For centuries, the Romanovs were one of the most powerful dynasties in the world...and yet they will forever be remembered for how it all came crashing down. Over 100 years ago in 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and all five of their children were executed. But what were they like underneath their aristocratic masks, and what led them to their chilling final moments?
Empress Alexandra, the matriarch of the Romanov brood, was the last Tsarina of Russia. Yet she had surprising beginnings. Born Princess Alix of Hesse and the Rhine in 1872, she was actually a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—and Victoria's favorite grandchild to boot. But for all that Alexandra's life looked like a fairy tale, it quickly turned into an absolute nightmare.
Growing up, Alexandra’s family hid a dark secret. The men of their royal line tended to suffer from the often fatal condition of hemophilia, an illness that prevents blood from clotting. When Alexandra was barely a year old, her hemophiliac brother Frederich died after a nasty fall, and Alexandra herself was a carrier of the brutal disorder.
Yes, this is absolutely foreshadowing. Only, that wasn't the only tragedy coming her way.
In 1878, an outbreak of Diptheria entered Alexandra's home. It left horror in its wake. Both Alexandra and four of her siblings fell ill alongside her father, Grand Duke Louis IV. Throughout, her mother Princess Alice refused to leave her children's sides and managed to nurse Alexandra and some of her siblings back to health. But this came at a great cost.
Eventually, Alexandra managed to survive her brush with mortality, but the people she loved most weren't so lucky. In December, Alexandra's tireless mother also caught the disease, and it hit her hard. She eventually succumbed to it alongside Alexandra’s most beloved sister, Marie. All this was enough to make any young girl turn bitter, but Alexandra's transformation was ferocious.
As a child, Alexandra’s mother nicknamed her “Sunny” for her happy, smiling disposition. But overnight, she turned from carefree to alarming. The young Alexandra was reportedly so bereft at her loss that her whole personality changed. Rather than cheery, she became solemn and withdrawn...and that was the least of her worrisome behaviors.
As Alexandra grew up, she turned almost neurotically stubborn. People who knew her best noted her tendency to think she was always right, with her aunt writing, "She will never yield one iota of power.” Even worse, this imperiousness came with a huge helping of nerves. Alexandra was continually high-strung and paranoid—and none of these traits were good for an absolute ruler. It was all heading down a very dark path.
When Alexandra was 12 years old, she had an almost literal date with destiny. In 1884, she met the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, then just a prince, at her sister's wedding. Over the years, they grew closer and closer, and soon they were both very much in love. Nicholas even spoke of her with aching adoration in his diary, writing, "It is my dream to one day marry Alix H."
But before that could happen, the couple had to go through one formidable obstacle.
Simply put, Nicholas's family hated Alexandra, with most of that hate coming from his mother Maria. The matriarch disliked how insular, neurotic, and stubborn the princess was, and doubted that she could ever make a suitable Tsarina for Russia. Besides that, Empress Maria was disdainful of Alexandra's German heritage and deeply suspicious that she carried the gene for hemophilia (which...she did).
With everything working against them, it seemed Alexandra and Nicholas weren't meant to be. And then fate intervened.
In 1894, Nicholas’s father Alexander III fell dangerously ill and was on his deathbed. This twist of fate changed everything. Suddenly, Nicholas was about to become Tsar and desperately needed to start producing heirs. Since Alexandra was the only woman he would consent to marry, his mother and father gave in at last and let the engagement go ahead.
It happened none too soon: The old Tsar died just weeks later, and Nicholas became the ruler of all Russia. Once more, Alexandra looked like she had a bright future ahead of her—but when it came to her choice of fiance, she probably should have thought twice...
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The future Tsar Nicholas II was born in the lap of luxury at the extravagant Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg. From the moment he was born, he knew nothing but comfort and excess. If you think that would make him a spoiled brat, you're right on the money. Nicholas II was one of history's biggest bratty rich kids—and Russia would pay dearly for it.
