Holy Princess Anastasia Romanova (1901-1918)

June 5/18 was the 123rd anniversary of the birth of the fourth daughter of Emperor Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna—Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova.

Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna with Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Peterhof, 1901 Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna with Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Peterhof, 1901 Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was born on June 5/18, 1901 in Peterhof. She was the fourth daughter of the holy New Martyrs Emperor Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna: by the time she was born the royal couple already had three daughters—Olga (b. 1895), Tatiana (b. 1897) and Maria (b. 1899). The Tsar wrote in his diary:

“Our daughter Anastasia was born at 6 a.m. sharp… Fortunately, Alix is well. The baby weighs 11.5 pounds and is fifty-five centimeters tall.”

The Grand Duchess was named after Princess Anastasia of Montenegro, the Tsarina’s friend. On June 17, 1901, Anastasia was baptized at the church of the Grant Palace of St. Petersburg by the imperial couple’s father-confessor, Protopresbyter John Yanyshev. Empress Dowager Maria Feodorovna conferred on the Grand Duchess the highest order of the Russian Empire for women—the Order of St. Catherine of the First Degree. In honor of her birth, the Anastasia needlework schools nos. 1 and 2 for girls were opened in Moscow, and arrears from poor people for hospital treatment were written off.

Anastasia inherited her father’s large, expressive, gray-blue eyes and dark brown hair with a reddish tint.

“She was pretty, her face was clear, and her eyes shone with remarkable intelligence,” Yulia Dehn, the Empress’ close friend, wrote about her.

Grand Duchess Anastasia at the age of three Grand Duchess Anastasia at the age of three According to the court physician E.S. Botkin’s testimony, little Anastasia was rarely ill and did not require special attention from doctors. Anastasia’s childhood and youth were spent in an atmosphere of love and provided by her parents and older sisters. Little Anastasia loved her sister Olga dearly, followed her everywhere, and kissed her hands tenderly. She was especially close with her older sister Maria, with whom she shared a room and to whose will she completely submitted. They were called the “younger pair”, while Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana were nicknamed the “older pair”. Anastasia took care of her sick brother Alexei who had hemophilia, sat next to him during his bouts of illness, trying to entertain him in every possible way. She was also very attached to the nursemaid Alexandra Tegleva, and sometimes literally poured perfume onto “her Shura” so that the nanny could “smell like a bunch of flowers.” (Anastasia’s favorite perfume was the Coty brand with the scent of violets.) The Empress mother would call Grand Duchess Anastasia, “My feet,” when she had to use a wheelchair due to illness. The family called the princess affectionately “Nastenka”, “Nastya” and “Nastaska”.

Grand Duchess Anastasia’s letter to her cousin Dick: “May 17, 1910. My dear Dick. I want to see you. What is the weather like now? Are you all alone in London right now? When will you be able to meet your cousins?” Grand Duchess Anastasia’s letter to her cousin Dick: “May 17, 1910. My dear Dick. I want to see you. What is the weather like now? Are you all alone in London right now? When will you be able to meet your cousins?” Little Nastya [a diminutive form of the name Anastasia.—Trans.] was very fond of sweets, and her pockets were always stuffed full of chocolates and Creme Brulee candies. She was a nimble and frisky child and loved to play pranks. Her mother would jokingly call her “madcap” and “imp” for her liveliness and the ability to invent various pranks and tricks. A.A. Taneyeva-Vyrubova recalled:

“Anastasia Nikolaevna was always playing pranks, clambering about, hiding, making everyone laugh with her escapades, and it was not easy to keep an eye on her. I remember a dinner on the Standart yacht in Kronstadt with a lot of guests. The Grand Duchess was five years old. She slipped under the table unnoticed and, like a dog, crawled there, pinching people’s legs... Realizing what the matter was, the Emperor pulled her out by the hair, and she caught it from her father.”

“The youngest Grand Duchess, Anastasia Nikolaevna, seemed to be not made of flesh and blood, but of mercury… She knew how to find the funny side in everything and was very fond of all sorts of practical jokes,” Yulia Dehn wrote about her.

“Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was an out-and-out madcap and a faithful friend of the Tsarevich in all his pranks,” Empress Maria Feodorovna’s lady-in-waiting S.Ya. Ofrosimova recalled.

Anastasia loved to play hide-and-seek, and often even grown-ups could not find her. This is what the French tutor Pierre Gilliard recalled about Anastasia:

“She was so cheerful and so able to drive away frowns from anyone who was out of sorts, that some of those around her called her ‘Sunbeam’, recalling the nickname given to her mother at the English.”

The Emperor’s children were brought up in the spirit of Orthodox Christianity, combining prayer and manual labor. According to their contemporaries’ reminiscences, they were not spoiled by luxury. There were icons, photographs and children’s drawings on the walls of the nursery; an army cot on which Grand Duchess Anastasia slept all year round traveled with her to the Crimea where the family would spend their summer vacations. It sailed along the Finnish skerries on the Standart yacht, and was even taken to the family’s Siberian exile. The girls were required to tidy up their rooms and make their beds. In the morning and in the evening the children took baths and were supposed to bring buckets of water to the bathroom themselves. They huddled together at the palace in Tsarskoye Selo—seven family members plus numerous servants. One day, Dr. Botkin found Grand Duchess Anastasia lying face down on the floor doing her assignment: Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was studying in the classroom, and all the tables were occupied by her sisters or littered with things.

Grand Duchess Anastasia, c. 1912 Grand Duchess Anastasia, c. 1912 Inexhaustible energy bubbled up in this child. There was no end to her tricks and jokes. Now she would climb a tree and only get down on her father’s order; now she would slide down the stairs on a tray as if on a slide; now she would “dye” her brother Alexei and the sisters’ faces with strawberry juice to “play circus.” She undoubtedly had the talent of a comic actress. When small home performances were staged, she was able to make the audience laugh. General M.K. Diterikhs wrote about Grand Duchess Anastasia:

“Her hallmark was to spot people’s weaknesses and imitate them with talent. She was a natural, gifted comedian. She would always make everyone laugh, keeping a pretended serious look.”

The Tsar’s youngest daughter never showed off her high position in society in any way, but she replied with dignity when her brother Alexei once remarked that she could become an actress: “A Grand Duchess cannot perform in the theater—she has other duties.”

Tatiana and Anastasia with Ortino dog. Tsarskoye Selo Park (spring 1917) Tatiana and Anastasia with Ortino dog. Tsarskoye Selo Park (spring 1917) St. Nicholas II’s family loved animals. Anna Vyrubova gave the girl a dog named Jimmy, who became the whole family’s beloved pet. Anastasia took it with her to Siberian exile. Jimmy died together with its owner when the Royal Family was executed; its body was found by the investigator N.A. Sokolov in the abandoned mine of the Ganina Yama Pit.

On June 18, 1908, Anastasia turned seven, and this meant that from September she was supposed to start home schooling, which included the Law of God, Russian grammar, history, geography, natural sciences, drawing, arithmetic, dancing, and music. Foreign languages were taught often—French, English and German—but the children spoke only Russian with each other. Anastasia was not very diligent in her studies; she wrote with errors and called arithmetic “piggishness” (apparently, she was a humanitarian). She was interested in literature, natural sciences, geography and drawing. Anastasia Nikolaevna evoked the special sympathy of the English teacher Sidney Gibbes (later Archimandrite Nicholas).

“It wasn’t always easy to get on with this little Grand Duchess,” Gibbes recalled.

One day the tutor did not give her an “A” grade for a lesson she had learned middling well. Anastasia left the classroom and soon returned with a huge bunch of flowers. Trying to bribe the tutor, she asked with a charming smile: “Mr. Gibbes, won’t you improve the grades?” He shook his head, and then the young lady walked out and went to the Russian tutor and handed the flowers to him. One day she showed up for an English lesson in a chimney sweep’s fancy dress with a smeared face. Later their relations improved, and Anastasia brought him flowers after each lesson.

