One 'Forgotten' Romanov Sister's Good Looks Weren't Enough To Save Her From A Bleak End
By Jason Perry
We think of many royals as being born with a silver spoon in their mouths, but Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia has a radically different story. Born into royalty toward the end of the Russian Empire, the Romanov girl was dedicated to nursing, caretaking, and dreaming about her future. But, in her late teens, this dream all came crashing down as the Empire's political climate took a turn for the worse.
The beautiful royal daughter
In 1897, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanova was born into a crumbling Russian Empire that was on the brink of revolution. Her father was Tsar Nicholas the Second, the last Tsar of Russia. Though the Romanovs are most remembered today thanks to stories surrounding Tatiana's little sister Anastasia, Tatiana was beloved in her own right — just not at first.
A slight disappointment
At a time shortly after delivering Tatiana into the world, her mother, Empress Alexandra, looked around after waking up and saw anxious faces all around her. She knew what troubled them because it also troubled her. Their expressions said it all. “My God," she cried, "It is again a daughter. What will the nation say, what will the nation say?"
Made her mark
Despite her mother's fears in those early days, Tatiana showed a strong acumen and impressive presence from a young age. Her parents raised her under somewhat harsh conditions in order to build character. While sleeping on barren cots to taking cold showers, Tatiana excelled at keeping her chin up and making the most of a bad situation.
One of five
Back then, Tatiana stood out as the most famous of Tsar Nicholas' daughters, but she wasn't alone in her upbringing. First came her older sister, Grand Duchess Olga. She also had three younger siblings: Grand Duchess Maria, Grand Duchess Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei, who was the youngest Romanov. Tatiana shared a special bond with one of her siblings.
Partner in crime
Growing up, Tatiana could always be seen with her sister Olga. The two were inseparable, to the point where they were more or less treated as a single unit. Known in the family as "The Big Pair," they shared a bedroom and developed much of the same likings and habits from a young age. Their idyllic relationship was tested in the early 1900s.
In the spring of 1901, Olga developed a bad case of typhoid fever that ravaged her body and forced her to stay in the nursery until she recuperated. Some weeks later, she recovered enough to see Tatiana, who wept at the sight of her skinny and pale sister. Thankfully, the sisters entered their teen years together relatively unscathed.
Grew into beauty
In a stroke of good fortune, Tatiana grew into a breathtaking young woman. One of her mother's aides recalled that Tatiana "was, to my mind, prettier than her sisters...she was so slight and well-proportioned that her great height was not remarkable. She had fine, regular features, recalling pictures of ancestresses who had been famous beauties." That wasn't the only way she commanded attention either.
In addition, the even-keeled Tatiana grew up to be someone who didn't need to be called by her royal name. In fact, she demanded that even staff members in the family palace dropped her royal title. Among family, friends, and servants, she was known simply as Tatiana, or a diminutive name "Tanya", "Tatya", "Tatianochka", or "Tanushka." While she did away with that pretense, she was very conscious of her royal duties.
Not in line for the throne
The Birth of Tsarevich Alexei — a male heir to the throne — finally rid Tatiana of the pressures of having been born a girl, but it didn't stop her from being dedicated to her duty as a royal. Nothing could stop Tatiana from engaging in her own royal doings, some of which may surprise anyone unfamiliar with her nurturing ways.
Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden remembered that Tatiana was a big help to the royal household, saying that she "took care of the little ones, and...was a constant help to the Household, always willing to help them in arranging that their official duties should not clash with their private engagements." The Grand Duchess had some interesting motivations for being such a big presence.
Tatiana's goodness was partially due to her own pure inclinations, but it's also because she was a devoutly religious person who read the Bible daily. One of her thoughts on the matter was that "one has to struggle much because the return for good is evil, and evil reigns." And Tatiana definitely endured her share of evil times.
After the whole family suffered from respective bouts of hemophilia, which was genetically predisposed, they sought the help of a mystic healer named Grigori Rasputin. He did his job well, but it wasn't long before accusations of him touching and even abusing the royal daughters came about. Rasputin was a dangerous man, and his influence over Russia's nobility couldn't be denied.
