11 July 2018

The Last Romanov Ladies Part 1

PART 2  |  PART 3  |  PART 4

2018 marks 100 years since the fall of three major imperial dynasties: the Romanovs in Russia, the Hohenzollerns in Germany and the Hapbsburgs in Austria. The dramatic fall of the Romanovs, which ended with the cold-blooded murder of the imperial children, has drawn the most attention over the last century. But, even in this case, only the most violent moment is truly remembered. When the Tsar, his wife, five children, their staff and even their dog were massacred, the event spawned a cottage industry of true historians and vigilant conspiracy theorists that has generated innumerable books and films, even including an animated movie.

However, the Romanov family was far more extensive than just its most famous martyrs. Indeed, they were not even the only martyrs in the family. Here is Part I of my overview of the imperial ladies of that time.

Empress Alexandra with her four daughters
via Wikimedia Commons
Tsar Nicholas II married for love to the Germanic Princess Alix of Hesse, who became Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Suffering from ill health and frantic over her only sons battle with hemophilia she was not as publicly engaged as she perhaps should have been. Instead she was viewed as meddling behind the scenes in government and accused of being enthralled by the mystic healer (and immoral swindler) Rasputin. During the Great War, her ties to her enemy homeland of Germany caused even more consternation.

Before giving birth, at last to a son and heir Alexei, Alexandra had delivered four daughters at two-year intervals: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Just before the war, the two older girls had reached an age when marriages would have been under consideration. In fact, there was even a family visit to their Romanian cousins to try to arrange a match between Olga and the profligate Prince (later King) Carol, but there was no romance between them and neither family pushed the issue. Had the war never happened some, perhaps even all of the Grand Duchesses might have been married by the summer of 1918 as the youngest, Anastasia, was already 17. I think we tend to think of them all as being younger -- they are frozen in time as very young girls, but Olga would have been 23 later that year had she not been murdered.

via Wikimedia Commons
During the war, like so many princesses of their generation, they were allowed to engage in nursing work, and this gave them an opportunity to see more of the "real world" than their somewhat sequestered, but very happy, family life had allowed them. At the time of their father's abdication, the girls were recovering from the measles. They later joined their parents in increasingly harsh detainment finally being imprisoned at Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. There, they were awakened in the middle of the night on July 17 and told to prepare to be moved to yet another location as the Red Army fled the approaching White Army. Instead, the entire family was shot by a squad of revolutionary soldiers. When the bullets bounced off of the girls' bodices, where they had secreted family jewels, they were bayoneted. The bodies were taken out into the forest, burned and buried.

Nevertheless rumors persisted that Tsarevich Alexei and various sisters had miraculously survived. The most famous of these was Grand Duchess Anastasia, with one of her pretenders Anna Anderson gaining support from some people close to the family. It is her story that inspired the highly fictionalized 1956 Ingrid Bergman movie and the 1997 animated musical.

Icon of the Imperial Family as Saints and Martyrs.
via Wikimedia Commons
DNA testing later disproved Anderson's pretensions. Genetic testing and dental records also confirmed the identities of all of the family members once the bodies were discovered in the 1990s. (Alexei and one sister, however, were not recovered until 2007).

The entire family, which had been declared saints and martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church, now rest in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

PART 2  |  PART 3  |  PART 4

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