor did his hair whiten. During the few minutes allowed for exercise in the open air, he carried [Alexei] in his arms, as the boy was unable to walk, and marched stolidly up and down until his precious five minutes were over.

    But the Empress never left the porch; she aged visibly, her health failed, and gray hairs appeared. Share Tweet Email. Report a bad ad experience. This is both a sobering work, and the account of the discovery of their bones and the aftermath is at once fascinating and distressing. A solid resource and good recreational reading for high school students.

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    Writing with a strong point of view based on diary entries, personal letters, and other firsthand accounts, she enriches their well-known story with vivid details. A wonderful introduction to this era in Russian history and a great read for those already familiar with it. Fleming adheres to this well-established framework, but she crafts a retelling of the history that excels in providing background for readers who approach with little more than a vague image of glamorous royalty gunned down in their prime.

    Fleming supplies clear explanations and slips them into the text exactly where needed, circling quickly back to the Romanovs themselves before the gripping biography turns into a formal history lesson. It is not filled with sidebars or artifacts that leap off the page.

    This fascinating, handsome book is about words--not only the author's narrative, but those of the people who lived the events. From the first paragraph, readers enter a magical other world: Russia, February , St.

    Petersburg's Winter Palace—a building three miles long—where a party is being held for the nobility. Sick, poor, desperate for food, some moved to the cities to work in factories where conditions proved even worse. This section culminates with an excerpt from the autobiography of a year-old boy who left his village for Moscow in , as he describes his living and working conditions.

    Fleming's use of primary sources proves to be the highlight of this book. Not a paragraph goes by without a quote from a letter, telegram, interview, autobiography or eyewitness account seamlessly woven into the narrative. Source notes come at the end of the book in order to maintain dramatic momentum. Similarly, captioned photographs appear in two discrete sections of glossy pages. She incorporates everything in a logical, relentless account. Her descriptions of Rasputin's assassination and Alexei's hemophilia will capture even the most reluctant readers, as will the daily lives of the five royal children, from the height of their popularity to their final months under house arrest.

    Readers will be swept up in the tragic events of the Russian Revolution and, ultimately, witness the murder of the entire Romanov family. Fleming traveled to Russia to research primary sources and to visit many of the places cited.

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    She debunks myths and admits when a mystery is yet to be solved. Young history buffs will appreciate the excellent map and family tree, as well as—amid the exemplary back matter—the author's inspiration and process. Czar Nicholas II played dominoes. When he received a particularly frantic telegram warning of impending 'elemental and uncontrollable anarchy,' he dismissed it as 'all sorts of nonsense.