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The Romanov Bride: A Novel
by Robert Alexander

Published: 2009-02-24
Paperback : 336 pages
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The bestselling tale of Romanov intrigue from the author of The Kitchen Boy

Book groups and historical fiction buffs have made Robert Alexander's two previous novels word-of-mouth favorites and national bestsellers. Set against a backdrop of Imperial Russia's twilight, The Romanov Bride ...
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The bestselling tale of Romanov intrigue from the author of The Kitchen Boy

Book groups and historical fiction buffs have made Robert Alexander's two previous novels word-of-mouth favorites and national bestsellers. Set against a backdrop of Imperial Russia's twilight, The Romanov Bride has the same enduring appeal. The Grand Duchess Elisavyeta's story begins like a fairy tale-a German princess renowned for her beauty and kind heart marries the Grand Duke Sergei of Russia and enters the Romanov's lavish court. Her husband, however, rules his wife as he does Moscow-with a cold, hard fist. And, after a peaceful demonstration becomes a bloodbath, the fires of the revolution link Elisavyeta's destiny to that of Pavel-a young Bolshevik-forever.

Editorial Review

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E l l a

C h a p t e r 1
Though of course I was the granddaughter of the doyenne of
sovereigns, Queen Victoria, I did not grow up in luxury by any
means, for our little Grand Duchy of Hesse und bei Rhein in
Germany was not a wealthy one, having suffered so in wars, recent
ones at that. Indeed, it was during such difficult times that
my mother, Grand Duchess Alice, wrote often to England, begging
Grandmama to send lint and old linens from Windsor
and Balmoral, things Mama and her ladies could turn into
Actually, my mother's eternal want was by no means to remain
cloistered within the cold confines of any royal court, but
to go out amongst the people to see poverty and pain, so that her
good intentions would never dry up. As if a heretic I heard her
mutter more than once that it might be best if royalty itself were
washed away. It was no wonder, then, that following the lead of
her good friend and mentor, Florence Nightingale, my mother
took it upon herself to be out and about in Darmstadt, here,
there, everywhere, visiting those in need.
One particular morn after our breakfast of porridge and sau-
sage, she took me along, leaving my elder sister, Victoria, and
my baby sisters, Alicky and May, at home. This was in 8 8,
and I had no idea where we were going in our dot of a town, for
Mama had seen to the organization of the Alice Society for Aid
to Sick and Wounded, which included the founding of many
hospitals and homes for the poor. She was very progressive in
these things, fighting for the good of the common people and
even for clean water and proper bathing practices, something
that riled many old-timers who cared naught for a weekly bath.
Or a monthly one, for that matter.
However, whatever my mother's good intentions were that
day, I myself wasn't full of enthusiasm. All of fourteen years
of age, I would have much preferred to stay home and draw, or,
if work I must, sew a frock or pinafore for a poor child.
“Don't dawdle, Ella,” she called over her shoulder. “We
haven't much time.”
“But where are we going?” I asked as we quickly walked
down a narrow cobbled lane of the Old Quarter.
“There's a woman in need, that's all I've been told-and that,
young lady, is all you need to know.”
Within a few steps we'd left the tangle of streets and come
to a part of town I'd never seen before. The road was quite
straight but quite unkempt, the small pitched-roof houses half
falling down, the filth and waste running freely in the gutters.
Children in rags, their faces smeared with dirt, ran this way and
that like wild dogs. And when we rounded the next corner a
man in torn clothing stared upon us. Had he, I wondered, recognized
my mother with her dark hair, slim nose, and blue eyes
as none other than the Grand Duchess Alice, or did he have evil
thoughts? Of course my father, as ruler of our little Duchy,
would have had a fit if he'd known my mother and I had gone
not to visit the Alice Hospital or such, but instead descended
into the lowest part of town, and were doing so not simply unannounced
but without an attendant, let alone a guard of any
kind. But that was my mother, a German princess by marriage
but forever an English Protestant in her heart and ways. Oh,
she was a stubborn woman, that one. Years later, whenever it
was just my sisters and I at the tea table, the story always went
round and round again how furious Mama had made Grandmama
when she decided that she herself and not a wet nurse
would feed us children.
Putting down her needlework for a moment, one of my sisters
would invariably shout with a laugh, “And what did our
dear Grandmama, Queen Victoria, call our dear mother, Grand
Duchess Alice?”
“A cow!” we would all cry in unison.
“And what name did our dear Grandmama, the Queen, give
for a name to her favorite Highland cow at Balmoral?”
“Alice!” we would all shout, roaring with laughter.
So that morning, already quite aware of my mother's determined
nature, I brushed back a lock of my fair hair and took
Mama by the hand and did not leave her side until we came to
a tumbledown cottage. We stopped at a door, crooked and
cracked with age, and my mother knocked upon it. When no
