Romanov Book of the Year for 2020: ‘Empress Alexandra’ by Melanie Clegg

Based on her comprehensive research from primary sources, ‘Empress Alexandra’ by Melanie Clegg is my personal choice for the Romanov Book of the Year for 2020 – Paul Gilbert

NOTE: This book is now available in the UK and North America, and can be ordered from your favourite bookseller. As a courtesy to those who have not yet read the book, I did not want to give anything away, or publish any spoilers, therefore, I have used material from the publishers web page and added my own additional comments and notes to this review – PG

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My love of reading has helped me navigate, what turned out to be a rather dreadful year for most this year. There were several noteworthy Romanov titles published in 2020, however, it was ‘Empress Alexandra: The Special Relationship Between Russia’s Last Tsarina and Queen Victoria’ by Melanie Clegg which I enjoyed the most.

In her new book, British historian and author Melanie Clegg takes a fresh and intimate look at the close relationship that existed between the last Empress of Russia and her grandmother Queen Victoria.

The story begins with the birth of Alexandra’s mother Princess Alice, who was the third child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Alice was betrothed to Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine shortly before her father’s death in 1861 and their wedding was described by her mother as ‘more of a funeral than a wedding’.

Alexandra was just six years old when her mother died of diphtheria in 1878 at which point both she and her elder sisters were taken immediately under the wing of their grandmother, Queen Victoria, who oversaw their education, cared for them and tried to arrange their future.

It was Victoria’s dearest wish that Alexandra should marry her first cousin Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who was second in line to the British throne. However, Alexandra had already fallen in love with the Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich [future Emperor Nicholas II] of Russia – a match that horrified her formidable and Rusophobic grandmother.

Although Victoria was disappointed by Alexandra’s decision to marry Nicholas, the two continued to correspond until the end of her life in 1901.

What I enjoyed so much about this particular title is how the author captured the essence of Queen Victoria’s relationship with her granddaughter Princess Alix of Hesse, later Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, into one volume. The relationship between the two female rulers, who were so different in ability and personality but bound together by blood and genuine affection makes this a fascinating read!

Clegg intended this book to simply be a study of the relationship of Queen Victoria and her granddaughter, but after some reflection, she decided to begin with the birth of Alexandra’s mother Princess Alice, believing that her relationship with her mother shaped that between Victoria and Alexandra, and was highly relevant to the events that occurred later on.

The author draws from the vast collection of Queen Victoria’s letters and diaries from the Royal Archives (RAVIC/MAIN/QVJ), and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s letters edited by Sergei Mironenko and Andrei Maylunas.

Published by Pen and Sword Books (UK). Hard cover. 216 pages with more than 40 high quality black and white photographs from the Royal Collection Trust. 

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My previous selections for Romanov Book of the Year include the following titles:

(2019) The Romanov Royal Martyrs: What Silence Could Not Conceal

(2018) The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family by Helen Rappaport [*my review was lost after I closed down my Royal Russia blog, on 1st January 2020 – PG]

© Paul Gilbert. 31 December 2020

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