The Family Romanov Summary & Study Guide

Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov

  • 68-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 18 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in Professional Writing
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The Family Romanov Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 68-page guide for “The Family Romanov” by Candace Fleming includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 18 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Gulf Between Rich and Poor in Turn-of-the-Century Russia and The Damage Caused by Poor Leadership.

Plot Summary

First published in 2014, Candance Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia is a young-adult nonfiction book detailing the last generation of Romanovs to rule Russia from 1894 to 1917,  and the fall of Russia’s autocracy through the Russian Revolution. The Family Romanov won both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for nonfiction. In The Family Romanov, Fleming combines her nonfiction narrative with quotations from primary sources such as Russian workers, writers, and nobles, creating a wide-ranging portrait of Russia in the first decades of the 20th century.

After the Prologue, which describes the vast disparity between rich and poor in turn-of-the-century Russia, The Family Romanov begins with the youth of Nicholas II, who will become the last member of the Romanov dynasty to rule Russia. Nicholas has a diminutive presence both physically and metaphorically, and his father does little to prepare him to take the throne. Nicholas falls in love with Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, who has a much more dominant personality than his own, and when Nicholas’s father dies in 1894, Nicholas marries Alix as quickly as possible, as he needs her guidance in his new role as tsar.

At a time when the lower class is learning to read and beginning to question their lack of basic rights, Nicholas and his wife, now called Alexandra, show little interest in actually governing their country. Instead, they retreat to the country palace at Tsarkoe Selo, where, hoping to give birth to a son who can carry on the tsardom, Alexandra instead gives birth to four daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia. The empress consults a “holy man,” Philippe, and when she believes his advice allows her to finally give birth to a son, her lifelong reliance on religious mysticism is “cemented” (53). However, this son, Alexei Romanov, is born with hemophilia, a potentially-fatal and incurable disease in which blood does not clot correctly. The tsar and his wife choose to hide their son’s illness, leading them to withdraw further from public life at a time when Russia sorely needs their guidance.

By 1905, the stirrings of rebellion are beginning to move from thought to action, as workers strike and present a petition to the tsar. When the tsar’s soldiers shoot the petitioners, violence erupts across Russia. Eventually, Nicholas’s advisers persuade him to give up some of his absolute power by creating a Duma, a legislature of elected officials, which will have the right to veto the tsar’s decrees. Nicholas’s establishment of the Duma becomes known as the October Manifesto of 1905.

Hearing about the October Manifesto, a revolutionary living in exile in Switzerland, who writes under the name of Lenin, briefly returns to Russia. While he begins to organize an uprising, the working class stages a protest in Moscow in December 1905. Nicholas violently suppresses the rebellion, and Lenin “slip away into Finland” (79).

Throughout 1906, Nicholas continues to intimidate his people into compliance, arresting political dissenters and authorizing his soldiers to “kill…citizens at random” (80). When the Duma finally convenes, Nicholas reneges on his promise to give the legislature veto power, and he dissolves two Dumas that attempt to effect real change. Only a third Duma, one consisting of upper-class representatives who support the tsar, is allowed to remain active.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Alexandra meet Rasputin, a Siberian peasant who has supposedly received healing powers from God. When Rasputin apparently heals Alexei with his “hypnotic” presence (87), Alexandra falls under the starets, or holy man’s, spell. As the years pass, Rasputin’s influence over the empress only grows, even as the rest of Russia realizes that Rasputin is a drunkard, a lech, and a fraud. At the same time, the Romanov children begin to grow up, although they receive a lackluster education and, kept isolated by Alexandra, are marked by “emotional immaturity” (123). 

In June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is assassinated, and World War I begins. Treaties with other nations force Russia to enter the conflict, and in August 1914, the tsar declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. The declaration brings a brief burst of patriotism for the tsar, and bolsters Alexandra to action, as she and her elder daughters become nurses. However, as the war drags on, morale quickly fades. Russian soldiers lack the proper weapons and supplies, and to make matters worse, Rasputin relies on his influence over Alexandra to convince her and Nicholas to let go of ministers Rasputin dislikes. As these minsters are replaced with “incompetent” (150) men and the army lacks the leadership it requires, the people lose all confidence in their tsar.

Prince Felix Yusupov determines that the only way to “‘save…the empire’” (151) is to murder Rasputin. He and his coconspirators shoot Rasputin and dump his body in the Neva River, but their action is performed too late, as the damage to the tsar’s leadership has already been done. By January 1917, Nicholas’s advisors have warned him the country is on the verge of revolt; the tsar reacts with “‘total blindness and deafness’” (161). In March 1917, workers strike and protest, and Nicholas “unleash” (162) his soldiers on them, killing 200. In the following days, the tsar’s soldiers turn to side with the rebels, and, realizing the tsar’s power has already been negated, the Duma establishes a temporary, provisional government. At the same time, the soviet reconvenes, ready to fight for a communist government in this new Russia.

Nicholas has no choice but to abdicate and appoints his brother, Michael, as the new tsar; Michael, realizing the people will no longer accept an autocratic ruler, steps down. The Romanovs are placed under house arrest in Tsarkoe Selo, and in April 2017, Lenin returns to Russia, ready to help the soviet take power. In August 2017, the government sends the royal family to Siberia. A few months later, the soviet wrests control from the provisional government in the October Revolution. Lenin immediately implements communist measures, including seizing private poverty and assigning former nobles to menial jobs.

A White Movement of these former nobles and other tsarist sympathizers rises to counter Lenin’s Red Army, and Lenin, fearing the tsar will be rescued, decides to move the royal family again. In May 1918, the royals are transferred to Ekaterinburg, where they’re imprisoned in a house previously belonging to a wealthy engineer. Their second commandant, Yakov Yurovsky, is a man with a personal vendetta against the tsar. While Lenin wants to try Nicholas publicly and allow the rest of the Romanovs to survive, Yurovsky and Ekaterinburg officials devise a plan to murder the entire family. On July 17, 1918, the Romanovs, believing they are about to be moved, are instead escorted to the cellar and shot. Their bodies are buried in Koptyaki Forest; only Nicholas’s death is officially announced.

Under the leadership of Lenin and, later, Stalin, Russia moves forward as a communist society, in which the people have no voice or rights, and poverty and suffering still define daily life—hardly an improvement over the tsar’s reign. In 1979, the bodies of the Romanovs are found, except for Alexei’s and one of the grand duchess’s, and after the fall of communism in 1991, the discovery is shared with the public. The bodies are buried in a St. Petersburg cathedral and the Romanovs are canonized as saints. In July 2007, a historian finds the remains of Alexei and his sister, and as of The Family Romanov’s publication in 2014, these last two bodies are still awaiting burial, and the day when the Romanov’s “‘small family circle’” (253) will once again be complete.

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