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The Romanovs: 1613-1918

The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?

This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy, from Queen Victoria to Lenin.

To rule Russia was both imperial-sacred mission and poisoned chalice: six tsars were murdered and all the Romanovs lived under constant threat to their lives. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death while making Russia an empire, and dominated his court with a dining club notable for compulsory drunkenness, naked dwarfs and fancy dress. Catherine the Great overthrew her own husband – who was murdered soon afterwards – loved her young male favourites, conquered Ukraine and fascinated Europe. Paul was strangled by courtiers backed by his own son, Alexander I, who faced Napoleon’s invasion and the burning of Moscow, then went on to take Paris. Alexander II liberated the serfs, survived five assassination attempts, and wrote perhaps the most explicit love letters ever written by a ruler. THE ROMANOVS climaxes with a fresh, unforgettable portrayal of Nicholas and Alexandra, the rise and murder of Rasputin, war and revolution – and the harrowing massacre of the entire family.

Written with dazzling literary flair, drawing on new archival research, THE ROMANOVS is at once an enthralling story of triumph and tragedy, love and death, a universal study of power, and an essential portrait of the empire that still defines Russia today.

Sources and notes for THE ROMANOVS are available to download here.


‘Simon Sebag Montefiore’s THE ROMANOVS is epic history on the grandest scale … A story of conspiracy, drunken coups, assassination, torture, impaling, breaking on the wheel, lethal floggings with the knout, sexual and alcoholic excess, charlatans and pretenders, flamboyant wealth based on a grinding serfdom, and, not surprisingly, a vicious cycle of repression and revolt. GAME OF THRONES seems like the proverbial vicar’s tea party in comparison … Reading Montefiore’s excellent account, it is hard to imagine how the monarchy could ever have survived under their catastrophic leadership’ Antony Beevor, FINANCIAL TIMES

‘Don’t let its size fool you: There’s never been a more inviting 700-plus-page historical tome. That’s because the author, who matches rigorous scholarship with a novelist’s eye for delicious details, is clearly having so much fun. And why not? In three centuries, the Romanovs produced titans and weaklings, war and peace, and enough salacious behaviour to make us say, “Turn off thy Karashians! Pick up thy Montefiore!”‘ Oprah Winfrey ‘Books of the Year’, O MAGAZINE

‘Spellbinding. In his mammoth opus, Montefiore eminent biographer of Stalin and Potemkin, covers the entire dynasty… an enterprise that has been accomplished only twice before… it takes true historical daring to tackle such an immense subject… The backbone of the narrative is the nature of autocracy, with its daily power struggles, succession troubles, assassination attempts, plots and rebellions… His insights tend to be pithy and sharp…The facts, many the result of original research, are fascinating…Montefiore’s novelistic gift of drawing characters with a few words never fails him… The drama intensifies as the story reaches the dark sweep of its spellbinding last chapters…. Montefiore succeeds with seeming ease, offering a scholar’s well balanced perspective on some of the more notorious episodes… Overall this monumental work is an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in Russian history and the doomed dynasty.’ Olga Grushin, NEW YORK TIMES

‘Wonderfully well-written and fascinating down to the last footnote…his style is polished, lively, informed. His gift for the defining detail is indispensable… Indispensible too is Montefiore’s skill in uniting separate points of view into a cohesive narrative both epic and intimate… Montefiore is an accomplished storyteller… (The book) reads like a novel in its interplay of themes and motifs and especially its pairing of opposites like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. [Nicholas II, Alexandra, Rasputin] – their stories freshened compressed achieve new power and meaning in this fast-moving narrative… Like a novel too, this is a hard book to put down. As historical reconstruction and storytelling, THE ROMANOVS is an achievement of the first rank.’ David Walton, DALLAS MORNING NEWS