Flowers. Watercolor drawing of the Grand Duchess Flowers. Watercolor drawing of the Grand Duchess Peter Vasilyevich Petrov taught them Russian grammar. Anastasia was friends with him and corresponded with him from 1909 until her martyrdom. He instilled in his student love for reading, and Anastasia read a lot, preferring Schiller, Goethe, Moliere, Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte.

Anastasia was witty and observant; she painted well in watercolor and played chess masterfully. She inherited musical ability from her mother, and they would often play Chopin, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky in four hands. The princess also played the balalaika and the guitar. Like the rest of the family, she was fond of photography, loved to play croquet and ride a bike.

Over the years Anastasia ceased to be naughty, matured and became more serious. Sometimes Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, the princesses’ aunt, organized meetings of young people for them with dancing, games and tea.

“The girls enjoyed every minute,” Grand Duchess Olga recalled fifty years later. “My dear goddaughter Anastasia was especially happy. Believe me—I can still hear her laughter ringing in the rooms. Dances, music and charades—she was carried away by that.”

The high position of the royal children required their participation in palace ceremonies. At the age of fourteen Anastasia became the commander of the Caspian 148th Infantry Regiment. Together with the Emperor she participated in military parades, which gave her great pleasure. Anastasia was very proud of her regiment and signed her letters to her father, “Caspian”.

Maria and Anastasia at Tsarskoye Selo military hospital Maria and Anastasia at Tsarskoye Selo military hospital     

During the First World War, Olga and Tatiana worked as nurses at the Tsarskoye Selo military Hospital, and Maria and Anastasia donated their money to purchase medicine, knit warm clothes for wounded soldiers, and prepared bandages. They tried to morally support the wounded soldiers with their presence and sympathetic conversations, entertaining them, thus alleviating their suffering. Sometimes they played cards, checkers, tennis and billiards with convalescent officers, reading aloud to them, writing letters to their families at their dictation, and organizing small concerts.

“Even the wounded dance in her presence,” it was said of Anastasia Nikolaevna when she was at the military hospital.

In 1916 Grand Duchess Anastasia wrote in her diary:

“Today I sat next to our soldier and taught him how to read—he really liked it. He began to learn how to read and write here at the hospital. Two poor soldiers died, and only yesterday we were sitting next to them.”

Anastasia recalled that time as the best in her life. She wrote in a letter to her sister Maria from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg:

“I remember visiting the hospital a long time ago. I hope all our wounded soldiers have survived... Now I’m in the bedroom, writing on the table, and there are photos of our beloved hospital on it. You know, it was a wonderful time when we visited the hospital. We often think about this, our evening conversations on the phone, and everything else.”

Anastasia, Olga, Alexei, Maria and Tatiana after the measles (June 1917) Anastasia, Olga, Alexei, Maria and Tatiana after the measles (June 1917) At the height of the February Revolution, all of the Tsar’s children came down with measles. Anastasia was the last to fall ill. Everyone was lying with a fever, wrapped up in sheepskin coats. Heating, electricity and even running water had been disconnected, so they had to take water from an ice hole. On March 8, 1917, the Provisional Government decided to arrest the Imperial Family. On March 9, the children were informed about their father’s abdication from the throne. A new page in their life began, and this life under house arrest (from March 8 to July 31, 1917) was quite tolerable—they attended church services, and the children’s education continued. Together with their father and faithful servants, the Grand Duchesses planted a vegetable garden and grew vegetables, working in the garden. In the evenings the girls embroidered as their father read aloud to them. Anastasia embroidered and wove elegant bookmarks for books at that time.

In early August 1917 the entire Royal Family was exiled to Tobolsk. The education of the younger Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevich was gradually continued there. Together with all other members of the Imperial Family, Anastasia attended church services. The poem that she added into the album of Countess A.V. Gendrikova is symbolic:

Princess Anastasia (c. 1914) Princess Anastasia (c. 1914) When your soul pines,

Hopes go out like lights,

Slander triumphs over the truth,

And you are surrounded only by enemies;

When your wings weaken in the struggle,

Trouble comes after trouble,

And you weep in anguish, powerless,

Don’t forget that God is with you.

