When Tsar Nicholas I abdicated in 1917, the vast majority of the wealth of this fabulously rich absolute monarch became the property of the Russian state. After the Bolshevik coup of that year, when he, his wife and his children were sent to Siberia, they didn't have enough cash to live on although his wife and daughters still had jewels sewn into their underclothes. The assassination of the entire family at Ekaterinburg meant that other members of the extended Romanov family (at least those who were safe having fled abroad) believed they were entitled to the lost Romanov millions. Add to this the various frauds and imposters who claimed that they were members of the family who had escaped the Ekaterinburg massacre and who were attracted by the thought of the lost gold and diamonds and the chaos of the Red-White Russian Civil War immediately following the revolution during which trainloads of gold bullion with a variety of provenances seemed to wander around Siberia paying off guerillas, bandits, warlords and irregular troops, and you have a recipe for convoluted and protracted court cases.
Clarke has spent years trying to get to the bottom of who owned what and where it is now. What happened to the jewels and gold in Russia? Did the Romanovs have fortunes in gold deposits and bonds in foreign banks stashed away as a nest egg in case of revolution? And how can you separate an absolute monarch's private wealth from the wealth of the state?
This is a labyrinth which this book does little to clear up. The same sums are repeated many times, the same arguments made, so that one becomes confused or wonders whether there is not a significant amount of padding going on (a suspicion reinforced when the author starts by rather needlessly going over waht happened to the Tsar's family, most of which is well known and little of which had direct bearing on his argument). And in the end the answers seems to be a repeated no. There are no mysterious foreign deposits (and what there are are state funds that basically became a pay-off when the Bolsheviks reneged on Russian war loans). Various people accused of siphoning off Romanov wealth from an emigre banker to George V's wife were probably honest and decent people doing their best for the poor exiled Romanovs. The imposters were imposters. It's a bit of an anti-climax in the end.
What does distinguish this book (which is the 2007 Sutton Publishing edition published in Stroud, Gloucestershire) is the remarkably dreadful quality of its typesetting. Mistypings abound: Plish for Polish, 19398 for 1939 (or 1938?). Given the detailed and convoluted nature of the arguments with so many sums of money (often written in roubles, or roules on one occasion but also on guineas, pounds, dollars, Canadian dollars, and reichsmarks) even one or two misprints undermine one's confidence in the entire argument.
A very disappointing book. April 2015; 419 pages
A much better telling of the story of the Romanovs, albeit published before the DNA evidence established the truth of the Ekaterinburg massacre, is The File on the Tsar by Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold or, for a brilliant historical comparison of Nicholas II, George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II, try Three Emperors by Miranda Carter.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57