Present for murder
Nicholas asked him not to come back, but Rasputin didn't listen. In the early morning of December 30, 1916, Rasputin was murdered by aides of the Empire. It was rumored that Tatiana was present at the murder in hopes of avenging his misdeeds toward the royal daughters, but this has yet to be confirmed as anything more than hearsay.
Even though she was just shy of being a teenager when World War I broke out, Tatiana moved on to being a colonel in the Russian Empire's military. She and Olga were a duo in this matter, but something unexpected happened while they looked after their stock of soldiers. Suddenly, Tatiana's wartime priorities were no longer so clear-cut.
Tatiana in love
Tatiana fell in love with a soldier in a whirlwind, and it would be the beginning of many romances for her. At 13, she wrote to her mother: "I would like so much to go the review of the second division...Yes, Mama, and at the second division I will see whom I must see ... you know whom ..."
Her many talents
Although Tatiana wasn't one to shy away from romance, her real passion was nursing. During World War I, she was a dedicated Red Cross nurse alongside her mother and sister Olga. She was known as much for her hardworking nature and kindness as a nurse as she was for her more charming side when among high society.
In time, Tatiana had to let go of her focus on romance and nursing, and not because of impending matrimony. As tensions increased between the poor and royalty, the duchesses became targets in an all-out class war. An impending revolution had its eye on the Russian Empire, and life as Tatiana knew it was about to change forever.
Captive by requirement
By the year 1917, the Russian Revolution was in full swing, and Tatiana and her family were put in captivity after the rebels seized power. When she and her siblings were separated from their parents, she became the head of the household. On top of caring for her siblings, Tatiana cleverly sewed her family's jewels into their clothes for hidden protection.
After leaving their native home, the Romanovs were placed under house arrest in Yekaterinburg, Siberia. Their personal freedoms were gone in a flash. Tatiana would sometimes talk to the guards in this inhospitable place, and the deposed Grand Duchess revealed to them her dreams of one day living in England. But unfortunately for Tatiana and her family, that dream never came true.
On July 17, 1918, Tatiana and her family were told to leave their rooms because of civil unrest in the city. The Romanovs were supposedly being moved to safety, but they were instead greeted by a firing squad. Tatiana and Olga were the last family members to be killed, but the sisters' story didn't end there. Even after the news of the Romanovs' deaths spread, people held out hope that at least one member of the family may have survived.
Rumors flamed by misinformation made many believe that the youngest, Anastasia, had someone been spared. You might remember her from the Disney movie bearing her name. But the sad truth was that she too was gone — it seemed that the public simply couldn't comprehend what had happened in those fateful weeks. The surviving photos tell a heartbreaking story.
Like any other children
Politics and illness aside, the Romanovs lived like most other kids: playing with their cousins and running around outside, The older sisters were simultaneously bossing around and doting on their brother. Anastasia was the funny girl in the family, proudly wearing false teeth for laughs. Their parents whisked them around the country to various royal estates as contemporary royals do.
Behind the camera
And who, you might ask, snapped all of these fascinating photos? If you can believe it, none other than Tsar Nicholas II was the picture-happy dad behind the camera. As an amateur photographer, his favorite subject was his family. Six full albums packed with candids were recovered years later, containing gems like a family portrait and beach day outing.
Boys will be boys
Before the Revolution, everyone was extremely protective of Alexei given his illness and path of succession to the throne. A hovering mother and sisters couldn't keep Alexei from goofing off like a normal little boy. Flopping around in the sand, or riding a sled down a staircase, he did not give a hoot about safety. It was all about having fun.
And being the children of a tsar gave the Romanovs some exciting opportunities for fun. "Took the elephant to our pond with Alexei today and had fun watching him bathe," wrote the Tsar in a 1914 journal entry. The Romanovs owned an entire zoo full of exotic creatures, until the war and subsequent Russian revolution in 1917 resulted in its closure.
