From the Publisher
Thoroughly grounded in historical accuracy, this novel was developed from Christina Croft's earlier biography of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, which was short listed for the UK Biographer's Club Award. The book contains no named fictional characters but brings alive such diverse personalities as Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Grand Duke Serge and the myriad of fascinating characters who peopled the courts of the late 19th and early 20th century monarchies. It follows Ella through the gossip and intrigues surrounding her marriage and the horrific murder of her husband, through to her remarkable decision to transform her own life and the lives of the poor. Her increasingly strained relationship with her sister, Tsarina Alexandra, and the pressures of war and revolution make for a compelling story, reaching a dramatic conclusion.
From the Author
Excerpt from "Most Beautiful Princess"
...That afternoon, Serge sat in his study, staring to no obvious purpose at the papers spread across his desk. But for the steady scuffing of his boot over the carpet the room was silent, and yet, in that steady shuffling of his foot, Ella sensed a scream of desperation, so loud and clamorous that it almost compelled her to block her ears. For some seconds she stood in the entrance gazing at him, longing for him to look up, but, whether he was unaware of her presence or had no desire to see her, his eyes remained fixed on the papers. She yearned to rush to his side, kneel at his feet and beg him to share whatever burden troubled him so intensely but twelve months of hoping had taught her that any attempt to penetrate his thoughts only drove him to a deeper silence. She pushed the door until it creaked but even when the floorboards rasped beneath her feet he did not look up.
"Serge?" He raised his head slightly. "Are you very busy?"
He shook a wad of papers, "I need to read through these before I leave."
"May I talk with you?"
"Of course." He picked up a pen and struck out a few lines on his documents.
She drew closer and waited but his only response was a fleeting glance and a swift, questioning raise of his eyebrows. "Could you at least..." an unintentional irritation crept into her voice, but she restrained it with a shake of her head. "Shall I come back later when you're less busy?"
He sighed, put down his pen and pushed back his chair. She tried to catch his eye but he looked beyond, or rather through her as though she were a ghost hovering invisibly before him. Even an impatient word would have been preferable to his asphyxiating silence. Her eyes wandered desperately around the room trying to find some common link to start a conversation but there was only the starkness of his study, his papers, his own private world in which she played so small a part. There was so much she burned to say and her thoughts ran so quickly that she half-expected to hear them tumbling uncontrollably from her tongue, `Why don't you love me? Why can't you love me? What have I done to repulse you?'
"Please," she murmured pathetically, "will you sit over here?"
He flinched but stood up and followed her to the sofa where he sat half-turned towards her. He raised one hand to his chin, wiping his index finger to and fro across his lips. Her fingers moved tentatively towards his other hand, resting flat on the cushion between them. When she touched his skin with the lightness of a pianist playing a gentle melody, he neither responded nor moved away....