Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Simon Sebag Montefiore
Simon Jonathan Sebag Montefiore.jpg
Born (1965-06-27) 27 June 1965 (age 57)
London, England
EducationLudgrove School
Harrow School
Alma materGonville and Caius College, Cambridge
SpouseSanta Palmer-Tomkinson
Parent(s)Stephen Eric Sebag Montefiore
Phyllis April Jaffé

Simon Jonathan Sebag Montefiore (/ˌsmən ˌsbæɡ ˌmɒntɪfiˈɔːri/; born 27 June 1965) is a British historian, television presenter and author of popular history books and novels,[1][2] including Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), Monsters: History's Most Evil Men and Women (2008), Jerusalem: The Biography (2011), The Romanovs 1613–1918 (2016), among others.

Early life[edit]

Simon Sebag Montefiore was born in London. His father was psychotherapist Stephen Eric Sebag Montefiore (1926–2014), a great-grandson of the banker Sir Joseph Sebag-Montefiore, the nephew and heir of the wealthy philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore,[3] considered by some "the most important Jew of the 19th century".[4] Simon's mother was Phyllis April Jaffé (1927–2019) from the Lithuanian branch of the Jaffe family. Her parents fled the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. They bought tickets for New York City, but were cheated, being instead dropped off at Cork, Ireland. Due to the Limerick boycott in 1904, her father Henry Jaffé left the country and moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, England.[4] Simon's brother is Hugh Sebag-Montefiore.

The Montefiore family are descended from a line of wealthy Sephardi Jews who were diplomats and bankers all over Europe and who originated from Morocco and Italy. After the 1492 Alhambra Decree was issued against the Jews in Spain, some of Montefiore's ancestors stayed in Spain while remaining secretly Jewish. During the reign of Philip II of Spain, one of them became governor of a province of Mexico. He and his family were denounced by a political rival and tortured by the Inquisition. Two teenaged girls were burned alive in Mexico City while a son escaped to Italy and changed his name to Montefiore.[citation needed]

Sebag Montefiore was educated at Ludgrove School and Harrow School where he was editor of the school newspaper, The Harrovian. In the autumn of 1983 he interviewed Margaret Thatcher for The Harrovian.[5][dead link][6] He won an Exhibition to read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge[7] where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).[8]


Montefiore worked as a banker, a foreign affairs journalist, and a war correspondent covering the conflicts during the fall of the Soviet Union.

Montefiore's book Catherine the Great & Potemkin was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, and the Marsh Biography Award.[9] Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar won History Book of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards.[10] Young Stalin won the LA Times Book Prize for Best Biography,[11] the Costa Book Award,[12] the Bruno Kreisky Award for Political Literature, Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique[13] and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.[14]

Jerusalem: The Biography was a number one non-fiction Sunday Times bestseller and a global bestseller and won The Jewish Book of the Year Award from the Jewish Book Council.[15][16] His latest history book is The Romanovs, 1613–1918.

Montefiore's debut novel King's Parade was published in 1991. The Spectator called the book "embarrassing" and "extremely silly".[17] Montefiore is also the author of the novels One Night in Winter and Sashenka. One Night in Winter won the Political Novel of the Year Prize[18] and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize.[19] He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Buckingham.

Personal life[edit]

Montefiore lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children.[7] The couple are friends of King Charles III and the Queen Camilla.[20]

Films and TV drama series[edit]

Several of Montefiore's books are now being developed as either films or TV drama series. In February 2017, Angelina Jolie announced that she was developing "Simon Sebag Montefiore's Catherine the Great and Potemkin" with Universal Studios.[21] Also in early 2017, the film studio Lionsgate Films announced it had bought Montefiore's Jerusalem: the Biography to make it into a long running multi episodic TV drama series which will be "character-driven, action-filled account of war, betrayal, faith, fanaticism, slaughter, persecution and co-existence in the universal holy city through the ages."[22] Montefiore has likened it to Game of Thrones.[23]

The film scriptwriter and director Neil Jordan has been attached to the project to adapt the book for television, and he will also be acting as producer.[24] In April 2016, 21st Century Fox announced that its animated division Blue Sky Studios, makers of the Ice Age series, had bought "Royal Rabbits of London", the children's series of books written by Montefiore and Santa Montefiore, to develop into an animated feature film.[25] In July 2018 it was announced that the screenwriter Will Davies has been attached to the project to adapt the book for the screen.[26] Also in July 2018, it was announced that Hat Trick Productions had taken up an option on Montefiore's novel One Night in Winter, in order to make a TV adaptation.[27]


Montefiore's last non-fiction book The Romanovs 1613–1918 (2016) was accused of containing several historical errors by Swedish historian Dick Harrison.[28] It has also received many favourable reviews. Olga Grushin in the New York Times observed that the book is "Spellbinding ... This monumental work is an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in Russian history."[29]

Stephen Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal praised the book and noted that "No author writes better than Montefiore whose perceptiveness and portraiture here are frequently sublime ... a marvellous read and the last third from fin de siecle insanity to revolutionary cataclysm is dazzling."[30] The historian Antony Beevor noted that the book provided "Epic history on the grandest scale".[31] For The Observer, John Kampfner described Montefiore's book as "Riveting ... the research is meticulous and the style is captivating".[32]

Fiction reviews[edit]

