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.
“The kind of history that makes fiction look pallid and pointless…” – Evening Standard
“A gripping account of the Romanovs choppy passage into exile. Welch s detective work has produced a book that is wonderfully witty and sad by turns.” – Mail on Sunday
“The book s readability and telling use of detail are splendid.” – Spectator
“Yes, it’s been told before, but the 1919 exile of the Romanov family from Russia, in which they sailed on HMS Marlborough, is a splendidly exotic story that is well worth another airing; and Frances Welsh does it grippingly here, with lots of details I hadn’t come across before. I loved to read of the goods they brought with them, including rolled-up Rembrandt paintings, Fabergé eggs and other treasures of the sort. What a pilgrimage, to be sure.” – Sunday Telegraph
“A fascinating, poignant portrait of a bizarre collection of people caught up in the chaos of their exodus.” – Irish Times
Frances Welch has written for the Sunday Telegraph, Granta, The Spectator and the Financial Times. She is co-author of Memories of Revolution: Russian Women Remember (Routledge, 1993), The Romanov & Mr Gibbes (Short Books, 2003) and A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson (Short Books, 2007) She is married to the writer Craig Brown, and has two children. She lives in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.