An independent historian's highly romanticized tale of the daring, calculating grand duchess who was among the few Romanovs to survive the Russian Revolution. Fans of European royalty and their histories will relish the story of Victoria Melita (18761939), otherwise known by her nickname, Ducky. Granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and the Russian emperor Alexander II, Ducky embodied the end of an era and a way of life for Europe's intermarried royal families. Her first marriage, to Prince Ernest (``Ernie'') Ludwig of Heese and the Rhine, was something of a coup for its promoter, Queen Victoria. But it was a tragedy for Ducky. After several years, the source of the couple's incompatibility—Ernie's homosexuality—became known to Ducky. Acting with admirable pluck and characteristic self-assurance, she divorced him. She went on to establish an extended affair with her first cousin, the Grand Duke Kirill of Russia. Flouting both an ecclesiastical and imperial ban on their union, the cousins married. After the revolution, they escaped to France. There, guided by Ducky's ambition and sense of self-importance, the two presented themselves as claimants to the Romanov throne. After losing her country, her riches, her home, and her family, Ducky also lost true love; the revelation of a certain (but still secret) behavior by Kirill broke her heart and led to her death. Sullivan's emphasis on the culture of European royalty is both this book's major attraction and its greatest weakness. So exaggerated is the author's regard for the royal families that he repeatedly frames the great historical events of the era around their gatherings, marriages, and deaths. The downfall of the Russian Empire, for example, is discussed not in terms of broader political and economic factors, but only in terms of the destructive influence and exaggerated power of Tsar Nicholas's wife, Alexandra. Interest in royalty is not in and of itself a bad thing. But distortion of history for the sake of this interest is.
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