The future Tsar's family tended to baby young "Nicky," but that was far from the only nickname he earned during the course of his life. It was certainly one of the most flattering. Later on, people would call him Vile Nicholas, Nicholas the Hangman, and Bloody Nicholas. But there may have been a brutal reason for his bad personality.
Like Alexandra, Nicholas's charmed existence as a European royal hid a seriously messed up childhood. In fact, when he was just a boy, Nicholas witnessed his grandfather Alexander II's violent, bloody end after a radical threw a grenade at him. Little did Nicholas know at the time, but he would suffer a similar fate before long.
So when Nicholas finally did marry Alexandra, they were BOTH severely maladjusted. And let me tell you, it showed.
Nicholas and Alexandra's upcoming nuptials were fast approaching, but the Tsar had some serious skeletons in his closet. Sure, the pair were pretty much love-at-first-sight, but Nicholas still had some messy bachelor days in him. Nicky started a brief but wild affair with Mathilde Kschessinska, a stunning ballerina.
Um, sure doesn't sound like this guy is ready to tie the knot. His wedding was only further proof of this.
Nicholas quite literally rushed into marriage after his father's passing. Using his mother's upcoming birthday as an excuse to suspend the traditional mourning period, Nicholas carted over Alexandra from Germany and married her on November 26, 1894—a bare week after his dad's funeral. As a result, the nuptials had very little pomp and circumstance, at least as royal weddings generally go.
There was no reception or even honeymoon for the two lovebirds, and Alexandra later told her sister that it was “a mere continuation of masses for the dead." And there were darker days ahead.
Nicholas's ascension spelled doom for Russia, but people didn't know that quite yet. They decided his coronation was an occasion worthy of celebration, so the court held a massive celebration the day after the event. The government offered free food, drinks, and souvenirs to the entire city of Moscow. It was supposed to be a joyous time—but it didn't take long before it turned into a horror story.
The celebration was held at Khodynka Field, the only place nearby that could fit all the people who were supposed to come. But this was no peaceful meadow. Thousands upon thousands of Russians gathered, and soon rumors that there wouldn't be enough food and drink caused a massive, destructive stampede. More than 1,300 people died in "the Khodynka Tragedy."
If the Khodynka tragedy was a bad start to Nicholas's rule, he soon made it even worse.
More than anything else, both Nicholas II and Alexandra believed in one thing: God chose them to be Tsar and Tsarina. It didn't matter that Nicholas wasn't prepared, he was God's agent on Earth, so anything he did was God's will, not a mistake. Alexandra, with her usual headstrong belief in herself, backed him right up. Yeah, this was a recipe for disaster.
But for all Nicholas and Alexandra's PR issues, they were hiding more scandalous secrets in the boudoir.
Nicholas and Alexandra may have been stately monarchs, but they had a very steamy bedroom life. For one, they insisted on—gasp!—sharing a bed. While this may not seem like much, most royal marriages at the time were all business, and many monarchs kept separate bedrooms. Oh, but the Tsar and Tsarina got much dirtier than that.
They didn’t just have pet names for each other, they also had pet names for their private, er, parts. Nicholas was “Boysy” and she was “Lady.” Hey, I didn’t say they were original pet names. And with all this boudoir talk, the inevitable happened.
Just months after the royal wedding, the Tsar and Tsarina made a momentous announcement. They were expecting a child. Everyone in the palace eagerly awaited a boy, most especially Alexandra herself. After all, giving Russia a male heir would solidify her place in court and transform her from a suspicious outsider to the mother of the crown prince. This...is not what happened.
On November 15, 1895, Empress Alexandra had...a baby girl, Olga. Still, the Tsar and Tsarina's reaction was surprising. While the Dowager Empress Maria was certainly appalled that there was no direct male heir, Alexandra and Nicholas didn't seem to mind. As Nicholas remarked, “We are grateful she was a daughter; if she was a boy she would have belonged to the people, being a girl she belongs to us."
Yet despite the happy faces they put on, there were some sinister signs around the baby girl.
