The fateful July evening in 1918 when the Romanovs perished has gone down in infamy. Yet while experts have spent decades investigating the mystery surrounding Anastasia and Alexei Romanov, we often forget the eldest Imperial heir: Olga Nikolaevna Romanova. Go back in time and rewrite history with these facts about the doomed Grand Duchess.
Olga Romanova Facts
1. Girl Problems
Olga was the eldest child of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his wife Tsarina Alexandra. When she was born on November 15, 1895, the Russian people were deeply disappointed she wasn’t a boy. Nicholas and Alexandra, however, were overjoyed, and doted on the young girl. But by the time their short lives were over, this happy family knew immense tragedy.
2. Good Things Come in Twos
Olga and her next-closest sibling Tatiana were known as “The Big Pair” around the palace, while their younger sisters Maria and Anastasia were called “The Little Pair.” Only two years apart in age, Olga and Tatiana not only shared a room together, they also dressed alike, and were each other’s closest confidantes.
3. The Royal Disease
Today, we know that Olga’s little brother Alexei was cursed with deadly hemophilia and that the females of his line were carriers of the insidious gene—but few people know the sinister ways it played out in the family. The Tsar and Tsarina were well aware of the illness, but kept it a state secret while they lived. And that’s not even the worst part.
4. It Runs in the Family
While Alexei was in the most danger from the illness because he was a boy, many people close to the Imperial family reported that all the girls, including Olga, bled abnormal amounts. Olga’s sister Maria even once nearly died from a haemorrhage during a routine tonsil removal, and the Empress Alexandra had to force the doctor to keep going. Nothing to see here, peasants…
5. Worth the Wait
Olga had blue eyes, brown hair, a wide face, and a ski-slope nose, but she struggled with insecurities well into her teenage years. She was widely considered less attractive than her younger sisters Tatiana and Maria, who were both court beauties. But it turned out Olga was just a late bloomer: As her mother’s friend put it, “As a child she was plain, at 15, she was beautiful.”
6. Money Can’t Buy You Happiness
Despite being rich and beautiful, Olga was very unlucky in love. She went through several suitors, but none of them seemed to stick. For one, Olga was notoriously picky: When she went to meet her potential husband Prince Carol of Romania, she found him dull. But there might have been a more tragic reason for her indifference.
7. Wishful Thinking
Long after their ignoble end, rumors persisted that at least one of the poor Romanov children were still alive and hiding in Europe. Although little Anastasia was the most famous, a woman named Marga Boodts emerged decades after the tragedy and claimed to be Olga herself. Boodts even had the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II. But the truth was much sadder than all that.
8. Gone Girl
Unfortunately, most historians believe there is no hope to be had when it comes to the Romanov heirs. After unearthing bodies from the Ipatiev House decades later, experts confirm that all the Romanovs—including shrewd, headstrong Olga—perished that fateful day.
9. Hello, Nurse!
The Grand Duchess’s romances always had a tragic aspect. A couple of years later, she was smitten with her “golden Mitya,” a man named Dmitri Chakh-Bagov. Dmitri came in as a wounded fighter during WWI, and Olga nursed him back to health. It was incredibly romantic, but their liaison had a chilling dark side.
10. Kiss and Tell
Though Chakh-Bagov cared for Olga—and even claimed he’d slay Rasputin for her and her family—he would also brag about bagging a Grand Duchess of Russia to all of his friends. When he’d been in his cups, Olga’s “golden Mitya” was more than happy to display her love letters to the other officers. Not very cool.
11. High and Mighty
Although Olga could be kind, she also had the worst temper of all her siblings, and was more than a little spoiled about being the eldest daughter of the most powerful family in Russia. Once, she got annoyed at having to sit for a painting—and her words to the artist were absolutely brutal. She sneered at him, “You are a very ugly man and I don’t like you one bit!”
12. Standing up for the Big Guy
Olga’s absurdly domineering attitude extended into all aspects of her life. When the whole family read the biblical story of David and Goliath, Olga missed the whole “protect the little guy” moral of the story and actually…sided with Goliath? Yeah, she sided with the monstrous, villainous giant and not the hero.
