Victoria (Ducky) Melita, strong-willed, artistic and fascinating in her own right, lived her life in the middle of the tangled family tree of European royalty at a pivotal time in the history of monarchy. Her father was Prince Alfred, the brother of King Edward and the younger son of Queen Victoria. Her mother was the sister of Tsar Alexander III, the daughter of Tsar Alexander II and the aunt of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicolas II. Ducky’s first, unhappy marriage was to Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, who like her was a grandchild of Queen Victoria and so was Ducky’s first cousin. It caused a scandal when she divorced him, and it particularly angered his adoring sister Alexandra, who was Tsar Nicolas II’s wife. This became a problem because Ducky had fallen in love with Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia, another of her first cousins though this time on her mother’s side of the family, and Cyril needed the permission of his cousin Tsar Nicolas to marry. Cyril was an officer in the Russian navy and Tsar Nicolas kept sending him off on distant, time-consuming missions that kept the lovers apart for months and years. After a particularly harrowing naval episode at sea Ducky and Cyril married without permission thinking that any punishment they’d receive would be a slap on the wrist. Instead Cyril was expelled from Russia and lost his imperial income, his position in the navy and his titles. The couple lived in Germany and then France until the death of Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich meant that Cyril was third in line to the Russian throne. They were invited back to Russia where they lived until the communist revolution. As young, relatively liberal intellectuals the couple had difficult choices to make during Russia’s time of upheaval. They were among the few members of the imperial family to survive, fleeing Russia for Finland with their two young daughters while Ducky was heavily pregnant with their son. Queen Marie of Romania, one of Ducky’s sisters, helped support them financially, while Cyril tried to establish himself as the Tsar in exile. It’s a breathtaking, heartbreaking, illuminating story, providing a different angle on a transitional time in European history, from the era of Belle Époque until the lead up to WWII.