In the first months and years of little Princess Olga's life, disturbing reports began coming out of the palace. Aides whispered that the Romanov children bled abnormal amounts, stirring up the old rumors that Alexandra was a carrier of the hemophilia gene that had felled her own brother. For now, though, they remained rumors...but things didn't get better for Olga.
The Romanovs might have lived in the lap of luxury, but their lifestyle was actually somewhat shocking for the time. The Tsar and Tsarina made all their children, starting with Olga, live as simply as possible. The palace servants never called them by their royal titles, and Alexandra even forced them to sleep on hard cots every night while taking cold baths every morning.
If it was meant to give Olga and her siblings some humility, it didn't work...
Although Olga could be kind, she also had a huge temper and liked to lord her status as the eldest Romanov over everybody. 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!" Then again, Olga suffered in ways few could see.
Olga had some seriously awkward teenage years and, being a Russian Princess, she couldn't exactly lay low and ride them out. Unfortunately, people considered her one of the homeliest looking people in her family, and her future siblings Tatiana and Maria far outshone her as court beauties. Aware of her shortcomings, Olga reacted in an unexpected way.
To her mother’s great disdain, Olga was bit of a tomboy, and she took it to extremes. 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.”
Eventually, Ogla did grow out of her awkward period...but her sudden-onset hotness was a huge liability.
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.
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.” Little did she know, far worse tragedies were in store.
Less than two years after Olga was born, Empress Alexandra gave birth to...yet another girl, the Grand Duchess Tatiana. By this time, Alexandra and Nicholas were definitely getting antsy for a boy, and their response was bone-chilling. When she saw that she had given birth to another girl, Alexandra asked, “What will the nation say?” Luckily, Tatiana had a secret weapon.
Tatiana was a stunning child—and more than that, she looked exactly like her mother Alexandra, who was no slouch in the looks department, either. The young princess also had an innate bearing that courtiers couldn't help but notice, and people said that any dress Tatiana wore would instantly look amazing. In other words, the girl had style in spades...and she knew what to do with it.
Growing up, Tatiana's siblings called her “the governess” because of her controlling nature. Indeed, the Romanov bunch made her their unofficial leader, in spite of the fact that Olga was right there. They especially deployed Tatiana whenever someone needed to sweet-talk Tsar Nicholas—after all, she really did resemble their mother. Yet as Tatiana grew up, she got one rude awakening.
When Tatiana was just 13, she became an honorary colonel in the Russian army. Though this was largely a symbolic position, the serious Tatiana took up the leadership role with abandon. Since her regiment was the 8th Voznesensky Uhlans, she even changed her signature to “Uhlan.” But just as she got set up in her new post, the men she commanded initiated her in a scandalous way.
The cavalrymen under Tatiana's “command” immediately noted her combination of regal bearing and childish innocence. As such, they decided to haze her and expose her to lewd material. One of them anonymously sent her a cutout picture of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. You know, the one with the exposed...delicate area.
While Olga reportedly thought this was hilarious, Tatiana was beside herself with shock. Only, her family had other things to worry about.
In 1899, a new catastrophe struck the Romanovs: Empress Alexandra got pregnant again, hoped for a male heir, and got another daughter instead, the Grand Duchess Maria. Now, this was a blow. Two girls in a row might be bad luck, but three was beginning to look like a curse for Alexandra and Nicholas. Even Queen Victoria weighed in on the matter, writing, "I regret the third girl for the country."
The Tsar and Tsarina were deeply disappointed, but Maria did offer some consolation.
Maria was a gorgeous young girl, with many relatives and family friends constantly commenting on her natural beauty. Her family nicknamed her big 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 angel. But her angelic face hid a disturbing truth.
In 1914, Maria faced a life-threatening ordeal. In a seemingly routine operation to remove her tonsils, the princess began bleeding profusely while on the table, so much so that the doctor operating stopped partway through. It was a clear indication that the Russian Princess was a carrier of hemophilia...but no one in the palace was ready to face the truth.
