The Romanovs Book Summary - The Romanovs Book explained in key points
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The Romanovs summary

Simon Sebag Montefiore


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    The Romanovs
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    The Romanov dynasty had a shaky start.

    It’s 1613. The Russian court has a problem. The rightful heir to the throne, Michael Romanov, has vanished. The nobility, known as Boyars, want Michael to become tsar. Poland, with whom Russia is in near-constant conflict, wants him dead. Roving mercenary Cossack militias are on the look out for the young prince. They want to claim the bounty the Poles have placed on the 17-year-old’s head. But no one – neither friend nor foe – can find Michael.

    To put it bluntly, it’s a complete mess. How did this happen?

    To understand, we need to travel all the way back to 1547. This is the year that Tsar Ivan the Terrible decides to marry. Ivan is a Rurikid prince. The Rurikids have ruled Russia since 862 AD and Ivan is desperate to continue the dynasty. For his wife, he chooses the daughter of a favored Boyar. Her name? Anastasia Romanovna.

    The key message is: The Romanov dynasty had a shaky start.

    Anastasia gives birth to two sons: Ivan and the sickly Fyodor.

    Here’s where things get dramatic. Ivan the Terrible dies in 1584, but not before killing his power-hungry son Ivan with a spear through the head. Fyodor becomes tsar, but, in 1598, he dies – childless. There’s only one other Rurikid heir to the throne, Dmitri. But no one knows where he is: He hasn't been seen since he mysteriously disappeared aged two. 

    In the power vacuum, Boris Godunov, a powerful Boyar, is appointed tsar. But his hold on power is weak. Tsar Fyodor’s cousin – another Fyodor – has a claim to the throne, too. Boris acts quick to neutralize his rival. He accuses Fyodor of witchcraft, and banishes him to the Arctic.

    Tsar Boris reigns until 1605, but soon after his death the throne becomes vacant again. 

    Next in line is a man claiming to be the long-lost heir Dmitri. He has the throne for all of nine days before the Boyars turn on him, stabbing him 21 times.

    Now, the battle for the throne is really on. More than ten armies are raised, all led by supposed heirs. The Polish army rallies around yet another false Dmitri. They storm the Kremlin and take the Boyars and another claimant – Michael Romanov – hostage. The Russians fight back and, when the Poles are defeated, they pick Michael Romanov as tsar. But he and his mother are nowhere to be seen.

    We’ve finally caught up with where we began. Russia has a new tsar, but he’s missing.

    It took Russian forces weeks, but they finally found him hiding in a monastery. They bring him back to Moscow. Finally, the Romanovs have taken the throne.

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    What is The Romanovs about?

    The Romanovs (2016) charts the stunning rise and dramatic fall of one of the world’s great dynasties. The Romanov family helmed the Russian empire for three centuries filled with family dramas, power struggles, political upheaval, and opulent spending.

    Who should read The Romanovs?

    • Russophiles and Romanov fans
    • Fans of history with a taste for juicy drama
    • Revolutionaries brushing up on old-school socialist revolts

    About the Author

    Simon Sebag Montefiore is a prolific author and popular historian. His work has been translated into 48 languages and he has written books on Stalin, Catherine the Great, the city of Jerusalem, and more. As well as authoring numerous best-selling books, Sebag Montefiore also works as a television presenter.

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