More tales from the nasty lives of global royalty.
Farquhar (Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treasury, and the Folly from Royal Britain, 2011, etc.) continues his chronicles of members of royal families and their strange, often reprehensible foibles, which demolished governments, lives and countries. This book, covering the horrors of Russia’s 300 years of Romanov rule, concentrates on the totalitarian autocrats and their beastly reigns, during which they rewarded their favorites with thousands of serfs. Even great accomplishments, such as Peter the Great’s navy and Westernization, are swept aside with stories of dictatorial actions such as his banning of beards and his personal torture of prisoners. Likewise, the author portrays Catherine the Great in light of her usurpation and the death of her husband, Peter III, as well as her long list of lovers. The book also tells the stories of the violence against the czars and their supporters, not least the multiple attempts on the life of Alexander II. It took a bomb to finally eliminate the man who actually freed the serfs. The czars who were not congenitally cruel and repressive, like Nicholas I, were certifiably mad or grossly ineffective. Farquhar devotes almost a third of the book to Nicholas and Alexandra, perhaps due to the fact there is so much material from which to choose. Nicholas was weak-willed, introverted and completely under the thumb of his despised wife. Both were under the spell of Rasputin, who claimed to heal their son Alexei’s bouts with hemophilia. Alexandra’s shyness was construed as pride and haughtiness, but she controlled Nicholas and his government to their desperate ends.
An easy-reading, lightweight history lesson. Farquhar’s tales of totalitarianism make one wonder if the secrets behind so many centuries of cruelty could be in the DNA.