Prominent Russians: Anastasia Romanova
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the youngest daughter of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, and his wife Alexandra; the couple had four daughters – Anastasia, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and a son – Duke Aleksey.
Anastasia was born on 18 June 1901 in Peterhof, a universally known palace ensemble in St. Petersburg. When she was born, there were already three girls in the family, and Nicholas was desperate to have a son and an heir. The girl was named after the Montenegrin Princess Anastasia, Aleksandra’s close friend.
Anastasia was an active and a fidgety child; she was always considered a favorite in the family. Still, Nicholas’s children were never overindulged – Anastasia, or Nastya, as she was called at home, shared a room with her
elder sister Maria. The two girls were known within the family as "The Little Pair." Apart from sharing a room, they often wore variations of the same dress and spent much of their time together. Their older sisters Olga and Tatiana also shared a room and were
known as "The Big Pair." The four girls sometimes signed letters using the nickname, OTMA, which was derived from the first letters of their first names. The walls of the girls’ chambers were grey, the ceiling was decorated with pictures of butterflies and the furnishings were plain if not Spartan.
The life of the little duchess was quite monotonous – she and her siblings had a very strict schedule: breakfast was served at 9 a.m., followed by lunch at 1 p.m., tea at 5 p.m. and dinner at 8 p.m. The menu was not very impressive either, so the children remained unspoiled, contrary to public expectation. In the evenings the sisters would play charades and do needlework while Nicholas read for them.
Sundays lent some kind of variety to the everyday life of Anastasia and her sisters – the young ladies used to spend time at the children’s balls that their aunt organized to amuse them and to non-intrusively accustom them to the real balls and the proper behavioral patterns accepted there. Sometimes small Anastasia was even permitted to dance with young officers.
As with all of Nicholas’s children, Anastasia’s education began at home when she was eight years old. It included the French and the English languages, history, geography, the compulsory Bible chairs, natural sciences, painting and grammar. According to her social status, Nastya also studied the required lessons of dance and etiquette.
Nastya was far from being a studious pupil – she hated grammar lessons and misspelled everything that was possible to misspell; she was also a poor hand at figures. Her English teacher, Sydney Gibbes, recalled she was once so desperate to get a higher mark for her homework that she tried to bribe him with a beautiful bunch of flowers, and when he flatly refused, the flowers migrated to the less high-toned Russian language teacher.
Anastasia sometimes tripped the servants and played pranks on her tutors. As a child, she would climb trees and refuse to come down. Once, during a snowball fight at the family's Polish estate, Anastasia rolled a rock into a snowball and threw it at her older sister Tatiana, knocking her to the ground. A distant cousin, Princess Nina Georgievna, recalled that "Anastasia was nasty to the point of being evil," and would cheat, kick and scratch her playmates during games.
Though the family lived permanently in the Aleksander Palace where they occupied just a few of the several dozens of rooms, they sometimes moved to the Winter Palace, but the latter was so huge and cold that Anastasia and
Tatiana used to fall ill immediately after the family settled in. In June the family would go on a regular journey to the Finnish skerries; from time to time they shored one of the tiny islands for short excursions or picnics in the open air, which was both entertaining and healthy.
Character and personality
Small Anastasia was a cheerful and a sociable girl, she adored different games and could spend hours playing with her sisters or even all by herself. Typical masculine habits didn’t pass unheeded for Nastya – she liked climbing trees, and sometimes, out of sheer naughtiness, refused to descend when she was called.
Anastasia loved to weave ribbons and flowers into her hair, and what started as mischievousness soon came into vogue in Russia, which made the small tomboy feel immensely proud.
Anastasia loved her sisters and her brother, with whom she could play for hours. Once, during a soiree organized by parents, she and Aleksey crept under the table and started pinching the guests and acting like dogs. The tsar was very unhappy with such behavior and the little couple was punished.
Nastya was said to have been a talented actress – she used to parody her relatives and family friends; she was never offensive, but very funny and touching. The admirers of her talent advised her to become a true actress, but Anastasia just smiled and refused – she preferred to save her abilities for her family and friends and stated she had other “responsibilities.”
The grand duchess, though, was wonderfully slatternly – during theater
performances she used to eat chocolate without even removing her gloves, and as a result her face, hands and gloves were evenly covered with chocolate stains.
Anastasia was a true animal lover – her first pet was a tiny pom named Shvibzik. Nastya loved the dog so dearly she flatly refused to go to bed without it, and when she couldn’t find the dog in the huge palace, she would bark to attract it’s attention. In 1915 the dog died, and Anastasia was inconsolable for its loss – she would not eat and cried all the time. Later she bought another dog, which she called Jimmy, but she never forgot Shvibzik.