answer came, she knocked again. Suddenly a child screamed in
reply, and without hesitation my very regal mother, small in
stature yet eternally energetic, put her shoulder to the door and
plowed it open.
Before that moment I could never have imagined such grime,
such stench, such chaos. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust
to the darkness of the small room with its low ceiling, for no
candles were burning and the fire had long since gone cold.
Clutching an old wooden chair next to the sole table was a little
girl, wearing a torn shirt and nothing below. Obviously something
was quite wrong with her, for waste of a very nasty sort
was dripping between her legs. The screaming began anew just
then, not from this child but another, an infant, lying in some
kind of cradle. My mother hurried over to the child, a boy of
but a few months, who was likewise covered with his own
Gasping, I breathed in, fully catching the stench. Feeling my
breakfast start to rise, I grabbed my own stomach. I was just beginning
to wonder whose children these were and what kind of
mother could have left them so despondent, when I heard a
moan and sensed a person stir against the far wall. It was then
that something bloated and red began to reach out from a pile
of rags. An arm covered with boils, I realized. Then came a
shoulder, all scarlet and glistening with sweat. Finally a face,
blotchy red and also spotted with boils. It was a woman, her hair
stringy and greasy, her teeth all but gone, her face hideous and
swollen. She looked like the ugliest witch from the fairy stories
of my youth.
I stepped back and was about to run screaming.
Suddenly my mother took me gently by the hand and in
English softly but firmly said, “Ella, my dear, you must learn
to treat the sick and needy without hesitation or fear, for that
is the true Christian way.”
I gazed into my mother's small dark eyes and saw a ferocious
caring and determination to help others. And so, taking courage
from her and following her good Christian example, the two of
us set to work. I was more than hesitant as I first occupied myself
with kindling fire and boiling water. Soon my task was to
clean the waste from the children and bathe them, which was
by no means pleasant. Next my mother fed the little ones,
which quieted them greatly, and then she made tea, and I
watched with admiration as she fed this to the ill woman.
Though this seemed to coax the woman out of her delirium, my
mother was still concerned, and she sent a neighbor to fetch a
“But . . . but I haven't a florin to my name!” gasped the
woman, her face so blotchy.
“You needn't worry about money, that will be taken care
of,” my mother said sternly. “Your only business is to get
“And . . . and who are you? Why have you come to me?”
“We've come because our help was needed.”
“But who-”
“Sh . . . just rest,” soothed my mother without identifying
By the time we left hours later, the doctor had come and
gone and it seemed relatively normal in that little cottage, for
we had scrubbed children and floors and all. Indeed, the little
ones were fed and asleep, and the woman, whose husband had
recently died in a mining accident, was resting comfortably.
As we stepped out onto the little street, my mother leaned
over and kissed me on the top of my head, saying, “You did
very nicely, sweetheart.”
I took her hand in both of mine and kissed it, and then we
proceeded back, chattering mostly in English, some in German,
as was our custom. We returned completely unrecognized as
mother and daughter of the ruling family until we were within
steps of the Neues Palais, our dear home that Mama had decorated
in such a very cheerful English manner, chintzes and all.
And that became not only the most treasured memory I have
of my mother but one of the last. In a few short months our
united family, which had always been bound with love, was
torn apart by epidemic. Diphtheria came suddenly and mysteriously,
first taking my baby sister, May, just four years old,
whose loss alone nearly killed Mama. Indeed, it weakened her
so that she, too, fell ill, and though the doctors kept the inhalers
filled with chlorate of potash to ease her suffering, she was
soon taken by the same disease. My own pain was quite unimaginable,
for I was not allowed to look after my poor suffering
mother in her final hours nor even to kiss her farewell-for
my own safety, I was kept quite apart from my beloveds in their
illness. Needless to say, grief overtook my father, and for years
thereafter our palace was all but dark.
But then everything changed completely when I came to
Russia as the bride of my father's first cousin, a Romanov-
Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, son of Aleksander II and
brother of Aleksander III-and it was at that time that I began
to live a life of pomp and wealth beyond the reach of any other
earthly kingdom.
And a mere nine years after my own royal marriage there I was
in the Kremlin's Cathedral of the Assumption, no doubt in my
mind that the Russian Imperial Court was the most magnificent
in all of Europe. My dear Grandmama had forever derided Russians
for their extravagance, but Nicky's coronation, which was
taking place right before my eyes on that beautiful day in May,
8 6, was the most glorious spectacle I had ever witnessed. As
I stood amid a sea of kings and queens, princes and princesses
and countless diplomats, the sunshine streaked like golden
spears into the smoky, incense-thick church, and the dresses
