Russian history has always been something of a blind spot for me, probably since I fainted during the film Nicholas and Alexandra (I’m just not good at people talking about blood disorders like Haemophelia!) so my recent trip to Russia was an eye opener.
|Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra and their five children - Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei|
My father’s ongoing interest in the fate of the youngest daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra, Anastasia, rubbed off on me and I had read several books about the last days of the Romanovs. I love a good mystery and the question as to whether the youngest daughter of the Tsar survived has one that intrigued me for years.
Tsar Nicholas II succeeded his father, the oppressive Alexander III in 1894. In his short reign, Russia went from being a major international power to economic and military collapse. His reign was marked by the violent oppression of any form of opposition to military disasters in the Russian Japanese wars and the first world war. Following the October revolution of 1917, he was forced to abdicate and he and his family were imprisoned in the pleasant rural Alexander palace in Tsarkoye Selo (outside St. Petersburgh). Initially the British Government offered the family sanctuary but Nicholas’ cousin, George V vetoed the plan, believing Nicholas’ presence in Britain would provoke revolution in that country.
|The Tsar and his family in Tobolsk 1917|
By May 1918 the White Russian forces had begun to prevail and in view of the proximity of the enemy forces to Yekatrinburg and the threat of a plot to release the Tsar the Presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet made the decision to execute the Tsar whom they deemed (without trial) “guilty of countless, bloody, violent acts against the Russian people.”
|The bullet ridden cellar of the Ipatiev House|
A few days later the town of Yekaterinburg was taken by the White Russian forces and an official enquiry launched. It concluded that the entire royal family and their servants died in the cellar of the Ipatiev House.
The remains of the Romanov family were exhumed in 1991. They had actually been discovered many years earlier by an amateur archeologist but the discovery kept secret during the dying days of the Soviet government. DNA tests on the skeletons proved without doubt that they were the remains of Nicholas II, his wife, three of his daughters and the family servants. However the remains of the two missing children fuelled speculation that these two had, in fact, survived and there may be credence to Anderson’s claims.
In 2007, the remains of the boy, Alexei, and the fourth daughter (later identified as Maria) were discovered by accident, closing once and for all any claims that members of the Romanov family had survived the massacre. It is speculated that they were removed by their murderers from the mass grave of the rest of the family to obfuscate the number of bodies which could have led to an earlier identification.
|Scientists working on the remains of the Romanov family|
In the meantime DNA testing had been carried out on some samples of genetic material belonging to Anna Anderson and compared against the DNA of the Duke of Edinburgh (Lord Mountbatten was a first cousin of the Romanov children). There was no match. However there was a match to a Polish factory worker called Franziska Schanzkowska, a young woman who had been injured in a factory accident and with a history of mental illness. A story in itself.
The last two members of the Romanov family are still to be interred in the chapel of St. Catherine but soon they will all lie together – at peace at last.
|My own photograph of the last resting place of Tsar Nicholas II, his family and loyal servants|
For more reading: Click HERE
Alison Stuart is the author of the multi award nominated GATHER THE BONES, a "Downton Abbeyesque" ghost story set in 1923.