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On 11th April 1919, less than a year after the assassination of the Romanovs, the British battleship HMS Marlborough left Yalta carrying 17 members of the Russian Imperial Family into perpetual exile. They included the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Marie, and his sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia, Prince Felix Youssupov, the murderer of Rasputin and a man once mooted as On 11th April 1919, less than a year after the assassination of the Romanovs, the British battleship HMS Marlborough left Yalta carrying 17 members of the Russian Imperial Family into perpetual exile. They included the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Marie, and his sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia, Prince Felix Youssupov, the murderer of Rasputin and a man once mooted as a future leader of Russia, and Grand Duke Nicholas, former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armies. As the ship prepared to set sail, a British sloop carrying 170 White Russian soldiers drew up alongside. The soldiers stood on deck and sang the Russian National Anthem. It was the last time the anthem was sung to members of the Imperial Family within Russian territory for over 70 years. The Dowager Empress stood on deck alone. Nobody dared to approach her. The Russian Court at Sea vividly recreates this unlikely voyage, with its bizarre assortment of warring characters and its priceless cargo of treasures, including rolled-up Rembrandts and Faberge eggs. It is a story, by turns exotic, comic and doomed, of an extraordinary group of people caught up in an extraordinary moment in history when their lives were in every way at sea.


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On 11th April 1919, less than a year after the assassination of the Romanovs, the British battleship HMS Marlborough left Yalta carrying 17 members of the Russian Imperial Family into perpetual exile. They included the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Marie, and his sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia, Prince Felix Youssupov, the murderer of Rasputin and a man once mooted as On 11th April 1919, less than a year after the assassination of the Romanovs, the British battleship HMS Marlborough left Yalta carrying 17 members of the Russian Imperial Family into perpetual exile. They included the Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Marie, and his sister, the Grand Duchess Xenia, Prince Felix Youssupov, the murderer of Rasputin and a man once mooted as a future leader of Russia, and Grand Duke Nicholas, former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armies. As the ship prepared to set sail, a British sloop carrying 170 White Russian soldiers drew up alongside. The soldiers stood on deck and sang the Russian National Anthem. It was the last time the anthem was sung to members of the Imperial Family within Russian territory for over 70 years. The Dowager Empress stood on deck alone. Nobody dared to approach her. The Russian Court at Sea vividly recreates this unlikely voyage, with its bizarre assortment of warring characters and its priceless cargo of treasures, including rolled-up Rembrandts and Faberge eggs. It is a story, by turns exotic, comic and doomed, of an extraordinary group of people caught up in an extraordinary moment in history when their lives were in every way at sea.

30 review for The Russian Court at Sea: The Voyage of HMS Marlborough

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    2 5 stars The Russian Court at Sea is an account of the Romanovs voyage into excile. The book is a short read at under 250 pages but the writing is clumsy and historical content was incomplete. April 1919 just under a year after the assassination of the Romanovs the British Battleship HMS Marlborough sails from Yalta and on board are 17 members of the Russian Royal Family who are escaping Russia and hoping to start life afresh. I found this little book while browsing the Russian section of a larg 2 5 stars The Russian Court at Sea is an account of the Romanovs voyage into excile. The book is a short read at under 250 pages but the writing is clumsy and historical content was incomplete. April 1919 just under a year after the assassination of the Romanovs the British Battleship HMS Marlborough sails from Yalta and on board are 17 members of the Russian Royal Family who are escaping Russia and hoping to start life afresh. I found this little book while browsing the Russian section of a large bookshop and was immediately drawn firstly by the cover and secondly and more importantly by the blurb of this book. I always want to know . What happened afterwards...... The book opens with a map of the voyage from Yalta to Malta and a list of the passengers on board the ship which was helpful. However the author missed out on an opportunity to inform the reader how some of the Royal family ended up in the Crimea and a few pages of introduction on what took place previously would have been helpful especially for readers who may have little knowledge on this period of history or even for readers who may need refreshing. I actually felt like I was reading part 2 Of a story and had missed out on Part 1 and the lead up to the voyage. Having read quite a bit on this period in Russian Histroy I was familiar with the Family histroy in the Crimea but if you were coming into this book without having any knowledge you would be totally lost reading this account. The book was wasn't a total waste of time and while I would have difficulty recommending I did manage to find some interesting facts in it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jill Crosby