13. Cool, Negative, and Thirteen
Though Olga idolized her father, her relationship with her mother was much more complicated. Like many girls, she went through a rebellious teen phase and started taking it out on Alexandra. As the Empress once complained to her husband in a letter, “Olga is always most unamiable about every proposition.” Even so, Olga may have had good reason to dislike her mother…
14. Our Friend Rasputin
With Empress Alexandra increasingly beside herself about Alexei’s illness, she recruited the infamous mystic and “holy man” Grigori Rasputin to help heal her beloved son. That much has gone down in history, but not many people know just how close Rasputin got to the other Romanov siblings. For one, Alexandra made Olga and the rest call him “Our Friend”—and that’s just the tip of the creepy iceberg.
15. Bosom Buddy
Perhaps believing that the closer the whole family was with Rasputin, the more his “cure” would work, Empress Alexandra also instructed Olga and the other siblings to share their deepest secrets with the holy man. She also encouraged them to perform make-shift confessionals with him. Trust exercise or the beginnings of a super-disturbing cult? You tell me.
16. Dress Code Optional
Not everyone in the palace was under Rasputin’s spell, and Olga’s governess Sofia Tyutcheva was decidedly anti-creepy holy dude. One day, Sofia entered the royal nursery and made a horrific discovery. The young, sheltered girls were with Rasputin, completely relaxed, all while dressed only in their thin nightgowns.
17. Nothing to See Here
Sofia quite rightly reported this gross scene to the Tsar Nicholas, who wasn’t as mesmerized by Rasputin as the rest of his family. Nicholas II immediately requested that Rasputin stop his casual nursery visits. Nightmare over, right? Not even close. Alexandra was so enraged at the governess, she had her fired in retaliation.
18. Imperial Censorship
Olga’s love of reading often brought her to her mother’s personal library, where she would constantly borrow new books. But this was Command Control Olga we’re talking about, so the little Princess took it one step further. Pretty soon, she was “joking” to her mother that she had to read a novel first in order to make sure it was appropriate for the Empress.
19. Where There’s Smoke…
According to a persistent rumor at the time, Rasputin had not only seduced Empress Alexandra into her bed, but also the four Romanov girls, including Olga. Though this might seem like vicious gossip, disturbing signs point elsewhere. Olga’s aunt reported seeing Rasputin “caressing” the girls, and one servant claimed he had assaulted her in bed.
20. Put a Ring on It
According to one source, one of Olga’s many potential suitors was her cousin, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. However, Pavlovich broke off the engagement soon after—for a very disturbing reason. According to some historians, he despised Rasputin and couldn’t stand the Romanovs’ indulgence of the mad monk. Yet this was far from the last time Olga and Dmitri crossed paths.
21. Humble Beginnings
Despite Olga’s naturally haughty personality, the Emperor and Empress tried to make their children live as simply as possible. The palace servants never called the Romanov children by their royal titles, and Alexandra even forced them to sleep on hard cots every day, and to take cold baths every morning. But one day, Olga really outdid herself…
22. Putting the Chariot Before the Cart
Sometimes Olga’s spoiled brat ways got completely out of hand. One day, the children were visiting a museum with a display of all the state carriages in Russia. Without skipping a beat, Olga imperiously ordered her servant to prepare the most extravagant carriage on display for her to ride in—it didn’t work. Uh, excuse you, Princess.
23. I’m on to You
Of all her sisters, blunt hot-tempered Olga was the most likely to see through Rasputin—and there are signs that she was fighting to break free. Cloistered as she was in the palace, she seemed to sense that Russia was uprising, and once asked a servant, “Why has the feeling in the country changed against my father?” But these unsettling inklings would soon turn into full-blown terror.
24. The End of the Mad Monk
On December 30, 1916, Rasputin was infamously killed in a gruesome, drawn-out assassination that lasted through most of the night. When Olga and her sisters found out the news, an eye-witness said they “huddled up closely together” on their sofa, crying for “Father Grigori.” But that was just the beginning of the nightmare.