Empress Alexandra, frantic to keep everything under control, commanded the doctor to finish the procedure. Only, things were most certainly not under control.
Maria’s sweet disposition and looks earned her the nickname "treasure" from her father Nicholas, but her sisters treated her horribly. Naming her their "fat little bow-bow," they took advantage of her naivety to get her to do all manner of tasks and chores for them. At one point, her eldest sister Olga successfully demanded Maria write a letter to their mother insisting Olga get her own room.
Still, if her family made fun of her, Maria was certainly attracting positive attention elsewhere.
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. In fact, these crushes often got too close for comfort.
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. He showed it in a disturbing way. To the end of his days, Mountbatten kept a photo of Maria at his bedside, even while he staunchly believed that no photograph could do her beauty justice. In the end, though, all he would have was a memory.
Alexandra and Nicholas were never going to give up on having a male heir—so 1901 was particularly crushing. That was the year they gave birth to their fourth and most famous daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia. If the first three girls had successively dampened their morale, Anastasia shattered it. Reportedly, when Nicholas heard the news, he had to take a long walk to collect himself. There was, however, a more immediate problem.
While the three eldest Romanov girls were prim, proper, and ladylike...Anastasia was not. Anastasia was reportedly a naughty child and often got into trouble for her conduct. She would kick and scratch her playmates, pull pranks on household staff, and even climb trees when she didn't want to do homework. On her good days, this earned her the nickname "imp." But her bad days? Watch out.
Princess Anastasia is almost a hallowed, mythical name today, but the real girl was a lot more human than we like to think. She could be so obstinate in her pranks and teasing that one of her cousins even said that she was “nasty to the point of being evil.” Yeah, not someone I'd want to babysit. Still, no one deserves the fate she received.
Anastasia and her sister Maria, as the two youngest daughters, were the "Little Pair." They shared a room, dressed almost alike, and spent a lot of their time together. The elder two sisters Olga and Tatiana were “The Big Pair" and likewise shared a room and told each other secrets. But as time went on, the rot at the center of the Romanovs grew more obvious
We already know that the Romanov daughters lived spartan lives, but their parents also kept them completely apart from the real world. Due partly to the volatile political climate in Russia, and partly to the fact that they were girls, all the public usually saw of them came from photographs. And when a boy finally did come along, things only got worse.
In 1904, the Tsar and Tsarina finally got what they wanted: Alexandra gave birth to a boy, Alexei. When the Empress finally emerged from her haze, she looked out across the room and saw a sea of joyous faces. She knew exactly what that meant, crying out: "Oh, it cannot be true. It cannot be true. Is it really a boy?" It really was. The only person who was more excited than the Tsarina? The Tsar himself.
Later that day, Tsar Nicholas II retired to his office to write in his diary, as he often did. He wrote that the day was "a great and unforgettable day for us...there are no words to thank God enough for sending us this comfort in a time of sore trials. From the very minute of his birth, everyone in the royal family saw Alexei as their great white hope. This hope was sorely misplaced.
It took only mere moments for the celebration over Tsesarevich Alexei's birth to turn terrifying. At first, he seemed a perfectly healthy child. His aunt noted that he was "an amazingly hefty baby with a chest like a barrel" and "the air of a warrior knight." However, when the time came to cut the umbilical cord, they realized something was seriously wrong.
After Alexandra's labor, doctors noticed that Alexei’s cut umbilical cord wound wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was the first sign that the worst had happened. Over the next few days, the Imperial family confronted the whole, horrific reality. Alexandra was a carrier of hemophilia and not only that, she had passed it on to her only son. Their reaction was infamous.
The Romanovs were thunderstruck with grief at Alexei's illness, and it drove them to a controversial decision. They decided to keep his hemophilia a state secret, known only to their loyal inner circle, in order to support stability and peace in their country. It was supposed to save them...but boy, it did not. In no time, the secret took a grievous toll on the family.
