The Grand Duchess Maria Romanov had the face of an angel and a sunny disposition to match. But life for this royal was far from easy, and it wasn’t long before her gilded childhood morphed into a terrifying nightmare. Just like her sister Anastasia, Maria’s short life and legacy is greatly defined by the mystery surrounding her gruesome end.
1. She Was A Disappointment
Maria Romanov was a disappointment from the moment she was born. Her parents, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna—not to mention all of Russia—had hoped for a male heir to the Russian throne. And they certainly weren’t thrilled with the announcement of another Grand Duchess. It wasn’t long, however, before her infectious personality won them over.
2. She Won Them Over
As she grew, Maria and her father Nicholas forged a very special bond with one another, with Maria often trying to visit her father and garner his attention. In lieu of his daughter’s sweetness and charm, Nicholas quickly changed his tune and even referred to her as a “treasure.” Regardless of the fact that Maria could never be heir, he was still happy she’d been born.
Still, the family’s growing regard for Maria didn’t end their desperation for a male heir.
3. She Worried About Her Brother
Eventually, Maria’s mother answered everyone’s fervent prayers and birthed an heir to the throne, her brother Alexei. While Maria’s parents tended to her and the other three Grand Duchesses, they were always particularly worried about Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia, a disorder where one’s blood doesn’t clot properly, making him more susceptible to bleeding out.
As the future Tsar and the future of the Romanov dynasty, Alexei’s life was the most important out of all the children. However, Maria was special in her very own way.
4. She Was An Angel
Maria was a gorgeous young girl, with many relatives and family friends constantly commenting on her natural beauty. Her family nicknamed her blue eyes “Marie’s saucers,” while her great-aunt claimed Maria to be “a real beauty…with enormous blue eyes.” Once, a gentleman even said that Maria had the face of a Botticelli’s angel.
Of course, her angel face became a magnet for sticky situations.
5. She Was Wildly Flirtatious
As a young adult, Maria was a shameless flirt, always batting her lashes at the young officers and even those who guarded her. Once, while watching a string of handsome officers march by, she exclaimed, “I should like to kiss them all!” No matter where she went, she was apt to develop full-blown crushes. As we’ll see later, though, sometimes these crushes got her into a lot of trouble…
6. Her Sister Used Her
Maria’s sisters often used her to soften their mother up. Once, her sister Olga, convinced Maria to write a letter to their mother, asking her to allow Olga to move into her own room. But the requests didn’t stop there. Maria also asked if Olga’s skirts could be let down. Despite her willingness to help her siblings out, she never got a kind word in return. In fact, Olga nicknamed her “fat little bow-wow.”
Still, if her family made fun of her, she was certainly attracting positive attention elsewhere.
7. She Had A Secret Admirer
As a young girl, Maria met one of her greatest admirers. Her first cousin, Louis Mountbatten, had a wild crush on her, and she remained dear to his heart until his passing in 1979. Although Mountbatten kept a photo of Maria at his bedside, he staunchly believed that no photograph could do Maria’s beauty justice. He even admitted to wanting to marry her. And he wasn’t the only one.
8. She Faced A Proposal
Mountbatten wasn’t the only royal who had his eyes set on Maria’s hand in marriage. Prince Carol of Romania formally proposed to Maria in 1916, during a visit to Russia. Allegedly, his mother was hopeful that Carol would marry one of Tsar Nicholas’s daughters and Maria fit the bill. Nicholas turned Carol down since he felt Maria was much too young. However, this wouldn’t dissuade her from chasing other men.
9. She Was A Patroness
When WWI started, Maria wanted to find a way to give back, but was too young to join the Red Cross as a nurse like her older sisters and mother. Instead, she visited the wounded officers at Tsarskoye Selo. To help raise their morale, Maria and her sister Anastasia played checkers and billiards with the officers at the private hospital. But her playful attitude wasn’t always innocent.
10. She Had A Major Crush
With her affinity for romantic obsession, Maria developed a massive crush on an officer she had met while on a visit to the Russian headquarters in Mogilev. She initially went to visit her father and her brother Alexei, but soon found herself totally taken with the ravishing Officer Nikolai Dmitrievich Demenkov. And she wasn’t about to let this crush fizzle out.
11. She Was Obsessed
For Maria, her infatuation with Demenkov wasn’t just some passing fad. When she returned to work at Tsarskoye she kept the flame alive, even if her methods were embarrassingly infantile. Whenever Maria wrote letters to her father, she would always ask him to say hello to Demenkov. She even went so far as to sign off her correspondence with “Mrs. Demenkov.” But this was only the beginning.
