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Anastasia Romanova ( 1901 - 1918 )  Category ( Royalty ) [suggest a correction]

Anastasia RomanovaRussian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna Romanova (Ah-nah-stah-SEE-ya Nick-oh-LIE-ev-na Roh-MAHN-ova) was the youngest daughter of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife, Alexandra. Though she lived but seventeen years, the circumstances surrounding her 1918 disappearance and death – along with the rest of her family – she continues to hold a place in the public imagination and popular culture.

Born in Peterhof, Russia, in 1901, Anastasia was the fourth daughter born to her parents, who, due to Imperial law, were quite anxious to have a son. Her older sisters were Olga, Tatiana, and Maria. In 1904 the longed-for son was born and christened Alexei. The family’s happiness was short-lived when it was discovered that the infant had hemophilia. In the early twentieth century such a diagnosis meant certain early death. Much of Anastasia and her sister’s childhood and youth was spent caring for and watching their little brother suffer and seeing their parents grow old with worry.

Unlike most royal children of the time, Anastasia and her siblings were close to their parents and to each other. The girls even devised a shared an acronym featuring the first letter of each of their names: OTMA. The children were spoiled and lavished in certain ways, but in many ways their childhood and youth was modeled after Victorian strictures. They slept on painted iron camp beds with narrow mattresses and were responsible for taking care of their rooms and other personal needs. Palace servants and governesses were instructed to treat the Imperial children with politeness but otherwise as any other child, and never addressed them as "Your Imperial Highness." Additionally the children were required to attend a great number of Imperial ceremonies and occasions, and serve a variety of civic organizations by volunteering. The duchesses and their brother grew up speaking their mother’s first language, English (she was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria), but they also spoke Russian, French, and were somewhat familiar with German.

Anastasia was considered the comic of the family. She was a gifted mimic and enjoyed dressing in costumes and putting on theatrical performances for her family. Like the rest of her family, she was an avid photographer. After the fall of the Soviet Union many of the Romanov family photo albums became available for publishing. The beauty observed in the photos helps to reveal the fairy-tale existence the family enjoyed before the Russian Revolution, which become especially poignant when viewed with the knowledge of the family’s tragic demise.

By the start of World War I, Anastasia and her sisters were teenagers. The older daughters, Olga and Tatiana, joined their mother and Aunt Olga in receiving training as nurses and served in palace hospitals. The younger Maria and Anastasia spent a great deal of time visiting and cheering up the injured and sick soldiers. In February 1917, Nicholas II abdicated the throne of Russia. The entire Imperial family was placed under house arrest at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. This was the time of the Russian Revolution. A provisional government friendly to the Tsar was in control and sent the family east to the city of Tobolsk, in the state of Ural. Though their circumstances were considerably reduced, the family were treated and fed well there. When the Bolsheviks assumed control of Russia the family were moved to the pro-Communistic city of Yekaterinburg, to a newly-built home of an engineer by the name of Ipatiev. Called “The House of Special Purpose” by the local soviet, it would serve as the last residence of Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children.

Life in the Ipatiev House was very stressful for the entire family. The guards were often drunk and rude and the family was permitted only very limited information from the outside. "Goodby," she wrote to a friend in the winter of 1917. "Don’t forget us." The whole family seemed to have a sense of their own doom. On the night of July 16-17 the family and the few retainers left to them were summoned to a half-basement room on the ground floor of the house. None of them suspected what was to come. The commanding guard, Jakob Yurovsky, read a brief statement to the family, announcing that they were about to be killed. The tsar responded with an incredulous, "What?" Some accounts claim the statement was read once more, and then the firing commenced. Most of the guards aimed for Nicholas in the initial volley, followed by Alexandra. Depending on what account should be believed, at least Maria and Anastasia, Alexei, and one of the servants experienced a more drawn-out, painful struggle and death. It is possible that at least two of the girls were still alive as the bodies were removed from the room. Because the Bolsheviks were unsure as to national and international reaction to the assassination, a great deal of misinformation was spread throughout Russia and abroad. The bodies were secretly buried. With no physical evidence, speculation as to what happened to the family spread like wildfire. Anastasia was singled out as the most likely survivor. Over the ensuing decades a great many impostors appeared, particularly individuals claiming to be one of the children. The best known among these was Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia. Anderson’s story caught the public imagination and many books, articles, a popular song and films were made that encouraged the support of her claim.

As the Soviet Union was falling in 1991, Russian researchers revealed the discovery of the Romanov grave. The excavation revealed two bodies to be missing, one of the Grand Duchesses and the Tsareivich. Soon afterwards, DNA testing revealed that Anna Anderson could not be Anastasia, ending more than seventy years of mystery and speculation. In 2000 the family was canonized as passion bearers (a type of saint) in the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2008 researchers and archaeologists discovered remains from the two missing children. Nicholas II, his wife, and all five of his children now rest at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Ipatiev House was torn down in 1974, but in recent years an elaborate cathedral honoring the murdered family was built on the house site, with the basement room area preserved.

Image: An official portrait of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, ca. August 1916.

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