Friday, February 26, 2010

anastasia's cousin, princess irina alexandrovna

Today is the anniversary of the death of Princess Irina Alexandrovna, the daughter of Alexander Mikhailovich and Grand Duchess Ksenia (or as is more commonly written, Xenia) Alexandrovna, Nicholas's sister.

Irina was born on July 15, 1895, the first of Alexander and Xenia's seven children. In a family of perpetual sons, she was also their only daughter. Like most of her family, she spoke French better than she spoke Russian and was sometimes called by the French version of her name, Iréne.

Her husband, Prince Felix Yussupov, was incredibly scandalous for the time period. He was known to dress in women's clothing and had several homosexual relationships. Despite this, Irina still wanted to marry him, and they would go on to have a very happy relationship. Their only child, Irina Felixovna, was born in 1915.

Felix is more known for his part in the murder of Rasputin. Because of this, Irina and Felix were banished from Russia in 1916, effectively saving their lives. They lived out the remainder of their lives in Paris. Felix died in 1967; Irina died three years later.

And the story comes full circle: a DNA sample was taken from Irina's granddaughter Xenia Sfyris to identify the remains of Nicholas and his family in 1997.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


From left, Tatiana, Anastasia, Olga and Marie around 1902. Notice how the "big pair" and "little pair" are each dressed alike!

I've mentioned the acronym OTMA a few times and wanted to explain what it means. OTMA stood for the grand duchesses - Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. The grand duchesses were dressed alike, either all together or in their pairs, so it makes sense that they developed an acronym for themselves. In an age when even parents of identical twins are discouraged from letting their children identify too much as part of a twosome, it's interesting to consider what being OTMA, rather than Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia, did to the grand duchesses. But the evidence that survives suggests the girls saw no problems with it; they were devoted to their family, with the older girls refusing to even consider marrying outside of Russia later in their lives.

nicholas's other love

Nicholas and his father, Alexander III, were unique men for their times - they were both faithful to their wives. Perhaps Alexander was motivated by the scandalous relationships his father, Alexander II, had, including of course the kicker, Princess Yurievskaya. And while Nicholas was faithful after he married Alexandra, there was one other woman who could claim his heart, however naively it was given: the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.

Nicholas's affair with Mathilde started in 1890 and lasted three years. If it was widely accepted for men to have mistresses, it was almost expected that these mistresses would be dancers. Nicholas had already met Alexandra, then Alix, by this point and did not disguise his love for her from Mathilde. She was grateful for his attention and happy to remain in her position. "I adored the tsarevich and wanted only one happiness, however brief it might be," she later wrote.

They later parted ways amicably when Nicholas married Alexandra. Mathilde went on to continue her life both as a dancer and royal mistress. She eventually had affairs with two of Nicholas's cousins, Sergei Mikhailovich and Andrei Vladmirovich. When she later gave birth to a son, Vladmir, no one knew who the father of the child was, though he took the patronym of Sergeievich.

She survived the revolution, though the house that had been a gift from Nicholas was seized. It later became Lenin's headquarters. Mathilde eventually moved to Paris, where she died about eight months short of her 100th birthday.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the romanov's cincinnati connection

Audrey Emery and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center, where they had an exhibit on the Romanovs. The exhibit included clothing (the baptismal gown was featured, as well as a uniform Tatiana wore as a child), toys, Faberge jewels and photographs taken from negatives that had never been published.

