Tag: Anastasia Romanov

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The Tragic Romanov Sisters

The tragic Romanov sisters were the grand duchesses of Russia, the four daughters of Tsar Nicholas II and his empress Alexandra. Their names were Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in order of birth. These young girls were also the great granddaughters of Queen Victoria as Nicholas and Alexandra were both grandchildren of the queen. It was normal for cousins to marry and interbreed as royalty had to marry royalty not commoners. However, if the grand duchesses had married even to commoners, their lives may have been saved. Instead, they were murdered at the ages of 22, 21, 19 and just 17 years old, along with their young brother Alexey, just 14, and the tsar, tsarina and servants. Such was the tragedy of the Romanov sisters.

Victims of the Russian Revolution

The whole family were the victims of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Due to social unrest, the progress of WWI and political machinations, the tsar was advised to abdicate in early 1917. Not a strong man or leader, he agreed readily and unwittingly signed his own death warrant and that of his young family. The Bolsheviks took control of Russia and imprisoned the royal family in their own beautiful Alexander palace at Tsarskoe Selo near Petrograd. For five months they lived a peaceful domestic existence there under guard before being transported like prisoners to Siberia to a town called Tobolsk. Here in this Siberian backwater, they led a dull existence with no visitors or outings until May 1918 when they were transported yet again to their place of execution at Ekaterinburg further southeast. Despite this fall from royalty and the consequent change in living conditions, the family remained hopeful and united.

Suffering of the tragic Romanov sisters

According to historian, Helen Rappaport’s books, the family knew their days were numbered. Their prison was becoming more dire and heavily guarded. The Red guards mocked them in many acts of disrespect. It is horrible to think of the suffering of these pretty teenage girls, their invalid brother who had hemophilia and their devoted parents. The Romanovs were not nasty people, but a loving family positioned in the wrong time in history. Nicholas was not a born leader. He preferred the quiet of the countryside, walks, nature and reading. His German born wife loved her husband and children but was more autocratic and prouder. As such being German born and appearing haughty, Alexandra became very unpopular with the Russian people especially when she became close to the spiritual monk, Rasputin.

WWI and then the Revolution

Once WWI erupted, with Russia and Germany enemies, German affiliation was suspicious, and Alexandra became even less favored. To the Bolsheviks, this was the time to act to depose the 300-year tsardom of Russia. It did not matter that Alexandra and her teen daughters were serving as nurses in Petrograd, working long days in the hospitals. Olga and Tatiana as the older girls dressed wounds, helped in operations and comforted the wounded. They were sisters of mercy and devoted to their country. The younger girls Maria and Anastasia also volunteered at the hospital after their lessons at the palace. Did this service make them appear less royal? Should they have upheld their position and remained distantly aloof as most royals are?

Four sweet sisters

But to read about the sisters, is to empathise and admire their spirit and kindness. They were sweet innocent girls in a time of horrible terror. As sisters they were very close both in age and association. Born just two years apart from each other over a ten-year period, Olga, Tatiana and Maria in the last years of the 1800s and Anastasia in the new century. Three years later their baby brother was born to much fanfare. An heir, a son, at last. The sisters never resented the gender bias of succession. It was normal for the times. Succession was usually via a son not a daughter.

Hemophilia, a German empress and a mad monk

But the long-awaited son had inherited the deadly royal disease of hemophilia. This reality was to seal the Romanov’s fate. Though the family tried to hide this weakness from the world by withdrawing from public events, the truth finally came out as Alexey grew past babyhood. By then Rasputin was a frequent visitor as he could heal the boy’s bleeds when they occurred. Injuries easily happened due to normal little boy bumps during play.  A frail heir, a mad monk, a German empress; it was not a combination to endear the family to the Russian population. Besides they were at war with Germany and the people were hungry and fearful of the progress of the war.

Despite their royal birth, the Romanov sisters had not enjoyed a life of opulence, gala events and public adoration. On the contrary, their young lives had been spent mostly at the Alexander Palace doing lessons and caring for their ailing mother and brother. Alexandra was not a well woman. She long suffered from neuralgia, sciatica and headaches and then had heart problems too. More often than not, she did not attend royal functions with her husband. Olga and later Tatiana attended instead. This was unusual and talked about in unflattering terms. Alexandra’s absence was seen as haughtiness. She was not the empress of her people.

The sisters liked soldiers not princes

For a while in their later teen years the older two grand duchesses, Olga and Tatiana attended balls and soirees and the peopled loved them. They were beautiful and gracious to all. By the time Olga was 18, there were moves to marry her with Prince Carol of Romania. The families met at the Crimea where they loved to go each summer. However, Olga’s parents left the decision to Olga. They wanted her to marry for love as they had. Olga did not fancy Prince Carol nor he, her. Carol preferred her pretty jolly young sister, Maria. But Maria was too young at the time to marry. So, nothing eventuated.

Olga along with her sister, Tatiana, preferred the fun company of the handsome soldiers who guarded the family at the palace and on the royal yacht. Later during the war, they had crushes on soldiers they nursed in the hospital. But always, their royal position prevented an alliance. Olga, Tatiana and later Maria could only dream of these men. They were off limits. The young Romanov sisters would all die virgins, never knowing the physical love of a man.