When the war started Anastasia and her elder sister, Olga, started smoking, though she did her best to keep it secret – Nicholas did not approve of the habit to put it mildly.
Nastya was a passionate reader – she could spend days with a book; her favorite authors were Schiller and Goethe, Molière and Dickens and the Bronte sisters. She was also a talented pianist and entertained the whole family with Chopin, Grieg, Rakhmaninov and Tchaikovsky.
On 1 November 1905 Nicholas met “a man of God” - Grigory Rasputin - during a morning walk; that very day Rasputin was introduced to the
Empress and spent the evening talking to her. They discussed the children and the constant illnesses of young Duke Aleksey that were then kept secret. Such an unexpected appearance of a common man among the minions of the patriarchal family set tongues wagging.
Under the influence of their mother, the children soon got used to sharing all their secrets with “the honorable old man.” Rasputin liked to talk with the children before they were sent to bed and when the family went on journeys he corresponded with the children. In her letters Anastasia called Rasputin “her only true friend” and expressed all the respect and love she could. And though the girls’ tutor was highly prejudiced against the old man and disapproved of him spending so much time with the kids, the patriarchal parents not only ignored her worries, but the Empress even had her fired, while Rasputin remained the closest family friend one could imagine. In February 1909, Rasputin sent the children a telegram, advising them to "Love the whole of God's nature, the whole of His creation, in particular this earth. The Mother of God was always occupied with flowers and needlework."
The intimate relationship between the Tsar’s family and Rasputin was much
talked about throughout the country, and Nicholas’s siblings turned against the old man. In order to prevent a full-scale pandemonium, the Tsar finally had to brush Rasputin aside. The old man went on pilgrimage and was murdered in December 1916. His death left the young duchesses sorrowful and sad for a long time.
World War I
On the day the war was declared Anastasia cried her heart out. Many of the rooms in the Aleksander Palace were turned into a hospital for the wounded; the elder sisters, Olga and Tatiana, worked in the infirmary following the lead of their mother, but the two smaller sisters, Maria and Anastasia, were considered too young for such hard work and were appointed patronesses of the hospital. The sisters donated their money to the disabled to buy medications, and tried to entertain the wounded by reading out loud to them, playing chess and cards with them and even knitting winter clothing so that the soldiers stayed warm. For those who couldn’t write or had a hand or both hands injured, the girls wrote letters home to their dictation.
Later Anastasia recalled spending evenings sitting beside the injured soldiers and teaching them to read. A sensitive girl, she felt upset and depressed when someone she had only spoken to a day or two before died. The young duchesses dedicated all their free time to the soldiers and hated to take their mind off the poor men to study and do their homework. The war period was tough for Anastasia, and for the rest of her life she remembered the days spent with the wounded with tears in her eyes.
In February 1917, when the revolution in Russia was in full swing, none of the five imperial children managed to escape the measles. Anastasia was the last to fall ill, when the palace was already surrounded by rebellious troops. Nicholas was absent - he was at the General Headquarters in Mogilev - and the children were alone with their mother.
Aleksandra decided against telling the children the truth about the rebellion, so the girls and small Aleksey believed that simple military exercises were being conducted. The Empress wanted to conceal the truth for as long as possible. On the morning of 2 March 1917 Aleksandra learnt of the abdication of her husband, the now former Tsar.
On 8 March it was announced that the Provisional government was to take Nicholas, his children and his wife into custody; the family was permitted to list several people who would be allowed to stay with them.
On the following day, the children finally learned about Nicholas’s abdication; and a few days later he returned to his family. Life under home arrest surprisingly proved to be quite bearable – although the menu was made simpler and at times, when the family walked in the park, common people gathered in front of the fence and cried out abuses and offences causing the time spent outside to be considerably reduced. But these were the only real changes the family had to endure.
Despite the arrest, the children continued to receive their home education and homework remained a must. The French language tutor, Pierre Gilliard, who stayed with the family, was appointed the children’s head teacher; apart from his lessons, Nicholas himself gave the children geography and history lessons and Aleksandra taught them Orthodoxy.
As summer drew to a close, the Provisional government decided the family would be better off in Tobolsk, a small Siberian city that served as the capital of the Tobolsk Province. On the day before their departure they wished all their servants good-bye and took their last stroll in the picturesque park they loved so much. On 12 August a train with the former patriarch’s family aboard left Saint Petersburg.
The Tobolsk period
On 26 August Nicholas and his family finally arrived in Tobolsk. The mansion they were supposed to occupy was not yet finished, so for the first week the steamboat that took them to Tobolsk was their only home.