Why was all this in Cincinnati? Incredibly, the Romanovs have a very interesting connection to the city in Ohio that comes from Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. (Read about his mother, Alexandra Georgievna, in this post.) Dmitri was exiled from Russia when he and Felix Yussupov murdered Rasputin. He was a notorious womanizer and had several affairs, including one with Coco Chanel. (Come on - handsome royal with a Russian accent. I dare you resist that!) He eventually settled down with an American heiress, Audrey Emery, whose family was from Cinci. While the marriage did not last, the couple had one child, Paul, who eventually became the mayor of Palm Beach, Florida, and died in 2004.

movies about the romanovs

It's not surprising that most movies made about the Romanovs have embellished or completely made up the story, which is very surprising to me. After all, this story has enough drama based on the facts! Two movies stand out, one slightly more

"Anastasia" is a 1997 animated movie from Fox. This movie illustrates two points: 1. Sticking to history - and reality - isn't such a bad idea, and 2. Fox really can't compete with Disney when it comes to animation. In this movie meant for children, Anya is an orphaned teenager who wants to find her family, so she leaves the orphanage and accidentally stumbles into the royal palace, where two con artists hoping to cash in on the dowager empress's reward money, see the similarity between her and the imperial children and train her to say all the right things. Oh yeah, and Rasputin comes back from the underworld to curse Anya because she escaped from death. Anya is of course the true grand duchess, and ends up falling in love with one of the con artists. Even when I was young, this movie made me cringe. (And yet, do I still have the soundtrack and occasionally blast it when I'm driving for fun? Perhaps.)

"Nicholas and Alexandra" is a 1971 film that, being based on the book of the same title by Robert K. Massie, is much more historically accurate. It also includes Russian society and the depravity of the everyday lives of normal Russian people - giving context to how the Revolution came about. I loved the portrayal of the relationship of Nicholas and Alexandra, which was one of the most enduring marriages among royalty, rivaling that of even Alexandra's grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The movie also focuses on Alexei's hemophilia, and Rasputin is heavily featured, creepy as ever. The acting is slightly melodramatic, though in the typical style of those days. If nothing else, I appreciate this film for the way it sticks to the facts, minus a few minor tweaks.

There is also a 1956 film called "Anastasia" with Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. It is based on Anna Anderson's story, which I am fundamentally against promoting. I have it in my Netflix queue, but haven't decided if I want to see it. I mostly like historicals that stick to what happened.

If you're looking for nonfiction material, there unfortunately aren't very many out there. The one I have seen that I enjoy is only available in VHS form, though I very occasionally see it on the History Channel. "The Revenge of the Romanovs" earns points because it includes home movies of the Romanovs themselves (without sound, of course), as well as interviews with the men who found the family's grave outside Ekaterinburg. It also shows scientists analyzing the Romanov bones, as well as the state funeral the family was given in 1998.

I'd love recommendations of other movies or documentaries!

Monday, February 22, 2010

the curious case of princess yurievskaya

I missed the anniversary of the death of Ekaterina Dolgorukova, Princess Yurievskaya, a few days ago. Katya is one of the most interesting members of the Romanov family. She died on February 15, 1922, and was - technically - the Tsaritsa of Russia, if we go by the definition of the tsaritsa being the wife of the Tsar.

Ekaterina was born in 1847, but did not meet the tsar until she was a teenager. Alexander's wife Maria Alexandrovna was a patron of the Smoly Institute, a St. Petersburg school for wealthy girls. As a favor to Maria, Alexander visited the school one day and met Ekaterina. At first he spent afternoons taking the young girl on carriage rides and discussing politics with her, though he certainly wanted her as a mistress. Her own mother and teacher urged her to better her circumstances, but Ekaterina was stubborn. However, she eventually became the tsar's mistress in 1866. She was 18; he was 47.

It was an affair that would last into the end of Alexander's life. Maria was a very sick woman. Tuberculosis and the early deaths of two children, Alexandra and Nicholas, had robbed her of her health. After the birth of her eighth child, doctors advised the tsaritsa not to have any more children. A lack of birth control meant the tsaritsa had to cease having sex with her husband completely - though Alexander had hardly been faithful before.