[Author: Grand Duke Constantine Romanov.—M.T.]

The children rode down the ice slide, skied around the yard, and acted out scenes. In January 1918, all the children, except Anastasia, had rubella. In a letter dated March 21, 1918 to her aunt, Grand Duchess Xenia, Anastasia wrote:

“We have now found a new way of spending time: sawing, hacking and chopping firewood is useful and very fun to do.”

Olga, Nikolai Alexandrovich, Anastasia and Tatiana. Tobolsk (winter of 1917–1918) Olga, Nikolai Alexandrovich, Anastasia and Tatiana. Tobolsk (winter of 1917–1918) In the evenings the prisoners would wistfully look out of the window at passers-by walking freely. Tsarevich Alexei noted in his diary on November 22, 1917: “The whole day passed like yesterday and was just as boring.”

When Maria and the parents were taken to Ekaterinburg in April 1918, Anastasia comforted her sisters and her sick brother. Her duty was to “entertain everyone”. And Anastasia did not lose heart even then. Here is an excerpt from Anastasia’s letter to her sister Maria in Ekaterinburg:

“We played on the swings. When I fell off, it was such a wonderful fall!... Yeah! I told my sisters about it so many times yesterday that they were tired of it… The weather was awesome! You could just scream out of delight. I’m the most tanned of all, oddly enough, I’m like an acrobat...”

In exile Anastasia put on weight and was very shy about it. General M.K. Diterikhs wrote of her:

“Though she was seventeen, Grand Duchess Anastasia was still an absolute child. She made this impression mainly by her appearance and her cheerful character. She was very short and very stout, a “dumpling’, as her sisters teased her.”

At the age of sixteen she “was not yet a fully developed teenage girl”, the investigator N.A. Sokolov testified.

On May 23, the other family members were taken to Ekaterinburg as well. The Royal Family’s life in the “House of Special Purpose”1 was monotonous and boring; a prison regime was introduced there. Anastasia sewed with her sisters, walked in the garden, played cards, read spiritual books aloud to her mother, played with her brother, and learned how to bake bread with her sisters. During that tragic time, prayer together united the family, helping them endure the sorrows, suffering and humiliations that had fallen to their lot. On June 18, 1918, Anastasia celebrated her last, seventeenth birthday.

Icon of the holy Passion-Bearer Anastasia Icon of the holy Passion-Bearer Anastasia Anastasia’s life (like those of the entire Royal Family) was cut short in the gloomy basement of the Ipatiev House. Witnesses questioned by the investigator N.A. Sokolov testified that of all the Tsar’s daughters, Anastasia had resisted death the longest. At the beginning of the shooting she apparently fainted. When they touched her, she screamed terribly. After that the executioners struck her on the head with the butt of a rifle and inflicted two bayonet wounds. So the innocent seventeen-year-old girl Anastasia died at the hands of ruthless villains. After the execution, Anastasia’s last drawing was found in the Grand Duchesses’ room: swings between two birch trees.

After her martyrdom, nearly thirty female impostors claimed to be “the miraculously survived Tsar’s daughter Anastasia”.

Together with her parents, sisters and brother, Grand Duchess Anastasia was canonized as a passion-bearer in the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia at the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000. Earlier, in 1981, they were canonized by ROCOR. Their feast-day is July 4/17.

The Royal Family’s tragic death in Ekaterinburg continues to agitate minds. Most modern historians agree that Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov were primarily responsible for the tragedy. The historian Vladimir Lavrov writes:

“The Communists were not doing away with Colonel Nikolai Romanov… The Communists were destroying the thousand-year-old great Orthodox Russia, the symbol of which had been the Royal Family.”

Maria Tobolova
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



1 This is how the Ipatiev House was ominously renamed by the Bolsheviks.—Trans.

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