and uniforms, the jewels and the sabers all sparkled and danced
with light. Candles burned everywhere, golden icons of saints
stared down upon us, and I dabbed a tear from my left eye. Before
us an incredible event had just unfolded: young Nicky,
twenty-six years old and the new husband of my younger sister,
had by the grace of God been anointed His Imperial Highness
Nikolai II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias.
Nicky then ordered that the Imperial Crown be handed him,
which he took directly from the hands of the very important
Metropolitan Palladius of Sankt Peterburg. By tradition Russian
tsars crowned themselves, signifying there was no man of
any rank or priest of any import between Tsar and God. And
with his own hands Nicky did exactly that, crowning himself
with the great Crown, that blazing masterpiece covered in some
,000 smaller diamonds, dozens of larger ones, brilliant pearls,
and, of course, that magnificent uncut ruby-the world's largest
of carats-atop all. From that very moment, Nicky's
only responsibility was to answer to God and God alone.
Next, in a surprisingly strong and steady voice Nicky commanded
that the other insignia-the Imperial Scepter which
held the famed Orlov Diamond of 00 carats and the Imperial
Orb of gold-be given over.
The pale, grayed Metropolitan Palladius, dressed in blazing
gold robes sewn with thousands of pearls and wearing atop his
head a gold mitre decorated with diamonds and rubies, held
forth the insignia as he proclaimed in a booming voice, “Take
this Orb and this Scepter, which are the visible manifestations
of the Autocratic power the Almighty gives You to rule over
Your People and to lead them to Prosperity.”
Nicky took the Scepter in his right hand, the Orb in his left,
and seated himself upon his diamond-covered throne. A few
moments later, he rose and passed the regalia to his aids. With
tears in my eyes, I watched as Nicky commanded Alicky, my
sister nine years younger, to come forth, which she did, kneeling
upon a crimson cushion with a border of golden lace. With
heart-stopping majesty Nicky then removed his Crown and
touched it to the forehead of his beloved consort. Once the
Crown was back upon his own head, he turned again to my sister
and laid the regalia upon her-the Purple, the diamondcovered
Chain of the Order of St. Andrew, and finally the
Empress's Crown of some ,000 diamonds. Immediately the
choir burst into song, wishing the Tsar and Tsaritsa long life
and long reign, 0 guns were fired into the sky, and it seemed
as if heaven had opened and was pouring its divinity down to
earth, such were the waves of glory and beauty and wonder.
Once Nicky had again seated himself on his diamondcovered
throne and Alicky upon hers-Ivan the Terrible's,
actually-we members of the Royal Family were allowed to approach
the dais not simply to pay our respects but to pledge our
fealty to our country and her Sovereign. Minnie-the Widow
Empress Maria Fyodorovna-went first, a diamond crown upon
her own head, her train stretching forever behind her, and tears
by the bucket streaming from her eyes. Of course, this made
me cry all the more, for we all knew that her tears were not only
of joy and pride but surely of pain, for Minnie had lost her husband,
Aleksander III, just over a year earlier.
Everywhere there were court gowns of gold and silver, jewels
of red and blue and green, countless diamonds of the first
water, and we proceeded by rank, everything being so strictly
laid out. My own court gown, the train of regulation length-
which is to say the length of nearly three men-was of creamy
velvet embroidered with gold thread. And as I approached
Nicky, I swept a curtsey as graceful as any ballerina. I could feel
that dear boy's beautiful blue eyes upon me, his warmth, his
love. Then I went to Alicky. So that she might be close by me,
I had long prayed and done so much for her to find a husband
in Russia, and I had succeeded beyond expectation, for here in
my new land she had found the truest of love with her Nicky
dear. Now as nearly everyone's eyes fell upon me to see would
I kiss the hand of my younger sister, I took her soft fingers in
mine and with real joy pressed my lips to them, and it was stunning
and sweet, the love flowing between us. In a rush of emotion,
I pledged myself entirely to her service and to that of our
new Motherland. At that moment I was quite certain that no
country was greater or brighter or more blessed than our beloved
That night, when the vast crowds gathered round the mighty
Kremlin walls, their Empress Aleksandra Fyodorovna-my little
Alicky-was led to a prominent bastion along the Kremlin
walls and instructed to push down upon a particular button.
Much to the joy and utter delight of Court and peasant alike,
the miracle of electric illumination burst forth in the dark night
as the thick walls and formidable towers of the Kremlin glowed
for the first time ever with the dazzling magic of thousands
upon thousands of electric bulbs. It was all glory, all power, and
the future of our Holy Mother Russia seemed boundless and
plentiful, stable and assured.
Indeed, none of us could have begun to think, let alone imagine,
that this God-Anointed Tsar would ever, ever be pulled
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. How did your sympathies toward Pavel and Elisavyeta change through the course of the novel? What similarities can you find between each character's fate at the end of the novel?