The tsar eventually moved Ekaterina into the Winter Palace - under the same roof as his wife. The couple would come to have four children together, not a huge surprise, as they documented their desire for each other in thousands of letters, some of which were auctioned a few years ago. Alexander and Ekaterina were very careful within their letters, never signing them and using "bingerle" as a code word for sex. But the tsar did not completely hide his love for this woman. He married Ekaterina morganatically soon after Maria's death, and created the title Princess Yurievskaya for his new wife and children. Ekaterina supposedly had a premonition the day Alexander was assassinated that something terrible was going to happen to him. She and her children with the tsar, three of whom survived infancy, were not allowed to attend the state funeral, and while Katya was given an impressive pension (3.4 million rubles), she continued to be scorned by the Romanovs for the rest of her life.

a note about dates

Important days in Russian history are often written with two different dates. That is because during the time of the Romanovs, the calendar was written in the Julian year, rather than the Gregorian style, which came about later. Most dates have been modified to reflect the new style that we all use today, and I'll continue to use this - but just know that the Romanovs often operated 12 days behind!

the curse of the name alexandra

The name Alexandra pops up infrequently throughout the Romanov family tree, but with it comes misfortune to almost every bearer of that name.

The youngest unfortunate Alexandra was the eldest child of Alexander II and his wife Maria, Alexandra Alexandrovna. Born in 1842, she was a favorite of her father and mother. But Alexandra died at age six of meningitis, leaving her parents devastated.

An even earlier unlucky Alexandra was Alexandra Pavlovna, aunt to Alexander II and daughter of Paul I (Catherine the Great's son). She was first heartbroken over an almost-engagement to the King of Sweden that fell through when he discovered a clause in the marriage contract stating Alexandra would retain her Orthodox faith. She finally married Archduke Joseph of Austria, a union that would prove both short-lived and unhappy. Alexandra Pavlovna died when she was only 17 years old of childbed fever; her baby, a girl named Alexandrine also died.

Alexandra Nicholaevna was a niece to Alexandra Pavlovna and the sister to Alexander II. When she met Prince Frederick "Fritz" of Hesse, a prospective bridegroom for her older sister, Olga, the couple immediately fell in love. They were allowed to marry in 1844, but Alexandra soon became ill with tuberculosis. To make matters worse, she also found out she was pregnant. She eventually went into labor three months premature and gave birth to a son, Wilhelm. Both mother and baby soon died.

Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna was actually born a princess of Greece and Denmark, and is a maternal aunt of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's husband. When Alexandra was 19, she married Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, a son of Alexander II. At the end of her second pregnancy, Alexandra was walking with a friend along the Moskva River and jumped from the bank into a boat anchored along the shore. She fell as she landed, and collapsed the next day in tremendous pain. She eventually gave birth to a son, Dmitri Pavlovich, but died soon after. Miraculously, her son, born during the seventh month of pregnancy, survived, thanks to his uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the brother of Alexander III. Paul was so grief-stricken, he tried to leap into Alexandra's coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Dmitri and his older sister Maria were raised mostly by their uncle Sergei and his wife Elizabeth Feodorovna (also a sister to the tsaritsa Alexandra), which was a comfort to the couple, who had never been able to have children themselves. Paul eventually remarried morganatically.

Perhaps the only fortunate Alexandra was Alexandra Iosifovna, wife of Konstantin Nicholayevich, brother to Alexander II. She was born Alexandra Friederike Henriette of Saxe-Altenberg. It is said she looked so much like Alexandra Nicholaevna, her husband's late sister, that her mother-in-law burst into tears upon meeting her. She and Konstantin would eventually have six children, but the happiness they had initially started with did not last. While her husband was unfaithful to her (as was so common in those days), she lived to be 80, dying in 1911, truly one of the last of the Old Order.

But it would be the tsaritsa who was the last Alexandra. As each of her daughter's names were announced, many in England wondered why none were named for their mother. Margaret Eagar explained the name was considered unlucky by the family.

And of course we know of the fate of the last Alexandra, sadly another unfortunate story.

Thanks to Wikipedia and "Romanov Autumn" by Charotte Zeepvat for information and photographs of these Alexandras!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

what's a grand duchess anyway?

