Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Grand Dukes, Vol. 1 – Review by Phil Perry

The Grand Dukes, Volume I, Edited and Published by Arturo E. Beéche.
(Eurohistory & Kensington House Books, October 2010). 303 pages,
including 38 pages of glossy photos.

The wait was long and at times frustratingly slow. I remember sending
Mr. Beéche copious emails about the estimated time of publication for
a book that I had looked forward to reading. Every time I contacted
Eurohistory, he would patiently explain to me what a complicated
process it was to sift through the various chapters contributed by
more than a dozen of today's most respected royalty authors. The
myriad issues dealt with included several different versions of major
events the Grand Dukes lived through, several narratives of the same
event, like the Russian revolution, different spellings for the same
actors, etc. I can just but begin to imagine what a complicated and
slow process this must have been. Personally, I think I would have
simply given up. However, and to our utter delight, Mr. Beéche's
perseverance is witnessed once again in what has quickly become my
favorite royalty book for the year 2010.

The Grand Dukes - Sons and Grandsons of Russia's Tsars since Paul I
(Volume I), is a stunning production. The book is what many of us
refer to as "a must-have," for without a doubt it is sure to become a
standard reading for anyone interested in the lives of Russia's unique
Grand Dukes. They were a difficult bunch, these men. What with their
contradictions, their flaws, their penchant for "slow ships and fast
women," the Romanov Grand Dukes certainly provide a fine example of
the history, triumph and tragedy that engulfed the Russian Imperial

In all, there were close to forty Grand Dukes, all descendants of Tsar
Paul I. The initial plan for this book was to cover them all in one
volume. However, that became an impossible task as the text of the
book passed the 600-page mark. Mr. Beeche explained to me in great
detail the many reasons why The Grand Dukes began as a single volume
book, but ended as a two-volume publication. These reasons included:
cost of production, technical problems caused by having a paperback
nearing 700 pages (with the photo sections), maneuverability for the
reader, weight, shipping costs and logistics. By publishing the book
in two volumes, none of the sacrifices that the single-volume project
entailed would have to be made. Yes, for us the consumer it is a bit
onerous. Yet, I personally liked the idea of a two-volume set,
particularly if the photo sections were to be as prodigious as the one
in The Grand Dukes, Volume I.

Very cleverly, the book was divided in two equal halves. Volume I
includes biographies on all the sons (who lived longer than a few
years) of reigning Tsars. Thus, the book has expertly-written life
stories of the sons of Tsar Paul I, Tsar Nicholas I, Tsar Alexander
II, Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicholas II. In all, there are
eighteen biographies in this first volume. But, the narrative is not
just the only aspect of this book that I loved. There are the photos
to discuss as well.

I may not be alone in sharing a deep love of royal photos. I am sure
that any of the European Royal History Journal's readers also enjoy,
as do I, the beautiful images that the magazine and Mr. Beéche regale
us with in every issue. Come to think of it, Eurohistory's books are
always a like a fountain filled with beautiful antique imagery. Trust
me when I say that The Grand Dukes, Volume I, is no disappointment in
this regard either. The photo section contains nearly 100 gorgeous
images of the subjects covered within the book. There are many unique
photos in this section. I was particularly impressed by the images
chosen of Nixa, the lost Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich. One image
of painful significance is that of Empress Marie Alexandrovna holding
her grandson Prince Alfred of Edinburgh, a boy destined to suffer a
tragic end, like so many of his cousins and as did his own
grandmother. The Empress' look is one of utter desolation and pain,
perhaps reflecting the deep sadness she lived through caused by her
husband abandoning their marriage for a younger woman. I also enjoyed
seeing images of Grand Dukes Konstantin, Nicholas and Michael
Nikolaievich, for we do not get to see these historical figures often.
The photos dealing with Tsar Nicholas II are also exquisite and
provide us a window into the calm bourgeois family life he so enjoyed.
There is one image portraying the tsar while working at his desk in
the Alexander palace. In it I see a lonely man copping, barely
perhaps, with the insurmountable task heredity placed on his
shoulders. Another photo shows Alexandra Feodorovna longingly looking
out the window of her private room, wondering one can theorize, what
other tragedies life in Russia had in store for her. All in all, I
found myself lost in time while perusing through the photos chosen and
wondering what other treasures Eurohistory has in store for us in the

The Grand Dukes also has four nicely designed family trees. I don't
know about you, but I find it very difficult to read royalty books
that do not include family trees. When the cast of characters is as
vast as the one covered by this particular book, having family trees
makes it so much easier to place the actors in a historical,
genealogical and generational context.

What would I have liked to see, you may wonder. Well, I am impatiently
waiting for the Second Volume. I wish these books could be produced in
hardback format, but I also realize that given the size of today's
market for royalty books, that is perhaps a pipe dream. Instead, small
publishers like Eurohistory and Kensington House Books, have become
very innovative in the production of fantastic royal titles in
paperback. Trust me when I say that The Grand Dukes, Volume I, will
not disappoint you. I have read it once already and will surely read
it again and will return to it as one of the best reference books
available to us on the Romanovs. As I said before, The Grand Dukes,
Volume I, is a must have, of that there is no doubt in my mind.
Congratulations go, not just to the publisher, but also to the
authors, who have regaled us with a wonderful piece of historiography
that we will treasure for decades to come.

Available at

Available at

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