2. Pavel steals money so that he and his wife can travel to Moscow, and he continues to do so whenever he deems it necessary. How does this theft affect our understanding of his actions later in the novel? What do these actions suggest about the social and moral climate at the time?

3. Pavel and the other members of the revolution believe that desperate times call for desperate measures. Do you agree with this philosophy? When, if ever, is violence an appropriate political response?

4. Although Pavel describes his violent intentions and desire for revenge, when presented with an opportunity to assassinate Sergei, he doesn't take action. What does this tell us about his character?

5. What do you see as the major flaws of a political system governed by a monarchy such as the Romanovs? What are the flaws of the system Pavel is trying to bring about? Is it possible to have a perfect political

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

As strange as it sounds, I can honestly say that I have the KGB to thank for my writing career. I was 26 years old and working in the USSR when the KGB began following nearly my every move. Months of Soviet surveillance in turn jumpstarted my fiction writing, most recently THE KITCHEN BOY, RASPUTIN'S DAUGHTER, and my latest, THE ROMANOV BRIDE.

Fashioned from the true story of Grand Duchess Elizavyeta, sister of Tsarina Alexandra, THE ROMANOV BRIDE is set against the twilight of Imperial Russia. Renowned for her beauty and kind heart, Grand Duchess Elizavyeta marries the most conservative of the Romanovs, who rules Moscow with an iron fist. And when a peaceful demonstration becomes a bloodbath, the fires of the revolution link Elizavyeta's destiny to a young Bolshevik, all but guaranteeing her tragic end.

I find Russian history so fascinating that I've not only chosen to write about it, but have spoken to many bookclubs. If you have a group of ten or more, I would be delighted to visit with you via speakerphone or videophone (iChat and Skype are a blast!). To arrange such a visit, first visit the trailer and then contact me at the email address below.

Happy Reading!


Book Club Recommendations

Compare to the classic, We the Living, by Ayn Rand
by hlarson (see profile) 10/20/09
Post revolutionary and near autobiographical, the story tells what it was like for the former gentry in the new Communist state of Russia.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "amazing story"by Brenda B. (see profile) 05/14/13

This is an amazing story to read and discuss in book club. Wow. This provides some history and a very informative story to go along with it.

  "Interesting perspectives of the Russian Revolution - from the royal and the revolutionary."by Holly L. (see profile) 10/20/09

Robert Alexander clearly knows his history and offers understanding into this fascinating era, but the Romanov Bride seemed to scratch the surface. I was looking for more detail, more meaning in the characters'... (read more)

  "The Romanov Bride"by Eydie Ann J. (see profile) 10/16/09

  "The Romanov Bride"by Shawntel R. (see profile) 08/27/09

I really enjoyed the history weaved through this story.

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