    There isn’t much here, but that doesn’t stop the author from filling 235 pages of it. Here it is in a nutshell; nothing happens, so there aren’t any spoilers: The Dowager Empress Marie is vacated from the Crimea in 1919. A collection of Romanov relations accompanied her. They go on a British warship. They make friends with the crew, but fight amongst themselves. They go to Yalta, Constantinople, and Malta. A different ship takes Marie to England. She & her sister, Queen Mum Alice, fight. Marie go There isn’t much here, but that doesn’t stop the author from filling 235 pages of it. Here it is in a nutshell; nothing happens, so there aren’t any spoilers: The Dowager Empress Marie is vacated from the Crimea in 1919. A collection of Romanov relations accompanied her. They go on a British warship. They make friends with the crew, but fight amongst themselves. They go to Yalta, Constantinople, and Malta. A different ship takes Marie to England. She & her sister, Queen Mum Alice, fight. Marie goes to Denmark. She dies. Then there’s an extensive epilogue chapter on what happened to the rest of the refugees—they live pretty well -off for people who have never worked a day in their lives. The end.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Zosi

    3.5 stars. A bit limited in scope, but highly readable and well plotted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Coming straight off the back of Robert K. Massie's excellent Nicholas & Alexandra, this was a terrible disappointment. An absolute lack of any interesting narrative tying together the jumble of various excerpts from a far-flung range of sources. First 100 pages explaining the vast entourage of characters, 50 pages covering the short voyage, in which just about nothing of any interest besides a few sing-alongs and some gift exchanging occurs, and an epilogic 50 pages documenting what all these char Coming straight off the back of Robert K. Massie's excellent Nicholas & Alexandra, this was a terrible disappointment. An absolute lack of any interesting narrative tying together the jumble of various excerpts from a far-flung range of sources. First 100 pages explaining the vast entourage of characters, 50 pages covering the short voyage, in which just about nothing of any interest besides a few sing-alongs and some gift exchanging occurs, and an epilogic 50 pages documenting what all these characters we've only just met (and a few barely mentioned) went on to do with their lives. At one point the author explains that one of the sailor's diaries is the most fulfilling account of the journey. Why didn't I read that instead? The only reason it doesn't get 1 star is because it wasn't terrible in and of itself. It is well written, and draws on many sources. But it's just poorly curated and composed. The author either needed three times the word limit, or half the number of sources. Then we might have realised some depth. The only people I would recommend this to are Romanov obsessives willing to fill in every potential gap and point of view.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eva Müller

    The way the author reconstructed this journey via journals and letters is clearly impressive but the story isn't really told in the most sensible way. Because it only covers the roughly two-week voyage of the Romanovs from Yalta to Malta but the people that were on this voyage didn't exist in a vacuum. The relationships these people had with each other were the results of events that happened sometimes long before this voyage started. Their behaviour only makes sense if you know what caused thei The way the author reconstructed this journey via journals and letters is clearly impressive but the story isn't really told in the most sensible way. Because it only covers the roughly two-week voyage of the Romanovs from Yalta to Malta but the people that were on this voyage didn't exist in a vacuum. The relationships these people had with each other were the results of events that happened sometimes long before this voyage started. Their behaviour only makes sense if you know what caused their like (or dislike). So we get a few paragraphs about life on the ships, then a line 'X was not very fond of Y because' and then sometimes pages of explanations. It's distracting and halts the reading flow since often, at the end of an explanation I had already forgotten what had caused the author to go on this aside. Plus, being so all over the place, these asides were hard to remember, so the next time the person came up, I had a hard time remembering their complete 'backstory'. Overall, I feel those story would have been better told in two parts: one introductory one that sets the scene, and then the journey, without all those asides. On another note: In this book, Prince Yusupov's sexual orientation is completely irrelevant and there would have been no need to bring it up at all. But the book somehow went for...strange allusions/implications without stating anything definite (parallels between him and Oscar Wilde are brought up and the author writes about Yusupov's wife that she led such a sheltered life that "when marrying she'd never heard the word homosexual" and then just leaves it there). I checked the publication date because that seemed very old-fashioned to me but the book is from 2011. There's really no need to be so vague about it in a relatively new book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Grieve-laing

