The Characters in “The Tsarina’s Legacy”

Grigory “Grisha” Potemkin

My sweet prince and latest historical crush: how I adore you. When plotting The Tsarina’s Legacy, I knew I wanted to spend time in the late eighteenth century, a decision reinforced after reading Robert Massie’s recent biography of Catherine the Great. A friend recommended that I research Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine’s illustrious lover and advisor. After reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Potemkin, I knew I wanted to create my own fictionalized version of Catherine’s enchanting prince.

Drawn to the romance and power of the late eighteenth century court, Prince Potemkin was ambitious but often melancholic, highly sensual and yet continually attracted to a spiritual life. Tempestuous lover and loyal subject, he devoted his life to the magnificent Catherine. So many aspects of the relationship between Catherine and her prince make me swoon, not the least of which being that he was a younger man. (Though not nearly as young as her later lovers, including the winsome Platon Zubov.) Potemkin first met Catherine when she ascended to the throne, and pursued her for years before their relationship was consummated. After the romance ran its course, they forged an effective political partnership and lifelong friendship.

Did Potemkin love Catherine the entire time? Certainly their letters are filled with effusive praise, but the tone of late eighteenth century correspondence is extravagantly affectionate and of course any clever courtier compliments his ruler at every opportunity. Catherine surrounded herself with handsome and shrewd young men, and I enjoyed researching a court in which men, rather than women, used their sexuality to “get ahead.” Even so, the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin remained both pragmatic and passionate. For much of their lives they may have loved one another from a distance, but that love endured.

Veronica Herrera

Note: Veronica is the main character in The Secret Daughter of the Tsar; spoilers for that book lie ahead, so you may want skip this essay (for now) if you wish to read Secret Daughter first.

After finishing, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, I wanted to continue Veronica’s story and explore what would happen if she pursued her family’s inheritance, which certainly held emotional if not financial weight. At the same time, I wanted to address the current Russian social climate, particularly homophobia and its impact on the country.

As The Tsarina’s Legacy begins, Veronica Herrera’s life is in turmoil. Tenure denied and a promising romantic relationship ended, she finds herself back in her childhood home with her loving but fretful grandmother, struggling to make ends meet. She has just quit a soul crushing administrative job to explore the possibilities that await her in Russia. Even though Veronica’s life is in shambles, she has recently learned she is the great-granddaughter of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, the last rulers of imperial Russia.

As a descendant of the murdered royal family, Veronica is an object of fascination. She hopes to use her newfound celebrity to affect positive change in Russia, particularly in relation to anti-LGBT legislation and the arrest and imminent imprisonment of a prominent, politically volatile Russian artist. With the assistance of a descendant of Prince Potemkin, Veronica attempts to help him and create a new, positive image for the House of Romanov.

In this novel, Veronica also struggles with her childlessness. She is nearing forty and realizes she may never become a mother. While writing, I came to realize Veronica’s emotions were based on my own experience of delaying having children, and then going through a divorce in my late thirties and accepting that motherhood would probably not happen for me. Though I certainly don’t believe every woman wants or needs to become a parent, I had difficulty coming to terms with childlessness and so I let Veronica bear some of that burden.

It then occurred to me that Prince Potemkin never had children, at least not children known to him. If Veronica was destined to struggle with the issue of childlessness, it only made sense that the prince would struggle as well. I incorporated this into my version of him and made it a point of emotional connection between Potemkin and Veronica.