By now, nervous exhaustion and her many disappointing pregnancies had turned Alexandra into a listless and immobile shade of herself. She ate and slept very little, had swollen feet, and took herbal medicine to strengthen her pulse. She was also addicted to Veronal, a kind of sedative; as she once confessed to a friend, “I’m literally saturated with it.”
Judging by these symptoms, modern doctors believe the Tsarina may have suffered from a thyroid condition called Grave’s disease, but she would get no relief any time soon.
The family named their firstborn son Alexei, but for the most part, they just called him "Baby." Reportedly, the mood of the whole Russian court often hinged on how Alexei was feeling. When he was healthy, the rest of his family was far more relaxed and pleasant, while his more serious episodes would fill them with great worry and melancholy. And they had reason to worry.
Cuts that won't stop bleeding aren't the only problems that come with hemophilia. Alexei had countless other symptoms and concerns, but the worst by far was when internal lesions caused blood to seep into his joints. As his doctor put it, “Blood destroyed bones and tendons; he couldn’t bend or unbend his arms or legs."
In those moments, Alexei could scarcely move without feeling excruciating pain. The entire royal household did everything in their power to keep these episodes from happening—but they were only delaying the inevitable.
In 1907, a three-year-old Alexei Romanov stumbled and hurt his leg. Totally normal for a boy his age, but Alexei Romanov wasn't like other boys. The minor fall caused internal hemorrhaging. Within mere hours, the little Tsesarevich was at death's door. He lay in bed, contorted in pain, with dark patches under his eyes and a frighteningly swollen leg.
Doctors frantically did everything they could to save the boy, but nothing had any effect. The family grew desperate—and they found help in a sinister place.
Running out of options, Alexandra called for a strange mystic from Siberia who claimed to be able to heal the boy. His name was Grigori Rasputin, and the Tsarina invited him straight into the royal palace. He prayed over Alexei's withering frame and said: "Your pain is going away. You will soon be well. You must thank God for healing you. And now, go to sleep."
Then Rasputin left and the Romanovs prayed for a miracle. They got one.
By the next morning, Alexei Romanov was a whole new kid. While he'd lay in agony before, scarcely able to move, he now sat up in bed, his fever and swelling gone. It truly did seem like a miracle. From that day, the Tsar and Tsarina trusted Rasputin above all else when it came to Alexei's health. But inviting this mystic into their lives had terrible consequences.
With this "miracle cure," Rasputin had fully enchanted Empress Alexandra. That much has gone down in history, but not many people know the whole, terrifying story. In truth, Alexandra had been taken in by mystics for quite some time by then. Her mother-in-law Maria had even sneered at her taste for “crazy, dirty, religious fanatics" and worried at her judgment. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Alexei may have been Rasputin's primary charge, but the rest of the family had disturbing relationships with him too. Alexandra made all her children call him “Our Friend," and further forced them to share their deepest secrets with the holy man, performing make-shift confessionals with him. Soon enough, people started to notice.
As the Dowager Empress Maria's "dirty" fanatics comment makes clear, not everyone in the palace was under Rasputin’s spell, and the girls' governess Sofia Tyutcheva was decidedly anti-creepy holy dude. One day, the governess entered the royal nursery and made a horrific discovery. The young girls were spending time with Rasputin, all while dressed only in their thin nightgowns.
The fallout to this was more unsettling than you can imagine.
Sofia quite rightly reported this gross scene to Tsar Nicholas, who wasn’t quite as mesmerized by Rasputin at that point as his wife was. Nicholas immediately requested that Rasputin stop his casual nursery visits. Nightmare over, right? Not even close. Alexandra was so angry at the governess that she fired her in retaliation. It escalated from there.
According to a persistent rumor at the time, Rasputin had not only seduced Empress Alexandra, but also the four Romanov girls. Though this might seem like vicious gossip, there are still disturbing signs. One aunt reported seeing Rasputin “caressing” the girls, and the Mad Monk certainly had a retinue of other high-born women keeping him company. Whatever the case, the cracks started to show.
