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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The most celebrated royal mystery of the 20th century

The story of Grandduchess Anastasia of Russia haunted many royalists and intrigued many royal historians down the century due to the mystery surrounding her death. Many versions had written and several women had pressed claims that they were the "lost" Grandduchess, one of them was Anna Anderson who even met Empress Marie, the mother of Emperor Nicholas II, to introduce herself as the surviving Anastasia.

Her Imperial Highness, Grandduchess Anastasia of Russia. The fourth daughter of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II. The mystery of her supposed survival during the 1917 massacre at Ekateriburg intrigued royal historians for many decades.

But what is really the truth?

Like many royalists, I was also fascinated with Anastasia's story in the past. I started reading books related to the Romanovs to uncover the controversies, why and how her death was doubted and how current historians proved that she really died, together with her family, on July 17, 1918 at Ekaterinburg during the massacre.

Grandduchess Anastasia was the fourth daughter of Czar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia, she was born on June 18, 1901. According to one royal history book about Russian's Empire, Anastasia's birth had caused disappointment to the Russian royal family who had hoped for a boy to inherit the throne. The emperor had already three daughters before Anastasia: Olga, Tatiana and Maria, so naturally, the monarch harbored high hopes for a boy to be born in the family. It was only in 1904 that the Emperor finally had an heir, Tsarevitch (title given to the heir of the Russian throne) Alexei.

Anastasia's mother, Alexandra, was the former Princess Alix of Hesse-Cassel and the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria of Britain's third child, Princess Alice. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, is Alexandra's great nephew (Philip's maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria who became the Marchioness of Milford-Haven, was Alexandra's older sister).

Czar Nicholas II's mother, Empress Marie, was the former Princess Dagmar of Denmark, the second daughter of King Christian IX and a sister to Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII of Britain (son and successor of Queen Victoria) and King George I of Greece (paternal grandfather of Prince Philip).
Russia's last imperial family
Czar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children: Grandduchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and the Tsarevitch (heir to the Russian throne), Alexei

During World War I, Nicholas was forced to abdicate and he, his wife and their children, were placed under house arrest by the Bolshevics ( Russia's revolutionists), later they were brought to the mountain of Ekaterinberg. For several months since their house arrest, the imperial family were treated like criminals by the Bolshevics, but despite the sad and miserable circumstances, Anastasia, according to many accounts "was very friendly and full of fun" and made effort to entertain her parents with laughter.

Feared that the imperial family will be liberated by the advancing White Army, the Bolshevics decided to execute them on the morning of July 17, 1918, the same month that Nicholas and Alexandra's first cousin, King George V of England, changed his royal house name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor to distance himself from his German relatives.

It was said that the Emperor and Empress with their only son, Alexei, were killed in a different room and were shot several times to ensure they were dead, the grandduchesses were placed in  another room and were shot and stab.

The story of Anastasia's survival started when it was found out there were only three bodies identified as grandduchesses in the killing site. It was burned and scattered in the area. Many presumed one of them survived the massacre. One earliest version claimed, the missing body belonged to Anastasia. This initial report bore tales of the grandduchess supposed survival which became one of the most intriguing and celebrated mysteries of the 20th century.

Many women had claimed they were the "lost" grandduchess retelling stories how they survived the massacre. One of them was Anna Anderson who surfaced in the early 1920s, her case was heard in the German courts and run from the late 1930s to 1970s making it the longest controversial case ever tried in German courts. Her claim was never proven true. She died in 1984.

In 1994, to clear the controversy, a DNA test were conducted with Anderson's tissue sample from the hospital and the blood of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the great nephew of Empress Alexandra and a first cousin once removed to the Emperor Nicholas. The result was negative, concluding reports that Anderson was only an impostor.

In 1991, the burial site of the imperial family was excavated in the woods, DNA and skeletal analysis matched these remains to the imperial couple and three of their four daughters. Two children were missing in the grave site: one daughter and Alexei but it was never identified who among the Czar's four daughters were missing whether it was Maria or Anastasia. 

It was only in August 2007 that the mystery of the missing bodies were solved when a Russian archaeologist announced the discovery of two burned skeletons near Ekaterinburg. The description and site matched the notes mentioned in the memoirs of Yurovsky, the Russian commander who ordered the execution.

DNA testing conducted by multiple international laboratories confirmed the two burned skeletons belonged to the Tsarevitch and one of her sisters who could be possibly either Maria or Anastasia. The reports finally shed light on the long-running mystery of Anastasia's death, concluding that all of them died in 1917.

In 2000, Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers (in Russia, passion bearers refer to individuals who suffered death in a Christ-like manner). In 2008, the Russian Supreme Court recognized them as victims of Soviet repression and that they had been killed illegally, thus entitled to a legal rehabilitation by the state.

Until this report was published in 2008, me too was intrigued whether Anastasia had really survived the killings, a classic story of believing in fairy tales where imaginations travelled far way beyond the reality. The mystery was finally solved and Anastasia's survival story can be only fantasized in books, films and TV series.

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