    The title of the book is slightly misleading. Although it is centred around the voyage of members of the Imperial family away from Russia following the revolution the book is mainly a series of vignettes about life at Court and the lives of the passengers in general. Welch has clearly done a lot of research on the Imperial family and there is a lot of information about the officers of the battleship used to take the family from Russia but it is very light on solid historical analysis. Still, wor The title of the book is slightly misleading. Although it is centred around the voyage of members of the Imperial family away from Russia following the revolution the book is mainly a series of vignettes about life at Court and the lives of the passengers in general. Welch has clearly done a lot of research on the Imperial family and there is a lot of information about the officers of the battleship used to take the family from Russia but it is very light on solid historical analysis. Still, worth a read for someone wanting a peek at Russian Imperial life in decline.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick von Stutenzee

    In 1919, the Dowager Empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna, was evacuated on a British ship from the Crimea peninsula. A new book tells the story of this evacuation based on the diaries of passengers and crew on that ship. The book captures one of those time capsules created by extraordinary events and presents them in a microcosm contained on one ship. Read the full review In 1919, the Dowager Empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna, was evacuated on a British ship from the Crimea peninsula. A new book tells the story of this evacuation based on the diaries of passengers and crew on that ship. The book captures one of those time capsules created by extraordinary events and presents them in a microcosm contained on one ship. Read the full review

  8. 4 out of 5

    Coleen Dailey

    This was an interesting short read about the rescue of the Dowager Empress Marie and several members of the Romanov family. It covers the voyage from the Crimea and then finishes with what happened to most of those who were on the trip. A good read for anyone who likes Romanov history,

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kay Wahrsager

    Poorly written and riddled with inaccuracies. Hugely disappointing. If I know more than the author off the top of my head without consulting any reference books there is a real problem.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Janis Mills

    Just okay. Nothing new and really did not learn anything

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    I was really looking forward to reading more about the final flight of 17 Romanovs from the Crimea (and Revolutionary Russia in 1919) to Europe, but this book, "The Russian Court at Sea: The Voyage of the HMS Marlborough", was a very disappointing account of that story. Yes, the book gives an overall picture of what happened, generally, but its technical presentation was muddled, its coverage of the event was incomplete, and it didn't offer much substantively new beyond what I've read elsewhere. I was really looking forward to reading more about the final flight of 17 Romanovs from the Crimea (and Revolutionary Russia in 1919) to Europe, but this book, "The Russian Court at Sea: The Voyage of the HMS Marlborough", was a very disappointing account of that story. Yes, the book gives an overall picture of what happened, generally, but its technical presentation was muddled, its coverage of the event was incomplete, and it didn't offer much substantively new beyond what I've read elsewhere. From the beginning the author, Frances Welch, didn't explain how the various Romanovs ended up in the Crimea, an exciting precursor (and missed opportunity) that causes the book to start rather flat I thought. Throughout her account, Welch jumps from vignette to vignette but lacks adequate transitions and jumps time repeatedly almost like a book with attention deficit disorder in a time warp -- she just could not stay focused. When half the Romanovs split off from the the HMS Marlborough that rescued them from the Crimea, she offers no clear explanation where they went. She just gives some closure at the end when she gives a brief "what happened to them afterward" blurb for all the main figures in the book. While the book was about the HMS Marlborough, it was also about the royal court at sea. Even if the royal party split apart midway through the voyage it still should have been covered, especially since she devoted a lot of time to them otherwise prior to the split. I had learned a lot about this story before reading this book (including what happened after the split) through the brilliant biography "Once a Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II" by John Van der Kiste. Van der Kiste covered it just as well, I think. There are other books on this topic of the final flight of these Romanovs from Crimea, and I suspect there would be little to lose in checking those out instead. This one was disappointing, I'm very sorry to say. I'm not sorry I read it but I wish I had chosen better.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nick Sweeney