25. I Know What You Did Last Winter
When Olga heard about Rasputin’s horrific end, she had a sinister feeling that she knew exactly who’d done it: Her ex-fiance Dmitri Pavlovich and his friend Felix Yussupov. Eerily, history proved the Grand Duchess right—the men were behind the hit. Mad monk or not, it’d be pretty rough finding out your ex-lover brutally offed a man. And that wasn’t all..,
26. Desperate Times..
After Rasputin’s death, Olga made a dark confession. A month later, she admitted to a nurse she was working with that Rasputin’s death had been “necessary.” There is even some evidence that of all the Imperial Romanov family, Olga was the only one who didn’t attend his funeral. Yet Rasputin’s dark fate was nothing compared to the end of the Romanovs.
27. Royal Burnout
In order to make herself useful during WWI, Olga took up employment as a nurse and cared for injured combatants. The harrowing work took a disturbing toll on her. Still a sheltered princess in many ways, Olga began acting out in rages, once smashing her umbrella through a window and, in another incident, tearing up a cloak room during a tantrum.
28. Arsenic and New Place
In order to combat Olga’s deteriorating mental health, her family put her into a desk job instead of anywhere near the front lines. But in this case, the cure was even worse than the disease. To calm her down even further, doctors prescribed the Grand Duchess regular arsenic injections, a common “medication” at the time.
29. Red Scare
Olga was intensely patriotic about Russia—to a fault. During WWI, when Russia was fighting against Germany, Olga commented disparagingly on an acquaintance’s heritage to her mother Alexandra, sniping “She may perhaps be a real bloodthirsty German.” Her words were more hurtful than she even meant them, since Empress Alexandra was also German.
30. A Fright at the Opera
On September 10, 1911, Olga experienced a chilling omen of the terrors to come for her family. That night, she and her sister Tatiana were attending the opera with her father when rebels assassinated the minister Pyotr Stolypin. Even worse, the incident happened right in front of them.
31. The Beginning of the End
Olga may have been the most observant Romanov, but this only meant she probably had no illusions when the end came. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Russian people temporarily detained the whole Imperial family and held them captive in a series of makeshift prisons. From that point on, everything unraveled.
32. The Princess in the Tower
In Imperial Russia, the royal family was almost never seen in public, and this went double for their children, particularly the girls. As a result, Olga and her siblings were beyond sheltered. Until they were nearly adults, they had never even stepped foot in a shop, let alone seen any money exchanged between merchants. Maybe it’s no wonder the common people rebelled…
33. Catch Me If You Can
One day, Olga was on a rare trip into the outside world, and she witnessed an officer detaining another man. The naïve girl’s response was both hilarious and absurd. She got very alarmed, thinking he was going to handcuff her because she had just misbehaved in front of her tutor. The Romanovs: They’re not just like us.
34. Oh, Brother
Olga’s mother Alexandra was always on her case to behave like the eldest and act like a lady, but one of her flaws was apparently unforgivable. According to the Empress, Olga didn’t take good enough care of her young, fragile brother Alexei. One time during a dinner, the seven-year-old Alexei ran wild, teasing the girls and licking his plate. Somehow, this was all Olga’s fault, even though she was only 16 at the time.
35. A Close Shave
Almost as soon as they were captured by the Russian rebels, the Romanov children caught a nasty case of measles and had to shave their beautiful hair. But poor Olga had it worst of all. She developed pleurisy, a serious infection of the lungs, and found it difficult recovering after their reduced circumstances and emotional upheavals.
36. Packing Heat
With a small twist of fate, Olga Romanov and her family might have been saved from their infamous end. During one of their first detainments, Olga’s beloved father Nicholas gave her a gun to protect herself, telling her to hide it in her boot. But, fearing for her safety, a sympathetic guard begged her to give it up. She did…and went to her death unarmed.