Life in the mansion was as monotonous and boring as the family could imagine and the main and practically only entertainments the children were offered were watching people walking in the street from the window and doing homework. Anastasia and her sisters were sometimes allowed to go for a little walk with their father and to organize home theatricals; in winter the kids could take their sledges and slide outside. Anastasia also loved sewing and spent many long winter evenings engaged in this peaceful pastime.
Only in September were the children allowed to go to the nearest church accompanied by their parents. But the freedom was superficial as they were surrounded by soldiers at all times. However, the locals here, unlike those in Saint Petersburg, treated the family with due respect and kindness and were never rude or unfriendly towards them.
Life in Yekaterinburg
After the Bolsheviks seized majority control of Russia in April, Aleksandra, Nicholas and Maria, who accompanied her parents, were summoned to Moscow – the former tsar was supposed to be present at his trial. The rest of the family remained in Tobolsk and were supposed to wait for the news and keep the house while taking care of Aleksey who was once again seriously ill.
The four children led a quiet life. The only entertainments were reading out loud in the evenings, walking and painting.
At the very beginning of May 1918 it became clear Nicholas’s visit to Moscow was at best postponed and at worst cancelled, and so he was moved to the Ipatiev House, or the House of Special Purpose, in Yekaterinburg.
In the numerous letters Aleksandra wrote to her children in Tobolsk, she implored them to hide the jewels the family owned as well as possible – so Anastasia and her sisters sewed them into their clothing in the hopes of hiding them from their captors; Aleksandra had warned them that she, Nicholas and Maria had been searched upon arriving in Yekaterinburg and had had many valuable items confiscated. Aleksandra used the predetermined code word "medicines" for the jewels so that in case the letters were ripped open and read (as indeed they were) no one would understand what the former Empress was talking about.
At the end of May the three sisters and Aleksey, whose health had much improved by then, joined their parents and elder sister in Yekaterinburg. Anastasia, even though she was the youngest of the sisters, remained calm and optimistic and the fact that throughout the whole journey the children had to travel in closed carriages and cabins and even doctors were not allowed to see them, did not shatter her belief that things would eventually be set to rights.
In Yekaterinburg the children had to say good-bye to their tutors – Pierre Gilliard and the maids were not allowed to go along with them.
Life in Yekaterinburg was as boring as could be; the sisters learned to bake bread and whiled away the time doing so. The family was kept under constantly surveillance and in summer the privations of captivity affected Anastasia so grievously, that at one point she became so upset about the locked, painted windows that she burst one open to look outside and get fresh air. A sentry saw her and fired, narrowly missing her. She never tried it again.
On 14 July 1918 local priests in Yekaterinburg conducted a private church service for the family. They reported that Anastasia and her family, contrary to custom, fell on their knees during the prayer for the dead, and that the girls had become despondent, hopeless, and no longer sang the replies in the service. Noticing this dramatic change in their demeanor since his last visit, one priest told the other, "Something has happened to them in there."
It is believed that the decision about the execution was made on 16 July because rumors had appeared about an allegedly discovered plot to save the Tsar and his family. On the night of 17 July after a short dispute about the way the family was to be executed, they were woken up and asked to descend to the cellar.
Until the very last moment the family members suspected nothing. In the cellar they were asked to sit on the chairs that had been brought in, and everyone obeyed. The girls took their hand-bags with them, and Anastasia even took Jimmy, her dog, along.
Some believe that after the first shots were fired Anastasia, Maria and Tatiana were still alive – the jewels sewn in their dresses had saved their lives – and the soldiers had to finish the wounded girls off by hitting them hard with bayonet caps and buttstocks.
The bodies were then wrapped into bed sheets and brought to Ganina Yama to be buried. Before the burial the faces of the victims were disfigured beyond recognition with sulfuric acid, knives and buttstocks.
Identification of the remains
Even though the murderers of the Tsar and his family were eager to keep the place of burial secret, it turned out to be impossible as Ganina Yama was located near the road that led to Yekaterinburg, and early in the morning on the day of the burial the grim cavalcade was noticed by Natalia Zykova, a peasant woman from a nearby village, and several other people. And though the Red Army men chased the peasants away, menacing them with guns, later the frightened witnesses let the information slip out.
Later on that same day the sounds of shell explosions were heard at the ominous spot; several days after the sad event the locals went to Ganina Yama and found some jewels that presumably belonged to the Tsar’s family and must have not been noticed by the executioners who were quite in a hurry to cover up the traces of the recent murders.