Throughout her time as Tsarina, Alexandra never quite managed to win the hearts of the Russian people. Despite her best efforts, her German heritage made Russians suspicious of her, and her obsession with Rasputin didn't help. As anti-German sentiment rose in the lead-up to WWI, Russian hatred became even more focused on her and her mystic Rasputin. It was about to reach a breaking point.
Even the younger Romanovs were aware there was danger afoot. The eldest, Olga, appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with Rasputin's power over her parents and fought to break free. She also seemed to sense that Russia was rising up, once asking a servant, “Why has the feeling in the country changed against my father?” These unsettling inklings would soon turn into full-blown terror.
In 1914, WWI broke out. It was the worst thing that could have happened to the Romanovs. The Tsar wasn't prepared for battle and his troops were already exhausted from earlier conflicts. Besides that, Germany was now a machine built for warfare—and Russia was basically fighting back with sticks. It didn't matter how many men Tsar Nicholas had, they just couldn't contend with the Germans. And then Nicholas made a fatal error.
Although Rasputin opposed WWI as well, the mystic had a disastrous vision where he claimed the Russian army would only succeed if the Tsar personally took over command. Nicholas listened and took the charge, but it was a huge mistake. It caused massive losses and unrest, kickstarting the downfall of the Romanovs and nearly everyone they loved.
Russia had somehow managed to stick with Nicholas through scandal after scandal—but WWI broke even the trust of Nicholas's aristocrats. They knew something had to change, and they had just the ticket. On December 30, 1916, powerful courtiers infamously killed Rasputin, stripping the Romanovs of their great favorite.
When the Romanov children found out the news, an eye-witness said they “huddled up closely together” on their sofa, crying for “Father Grigori.” But not everyone among them was so sad...
After Rasputin’s death, Grand Duchess Olga made a dark confession. A month later, she admitted to a nurse 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.
After WWI and Rasputin's end, the Romanovs' realm was in utter shambles. Responding to rumblings of revolution, Tsar Nicholas entered Saint Petersburg and tried to bring his country back under his control. It was useless. In March 1917, he tried to use his guards to quell unrest in Saint Petersburg. But when he ordered them to fire upon the gathering citizenry, he got the shock of his life.
They completely refused, firing into the air instead. With this, the revolution had begun.
Within days of this mutiny, the government pushed Nicholas to resign. The mere idea horrified the Tsar, but what could he do? He had no support and no troops. He agreed to abdicate, and formally ended his rule on March 15, 1917. In doing so, he brought over three centuries of uninterrupted Romanov rule to an end. But his troubles were far from over.
At first, life wasn't so bad for the disgraced Romanovs. While still staying (under guard) at their luxurious Alexander Palace, Nicholas and his family could pretend that things were totally normal. Besides, they had an escape plan all lined up: Nicholas's cousin King George V of England had already assured the family that they could seek asylum with him. Fate, however, had much crueler plans.
King George V looked nearly identical to Nicholas II, and they were very close. Yet when revolution ousted Nicholas, George dealt his cousin an utterly cold-hearted betrayal. He rescinded his offer of safe haven in England. Historians believe that, worried that Nicholas's presence would damage his own monarchy, George reneged out of self-preservation. But he still left the Romanovs to the wolves.
Eventually, the authorities moved Nicholas and his family to the town of Tobolsk, thousands of miles west of Saint Petersburg. There, they continued to live in comfort in the former Governor's Mansion. From this luxurious, isolated vantage point, Nicholas heard that the Bolsheviks had taken control of the government. He noted the development, but it didn't worry him one bit.
It should have. It really should have.
Almost as soon as the Russians captured them, the Romanov children caught a nasty case of measles and had to shave their beautiful hair. The eldest, Olga, even developed pleurisy, a serious infection of the lungs, and they all found it difficult to recover from their various illnesses after their reduced circumstances and emotional upheavals. But as yet, they didn't even know the true meaning of "upheaval."