12. She Trusted The Wrong Man
Due to her brother’s constant struggle with hemophilia, Maria and her family heavily relied on the infamous Grigori Rasputin, whom they considered a holy man that could cure Alexei. Because of Rasputin’s impact on the Romanov family and Alexei’s healing, the family instructed Maria to view Rasputin as a friend and often trusted him with secrets. This proved to be a terrible mistake.
13. She Felt Safe
Maria and her siblings felt completely safe in the presence of Rasputin, and often allowed him to visit them before bed while wearing their nightgowns. Maria’s governess didn’t approve of Rasputin having access to the girls while vulnerable, and the Tsar eventually asked him to cease his visits to the nursery. But it was already too late.
14. Her Governess Made A Claim
Eventually, Maria’s mother Alexandra convinced her father to fire their governess. However, the governess scandalized the family by reporting on Rasputin’s visits to the nursery. She claimed that Rasputin often sat with and caressed the children, including Maria. The Tsar’s sister called Rasputin “sinister,” and refused to speak about him to the children.
After the scandal, the allegations against Rasputin only continued.
15. She Faced Horrible Rumors
Rumors sprang up and spread like wildfire, claiming that Rasputin had not only seduced the governesses, but also Maria and her sisters. Eventually, some of the letters written between him and the girls circulated through society, and cartoonists drew him and the Grand Duchesses in compromising positions. Maria’s family desperately looked for a way to end this scandal once and for all.
16. She Lost A Friend
Because of the disgusting allegations, and the resulting scandal between Rasputin, Maria, and the other three Grand Duchesses, Tsar Nicholas had no choice but to make a severe judgment call. He decided to cast Rasputin out of St. Petersburg for the foreseeable future. Now, with Rasputin out of the way, he was hopeful that things might return to normal.
However, this wasn’t the last they’d heard of him.
17. She Got Caught Up
However far Rasputin strayed after Nicholas sent him away, Maria and her family still frequently associated with him until his passing in 1916. They felt like Rasputin greatly contributed to Maria and her sisters’s growth and development. They also desperately needed Rasputin to continue to help keep Alexei alive through his prayers. Of course, Alexei wasn’t the only one in danger.
18. She Almost Lost Her Life
In 1914, Maria faced a life-threatening ordeal. During an operation to remove her tonsils, she almost passed from blood loss. Allegedly, the doctor operating felt uneasy about the sheer amount of blood and stopped the operation partway through. Maria’s mother forced the doctor to continue on and finish the surgery. Unfortunately, this tragedy wasn’t an isolated incident.
19. She Carried A Gene
At the time of Maria’s surgery, doctors knew that her brother Alexei had hemophilia, but also felt that Maria and many of her family members might carry symptoms of the disease. Even if she didn’t have hemophilia, Maria still bled more than usual which put her at risk while doing normal activities. One thing was for sure: Maria had to avoid severe injury at all costs. But this was easier said than done.
20. She Witnessed The Revolution
In 1917, Maria and the Romanov family faced a violent revolution against them, which called for the end of their dynasty and Imperial rule. A new government organization called The Bolsheviks was on the rise, which featured Vladimir Lenin as its leader. Because of this tragic scenario, the family risked losing the loyalty of those around them. Something had to be done.
21. She Plead For Her Safety
While The Bolsheviks overthrew Maria’s family and Imperial government, she and her mother tried their best to keep officers loyal to her family. Maria and Alexandra went to extreme lengths, even going out to beg the officers to help keep them safe. They were desperate to get to safety and dreamed of starting a new life in England. But this nightmare had only just begun.
22. She Faced A Terrible Illness
Right as her family faced the severe danger of the revolution, Maria caught the measles from her five siblings. Not only did she catch this severe illness, but she developed virulent pneumonia simultaneously. Maria was so intensely ill that she almost lost her life for the second time. Because of the illness, her family decided not to share a major secret…
23. She Fell From Grace
In March 1917, a staggering change rocked Maria’s world: Her father abdicated the Russian throne. This meant that the Romanov’s dynasty in Russia was over, and that Maria’s family no longer had royal power. Still, she and her family remained under the protection of guards, and officials permitted them to live in their home in Tsarskoye Selo.
But this semblance of normality was only temporary.
24. She Faced Incarceration
Unfortunately for Maria’s family, it wasn’t enough for Nicholas to just abdicate the throne. Officers incarcerated Maria and her family in November 1917, and guards kept a vigil eye on them at all times. Later, in an effort to keep them safe, officials sent Maria and her family to live in Siberia at the residences in Tobolsk and Yekaterinburn.
Feeling completely safe for the first time in a long time, Maria let her guard down.
25. She Didn’t Know She Was In Danger
While in Siberia, Maria felt immeasurably comfortable and didn’t mind the guards at Tobolsk. As she did with many whom she met, Maria made fast friends with some of her guards, often asking them for their names and inquiring after their families. She felt so at ease that she said she would be happy to live at Tobolsk indefinitely.
