Down below, on velvet armchairs

Orlando Figes

  • Russia’s Rulers Under the Old Regime by Dominic Lieven
    Yale, 407 pp, £27.50, June 1989, ISBN 0 300 04371 6

The 215 men appointed by Nicholas II to the State Council, Russia’s highest legislative body, between 1894-1914 comprised the social and ruling élite of the old regime on the eve of its destruction. All the top aristocrats, government ministers, civil servants, judges, provincial governors, generals, admirals, church leaders and conservative academics retired to its comfortable velvet armchairs in the Mariinsky Palace. Russia’s Rulers Under the Old Regime is a ‘collective biography’ of these men. It examines their family histories, social background, education and careers, and attempts to link these with their political views on the mounting problems of government in Russia. There are separate chapters on P.N. Durnovo, the notorious Minister of Internal Affairs during the suppression of the 1905-6 Revolution; A.N. Kulomzin, the liberal-minded President of the State Council; and the two Obolensky princes, Alexander and Aleksei, super-aristocrats, part-time politicians. A final chapter considers the role of the ruling élite in the downfall of the old regime.

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