A Fatal Passion: The Story of the Uncrowned Last Empress of Russia

A Fatal Passion: The Story of the Uncrowned Last Empress of Russia

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by michael john sullivan
     
 

After the firing squads of the Russian Revolution  murdered Czar Nicholas II, Czarina Alexandra, and almost every other member of the Romanov family, there appeared in a small coastal village of western France a grand duke and duchess who proclaimed themselves to be the new monarchs of Russia.

The grand duchess was Victoria Melita, nicknamed Ducky.

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Overview

After the firing squads of the Russian Revolution  murdered Czar Nicholas II, Czarina Alexandra, and almost every other member of the Romanov family, there appeared in a small coastal village of western France a grand duke and duchess who proclaimed themselves to be the new monarchs of Russia.

The grand duchess was Victoria Melita, nicknamed Ducky. To begin with, she was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria as well as of Czar Alexander of Russia. Her sister was the remarkable Queen Marie of Romania, and her intricate family connections with the rulers of the world were almost unprecedented. The first cousin not only of King George V but also of Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas, she had previously been married to Ernst Ludwig, grand duke of Hesse and the Rhine, but this relationship was destroyed by dark secrets, a betrayal that filled her with bitterness and shame.

Then, in a scandal that shocked the royal world, she married Kirill, a cousin of the late czar of Russia. She had married and divorced one of her first cousins and then married another—her father's nephew, and then her mother's nephew.

The family opposition was so great that Victoria Melita and Kirill were stripped of their wealth and their titles before being banished from Russia. When they were finally allowed to return, they tried in vain to bring democratic reforms to the dying, autocratic monarchy in a desperate effort to save it.

Trapped, inevitably, by the revolution, they managed to make an incredible and perilous escape, which led to a long life in exile abroad as pretenders to the throne.

Victoria Melita had never aspired to play the role of an empress without athrone. The shadowy life of a royal pretender was the last thing this strong and independent woman had ever wanted. However, her passionate nature had centered itself totally upon her adored second husband, and, now, as Kirill set up his imperial court in the French fishing village of St. Briac and assumed the title of emperor of Russia, Victoria Melita became his empress and for twelve years proudly worked by her husband's side for the restoration of the monarchy.

And then, unexpectedly and brutally, her world collapsed again, and her inability to compromise almost brought her to ruin.

A Fatal Passion is the story of great wealth and privilege when rival royal families vied for position and power even as they were about to lose almost everything in the First World War. Among the few who survived the painful times was Victoria Melita, one of the most beautiful and liberated women of her era.

The book is set against the majestic canvas of Queen Victoria's far-flung empire, the intrigues of the royal courts of Europe, and the exotic splendor and fantastic events of imperial Russia as it balanced on the precipice of disaster. It culminates in the turbulent era of ruthless dictators and the advent of the Second World War.

Through the use of private diaries and letters previously unpublished, as well as exclusive interviews with many of the surviving principals, Michael John Sullivan has revealed the heart and mind of a remarkable woman, who, for too long, has been largely overlooked by history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Readers anticipating another Nicholas and Alexandra will find here only a phantom pretender, disregarded even by most czarist loyalists. Like the murdered empress, Alexandra, Victoria Melita (1876-1936) was a granddaughter of England's fecund Queen Victoria. But the resemblance ceases there. Under pressure from the old queen, she married her cousin Ludwig Ernst of Hesse, who, it turned out, was homosexual. Divorcing him after a decade of misery, in 1905 Victoria Melita ("Ducky," as she was known to her family) married her handsome Romanov lover, Grand Duke Kirill, who in 1918 would become legitimate successor to a vanished throne. Reigning until his death in 1938 from the oblivion of Coburg, where his father-in-law briefly had been duke, and then from a village in Brittany, Kirill lived with his empress in a twilight exile. Ducky predeceased her husband, dying of a stroke in 1936, leaving two children, Kira and Vladimir. Most of the marginally interesting narrative details family matters that are a prelude to their entrapment in the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, which passes like a thunderstorm in these pages. A sentimental soap opera, the book opens with extravagances of language before settling down to subroyal domesticity. If names and locales were altered, Ducky's story might make afternoon television. Sullivan is the author of Presidential Passions.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers anticipating another Nicholas and Alexandra will find here only a phantom pretender, disregarded even by most czarist loyalists. Like the murdered empress, Alexandra, Victoria Melita (1876-1936) was a granddaughter of England's fecund Queen Victoria. But the resemblance ceases there. Under pressure from the old queen, she married her cousin Ludwig Ernst of Hesse, who, it turned out, was homosexual. Divorcing him after a decade of misery, in 1905 Victoria Melita ("Ducky," as she was known to her family) married her handsome Romanov lover, Grand Duke Kirill, who in 1918 would become legitimate successor to a vanished throne. Reigning until his death in 1938 from the oblivion of Coburg, where his father-in-law briefly had been duke, and then from a village in Brittany, Kirill lived with his empress in a twilight exile. Ducky predeceased her husband, dying of a stroke in 1936, leaving two children, Kira and Vladimir. Most of the marginally interesting narrative details family matters that are a prelude to their entrapment in the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, which passes like a thunderstorm in these pages. A sentimental soap opera, the book opens with extravagances of language before settling down to subroyal domesticity. If names and locales were altered, Ducky's story might make afternoon television. Sullivan is the author of Presidential Passions. Illustrations not seen by PW. (May)
Library Journal
Princess Victoria Melita, granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria, is not nearly as well known as her flamboyant sister, Queen Marie of Romania, but she deserves to be. Ducky, as she was known to her family, was a beauty. Pressured as a teenager into a marriage (arranged by Queen Victoria) to her cousin Ernie, Prince of Coburg, the naive princess was for years unaware that her disinterested husband was homosexual. The princess caused a royal scandal when she divorced him and later married her cousin Grand Duke Kirill of Russia. Exile, the death of her daughter, intrigue, the Bolshevik takeover, and a desperate escape from the new Soviet state followed. Sullivan, a feature writer for Twin Circle magazine, has fashioned a fascinating and informative biography of an extraordinary woman. Strongly recommended for libraries with an interest in Russian history.Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
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 (1876-1939), 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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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679424000
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/02/1997
Pages:
544
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.65(d)

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