    The voyage of the Marlborough, which took remnants of the Russian court away from Russia for the last time in April 1919, the floating court presided over by Tsar Nicholas's mother, the Empress Maria Federovna. Most of the court realised at once that the niceties of the court would have to be abandoned almost as soon as they boarded the crowded ship, and most seem to have stood for it with a stiff upper lip. Many of the crew kept detailed accounts of the voyage in diaries, so there was a lot of The voyage of the Marlborough, which took remnants of the Russian court away from Russia for the last time in April 1919, the floating court presided over by Tsar Nicholas's mother, the Empress Maria Federovna. Most of the court realised at once that the niceties of the court would have to be abandoned almost as soon as they boarded the crowded ship, and most seem to have stood for it with a stiff upper lip. Many of the crew kept detailed accounts of the voyage in diaries, so there was a lot of contemporary writing for the author to draw on. The pettiness of the court remained, no matter the conditions; even the straitened circumstances of exile didn't make some sins of etiquette go away. Interesting characters, including the canny Prince Feliks Youssoupov, who killed Rasputin (and dined out on the tale for years, starting on this voyage), and Princess Sofka Dolgorouky, who went on to become a communist in later years, leading tours of abandoned palaces in Brzhnev's Soviet Union. As ever with people stuck in a cramped environment, the ex-royals made much of the small matters - once they were away from revolutionary danger - of where to eat and who to sit with on board and, at stops, how to get the laundry done. There were plenty of servants on board, of course (though dismissed by both royals and British sailors as a shiftless, lazy bunch) the most colourful of which were the various royal children's English nannies, with their rivalries over their places in this floating food chain. The situation, and its day-to-day sameiness, made it a less than gripping book, then, which I can't really complain about. I think I'd like to have seen more of a a follow-up on what happened to the court members in later years - there is a focus on the most important ones - and what became of their estates and one-time riches, and of the people they left behind.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A curiously disappointing book. Great subject, great concept. What went wrong? For a short book with an interesting subject it was a real grind. The rigid structure imposed by the daily entries of the different participants was too convoluted and this overlaid with the complex cast of characters made for leaden prose. In the last 20 pages when the author is freed from this structure the book takes off a bit, like the last gasp of a misfiring rocket and you get a sense of what might have been. Re A curiously disappointing book. Great subject, great concept. What went wrong? For a short book with an interesting subject it was a real grind. The rigid structure imposed by the daily entries of the different participants was too convoluted and this overlaid with the complex cast of characters made for leaden prose. In the last 20 pages when the author is freed from this structure the book takes off a bit, like the last gasp of a misfiring rocket and you get a sense of what might have been. Reading the acknowledgments perhaps explained it: there are extensive thank you's to all the Russian royals and ex Naval captains whose memoirs and help contributed to the book. All this pent-up heartfelt input has somehow tied the authors hands and she has felt too beholden to the precious family histories supplied by the subjects' descendants. Consequently the book reads a bit like a long boring Russian Debretts entry.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    An interesting, if slight, account of a relatively unknown chapter in the history of the Romanovs during the revolution. I would have liked a bit more details about the relationships between the various figures. The photos are interesting, though, as are the short bios of the various crew members of the ship.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kate F

    I enjoyed this book - it told me about a part of history that I was only slightly acquainted with although it was slightly spoilt by the inevitable typos that seem to bedevil publishing today. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what was a very turbulent period of history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Saturday's Child

    An interesting and enjoyable read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Angie and the Daily Book Dose

    It wasn't as in depth as I would have liked, but it was an easy informational read. It wasn't as in depth as I would have liked, but it was an easy informational read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gillian Scott

    This book is an interesting account of the escape of members of the Imperial family form Yalta in 1919. Worth reading for fans of the Romanovs.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thereasa

    Don't know why I bothered. Don't know why I bothered.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cherine Helmy

    Charming account of an evacuation of members of The Last Tsar's family by a British Naval ship...based on personal letters, biographies and interviews.. Charming account of an evacuation of members of The Last Tsar's family by a British Naval ship...based on personal letters, biographies and interviews..

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

  22. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Crocker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

  24. 4 out of 5

    S Thomas

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sara Marques

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christopher D’Arcy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Avril

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sally

  29. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  30. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Hill

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