Nicholas and his children in order of birth, 1910

The daughters of the ruler of All the Russias couldn't be called princesses. There were princesses all over Europe. For those priviledged women who could call the tsar their daddy, the only title that would do was Великая Княжна, "Grand Princess." Today it is most accepted as Grand Duchess. Children of emporers, rather than mere kings and queens, were often called by a loftier title. In Austria the children of the Emporer were archdukes and archduchesses. In Russia, they were grand dukes and grand duchesses, indicating that they were "imperial highnesses," instead of "royal highnesses."

As the family continued to multiply at a very quick rate, Alexander III (Anastasia's grandfather) decided in 1885 that only children and grandchildren of the tsar would be grand dukes and grand duchesses. The remainder were referred to as princesses. Only in Russia would being called a princess be a downgrade.

And despite the grandiose titles, the Romanov children were still commonly referred to by their first names and patronyms, going so far as to rebuke the servants for calling them anything else.

Friday, February 19, 2010

anastasia's family: maria nicholaevna

Anastasia had four siblings, but the sister she was brought up closest to was her third-eldest sister, Maria Nicholaevna.

Often called Marie or Masha, she was born on June 26, 1899. She was named for her grandmother, the former Empress, Maria Feodorovna. Margaret Eagar stated the other girls called Marie their stepsister, because she never got into trouble. She and Anastasia made up the "Little Pair" (Olga and Tatiana were the "Big Pair")

Marie was very flirtatious - she once wrote she wanted to marry a soldier and have 20 children.

When her family was in captivity, she was chosen by Nicholas to accompany her parents to Ekaterinburg. It was there that a curious incident happened on Marie's 19th birthday. A soldier named Ivan Skorokhodov snuck a birthday cake in for Marie, and she disappeared into a different room with him. When other soldiers arrived for a surprise inspection of the house, Marie and Ivan were discovered. No one knows what happened between the two, but other soldiers reported that after this incident, Marie's family seemed upset with her. Olga refused to speak to her.

Though this blog is named for Anastasia, I don't have a favorite Romanov daughter - but I do think Marie was the most beautiful! I've included my two favorite pictures of Marie in this entry. What do you think?

Thanks to livadia*org for photos

pronouncing anastasia

As an American, I pronounce the name Anastasia as a four-syllable name with emphasis on the third syllable: anne-ah-STAY-sha. But this isn't the accurate Russian pronunciation of the name. It's a horrible circle: I can't stand the American pronunciation, but I can't train myself to say it any other way.

For Russians, Anastasia becomes a five-syllable name with emphasis on the fourth: ah-nah-stah-SEE-ya. And in Russian, it's written Анастасия.

Thanks to my favorite names website,

tsarina, tsaritsa or czarina?

Alexandra Feodorovna may have been born a Hessian (modern-day German) princess, but she is remembered as a Russian empress. The Russian word for empress (there were no queens in Russia) is царица, translated as tsaritsa. It is also written as tsarina, czarina, or czaritsa. Russian is a very complicated language, one that I speak in a very limited way, but the most accurate way to spell and say Alexandra's title is tsaritsa. That is because the letter "ц" is phoenitcally equivolent to the sound "ts". Nicholas was the tsar (цар), and their son Alexei was the tsarevich (царевич). The "cz" spelling still occurs in some sources, but I've noticed a movement toward the "ts" spelling is more accepted as accurate.

The word "tsar" is close to the German equivolent "k" - both taking their names from the Roman "Caesar."

Incidentally, the last German kaiser, Wilhelm II, was Alexandra's cousin - though they would later become enemies with the dawn of World War One.

anastasia's quirks

Marie, top, and Anastasia making faces during their captivity at Tsarskoe Selo

Anastasia Nicholaevna was a jokester. One of her family's nicknames for her was shvibzik, "imp" in Russian.

