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Frances Welch, Imperial Tea Party

Frances Welch, Imperial Tea Party, family, politics and betrayal: the ill-fated British and Russian royal alliance, Short Books, 2018, pp. 282.

Although rather amateurishly presented in several respects this is a fascinating and well-researched slice of history. It covers the three meetings of the British royal family with their Romanov cousins in the years before the Great War. These were in Balmoral (1896), Reval (now Tallinn, 1908) and Cowes (1909). The fundamental tension of the narrative of course concerns the dealings of constitutional monarchs tightly constrained by politics and their autocratic cousins threatened by revolution.

Fortunately for the author a large proportion of those involved of every rank kept diaries so a vivid picture emerges of the characters involved and the tensions between them, both personal and cultural. Edward VII (“Bertie”) was the epitome of worldly sophistication, but neither his son (“Georgie”) nor his doppelganger cousin, “Nicky” were up to these standards while the Tsarina (“Alix”) was extremely miserable and neurotic. Bertie described his nephew, the tsar, as “deplorably immature, unsophisticated and reactionary”. Had he been more like his Uncle Bertie history might have turned out rather differently.

Lincoln Allison

(First published in the What are You Reading column in Times Higher Education.)