Friday, November 30, 2018

Tea Lovers' Book Club: "Imperial Tea Party" by Frances Welch

Summary: When Queen Victoria's favorite granddaughter, Alexandra, marries Nicholas II of Russia in 1894, Britain and Russia begin an uneasy alliance, and Frances Welch's account of this "ill-fated British and Russian royal alliance" provides lots of first-person accounts of what the parties involved were thinking at the time.

My thoughts: I like to read first-person accounts of historic events, so I particularly enjoyed the many diary entries surrounding the three meetings between the British and Russian royals during the reign of Nicholas II. While tea was not the focus—and despite the book's clever title, I didn't expect it to be—I did find some intriguing bits about tea in the book. While "Alicky" and "Nicky" were engaged, "As they stopped for tea on a riverbank, Nicky proudly noted his future wife's unexpected catering skills: '[We] started to boil up some tea. Alix did all of this, since she has an excellent new "tea basket" from Granny.'" And on the way to one of the meetings after Queen Victoria's death, Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, was at sea on the Victoria and Albert when there was "a horrible knocking about in the North Sea," and the book says that "at one point, during a lavish tea, the Queen had been thrown across the room." She was thrown onto her back, according to one account, "followed by the tea urn, teapot, etc., all on her lap … it was a most unpleasant incident." Queen Alexandra is said to have laughed off the incident and agreed to have tea brought to her elsewhere. I'd have probably called it a day at that point!

Of course, the story of the Romanovs does not end well, since the tsar, tsarina, and all five of their children were later executed, and the book does a good job of explaining why the British had been hesitant to have the family seek asylum in England. The book also manages to humanize all of these royals, and here at the hundredth anniversary of the Romanov family's demise, it's a particularly fitting time to revisit their history. The book isn't light reading, but I learned a lot by reading it and even went online afterward to watch some documentaries about Tsar Nicholas and his family.

On a lighter note, I'm looking forward to the December read, In Peppermint Peril, a cozy that's first in the new "Book Tea Shop Mystery" series from Joy Avon, and it's about a woman who organizes book-themed tea parties. What a fun idea for a series, and I do hope some of you will read along!


  1. I was happy when I saw that you had chosen this book, Angela, because Russian history is one of my passions. I have a master's degree in Russian studies, and have been to Russia many times, so I have read lots of books on the fascinating topic of Russia's history. But I had not read this one, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I did enjoy it very much, and found it quite entertaining. And to me, it WAS "light reading," compared to most works on Russian history. (For example, earlier in the year, I read a history of the Romanov dynasty that was 800 pages long, and believe me, that was NOT light reading, either literally or figuratively!). "The Imperial Tea Party" doesn't have footnotes and is easier to read than most histories, so I would recommend it to those who don't go in for heavy history books--it's a good introduction to a very interesting period of European history. Like you, I especially enjoyed the diary entries from various people, as well as the amusing mentions of tea time. Your review really sums up the book nicely, and I hope it encourages more of your readers to give it a try.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, Vernona, and it DOES sound like light reading compared to the books you have probably read! Another thing that struck me about the diary entries is how two people would sometimes view the same day's weather, dinner, etc. in different ways, depending on their view. It struck me that human nature doesn't change, and attitude really does have a lot to do with how we view life—even if you're a royal!

  2. I didn't get to this one yet, but will remember it and appreciate the review. I'm glad you found some tea references in it. Your next selection sounds wonderful, it might be January before I get it read, but I will put it on my list!

  3. I always have been fascinated by this family. I haven't read the book, but definitely should read it. The December book just sounds fun.


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