She was not the best student. Her French tutor Pierre Gilliard described her as "... almost a wag. She had a very strong sense of humour, and the darts of her wit often found sensitive spots. She was rather an enfant terrible, though this fault tended to correct itself with age. She was also extremely idle, though with the idleness of a gifted child."

Like all her family, Anastasia loved taking pictures - and she often used to color her hats or clothes after the photographs were printed.

She also enjoyed painting, though she admitted she was not as talented as older sister Olga.

Despite stories, rumors, accounts and movies all pointing to the contrary, Anastasia did not survive the shooting in the cellar in 1918. That story, which has persisted nearly 100 years after the family's deaths, was finally put to rest in 2008. More about this soon - though I doubt one blog entry will be enough!

Thanks to Pierre Gilliard's wonderful memoirs, "Thirteen Years at the Russian Court." You can read Pierre's memoirs here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ice princess

just like the russian figure skaters of today, anastasia and her family liked to play on the ice, too!

anastasia's world: the alexander palace

The Alexander Palace

The world Anastasia was born into was a world of glamor, but also a world of extreme poverty. Russian peasants had difficult lives, to say the least, and the tsar and his family lived an incredibly sheltered life behind the palace gate.

Likewise, the Romanov children were also raised in a controlled environment. They did not socialize very much beyond their immediate family; even the extensive Romanov cousins were hardly around the grand duchesses and tsarevich. Besides their native Russian and French, which was the official language of the court, the children were taught German and English, though they spoke these languages badly. The girls were dressed alike even through adulthood, and life usually revolved around the tsarevich's precarious health.

The family traveled around to various countries - royal European houses being what they were, Nicholas and Alexandra could claim relation to almost every royal family - but when they were in St. Petersburg, they lived at Tsarskoye Selo, the Tsar's Village. The grounds at Tsarskoye Selo included two palaces - the blue Catherine Palace and the yellow Alexander Palace. The Alexander Palace was favored by the family, and it was here they spent most of their time.

The palace was modernized during Nicholas's reign and included electricity and even a screening booth to show motion pictures. It was to the Alexander Palace Nicholas returned in 1917 as Colonel Romanov, rather than the Tsar of All the Russias, after his abdication. This would also be the first of three places the imperial family was held under arrest during the revolution.

thanks to Wikipedia for information and a picture!

about the romanov names

Unlike some of the western countries, where royal children often had four or five (or more!) names, the Russians simply had two: one was the first name, while the other was the patronym. The patronym combines a child's father's name with the ending vich for a son or evna/ovna for a daughter. Thus Anastasia's middle name was Nicholaevna - daughter of Nicholas. In keeping with the simplicity and informality in which they were raised, Nicholas and Alexandra insisted on their children being called by their first name and patronym, rather than "Grand Duchess Anastasia" or "Her Imperial Highness." In fact, the children would rebuke servants for calling them anything but their informal names - which were still a mouthful! It's little wonder they ended up shortening these even further: Olishka, Tatianochka, Masha, Nastyusha and Baby for Alexei Nicholaevich the tsarevich.

Shorter still was the acronym the sisters would often use when referring to themselves as a group: OTMA.

picture courtesy of livadia*org

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

who was anastasia?

she was a grand duchess of russia, but she was also half-german. she lived in some of the most beautiful palaces in the world, but she also slept on a camp cot.

just who is this girl anastasia anyway?

it's a question i'm going to try to answer through this blog. anastasia and her family left us a wonderful treasure of photographs, letters and other mementos that let us figure out for ourselves who they were. they lived in a different world - both figuratively and literally - but their stories are not so unique. anastasia may have been a grand duchess, but she was also a daughter and a girl who loved to make others laugh.

anastasia, mugging for the camera, peterhof, 1911

photo courtesy of

the beginning

Welcome to my blog about all things Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, or as she was known in Russian, Великая Княжна Анастасия Николаевна Романова.

Anastasia lived a short life for one so well-known. She was only 17 years and 21 days old when she died, but she is still the most famous Russian royal. I find her life fascinating, and I hope you will, too!