‘The book is a marvellous read and the last third, from fin de siècle to revolutionary cataclysm, is dazzling… The pages on Nicholas and Alexandra are perhaps the best ever, economical in expression, simultaneously poignant and trenchant. Vignettes are used to reveals depths of personality… And just as a novelist wields dialogue, Montefiore renders of the birth of each daughter with pithy quotations from memoirs. Here in the sweeping story of the downfall, the salaciousness delivers more than just sparkling passages as in Montefiore’s incisive telling of Rasputin’s machinations and murder or his accounts of the executions of 18 Romanovs in 1918… Thanks to the talents of Simon Sebag Montefiore, Romanov rule will hereafter appear still more improbable and haunted.’ Stephen Kotkin, WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘WAR AND PEACE meets GAME OF THRONES. A superlative history brimming with extraordinary stories of murder and torture, sex and excess, featuring madmen monsters megalomaniacs and fanatics.’ MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘Fascinating. Erudite and entertaining… Montefiore paints an unforgettable portrait… Violence and sexual depravity run through the vibrant narrative.’ Greg King WASHINGTON POST

Captivating… The story of the Romanovs has been told countless times but never with such a compelling combination of literary flair, narrative drive, solid research and psychological insight. THE ROMANOVS covers it all, from war and diplomacy to institution building and court intrigue, but it is chiefly an intimate portrait that brings to life the twenty sovereigns of Russia in vivid fashion … Montefiore writes with subtlety and sophistication about the nature of court life, the dynamics of power and the shifting configurations of the various players Douglas Smith, LITERARY REVIEW

‘This enthralling and gruesome book mixes sexual exploits torture, war, betrayal and diplomacy…(It) describes how Russia morphed from a miserable weakling into mighty empire… Montefiore’s thesis is that Russia’s vastness leads to outsize politics…’ Edward Lucas, 1843 MAGAZINE

‘Montefiore has an eye for the telling detail which lifts an unfamiliar narrative. His mammoth history of Russia’s royal dynasty features many such vivid, amusing and surprising particulars. Indeed it is startlingly lubricious and gory … Gore and sex aside, the author’s pen produces reams of fluent, sometimes sparkling prose. Many of his reflections on the Romanov era apply well to Vladimir Putin’s domains now … The Russian court was an entrepot of power: its role as a broker allowed participants to amass wealth and bonded them in shared loyalty. But it also allowed them to compete without resorting to civil war or revolution. That sounds pretty much like the modern Kremlin’ THE ECONOMIST

‘Charts the rise and fall of Russia’s Romanov dynasty, which began in 1613 and ended with the whole royal family being shot dead in a basement in 1918. It has been painstakingly researched and the attention to historical detail is breathtaking. The lives of 20 tsars and tsarinas are recorded in exquisite detail through words and pictures. Although some of their escapades are not for the faint-hearted (the Russians were barbaric in their punishments) the rich and vibrant history is utterly compelling. It grabs you by the hand and thrusts you into the world of Imperial Russia with all its decadence and finery. Montefiore has become a popular presenter of BBC history programmes on subjects ranging from Jerusalem to Spain, and here his clear, concise narration and wonderful tone make this a delight to read. Ideal for students of history or for those just seduced by the BBC’s version of WAR AND PEACE and wanting to brush up on their history’ Tania Findlay, THE SUN

‘With its sordid power struggles, violence and brutality, its cast of magnificent monsters, tragic victims and grotesque ‘holy men’, this is an extraordinary and gripping tale … By turns horrific, hilarious and moving, but ultimately tragic, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Russia’ Adam Zamoyski, THE SPECTATOR

‘Wonderfully compelling and insightful … Sebag Montefiore provides fabulously revealing pen-portraits of the 20 Romanov tsars, as well as their spouses, mistresses and senior advisers … The author has already written excellent books on Catherine the Great and Stalin. This one is even better, combining as it does his expert knowledge of Russian history with the narrative wizardry displayed in his previous bestseller, JERUSALEM. THE ROMANOVS is the gripping and scarcely credible tale of the most successful royal dynasty since the Caesars, and Sebag Montefiore tells it brilliantly’ Saul David, EVENING STANDARD

‘An impressive book that combines rigorous research with exquisite prose’ Gerard de Groot, THE TIMES