At the end of spring a crime investigator, Nicholas Sokolov, questioned the locals and examined the territory near Ganina Yama. In mid-summer he ordered the excavation of the burial site, but the digging was soon interrupted.
Only in 1991, more than 70 years after the tragic event, at a depth of a little more than one meter, remains were found that were later identified as those of the members of the Tsar’s family. Still, anthropologists had grave doubts concerning the body of Anastasia – the left side of the face was broken into tiny pieces. It was practically impossible to piece the broken parts together, and the result of the long, painstaking work was highly questionable. Russian scientists tried to judge by the height of the skeleton, but as the measurements were done according to photographs only, foreign scientists challenged the authenticity of the find.
In 1998 the remains of the Tsar’s family were finally buried, but the last doubts were settled only ten years later – in 2007 when remains of a young lady and a boy were found in the so-called Porosenkovsy Meadow and were identified as Grand Duchess Maria and Cesarevitch (meaning "the eldest son of a tsar") Aleksey. DNA tests confirmed the conclusions made by the scientists. A year later, the information was officially confirmed by the Investigative Committee attached to the Prosecutor General's Office of Russia.
Anastasia's supposed survival was one of the most celebrated mysteries of the 20th century. Rumors that one of the Tsar’s daughters had managed to escape and stay alive appeared almost immediately after the family had been gunned down. Attempts have been made to make use of Anastasia’s name, which led to the appearance of more than 30 fake Anastasias in all parts of the country.
One of the best-known self-appointed Anastasias was a woman named Anna Anderson. This lady claimed that a soldier managed to save her by taking her, weak and wounded, out from the basement. She did her best to prove she was the heiress of Nicholas and thus to go after the Tsar’s heritage. Till her dying day Andersen defended the theory of her descent and even wrote a book, which she entitled “Me, Anastasia.” For the next several decades she was steeped in legal proceedings, but no judgment was delivered during her lifetime. Today DNA tests have proved that Anna Anderson had nothing in common with Anastasia Romanova.
Eugenia Smith was another fake Anastasia Romanova. She was an artist who published a book in the US that contained her memoirs as the heiress who survived truly by miracle. Eugenia managed to attract the attention of scientists and people at large and greatly improve her financial status.
Rumors about Anastasia’s miraculous escape never died out completely and it was reported that many homes, trains and hotels were searched in pursuit of Nicholas’s youngest daughter.
Duke Dmitry Romanov, Nicholas’s great-great-grandson, recalled there were more than twenty fake Anastasias. He later wrote in his memoirs: “I would be immensely happy if one of them was the real Anastasia and we could be sure she had managed to survive, but unfortunately all these women lied.”
In 2000, Anastasia and her family were canonized as passion bearers by the Russian Orthodox Church. The family had previously been canonized in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as holy martyrs.
The bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and three of their daughters were finally interred in St. Catherine’s Chapel at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg on 17 July 1998, eighty years after their murders.
Anastasia in films
The alleged survival of the Grand Duchess Anastasia has been the subject of both theatrical and made-for-television films. The first film of the kind was shot in 1928 and was entitled “Clothes Make the
The best-known film dedicated to Anastasia was the one made in 1956 that had the eponymous title “Anastasia” and starred Ingrid Bergman as Anna Anderson and Helen Hayes as the Dowager Empress Marie, Anastasia's paternal grandmother.
In 1986, the NBC television channel broadcast a mini-series based on the book published in 1983 by Peter Kurt entitled “Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson.” The movie “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna” consisted of two parts which began with the young Anastasia and her family being sent to Yekaterinburg, where they were executed.
The most recent animated film is 1997's “Anastasia” produced by 20th Century Fox, which presents a musical adaptation of the story of Anastasia's fictional escape from Russia and her subsequent quest for recognition. And though the film almost immediately soared to the second spot at the US box office, earning nearly 60 million dollars in America alone and more than 140 million dollars worldwide, it is probably due to the fact it was immensely beautiful and the plot was intriguing and fascinating, as the film took great
liberties with historical facts.
One of the many examples is that at the very beginning of the film several spot lamps can be seen near the Palace – the director might have forgotten that spot lamps were not used in the times of Anastasia. Yet another example is that the film described the Tsar's murder in 1917, but in reality it didn't take place until late 1918. Moreover, the film described a touching scene when small Anastasia presented her grandmother a picture she had painted herself. And though the painting did actually exist, Nastya gave it to her father, and not to her granny.
Due to the success of "Anastasia" a video game based on the film, called "Anastasia: Adventures with Pooka and Bartok," was released by Fox Interactive in 1997.
Written by Anna Yudina, RT