Their favorite retreat was aboard their yacht, The Standart. The ship was a picture of lavishness, with chandeliers glittering from the rocking waves. Take note of top-notch interiors flanked in mahogany. It made a fitting location to soften the blow when Nicholas II learned of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand — the first domino to fall in a series of political upheavals.
While Nicholas II attempted to choose the best military strategies with his generals and advisers, his children balanced time at home with their mother with their own wartime responsibilities. Olga, seen here in her nurse's veil, volunteered to assist wounded soldiers. Anastasia was too young for nursing at the time, so she and Maria played checkers with the injured.
As monarchs, wartime relief was an all-encompassing family affair. Everyone pulled their weight by visiting soldiers to boost morale. It was vital that together the family presented a united front. However, the ethnicity of Nicolas' wife did complicate matters. Tsarina Alexandra's ties to Germany, her country of birth, didn't bode well with the rest of Russia.
In spite of the rising tension, the Romanovs stuck to their duties. Tsar Nicholas was joined by Maria and Anastasia at the bedsides of wounded soldiers. Less than a year later, the family would be held captive at the hands of their own soldiers. While they were far from blameless in neglecting Russia's working classes, the family still felt close ties to their countrymen.
A close shave
After losing their royal privileges, the Romanovs took many chalenges in stride. In the days before the shoe dropped for the royals, the girls dealt with a case of measles. Alexandra lined her daughters up and shaved each of their heads. Yet they smiled through it, not knowing their entire family was about to be placed under house arrest.
Revolution erupted in 1917, and Nicholas II was forced to relinquish his and Alexei's claim to the monarchy. The guards who once protected the Romanovs turned cruel and vindictive. Still, there were moments of kindness that here and there that made house arrest more bearable. This picture was taken during their captivity, with Anastasia holding Tatiana's pet bulldog Ortipo, a gift from a smitten soldier.
Tatiana wrote to a fellow nurse friend in 1917 expressing her frustrations with sitting idle in captivity: "It is strange to sit in the morning at home, to be in good health and not go to change the bandages!" Even amid all of her family's problems, the Grand Duchess still had her mind on the brave Russians fighting in the First World War.
A family divided
Royal functions and etiquette fell by the wayside. Tatiana rose to action in the midst of the crisis, keeping a level head. That was a necessity, since the revolutionaries made the situation much worse by dividing the Romanovs. For a period the family was separated, with the parents and son at one location and the daughters at another.
In addition, the royals' days of luxury were far behind them. They avoided prison cells during their captivity, though their house arrest conditions were far from cushy. Alexei, weakened from his inherited hemophilia and periodic illnesses, was still expected to perform hard labor on a daily basis. All their food was restricted to military rations, which were far from satisfying.
One saving grace was the Romanovs were allowed to keep their dogs for company. Of the three family pets, Joy, Alexei's dog, was the only one that appealed to the sympathies of the guards on the day of their final tragedy. While the other pets were killed along with their human family members, Joy was spared.
The last year of their lives was a dreadful waiting game. As the family was moved from location to location with little courtesy or information, exile weighed on their spirits. Nicholas acted as the glue for his family, maintaining an "internal calm" during the crisis. He passed the time by taking pictures like this in their final months together.
Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House
The end of the road for the Romanovs was the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Soldiers woke the family one July day in 1918 and ushered them to the basement, supposedly to shield them from a nearby riot. The truth of the matter soon became apparent. The royal family was executed by gunfire, and when that didn't finish them off, by bayonets.
Murmurs that one or two of the daughters survived the executions swirled for decades. Anastasia, as the youngest daughter, was primarily the focus of these crackpot theories. Some con artists even came forward claiming to be the beloved royal. DNA testing debunked that theory years later, and the remains of the entire Romanov family were located in a mass grave in 1991.
An overdue funeral
It took until 1998 for the family to be properly laid to rest. A funeral, attended by the Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin, acted as a symbolic acknowledgment of wrongdoings by the government. Tatiana and her kin were also designated as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church, ensuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.