The White Night of St Petersburg by Prince Michael of Greece


Word Press

I don’t think that this would ever have been published without the royal connection, but then it would never have been written without the royal connection. Prince Michael of Greece is the son of Prince Christopher of Greece, the youngest son of George I of Greece (ne Prince William of Denmark) and Queen Olga (nee Grand Duchess Olga Constantinovna) by his second wife – the one who was one of the Orleanists, not the one who was a rich American whose money helped support Prince Philip’s family when they were living in Paris. Was Prince Christopher the one who supposedly had some sort of affair with his uncle, or have I got the wrong person? Anyway, none of that’s very relevant. The book is about Prince Michael’s great-uncle, Grand Duke Nikolai Constantinovich, brother of Queen Olga and of the historian Grand Duke “KR”, and nephew of Alexander II.

Grand Duke Nikolai was apparently cast out of the Romanov family (which is strange, because he definitely appears on the family trees in my Romanov family history books, but never mind), and none of his great-nieces and great-nephews and sundry other relatives had ever heard of him until one of his daughters turned up at the official burial of the Tsar, Tsarina and three of their children in 1998. Many of the late 19th/early 20th century Grand Dukes seem to have led rather colourful lives – too much money and not enough to do – but this one really excelled himself. He got involved with a wealthy American courtesan, and stole some diamonds from one of his mother’s icons, which were given to his lady friend’s other lover, who was involved with the revolutionary movement. Then he got blamed for various other thefts as well.

It’s good, this, isn’t it? You couldn’t make it up. So the rest of the family said that he was insane, and he was exiled to various different places, where he got involved with various different women and had numerous children by these various different women. In between affairs (and one more or less genuine marriage), he found time to do quite a good job of encouraging the building of canals in what’s now Uzbekistan.

Gloriously bonkers. And apparently pretty much true. The style of writing is even more bonkers. Sort of 1920s/30s Hollywood crossed with late 19th century children’s novel, but covering themes which neither of them would have dreamt of touching on. All in the present tense, all very melodramatic, sounds as if every sentence should end in several exclamation marks. Not to mention some strange tale about a nightingale which wouldn’t sing until it was given back to its original owner, which sounded more Hans Christian Andersen than royal biography. It would have sounded utterly ridiculous in a more serious biography, but this whole story was so mad that the style of writing worked quite well.

I’m not sure that the reader was meant to find it funny, but it was hard not to.  “So bad it was good” probably sums it up very well!


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