Romanova, Anastasia Nikolayevna

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(1901c. 1918), youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna.

Anastasia Nikolayevna's place in history derives less from her life than from the legend that she somehow survived her family's execution. The mythology surrounding her and the imperial family remains popular in twentieth-century folklore.

Following the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917, members of the royal family were imprisoned, first at the Alexander Palace outside Petrograd and later in the Siberian city of Tobolsk. Finally Nicholas and his immediate family were confined to the Ipatiev House in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk). According to official accounts, local communist forces executed Nicholas, Alexandra, their five children, and four retainers during the night of July 16, 1918. Because no corpses were immediately located, numerous individuals emerged claiming to be this or that Romanov who had miraculously survived the massacre. Most claimants were quickly dismissed as frauds, but one "Anastasia" seemed to have better credentials than the others.

The first reports of this "Anastasia" came in 1920 from an insane asylum in Berlin, where a young woman was taken following an attempt to drown herself in a canal. Anna Anderson, as she came to be known, was far from the beautiful lost princess reunited with her grandmother, as Hollywood retold the story. Instead, she was badly scarred, both mentally and physically, and spent the remainder of her life rotating among a small group of patrons, eventually marrying historian John Mahanan and settling in Charlottesville, VA, where she remained until her death on February 12, 1984.

No senior surviving member of the Romanov family ever formally recognized Anderson as being Anastasia. Instead, her supporters came largely from surviving members of the royal court, many of whom were suspected of using Anderson for financial gain. Anderson did file a claim against tsarist bank accounts held in a German bank. Extensive evidence was offered on her behalf, from eyewitness testimony to photographic comparisons. The case lasted from 1938 to 1970, and eventually the German Supreme Court ruled that her claim could neither be proved nor disproved.

Interest in Anderson's case revived in 1991, following the discovery of the Romanov remains outside Yekaterinburg. Two skeletons were unaccounted for, one daughter and the son. Anderson's body had been cremated, but hospital pathology specimens were later discovered and submitted for DNA testing in 1994. Although the results indicated that Anderson was Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish factory worker, Anderson's most die-hard supporters still refused to accept the results. The Yekaterinburg remains were interned in the Cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg on July 17, 1998, eighty years after the execution.

See also: nicholas ii; romanov dynasty


Kurth, Peter. (1983). Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson. Boston: Little, Brown.

Massie, Robert K. (1995). The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. New York: Random House.

Ann E. Robertson