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The Lost Fortune of the Tsars: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: The Lost Fortune of the Tsars

Author: William Clarke

Publisher: Orion

Format: print

Genre: Nonfiction

Publication Date: 1994

Rating: 5/5

The publication of this book about what happened to the wealth of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas Romanov, came at an interesting point in the history of the Romanovs.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, much that had been clouded with mystery since 1918 became clear.

DNA evidence provided by members of various royal families had established in July 1993 that five bodies discovered outside Sverdlovsk, previously Ekaterinburg, in Siberia belonged to some members of the Tsar's family.

They had been missing, strongly presumed murdered, since 1918. The five bodies were identified as the Tsar, his wife Alexandra, and three of their daughters.

The remains of their son and the fourth daughter were later found nearby in a second unmarked grave in 2007 and also identified using DNA analysis, though this was unknown at the time of Clarke's research.

Similarly, as William Clarke was writing, DNA evidence had finally defeated the claim of Anna Anderson to be that lost daughter, and the claims of Michel Goleniewski to be the Tsar's son and heir Alexis had also been debunked courtesy of lengthy investigations in Poland into his background.

However, as William Clarke points out, knowing that the Russian royal family died in Ekaterinburg was only part of the puzzle. A myth had already grown up around the subject of the Tsar's fortune and that of his wife and children.

It was easy to link the immense wealth he enjoyed as an autocratic ruler, which passed to the Russian state after his abdication, with the assumption that he had a vast personal fortune as well.

Indeed, the Romanovs were very rich even when that part of their monies associated with the state rather than their personal fortunes was stripped away. Some of those monies had been invested abroad before World War One.

The assertions by Anderson, Goleniewski and others that they were missing Romanov children kept the dazzling prospect of huge sums being claimed in the future from banks in the West (who held personal Romanov wealth in their vaults for decades after the Russian Revolution) fresh in the public imagination.

Over time, myth was asserted as solid fact often enough for many people to genuinely believe that a fortune of hundreds of millions of pounds was there for the taking by anyone who could prove themselves to be the late Tsar's nearest surviving relation.

The Lost Fortune of the Tsars opens with some chapters devoted briefly to the Romanov's life before the Tsar abdicated followed by an in-depth description of their subsequent house arrest, initially at a palace outside St Petersburg, subsequently in Tobolsk and finally Ekaterinburg.

The family's circumstances became more dire with every shift of location as their wealth disappeared, control over their movements and living conditions was exerted ever more brutally and any hope of escape to the West disappeared.

Finally, days before the liberation of Ekaterinburg by White Russian forces loyal to the Tsar, they were executed in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

The book soon moves onto to the various claimants to be the surviving children of the Tsar and, having chronicled how their claims failed, to divulge exactly what happened to the Tsar's fortune and those of his family.

William Clarke was Financial Editor of The Times for ten years and had previously worked in banking and export finance.

Part journalist, part banker by inclination he was the perfect person to get at the truth. He is dogged in his determination over decades to do so, and he impressively never loses sight of evidence and objectivity in his research and analysis.

This was much needed after years and years of exaggeration and rumour. He is led by the facts, and is scrupulous about that fact when they point away from a massive wealth being secretly held in bank vaults beneath various European capitals to more modest sums.

The Lost Fortune of the Tsars also looks at the nationalisation of the Tsar's wealth within Russia just before he and his family were murdered, and also at what happened to their jewels, art and other priceless items.

It was fascinating and impeccably researched.

Thank you for reading my review of The Lost Fortune of the Tsars by William Clarke. Please do share your thoughts in the comments section.

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