What were the Romanov sisters like?

So what were these Romanov girls like? As you can see from the photo on the cover of Helen Rappaport’s book, Olga had a wide, pretty face and Tatiana, the beauty, a more delicate appearance like her mother. Tatiana’s eyes were beautiful, and her heart shaped face made her very noticeable as a beauty. She was a devoted daughter and nurse and very organized. Her mother relied on her abilities. Olga could be moody, perhaps understandably as she was denied a normal life for a young woman of her time. Palace life was isolating and denied her socialization with other young people especially men of her age.

Olga, the eldest

By 20, she should have been married but offers from royal princes did not come. By then the war raged and it was not the time to ally with mighty Russia. Besides by then the riyal houses of Europe were aware of the presence of the deadly hemophilia in the Romanov family and they didn’t want it in theirs. Modern DNA analysis of the Romanov sister’s remains proves that only Anastasia the youngest was a carrier. They need not have feared but they did. Olga remained with her sisters and parents until 22, the age of her death by firing squad.

The younger sisters, Maria and Anastasia had more solid builds than their slender older sisters. Maria had a sweet, happy nature and a lovely smile and eyes. Anastasia the youngest was the plainest looking and a precocious child. She was inattentive to lessons, cheeky and at times disrespectful. her tutors had a hard time with her. But she did enliven the family gatherings. During the last days of imprisonment in Siberia, it was Anastasia who cheered the freezing government prison house with her charades and one act plays.

The royal jewels

One of the last sisterly sessions of camaraderie was sewing the royal jewels into their dresses to secure them from looting by the Red Guards at the final prison house. It was these hidden jewels that made the bullets ricochet around the basement where they were shot. These last remnants of the glorious reign of the Romanovs prevented a swift death for the girls. Instead, they suffered in terror as rounds of bullets flew around the bunker, injuring but not killing them. In the end, bayonets were used to kill the innocent young Romanov sisters. An end not fitting for their status nor kind, innocent souls. It was this terrible fate that ended the reign of the tragic Romanovs. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Read this previous blogsto discover.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with four published books. Whispers through Time and Time Heal my Heart are historical fiction and set in the early 1900s around the era of WWI. The Last hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles are contemporary fiction and set in exotic locations. Visit her website at joniscottauthor.com.

Photo is of the cover of Helen Rappaport’s wonderful historical book.

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

The Romanovs were the last of the Imperial royal family of Russia. They were most cruelly assassinated in July 1918 and their bodies thrown into a ditch. If you didn’t already know, the family consisted of the former Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their five children. The oldest four children were all girls named in order of birth Olga, Tatiana, maria and Anastasia. The youngest child was the heir or Tsarevich, Alexey just fourteen at the time of his murder by the then Bolshevik government. Mowed down in a hail of bullets, their bodies thrown without reverence or ceremony into a ditch to rot. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs? Helen Rappaport explores this in her fascinating book, The Race to Save the Romanovs. 

Since I am enjoying this book, I thought to share the read with you. I know it is a little off topic to my usual but not so far from my latest WWI novel, Time Heal my Heart. the Russian Revolution happened during WWI.

Deposed from 300 years of Royalty.

Noone deserves this fate, especially those born into royalty who had served their country whether adequately or not. This last Imperial family represented 300 years of glorious dynastic rule over vast lands and palaces. But the politics turned against the Tsar and the Tsarina particularly. She was a German princess of Hesse married to Nicholas to secure European alliances. When WWI broke out in 1914 her German connections were not as appreciated by Russians as Russia was on the side of Britain and France and Germany the enemy.

Alexandra the unpopular Tsarina

Adding to this unpopularity was the fact that Alexandra had become obsessed with Rasputin the monk. He was moved into the royal palace to supposedly cure her son of his hemophilia. This genetically transmitted disease was the blight of the family’s happiness. As the only son and promised heir of Russia, this disease made life difficult and precarious. Alexey at any time could bleed to death from any injury that drew blood. His body could not produce the clotting factor necessary to stop a flow of blood like normal people. Hence, he spent his childhood almost literally wrapped in cotton wool. His mother Alexandra fussed and cosseted over him to the neglect of her more robust daughters.

Four daughters and a sickly heir

As a result, these four young girls lived a protected and seemingly dull domestic life within the golden Alexander palace in Petrograd. It was not only their brother who was often ill and poorly but in time their mother too. She suffered from heart issues, sciatica and other health problems that took her to bed for weeks at a time. So, despite her youth, she was an absent mother and perhaps wife as well.

Nicholas II in contrast was slim and reasonably healthy and of a gentle kindly disposition. He was not an aggressive nor militant man so was not a born leader. he preferred the domestic life, loved his family and nature. A quiet life in the countryside would have suited him fine. But he was born into royalty so had to be seen to be active in the affairs of his country. Behind their impressive facade of grandeur, the Imperial family of Russia was like any other loving family with five children. They wanted to enjoy each other’s company and live a quiet and happy life.

