Fascinating Facts About the Romanov Family
The Romanov Dynasty isn’t one that will be forgotten. This family ruled over Russia for centuries, and it wasn’t an easy task.
Some of the rules were downright awful, and we’re sure the family would prefer they weren’t labeled under their house – if they were still around that is. While others? Well, some were such good rulers that it brought about one of the best ages Russia ever saw.
Today, we’re going to talk about some interesting facts that most people don’t know about the Romanov family. The interesting thing about this family is that they shaped Russia into what it is today (for better or worse). They brought traditions the country may not have had otherwise and expanded the country massively.
While most of these facts will focus on the final Romanov ruler Nicholas II, we couldn’t help but add in a couple of little tidbits here and there about his ancestors. After all, he wouldn’t have been a ruler without them. Although, his father is also a lot of why he was such a bad Emperor to begin with.
Wondering whatever happened to their missing daughter Anastasia? How did the family end up where they are today? How was the Romanov family related to English royalty? We’ll answer all these questions and more.
The Romanov Family Formed the Russian Empire
Before the Romanovs, the Rurik Dynasty ruled from the ninth century until the late 1500s. That's when the first Romanov took over — Mikhail Romanov (who became known as Michael I). The Russian throne was passed down from Romanov to Romanov, and along the way, they effectively formed the Russian Empire.
When Michael I's grandson took over, Peter the Great, Russian territory expanded dramatically. It quickly became one of the world's dominant powers. Peter the Great was also the first Russian to take the title of Emperor of the Russian Empire. Peter the Great would create the boundaries of the country we know today.
First-Borns Weren’t Always the Next in Line
Unlike many royal families, the Romanovs didn't follow primogeniture. Primogeniture is the law where the paternally acknowledged first-born son becomes the next ruler. Taking a look at the rulers in the Romanov line, it’s clear that women could inherit the throne just as well as the men.
Sure, typically it went to the first son, but the current ruler had the option to choose his or her heir regardless of relation. In fact, female rulers became some of the best rulers in the country. Catherine the Great was the wife of Peter the Great and technically related to the Rurik dynasty.
Nicholas II Was an Avid Photographer
Unlike many royals we may know today (and in the past), Nicholas II loved taking candid (and sometimes very silly) pictures of his family. In fact, most of the pictures we have today of the family actually came from Nicholas II and were colorized by another Romanov. The rest of the family joined in on the passion, but none loved it more than the Tsar.
Nicholas would create albums of himself and his family later, so maybe he was also a little into scrapbooking. He made sure each photo had the date and a little caption of what was going on at the time. Some of his favorite images were of his family making funny faces – something many parents can relate to.
Nicholas II Was Not Prepared to Become a Tsar
Nicholas II wasn't prepared to become Tsar, and that sad fact later became blatantly obvious along with his rule. Nicholas II was 13 when his grandfather passed away and his father became ruler. A little more than 10 years later, his father passed away from kidney failure, and Nicholas inherited the throne.
The problem with this is that Nicholas was very poorly trained in the affairs of the state. He confessed to a close friend stating, “I am not prepared to be a tsar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling.” Might we suggest…passing the throne on? His family probably would have actually lived if that had been the case.
The Whole Family Was Executed by Bolshevik Revolutionaries
WWI broke out and Russia endured major losses. The poverty rate exploded, and hyperinflation nearly destroyed the economy. It got to the point that it was cheaper to burn money than to buy wood. Crowds flooded the streets to protest, and soldiers were ordered to open fire on the groups.
Not only did soldiers not do that, but they joined the crowds. This marked the decline of Nicholas II's reign. The fall of the Romanov family was at the hands of Yurovsky, a trusted commandant. He led the assassination by duping the family into the basement for safety during the early morning hours. After filing into the basement, an execution squad of secret police came in to do the deed. The noise was so loud that all the households around their home woke up.
Their Deaths Caused the End of a 300-Year Dynasty
The death of Nicholas II and his family marked the end of the Romanov's 300-year rule — from 1613 to 1918. How did they rule so long? Well, it wasn't all bad. The Romanov era was mixed with awful, awful leaders to some that were actually pretty good. Heck, some rules were hugely influential for the country.
The one thing to note is that the direct Romanov bloodline technically died out in 1762 with Empress Elizabeth. From there, the Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov branch was created with the grandson of Peter the Great. This is also the bloodline that would later see the rise of Catherine the Great.
The Murder of the Family is Still Under Investigation
The criminal investigation for the assassination of the Romanov family isn't closed! The case was reopened in 2015 at the request of the Russian Orthodox Church. We'd think it's pretty open and shut, but the church wanted to confirm the identity of the remains that were thought to be the imperial family.
