the story of the romanovs

61vtcUYqCFL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Douglas Smith at Literary Review:

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.

‘Heavy is the cap of Monomakh,’ Pushkin wrote in Boris Godunov, referring to the royal Mongol helmet used to crown Michael I, the first Romanov tsar, in 1613. Heavy indeed. The teenage Michael had been tapped by the boyars to take the throne following the destruction of the ruling Rurikid family and the subsequent national nightmare known as the Time of Troubles. He cried and insisted he wanted nothing to do with the crown, and for good reason: several of his uncles had been killed in the struggle for control of Russia. But the grandees refused to be put off and they begged on bended knees for hours until the weeping Michael finally gave in. Michael survived the throne, but quite a few later Romanovs would not be so lucky: six of the last twelve rulers, Montefiore notes, were murdered, and even those who survived slept with one eye open.

Michael had been chosen in large part because he was weak and would be putty in the hands of the mighty clans of the realm. ‘Let us have Misha Romanov,’ boyar Fyodor Sheremetev said, ‘for he is still young and not yet wise; he will suit our purpose.’ Sheremetev was right, but Michael’s strong-willed father, Filaret, acted as the true power behind the throne and kept in check the various factions competing for influence.

more here.