In April 1918, the Bolsheviks moved the Romanovs to the city of Yekaterinburg—a truly miserable journey. They often had to camp in the middle of nowhere, or ford across frigid rivers. After a grueling, five-day journey, they finally made it to Yekaterinburg. But I wouldn't say they were safe and sound. This was where the Romanovs met their chilling fate.
The revolutionaries didn't look kindly on the Romanovs continuing to live in privilege. As a result, they prepared the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg for the family and called it “the house of special purpose.” As the family entered the house, the captors addressed Nicholas as “citizen Nicholas Romanov,” indicating that their royal titles were a thing of the past. But more hardship was on the way.
Life at the Ipatiev House was harsh. For perhaps the first time ever, the Romanovs had to do their own laundry and make their own food. The girls wore a dirty uniform of white shirts and black skirts, and their hair was often unkempt. For Nicholas, the final humiliation came when he received an order that he could no longer wear epaulets, the last petty symbol of his former authority. Is it any wonder they started acting out?
While she was a captive, the beautiful Maria Romanov caused a tragic scandal. She was always one of the prettiest and definitely the most flirtatious of her sisters, and she soon struck up a close friendship (and possibly more) with the guard Ivan Skorokhodov. He even smuggled in a cake for her 19th birthday. Sadly, they were in for an absolutely heartbreaking end.
Her family discovered their relationship and quickly sent Skorokhodov to prison. Meanwhile, Maria got off with a scolding.
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 in the most brutal way.
In the midnight hours of July 17, 1918, the end finally came. The Romanovs were all forced into a basement to face a Bolshevik firing squad. Bullets and gunpowder filled the tiny room, but when the smoke cleared, the disoriented soldiers made a jaw-dropping realization. The execution had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
On the night of the execution, the Romanov siblings were wearing their jewel-encrusted clothing. As a result, 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 in the first volley. When the Bolsheviks discovered that the children were still alive, they had to round them up again and painstakingly finish the job.
After the Bolsheviks extinguished the entire Romanov family, they set about disposing of the bodies. When they did, they came across 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.
The Bolsheviks buried the bodies of the Romanovs in an unmarked grave, and the Soviet Union did not publicize their passing. In fact, the government didn’t even acknowledge the execution of the Romanov family for eight long years. This led to speculation that some of them might possibly still be alive. Soon, some evidence arose that gave credence to these claims.
In 1922, a patient at an asylum in Berlin infamously claimed to be the youngest Romanov girl, Anastasia. For decades, the so-called "Anna Anderson" was able to fool the extended family into believing she was in fact Anastasia and that the princess had somehow escaped the execution that horrible night. While not everyone bought it, many did comment on how much she looked and acted like the Grand Duchess. Until, that is, the day it came crashing down.
In 1994, experts compared Anna Anderson's tissue to a sample from Anastasia's relative Prince Philip. The findings confirmed the tragic truth. There was no match, disproving Anderson's claim once and for all. Historians now widely believe that Anderson was actually Franziska Schanzkowska, a mentally-ill Polish factory worker.
We know all about the execution of the Romanov family, but who exactly ordered it has remained a mystery. Many historians believe that Lenin and his lieutenant Yakov Sverdlov ordered the attack in lieu of a public trial. Regardless, there wasn't any paper trail, so the buck basically stops with Yakov Yurovsky, who was commandant of the House of Special Purpose.
At least three of the Romanov children had pet dogs at the time of their execution. Two of the dogs died along with the princesses, but the dog belonging to Crown Prince Alexei miraculously escaped. Amazingly, the dog made the trek across Siberia and eventually to England, where he lived out his days close to Windsor Castle.
We still don't know for certain how exactly the Romanov children died, or what happened after the execution was carried out. Based on the condition of their unearthed skeletons, a rather chilling theory is that while Nicholas II was definitely shot, his children were doused with acid and burned at one point, possibly while they were still alive.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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