Maria only wished that the guards could afford her a tiny bit of freedom. She couldn’t move around without feeling their eyes digging into her back.
26. She Had No Privacy
As time wore on, Maria felt increasingly suffocated by the eternal presence of her guard. She couldn’t even go outside for a walk without being followed. Because of this, Maria decided to burn much of her written work, including letters and diaries. She feared that the officers might rummage through them, destroying her privacy for good.
When Maria found out she’d be leaving for Moscow, she briefly got her hopes out. She soon learned, however, that the guard was inescapable.
27. She Went To Trial
When Maria’s parents had to leave Siberia to attend a trial in Moscow, they forced one of the Grand Duchesses to accompany them. After some deliberation, Maria’s sisters decided on Maria to go, as all three of her sisters had other priorities in one way or another, and Alexei had had a hemophilia attack which left him partially paralyzed.
This trip opened Maria’s eyes to the reality of her new incarcerated existence.
28. She Felt Uneasy
While Maria was in Moscow, she sent her siblings an abundance of desperate letters. She became increasingly uneasy with the restrictions guards imposed on her family at Yekaterinburg. First, officers searched Maria upon arrival, then officers installed a fence to limit the family’s view of the street. Cornered on all sides, Maria couldn’t help noticing the stark difference to the life she had enjoyed before the revolution. Everything felt like it was falling apart.
29. She Tried To Make Friends
While Maria was in Ekaterinburg at Ipatiev House, she tried to make the best of it, and like always, treated the guards with unfailing warmth. She showed great interest in their personal lives and tried to get to know them. The guards remembered her fun-loving personality and undeniable beauty—her friendliness and unabashed flirtation. Yet, Maria wasn’t always playful. Sometimes she could be downright hostile.
30. She Had A Backbone
An incident at Ipatiev House caused Maria to get mouthy with one of the guards. An officer told an offensive joke, causing another woman to abruptly leave the room. Maria didn’t hesitate to call him out, stating, “Why are you not disgusted with yourselves when you use such shameful words? Do you imagine that you can woo a well-born woman with such witticisms and have her be well disposed towards you? Be refined and respectable men and then we can get along.”
Despite her fiery temper and strong backbone, Maria was a romantic at heart, and it wasn’t long before she softened toward one guard in particular.
31. She Had Friend In High Places
When Maria’s birthday passed in 1918, she and her family, still incarcerated, couldn’t celebrate properly. But there was one guard willing to go the extra mile to make her happy. Ivan Skorokhodov, allegedly snuck a birthday cake past security for her. He was always particularly friendly towards Maria, and this affection soon developed into something more.
32. She Had Some Fun
In addition to the illicit birthday cake, Skorokhodov allegedly stole Maria away from her party for a private interlude. When his superiors randomly inspected Maria’s home, they caught the two of them in a lusty embrace. As myth has it, this resulted in Skorokhodov losing his job. Romance just wasn’t in the cards for Maria, and in any case, her time at Yekaterinburg was about to be cut short.
33. She Packed Her Things
On July 16, 1918, the guards at Yekaterinburg lied to Maria and her family, stating that they needed to move due to the growing unrest within the town. The family packed their bags and were ready to go as soon as possible. Maria’s father wholeheartedly believed that they would be able to leave the house, but things never worked out the way he wanted them to.
34. She Posed For A Photo
Eerily, Yurovsky, a Soviet Revolutionary and professional photographer, asked Maria’s family to pose for him. The family took their positions with Nicholas standing behind Alexei, and Maria and her sisters beside their mother, Alexandra. Allegedly, the guards left Maria and her family like this for about half an hour. Unbeknownst to them, this was all a facade for the horror that awaited them.
35. She Faced Execution
When Yurovsky came back into the room, he ordered all of the members of Maria’s family, including their doctor and servants, to stand. When they did, Yurovsky began reading out an order for execution. With a dawning sense of dread, the truth of it all became terribly clear—Maria and her family were about to lose their lives. But although it seemed like the end, the battle was only just beginning.
36. She Tried To Escape
While the firing squad struck both of Maria’s parents, three of her servants, and the family’s doctor on the first try, Maria initially didn’t sustain any injuries. She scrambled desperately toward the doors located at the back of the room, but to her horror, couldn’t pry them open: the guards had sealed them shut with nails. But not all was lost.
With a heavy layer of smoke filling the room, Maria saw her chance.
37. She Faced Injury
Because of the heavy smoke, the guards were only able to see the bottom halves of the surviving victims. As such, the military commissar, Peter Ermakov, aimed for Maria’s thigh, injuring her. She joined her sister Anastasia on the floor, the two girls surrounded by the sounds of certain death. Suddenly, something extremely strange happened.