The remains were originally discovered in 1991 outside the city of Yekaterinburg where the execution occurred. The Church wasn’t sold that they were the bodies of Nicholas II, his children, and his wife. It was proven that it was the bodies, so what else is going on here? The case still isn’t closed. No one really knows why.
Anastasia’s Disappearance is Still in Question
A cute children’s movie was made about Anastasia Romanova where she escaped during a besiege of her home thanks to a 10-year-old boy she would later meet again and fall in love with. Who were they running from? Rasputin! That was pretty much all bologna. Not only was Rasputin good friends with the family, no one really knows what happened to Anastasia.
The problem is that the bodies weren't found immediately, and the reports from the executioners were so muddled that people weren't sure if a Romanov escaped. Add that to the fact that people popped up all over the place claiming to be Anastasia. However, in 1970, all but two children were found with Nicholas II and his wife. Later, Alexei (Nicholas's son) and Maria were found. It's assumed one of the bodies from 1970 was that of Anastasia.
The Coronation of Nicholas II Led to The Khodynka Tragedy
From the very start of Nicholas II's reign, a tragedy occurred. During his coronation, over half a million revelers fathered in Moscow on the Khodynka Field. During the coronation, a free gift was given, a decorative cup. Rumor broke out that the cup held a gold coin. There was also hearsay that there wasn’t enough food and drink for everyone.
Sadly, this caused people to act in a frenzy. There was a police force of 1,800 men, but they couldn't control the crowds. Crowd crush and panic caused over 1,300 people to be trampled along with another 1,300 injured. This became known as the Khodynka Tragedy. It would later become an omen of Nicholas II's rule. This painting depicts the mere crowds that showed up.
Some Romanovs Worked Closely with the Red Cross
Some members of the Romanov family were deeply involved with the Red Cross, including Nicholas II’s daughters. Tsarina Alexandra (Nicholas's wife) and her eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, all trained with the Red Cross. When WWI broke out, they all began to volunteer to help out wherever they could.
They were nurses in Saint Petersburg and focused on treating Russian soldiers who were wounded during the war. The family was very patriotic. In fact, Tatiana fell in love with a soldier while she treated him, Yakovlevich Malama. Sadly, he would die by the end of the war.
The Family Carried the “Royal Disease” Thanks to Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria famously passed down the gene for the “Royal Disease” (aka hemophilia) to her children. This is precisely why it became known as the Royal Disease – as many in the European bloodline suffered from it. Well, Queen Victoria is also how hemophilia was introduced in the Russian Romanov Dynasty.
Alexandra Feodorovna (Nicholas II's wife) was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Later, the Tsar and Tsarina would have a son, Alexei. Up until this point, all their children had been healthy, but Alexei suffered from hemophilia. Because of this, he was protected his whole life to avoid any falls or bleeds that could result in his death.
Rasputin and the Romanovs Were Very Close
If you saw the movie made in the late ‘90s, this one might throw you off a little. Well, it turns out that the Romanovs and Rasputin were pretty close. Rasputin was originally called to the family to treat Alexei’s hemophilia. Prior to Rasputin, he’d been hospitalized quite a bit. Following Rasputin? Turns out whatever he was doing worked!
Alexei was in a bad state, and the doctors told the family he was going to pass away. Rasputin stepped in, prayed, and Alexei miraculously recovered from his injuries. That made Tsarina Alexandra a convert immediately. From there, Rasputin became a close companion to the family and had a major influence over the Romanovs.
They Fled Under the Japanese Flag
Tired of the way things were going, the people of Russia decided to revolt against the government (and Tsar Nicholas II). Protests would turn violent, and it went down in history and the February Revolution. The goal? Abdication (aka removal) of the Romanovs and any government officials that were causing hyperinflation and the extreme poverty they’d been dealing with.
It was so bad that soldiers had even decided to join the revolution. To avoid the angry crowds (hellbent on lynching the family), they traveled under the Japanese flag as a part of a Japanese mission of the Red Cross. The family eventually moved to Siberia near the birthplace of Rasputin. Turns out their contacts at the Red Cross paid off.
The Romanovs Brought Christmas to Russia
Everyone loves Christmas, thanks to Tsar Nicholas II and his Tsarina, the Christmas tradition of the beautiful evergreen tree and gifts began. It became a family event where they would eat good food and exchange gifts. The family would exchange gifts and hold a drawing for the staff to get items like a vase, lamp, or other precious items.
