The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the youngest and most famous of Tsar Nicholas II’s four daughters. Born on 18 June 1901, she was executed along with her family by Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918, aged just 17.
The mystery surrounding her death, and the number of people who came forward claiming to be her – notably Anna Anderson – has led to an enduring public fascination with her life and death.
This article provides a brief Anastasia Romanov biography, plus information about her lasting cultural impact, including the wide array of people who later claimed to be her and to have survived the execution, and a summary of the films and books that have been written about Anastasia.
Anastasia’s Early life
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Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov was born on 18 June 1901 the fourth daughter of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova, Russia’s last Tsarina.
Anastasia was chosen as her name because her father celebrated her birth by pardoning a number of students who had recently rioted in St Petersburg – one of the many meanings of the name Anastasia is “breaker of chains”.
Along with her elder sisters (Olga Romanov, Tatiana Romanov and Maria Romanov) and, later, her younger brother Alexei Romanov, she was raised in a rather simple style by her parents, who were not believers in ostentatious displays of the Russian Royal family’s wealth. Accordingly, Anastasia was a relatively down to earth and energetic young girl, with a zest for life, and was well known for the pranks that she would play on fellow family members and servants.
Like some of her other siblings (notably Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia), Anastasia’s health was not as good as her parents would have hoped. She suffered from a small deformity in her left foot, as well as a back weakness. There are some suspicions that, because Anastasia and her sisters were prone to bleeding, they were also sufferers, to a lesser exert, of haemophilia.
Because of the poor health of her children, Anastasia’s mother Alexandra sought the counsel of many medical experts – some reputable, others far less so. One of the least reputable but most famous of those she consulted was Grigori Rasputin, a holy man with no medical qualification. He became very close to the family and has a great deal of undue influence on the family.
The Rasputin Anastasia relationship is shrouded in much mystery. She was known to be close to him and, along with two of her sisters attended his funeral. There are persistent rumours that he seduced Anastasia’s mother and sisters, and possibly even Anastasia herself. No evidence has been discovered to support these rumours, but they were widespread through Russian society. So great was his perceived negative influence on the Romanovs that Rasputin (known to many as the Mad Monk) was murdered by members of the Russian nobility, and discredited the royal family in the eyes of the Russian people, perhaps contributing to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
When her father abdicated on 15 March 1917, the family were confined to their residence at the Alexander Palace in St Petersburg. The family initially had hoped that they would be able to go into exile, perhaps to the United Kingdom, as they were quite closely related to the British Royal family. However, the British Government were reluctant to accept Nicholas II and his family, fearing that his arrival could lead to unrest.
Instead, Anastasia and her family were moved to Tobolsk in August by the Russian Provisional Government, who were fearful that the continuing unrest in Russia could lead to their capture by more radical forces such as the Bolsheviks. It wasn’t long, though, before the Bolshevik’s toppled Krensky’s provisional government, however, and the Romanovs were transferred into their custody.
On 30 April 1918, Anastasia and her family were moved to Yekaterinburg, in what was to prove their final move. On 17 July, Princess Anastasia Romanov, her parents, brother, sisters and remaining family staff were ordered to gather in the basement of the house they were being held at, and were executed by Bolshevik forces in a chaotic bloodbath of shooting and fighting. You can read more about the final hours of the Romanovs in our article entitled Romanov Massacre.
The Romanov family’s bodies were dumped into a mass grave nearby. The grave wasn’t discovered until 1970 (see section ‘Search for Proof’), and this led to many claims that some members of the Russian Royal Family had escaped the killing and fled abroad.
Because no proof existed of her death, several people came forward over the next couple of decades claiming to be Princess Anastasia Romanov. At least ten people came forward over the years – most had entirely unconvincing claims, but a few were convincing enough to capture the world’s imagination.
The most famous Anastasia impersonator was an American woman called Anna Anderson. While being treated in a German mental hospital, Anna told doctors that she was, in fact, Anastasia Romanov. Her story was so convincing that many surviving members of the Russian nobility were persuaded to visit her, including Anastasia’s aunt, Olga Romanov, who met Anderson in 1925. Talking about the visit, Olga later told people that:
“As soon as I sat down by that bed in the Mommsen Nursing Home, I knew I was looking at a stranger. … I had left Denmark with something of a hope in my heart. I left Berlin with all hope extinguished.”
Nonetheless, Anderson’s claims continued to attract attention, to the extent that she spend several years in the United States in the late 1920s and early 1930s, becoming briefly a darling of New York society, before being condemned by a judge to a mental hospital and then returning to Germany. Anderson lived in Germany from 1931 before returning to the United States in 1968 for the final years of her life. Anna Anderson died in 1984.
Search for Proof
As noted earlier, the lack of proof of their murder was the main reason why so many people were able to claim that they were Anastasia of the Romanov Dynasty.
Because of the Bolsheviks were concerned that news of the brutality of the death would rally opposition to their tenuous new rule of Russia, the exact nature of the executions was covered up, and the bodies hidden in a mass grave. It wasn’t until 1979, when an amateur Soviet archaeologist stumbled across the grave, that their remains were found. And indeed, even that discovery was not conclusive.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the final two bodies of the Romanov family were dissevered, and some conclusive DNA testing, that solid evidence was able to be used to establish what happened to Anastasia Romanov. You can read more about this in our article – Anastasia Romanov Body Found.
Anastasia Films, Musicals, Plays and Books
There have been many Anastasia Romanov films made, largely based around the conceit that she survived execution in 1918 and fled abroad. You can read more about them below, or you can buy them using the widget here (which takes you direct to Amazon.com).
The first, called ‘Clothes Make the Woman’, was made in 1928, just as Anastasia was arriving in the United States for the first time. It’s absurd plot hinged on Anastasia auditioning for a role to play her own life story on film, and being identified as the real Anastasia.
The simply named ‘Anastasia’, made in 1956, is the most well know film version. A big budget affair, it starred Ingrid Burgman as Anna Anderson / Anastasia, as well as Yul Brynner. You can see some clips from the film in the video below.
More recently, in 1997, an animated Anastasia Walt Disney movie (also called, imaginatively, ‘Anastasia’) was released, starring Meg Ryan as Anastasia escapes Russia and an undead Rasputin. (Seriously, I’m not making this up – have a look at the official trailer:
So there you have it – the comprehensive answer to the burning question of ‘Is Anastasia a Disney movie?’.
Anastasia’s story has also been told in plays (‘Anastasia’ by Marcellle Maurette’) and musicals (‘Anya’ by George Abbott and Guy Bolton). Anya premiered on Broadway in 1965, but by then the Anastasia legend had faded, and it survived only 16 preview and 16 regular performances before being closed.
Books written about Anastasia have included ‘Anastasia: the Riddle of Anna Anderson’ by Peter Kurth and ‘The Romanov Prophecy’ by Steve Berry.
Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova should not be confused with Anastasia Romanova Zakharyina-Yerieva, the first wife of Ivan the Terrible, born in 1530 and died in 1560. You can find more about the first Romanov Anastasia by visiting the (first) Anastasia Romanov Wikipedia page.