38. She Was Left To Die
The heavy smoke from the weaponry caused the guards to take a temporary respite, and they left the room to let it air out. But although the haze had made their assassination attempt all the more difficult, their bloody dealings were far from over. When the guards returned they wreaked even more havoc. Maria watched in horror as her siblings Alexei, Olga, and Tatiana were brutally executed. Only she and Anastasia remained.
39. Her Jewels Protected Her
Ermakov focused on Maria and her sister Anastasia, who hadn’t yet been hit. He tried to strike her with his bayonet, but thankfully Maria had sewn jewels into her clothes, which ended up protecting her midsection from the knife. When the bayonet didn’t work, Ermakov struck her head, leaving her unconscious and making him believe she’d succumbed. But Maria continued to fight for her life.
40. She May Have Regained Consciousness
When the attack on the Romanov family ended, the guards transported the bodies of Maria and her family from the house onto a truck to bring them to a burial ground. Certain allegations state that either Maria or her sister Anastasia actually woke up on the way onto the truck and started screaming. This reawakening spooked the heck out of Ermakov.
41. She Fought For Her Life
Even as Maria was on her way to her grave, the viciousness continued. Allegedly, Ermakov tried to strike the screaming survivor once more with his bayonet, and failed for a second time. When he realized he couldn’t succeed using his bayonet, he decided to bash either Maria or Anastasia across the face until she stopped screaming. However, if it was Maria, it’s still unclear whether this bayonet beating was the true cause of her death.
42. She Passed With Her Family
The exact details surrounding Maria’s death remain a mystery to this day. However, no matter the cause, there is no doubt that Maria’s last moments were filled with fear, helplessness, and excruciating pain. At the end of it all, Maria still lost her life alongside her beloved family members—all victims of a gruesome execution. But some believe differently—some believe that Maria, by some miracle, made it out alive…
43. She May Have Survived
Not only did Russian officials affirm Maria’s passing, but scientists have as well. Despite this overwhelming evidence, conspiracy theorists still claim that Maria survived the attack and escaped the slaughter. Since the guards tended to like Maria, they could’ve allowed her to leave the basement or the truck when the bodies were left unattended. But some theories go even further…
44. She’s A Conspiracy
Conspiracy theorists took interest in Maria’s story, not only because of what happened on the truck, but also because a man claimed to be her grandson many years later. He created a whole story about how Maria escaped to Romania, where she lived and had a daughter, thus making it possible for him to be a grandson. However, the Association of Descendants of the Russian Nobility of Belgium sued him for false claims.
Still, this didn’t stop others from coming out of the woodwork.
45. She Had Impersonaters
Not only did someone come forward as a grandson, but Maria and her sister also had impersonators come forward. A priest took these “duchesses” to the Ural Mountains to live as nuns, and upon passing, they were buried under the names of the Grand Duchesses they claimed to be. But this was a blatant lie, and eventually, scientists disproved their lofty claims.
46. Her Grave Was Found
After many decades not knowing where the Romanov family laid, officials found Maria and her family’s grave in 1991. Discoverers originally found the grave almost a decade prior, but at the time, the Russian government decided to keep it a secret. However, when they finally opened the grave, they found something quite peculiar.
47. Her Body Was Missing
When officials finally excavated the grave, they realized that only nine bodies instead of the expected 11 actually laid at that site. While many believed it was Anastasia who was missing, scientific advancements eventually proved otherwise. The grave included Maria’s father and mother, as well as her sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, their family doctor, their valet, their cook, and her mother’s maid. However, Maria and Alexei were both missing.
48. Her Remains Lay Elsewhere
As it turns out, officers intentionally moved Maria and Alexei from their family’s burial site, in the hopes of throwing off anyone who found it in the future. If anyone who opposed the Bolshevik government found the burial site, Yurovsky wanted them to think that they got the site wrong, given that the number of bodies was wrong.
If that was was the case, then where was Maria?
49. She Was Finally Found
Almost two decades later, officials finally found Maria and Alexei’s bodies near Yekaterinburg, in a place that matched Yurovsky’s description. The Bolshevik officers burned the bodies and left only partial bones. Yet, when archeologists took a look at the skeletons, they confirmed that the bones belonged to individuals of Maria and Alexei’s ages.
According to scientists, it was highly probable that these were the correct remains.
50. Her Church Canonized Her
Although the end of Maria’s life was devastatingly tragic, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad later identified her as a holy martyr. Then, in 2000, they went the extra mile and canonized Maria as well.
A previous version of this article states that the Ipatiev House was in Moscow. It has been corrected to reflect that it was in Ekaterinburg.