‘Montefiore’s journey through 300 years of the Romanov dynasty is a study of brutality, sex and power… riveting… the research is meticulous and the style captivating’ John Kampfner, THE OBSERVER

This magnificent and magisterial history … is a wonderfully ambitious account of 300 years of Russian history … an authoritative and gripping account of the Romanovs. This is a superb book and it will surely become the definitive work Jane Ridley, THE OLDIE

‘This splendidly colourful and energetic book … is structured simply, as a helter-skelter chronological narrative of 300 years. Sebag Montefiore expertly selects the best (most shocking, bizarre, sensationally theatrical) bits from that long history … Sebag Montefiore rises to the gaudy, gruesome subject matter, pulling all the stops out … Sebag Montefiore is alive to the way his story resonates across time, from Genghis Khan to Gorbachev, but he doesn’t allow his erudition to hold up the narrative’s gallop … with great gifts for encapsulating a character and storytelling con brio’ Lucy Hughes-Hallett, NEW STATESMAN

‘A new book from Simon Sebag Montefiore is something of a literary event these days…. His latest project is in some ways his most ambitious yet … However it’s one that [he] pulls off with aplomb. As much a riveting read as a prodigious work of scholarship … he could not have picked a better time to publish this epic and enthralling history of a dynasty that rose up drenched in blood and died out in exactly the same manner’ Dominic Midgley, DAILY EXPRESS

‘The entire Romanov dynasty is a marvellously rich bag of deshabille, despotism and occasional diplomacy, as Simon Sebag Montefiore’s feisty history brilliantly displays … Countless illuminating details, gleaned through arduous dedication to scarcely used archives, stud the pages of THE ROMANOVS … immensely enjoyable … full-blooded and totally enthralling’ Judith Armstrong, THE AUSTRALIAN

‘An obvious work of great scholarship and research’ HERALD SUN (Australia)

‘A comprehensive overview of the Romanov dynasty … which skilfully interweaves the personal with the political … Montefiore is the perfect author for a book of the ambition and scope of THE ROMANOVS… old-fashioned narrative history at its colourful and unpretentious best. Montefiore is a wonderful guide … the writing sparkles … THE ROMANOVS deserves the best praise any book can get: it never bores … Montefiore has much to say about political machinations as he does about personal friendships and love which lifts his work far above drily academic history’ Andre van Loon, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore has written a magisterial account of unlimited power and sexual decadence based on a remarkable correspondence’ THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘From dramatic rise to revolutionary fall, 20 autocratic Romanov tsars and tsarinas ruled over three centuries of blood-soaked war and brutal peace, breathtaking riches and absolute power, passionate love and ruthless ambition, madness and decadence. With ease and expertise, Simon Sebag Montefiore brazenly presents the Romanov royal history as a mesmerising family saga, always spectacular and finally in 1918, tragic.’ Iain Finlayson, SAGA magazine

‘It’s like reading 20 riveting, plot-thickening novels in the space of one volume. And the packaging looks equally scintillating’ Caroline Sanderson, THE BOOKSELLER

‘As Simon Sebag Montefiore demonstrates in this magnificent, sweeping history, the Russian royal family was a remarkable dynasty, turning a vast but backward country into a mighty empire capable of defeating Napoleon at the zenith of its power. Despite the extraordinary depth and range of his research, the author avoids the dryness of more academic volumes. Instead he embarks on a rollicking, racy narrative across more than three centuries of Romanov rule, weaving a tale that is packed with salacious gossip and gruesome details’ Leo McKinstry, S MAGAZINE, SUNDAY EXPRESS

‘As Simon Sebag Montefiore shows in this superlative account of the last royal dynasty that attempted the task, Russia is not an easy place to rule … In part, the book is a vivid family chronicle of court life full of extraordinary stories … a sparkling narrative of 300 years of glittering opulence and majesty, as well as thoughtless waste and frivolity … He is a shrewd analyst of high politics – and the low cunning needed by successful leaders … I read much of this book grateful that the dynasty was about to fall – until I remembered the worse horrors that followed after the Revolution’ Victor Sebestyen, MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘Panoramic … Montefiore tells it compellingly’ Roger Lewis, DAILY MAIL