Montefiore has written a Moscow Trilogy of fictional thrillers, set in Russia. These have received positive reviews. Sashenka (2008) was described by the Washington Post as "Spellbinding. Sashenka is a historical whodunit with the epic sweep of a Hollywood movie. Montefiore is a natural storyteller who brings his encyclopedic knowledge of Russian history to life in language that glitters like the ice of St Petersburg".[33] The Wall Street Journal praised "This superb novel. Sashenka is unforgettable. Inspiring. Montefiore proves a matchless storyteller, his prose harrowing and precise."[34]

One Night in Winter (2013) was described by The Guardian as "A gripping thriller about private life and poetic dreams in Stalin's Russia ... A gripping pageturner ... Whether its subject is power or love, a darkly enjoyable read."[35]

The last novel in the trilogy, Red Sky at Noon (2017), was called "a deeply satisfying pageturner – mythic and murderous" by The Times[36] and "brilliant on multiple levels ... offering historical accuracy, a fine empathy for his characters and a story that illuminates the operatic tragedy of Stalin's Russia" by Booklist.[37]


Montefiore giving an author talk at Politics and Prose on The World: A Family History
  • King's Parade (1991)[38]
  • My Affair with Stalin (1997)[39]
  • Sashenka (2008)
  • One Night in Winter (2013)
  • Red Sky at Noon (2017)
Children's books (with Santa Montefiore)
  • Royal Rabbits of London (2016)
  • Royal Rabbits of London: Escape from the Tower (2017)


  • Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City, 3 part series, 8 December 2011 – 23 December 2011[40]
  • Rome: A History of the Eternal City, 3 part series, 5–19 December 2012[41]
  • Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities, 3 part series, 5 December 2013 – 19 December 2013[42]
  • Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain, 3 part series, 8 December 2015 – 22 December 2015[43]
  • Vienna: Empire, Dynasty And Dream, 3 part series, 8 December 2016 – 22 December 2016[44]


  • Speeches that Changed The World


  • Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City, BBC, 2011[45]
  • Byzantium and the History of Faith


  1. ^ Jonathen Rosen (28 October 2011). "Caliphs, Crusaders, and the Bloody History of Jerusalem". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  2. ^ Ward, Vicky (22 January 2008). "History in the Making". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  3. ^ Obituary, BJPsych Bulletin, Royal College of Psychiatrists, "Stephen Sebag-Montefiore Doctor and psychotherapist" [1]
  4. ^ a b David Shasha (15 June 2010). "Moses Montefiore: The Most Important Jew of the 19th Century". Huffington Post. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  5. ^ "An Interview with the Prime Minister" (PDF). 22 October 1983. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  6. ^ Gold, Tanya (27 October 2022). "The man who wrote The World: Tanya Gold meets Simon Sebag Montefiore". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Simon Sebag Montefiore". BBC News. Newsnight Review. 18 July 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  8. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore. "About the author". Archived from the original on 30 July 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Catherine the Great & Potemkin by Simon Sebag Montefiore".
  10. ^ Galaxy British Book Awards: History Book of the Year 2004
  11. ^ "2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes Awarded". Los Angeles Times. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  12. ^ Anderson, Hephzibah (2 January 2008). "A.L. Kennedy's 'Day', Montefiore's 'Young Stalin' Win Costas". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  13. ^ "Simon Sebag Montefiore – The Author". Orion Books. 2008. Archived from the original on 30 July 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  14. ^ Flood, Alison (26 August 2008). "Biographer celebrates 'fairy gold' prize win". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  15. ^ "NJBA Winners". Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  16. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  17. ^ Caroline Moore (17 May 1991). "Made young with young desires". The Spectator.
  18. ^ Sarah Thrift (19 March 2014). "Political Book Awards winners announced". Politicos. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  19. ^ "The Orwell Prize long list". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Among friends: Inside the new King and Queen Consort's inner circle". Tatler. 15 September 2022. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  21. ^ Hollywood Reporter, 22 February 2017.
  22. ^ Hollywood Reporter, 5 March 2017.
  23. ^ Evening Standard, 15 June 2017.
  24. ^, 5 March 2018. Accessed 9 December 2018.
  25. ^ Variety, 18 April 2016.
  26. ^, 21 July 2018. Accessed 9 December 2018.
  27. ^, 23 July 2018. Accessed 21 December 2018.
  28. ^ Svenska Dagbladet, Dick Harrison: "Den sista tsardynastin: Romanov 1613–1918 Groteska sakfel om tsardynastin", 11 June 2017
  29. ^ New York Times, 16 May 2016.
  30. ^ Wall Street Journal, 20 May 2016.
  31. ^ Financial Times, 15 January 2016.
  32. ^ The Observer, 25 January 2016.
  33. ^ Washington Post, 11 January 2009.
  34. ^ Wall Street Journal, 5 December 2008.
  35. ^ The Guardian, 21 September 2013.
  36. ^ The Times, 3 June 2017.
  37. ^ Booklist, 1 November 2017.
  38. ^ "Made young with young desires » 17 May 1991 » The Spectator Archive".
  39. ^ "My Affair With Stalin". Goodreads.
  40. ^ "Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City – BBC Four". BBC.
  41. ^ "Rome: A History of the Eternal City – BBC Four". BBC.
  42. ^ "Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities – BBC Four". BBC.
  43. ^ "Blood and Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore – BBC Four". BBC.
  44. ^ "Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream – BBC Four". BBC.
  45. ^ "BBC – Jerusalem – The Making of A Holy City – Media Centre".

External links[edit]