By the early 20th century, thanks to Queen Victoria’s prodigious matchmaking, almost all the ruling families across Europe were related. Among Victoria’s favorite grandchildren was Alexandra Feodorovna, who went on to marry her cousin Nicholas II, the czar of Russia. Alexandra’s new husband looked so similar to George, their mutual cousin and the future king of England, that they could have passed for identical twins.
So why, given all the family ties, were “Alicky” and “Nicky” left to die at the hands of revolutionaries? Many of the royal cousins attempted to create a plan for rescue, but the bulk of the blame for their deaths has generally been laid on King George V. But in her new book, The Race to Save the Romanovs, historian Helen Rappaport argues that British anti-royal sentiment in that era was so strong that rescuing the Romanovs could have been disastrous for King George’s family.
This is not the sweet, sacrificial Nicholas and Alexandra of other biographies. Rappaport writes—with substantial evidence—that the czar was a weak leader, and the czarina was a decided and sometimes oblivious partisan. They were, however, deeply devoted to one another and to their children. Rappaport concludes that no rescue attempt would have succeeded because the Romanovs would never have abandoned the motherland.
Ultimately, however, what resonates is the irony of the book’s title. There was no “race,” or even a jog: The Romanovs were all but abandoned by their extended family.