37. The Unmounted Cossack Rides Again
To her mother’s great disdain, Olga was bit of a tomboy. Growing up, she went under the playful, masculine pseudonym “The Unmounted Cossack” in some of her letters. When Empress Alexandra found out, she lectured Olga viciously, sniping at her, “Don’t be so wild and kick about and show your legs, it is not pretty.” Thanks, mom.
38. Book Smart
While Olga’s sister Anastasia famously hated schoolwork and did everything she could to avoid her studies, Olga was the exact opposite. She was incredibly smart and academic, with her tutor praising her “remarkably quick brain.” She also loved to read, and relished any homework that her teachers gave to her.
39. Cash and Carry
At one point during their captivity, Nicholas and Alexandra urged their children to sew jewels into their clothing in order to conceal them from the Bolsheviks, who were confiscating priceless heirlooms. That way, they’d have valuables on hand if they ever escaped. A good idea in theory, but these precious baubles would come back to haunt them.
40. The Body Politic
By 1918, the Bolsheviks had ferried the Romanovs to their final destination: the notorious Iaptiev House. While there, Olga grew more and more depressed, and lost a starling amount of weight. And no wonder: Eerily, she may have understood she had days to live. One guard recalled her “gazing sadly into the distance.”
41. What a Chore
Life at the Ipatiev House was harsh. For perhaps the first time ever, Olga and her sisters were forced to do their own laundry and make their own food. They wore a dirty uniform of white shirts and black skirts, and their hair was often unkempt. It was a far cry from their royal luxuries, even though their Spartan upbringing had prepared them for it.
42. Baby Boy
Although she was never good enough for her mother, Olga was a caring older sister to her brother Alexei. She doted on the little boy, and called him “Baby.”
43. A Helping Hand
Even while fearing for her life, Olga kept to old habits. When she witnessed one of the guards fall from a ladder and hurt his foot, she rushed over to him and explained that she had been a nurse. Although the man refused her help or any of her treatments, she stuck too him and nicknamed him her “poor fellow.”
44. I Love a Man in Uniform
In 1913, Olga fell deeply in love with a junior officer in the military, Pavel Voronov. Sadly, they were doomed to an utterly heartbreaking end. With their enormous differences in class and station, they could never be together, and Olga had to repress her feelings whenever her parents were around. And then it took an even crueler turn.
45. Always the Bridesmaid
Just months after meeting and falling in love with Voronov, Olga had to watch as he married one of her ladies-in-waiting instead. Olga was acutely aware when the day of the wedding came, and wrote about it in her diary. Her words were wretched: “God grant him fortune, beloved,” she scrawled. “It’s sad, distressing.”
46. Daddy’s Little Girl
Olga was very much a daddy’s girl, and loved her father Tsar Nicholas deeply. She even wore a necklace with a pendant of St. Nicholas almost everywhere she went, just so she could keep a piece of her father with her. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that father and daughter were standing side-by-side when their end came.
47. End of the Line
In the midnight hours of July 17, 1918, the end finally came. Olga, her siblings, and her Imperial parents were all forced into a basement to face a Bolshevik firing squad. Bullets and gunpowder filled the tiny room, but it was only when the smoke cleared that the disoriented soldiers realized the execution had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
48. Once More, Without Feeling
The night of the execution, Olga and her siblings were wearing their jewel-encrusted clothing, and the diamonds and stones acted as bullet-proof vests. The bullets bounced off of the clothing, wounding but not killing the children, though Nicholas and Alexandra had perished. When the Bolsheviks discovered that the children were still alive, they had to perform even more gruesome acts.
49. Rest in Peace
The men found Olga, still alive, cowering in the back wall of the basement room and clutching at her sister Tatiana. Both girls were screaming for their mother, who was of course no longer alive. Even with a bayonet, the officers had difficult piercing their bejeweled clothing, and had to resort to shooting them at close range. Other men followed suit with the rest of the Romanov family.
50. Close to Her Heart
After the Bolsheviks extinguished the entire Romanov family, they set about disposing of the bodies. When they did, they made a disturbing discovery. Each of the Romanov girls was wearing an amulet with Grigori Rasputin’s image hidden inside. Even years after his death, the mad monk still had an eerie hold on them.