Revolution and abdication

When civil revolution erupted during WWI, he seemed too easily convinced to abdicate. But by signing the waver to his royal position he unwittingly signed the death penalty for himself and his beloved family. If any of the two, Alexandra had more ambitions. She was born into an autocratic German family and was not one to embrace the common people. As such she was as distant a royal as she was a mother. The Russian people did not like her.

Royal cousins

Tsar Nicholas however was a royal grandson of Queen Victoria. he had grown up with his royal cousins in a less grand atmosphere.  He was close to his British cousins, especially the boy who would become King George V of Britain. They even looked alike and were often mistaken as brothers. Another cousin who was not as well liked was Wilhem of Germany who would become Kaiser Wilhem and a thorn in their sides over the years to come. His ambition and militarism would feed into the progress of the two world wars.

In contrast George V and Nicholas were gentler souls, perhaps ill-suited for their adult roles pitted against the might of Germany and their royal cousin. With regards to possible saviours for the Tsar and his family, history indicates that George V was best positioned for this role. But there were others. Supporters or monarchists within Russia, Alfonso of Spain, Chritian of Denmark and even Wilhem II himself. Why didn’t anyone save the Romanovs?

Politics is a deadly game

The simplest answer to this question is that politics is a deadly game. All the people who could help the Tsar were enmeshed in a web of politics that made any rescue attempt either deadly or suicidal politically. The timing of the revolution in 1917 could not have been worse. Europe was in the grip of war. Britain and France needed Russia on their side to win against Germany. If either of these two countries appeared to be on the side of the old Russian regime then the new Russia could withdraw support. This is mainly why both Britain and France decided not to help. Added to this was their concern over revolt within their population. Fascists and socialists abounded and assisting the old Russian regime would inflame tensions within Britain and France.

Neutral Spain to the rescue?

Then what about King Alfonso of Spain? His country was neutral, could not he have intervened? After all he was another royal cousin descended from Queen Victoria and besides his two young sons also had hemophilia. They must have had an affinity over this royal disease that affected male progeny. But though Alfonso thought long and hard over this issue, he too settled for inaction. His concerns were similar. The socialists and fascists who could turn nasty (and they did in the later Civil War in 1936) could affect his popularity and destabilize the government.

Failure to act

Meanwhile while cousins failed to act, The Tsar and his family were moved further away from the rest of Europe into Western Siberia to a dismal place called Tobolsk. The time to act had passed. From Petrograd especially soon after the abdication would have been best. The Russian people had not yet turned their backs on the family, nor had the new government. Rescue was talked about. There was a way by sea to Finland if the family could be transported by rail past Petrograd. But water exits had to be before ice set in and this chance was missed as the months passed and winter set in.

Britain made a tentative offer via George V in these early days of 1917 but then later took it back due to the British government pressure. The German Alexandra would not be welcome in Britain, tensions would flare, and various other excuses swayed George’s mind. By then forces within the new government were in place to move the family west to Siberia. Out of sight, out of mind mentality.

Escape Options

There, in a rundown government house, the family of seven resided until July 1918 under guard watch. From this location, there was also chances of escape. Roads were mostly impassable, and a rail head was 132 miles away, so water was a better route. A boat down river towards ports that could lead to the sea and a number of possible destinations. The Arctic Ocean and Archangel lay beyond. Bergen in Norway was another option as there was a Norwegian shipper who was willing to help.

A Bergen to Aberdeen escape route had been under British consideration in 1917 before the offer to help was withdrawn. Some Bergen ships operated under British control, so this could have worked once the family were free of Russia. But getting out of Russia was the problem as then, in 1917, the family were near Petrograd which was heavily under government control. Any rail link connection entailed passing through the city first.  Another port often considered was that of Murmansk. But this too was a fantasy as this supposedly ice-free port is not really always ice free. Also, its fleet of ships was not exactly a fleet but an old battleship, a cruiser and some fishing trawlers. Plus, German submarines patrolled the waterways and icebergs also abounded to add to the danger.

Why didn’t Kaiser Wilhelm save his cousin?

Of all the royal cousins who could have helped, the one with most power was Wilhelm himself. Word from him in his immense position of power could have saved the family. Why did he not act in sympathy? They were family after all. Wilhelm was even Alexey’s godfather. But no, help was not forthcoming in 1918 either. By then Russia had conceded to Germany in a peace pact and this involved the division of Russia into four governance regions that would serve industrial Germany. Any concessions to a previous monarchy would contravene this treaty. Monarchists could raise the Tsar or his son back to power.

No, Wilhelm did not help. By mid 1918 it was too late anyway. The Russian government with all its powerful bodies, lenin included did not care to meddle with saving the old regime in any way. Turning their back on humanity, they let the status quo sign the death warrants for the ill-fated family, children and all. Nobody helped the once loved royal Romanovs. In July 1918, they were beyond hope.

Joni Scott is an Australian author who blogs about history on her website joniscottauthor.com. Her books are historical and contemporary and based on true stories.

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