Two families sat down to dinner aboard the yacht Victoria and Albert on August 2nd, 1909, to be served an exquisitely prepared meal: cold quail, timbales of pear, and glace. The table, set for 44 guests, was dotted with vases of red roses. Such a presentation was only to be expected.
Not one but two crowned monarchs were dining that evening: England’s King Edward VII and his nephew, Russia’s Czar Nicholas II. It was a seismic summit. The British Empire held sway over some 400 million people; Nicholas ruled one-sixth of the world. But it was also a deeply personal event.
That very morning, the Russian Imperial family—41-year-old Nicholas, his wife, 37-year-old Czarina Alexandra, and five children, ranging from 13-year-old Olga to the 5-year-old Tsarevich Alexei—had arrived at the rendezvous off the Isle of Wight on their own yacht, the Standart.
The two families were intertwined twice by blood: Nicholas’s Danish mother, Marie, was the sister of Edward’s wife, Queen Alexandra, while Czarina Alexandra was the favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria, King Edward's mother.
The four-day visit was far from the first meeting of these two royal families. For a generation, various members had gathered in England, Russia, Germany, and Denmark for weddings and funerals and summer holidays, just like any other set of relatives. But this was to be the last such coming together of the two full groups.
The Romanovs’ 1909 journey, when they all made a point of going ashore to the Isle of Wight to see Queen Victoria’s once-beloved Osborne House, took place towards the end of the Edwardian Long Summer, a time marked by leisurely teas and emerald-lawn garden parties and novels by E.M. Forster. But storm clouds were gathering on this summer visit. In addition to growing tensions within their respective countries, Russia, Edward VII and Nicholas II did not have the easiest relationship.
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