‘In a brilliant introductory essay, Sebag Montefiore discusses the principle of tsarist autocracy, the limits of imperial power, the challenges of succession and the operation of government … Sebag Montefiore’s book is an immensely entertaining read … it features some of the most outrageous characters you are likely to find in a history book … The story of the last Romanovs has been told a thousand times, yet it is a tribute to Sebag Montefiore’s skill as a narrator that you turn the pages with horrified fascination’ Dominic Sandbrook, SUNDAY TIMES

‘A glorious history of the Romanov dynasty bursting with blood, sex and tears’ Peter Frankopan, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore’s blockbuster history of the Romanov dynasty arrives with exquisite timing … The historian’s account of the last months, days and hours of the Romanovs will not disappoint … [and] show Sebag Montefiore’s narrative bravado at its scintillating best. There is unlikely to have been a racier account of how the last Romanovs met their end … Masterly’ Mary Dejevsky, THE INDEPENDENT

‘A very lively story. This retelling could hardly be more timely … To make the most of the dramatic nature of his story, Simon Sebag Montefiore has hit upon the ingenious idea of dividing the history of the Romanovs into three acts, with numerous scenes in each – more like a play than a 700-word series of biographies … Dr Sebag Montefiore has proved himself a chronicler worthy of their achievements and, for his readers, revealed a fascinating, if doomed, imperial cavalcade’ John Ure, COUNTRY LIFE

‘This history of Russia’s famous (and infamous) dynasty is compelling, accessible stuff, covering its huge timespan and vast cast of characters in typically vibrant fashion. It’s insightful about the continuing legacy of the Romanovs in Russia today, too’ Matt Elton, HISTORYEXTRA.COM

‘In another great work of history, Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of JERUSALEM, tells the bloody and decadent stories of the 20 tsars and tsarinas of Russia’s last imperial dynasty. THE ROMANOVS is like 20 gripping novels in one’ SUNDAY EXPRESS

‘Hugely entertaining history that takes savage delight in its tales of human pleasure and suffering’ THE SUNDAY TIMES ‘Must Reads’

‘Power, sex and death – you certainly can’t say that the Romanovs, who ruled Russia for over three centuries, led quiet lives … Drawing on new evidence it paints a vivid portrait of a remarkable, and ultimately doomed, dynasty’ HISTORY REVEALED

‘Russian history is as colourful and dramatic as any novel and anyone who has enjoyed the excellent recent TV adaptation of WAR AND PEACE should be directed towards Simon Sebag Montefiore’s lively THE ROMANOVS which details the madness, cruelty, excess and deceit that would prove the undoing of the dynasty that ruled Russia for more than 300 years’ CHOICE MAGAZINE

‘Anecdotal, gossipy, irreverent … this sumptuous, old-fashioned narrative history is wonderful entertainment. From its earliest days in the seventeenth century to its brutal downfall during the First World War, Simon Sebag Montefiore is an observant, fluent and knowledgeable guide to the Romanov dynasty.’ André Van Loon, THE TABLET

‘Dazzlingly definitive’ AUSTRALIAN WOMEN’S WEEKLY

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 700-plus page account of the gory, greedy, gut-wrenching and occasionally glorious antics of the Romanov tsars uses previously untapped archives to make GAME OF THRONES seem like MILLY-MOLLY-MANDY’ Christiana Hardyment, THE TIMES

‘Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore dives enticingly into the world of the Russian Romanov family, the most successful dynasty of modern times, who once ruled a sixth of the world’s surface. This richly multi-layered and gripping family chronicle covers the lives of 20 tsars and tsarinas, revealing a secret world of unlimited power and ruthless ambition’ FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE

‘[Montefiore] reveals in marvellous detail and meticulous documentation the 300 years of Romanov dynastic survival … he writes so well, sometimes with a thrilling impulsion’ Mary Leland, IRISH EXAMINER

‘A sparkling narrative full of tantrums, tsars and tiaras’ Sebastian Shakespeare, TATLER

The Romanovs