One year, the Tsar and Tsarina held a Christmas event for 100 poor children at Anichkov Place, where they were given a coat, shoes, warm clothes, and a meal. After this, it became an annual tradition. One year, Nicholas II visited six Christmas events at hospitals and schools for charity.
Anastasia Romanovna was Ivan the Terrible’s First Wife
By now, everyone's heard of Ivan the Terrible and how terrible he really was. Turns out, his first wife was a Romanov. Anastasia Romanova was selected as a bride for Ivan, and she ended up having six children with him. It's thought that Anastasia was a “moderating influence” on his character.
Sir James Horsey was an envoy for England. While stationed in Russia, he wrote, “He being young and riotous, she ruled him with admirable affability and wisdom.” Sadly, she fell ill and died, and that sent Ivan off the deep end. He believed she was poisoned. In the 1990s, her body was exhumed and found that she did have mercury poisoning, but it’s debated whether this was a treatment or an assassination.
Tsar Nicholas II Was Nicknamed Nicholas the Bloodstained
Nicholas II ended up with a pretty unfortunate (although arguably just) nickname of Nicholas II the Bloodstained. Why? Well, his coronation wasn't the only bloody event in his history. There was also the revolution of 1905, which later became known as Bloody Sunday. A group of protesters gathered and started to make their way to the Winter Palace.
The goal was to present Nicholas II with a petition for better working conditions, fairer wages, and a reduction of working hours from 15 hours per day to eight. To combat the crowd, soldiers were told to fire upon the group by the Imperial Guard. Dozens died. The nickname came about from Vladimir Lenin, and the name stuck around. Even his supporters called him Nicholas the Bloodstained.
Tsar Nicholas II Was Made a Saint
You read that right! Nicholas II Became a saint. In 1981, the Romanovs were recognized as martyred saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Then, in 2000, they were recognized by the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers rather than saints. The term is used for a person who faces death in a "Christ-like manner."
The big difference between passion bearers and martyrs is that passion bearers have a love for god, but they didn’t die for their faith. Naturally, his canonization was highly controversial. Even the church itself was split. Despite the opposition, it remains today that Nicholas II and his family are still “passion bearers.”
Tsar Nicholas II Was Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize
Yes, Nicholas the Bloodstained was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize! Hard to believe, but it’s true. Nicholas II was nominated in 1899 — three years after his disaster of a coronation. The reason is actually a little sound. Nicholas II initiated the First Hague Peace Conference to seek agreements to limit armaments and the financial burden of excessive armaments.
He also sought to “improve the prospects of peaceful settlement of international conflicts and to codify the laws of war,” according to the Nobel Peace Prize’s website. The prize, however, was awarded to Frederic Passay, who was a founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (and the main organizer of the first Universal Peace Congress).
Nicholas II and His Wife Often Spoke in English
The Romanovs knew more than Russia. In fact, they knew French, English and German, as well. Alexandra was originally from Germany and had English roots. She spoke both of those languages fluently, but Russian? She didn’t know enough. Thankfully, the Tsar also knew English and spoke to his wife in English.
He did eventually become fluent in German, but in the early part of their relationship, it was just easier to have conversations in English. Not to mention, English was replacing French as the international language of communication. The funny thing is that Nicholas spoke other languages so well that he had a slight foreign accent when he spoke in Russian!
The Tsar Tried to Create an “Exit Strategy” for His Family
Nicholas II would have been blind to not see his overthrow coming. In fact, the troubled economy had been going on for years, and he was a huge cause of it – that being in part because he didn’t know how to rule at all. He wanted to create an exit strategy for his family that would help them survive.
The idea he came up with was crude at best. He would have jewels and gems sewn into his family’s clothing to wear in an attempt to stop bullets from hitting them. That didn’t do them much good, as we all well know. Even if the bullets hadn’t hit the royals, they were then stabbed with bayonets and knives.
The Romanov Children Had an Irish Accent
It’s crazy enough to think about the head family of the Russian Empire speaking English at all, but that’s not even the wildest part about this multilingual family. They didn’t have a heavy Russian accent when they spoke—instead it was an entirely different one.
The Romanov children actually spoke English with an Irish accent, not a Russian one. This was because their nanny, Margaretta Eager, came from Limerick, Ireland. Unfortunately for the family, the luck of the Irish was not on their side!
Nicholas II Had a Dragon Tattoo
We generally think of royalty as being straight-laced and clean-cut, but that wasn’t the case with Nicholas II. Of all the people who have sported ink over the years, we would have never believed that he actually went under the needle and got a tattoo, but that’s exactly what happened.
If you look closely at pictures where his forearms are exposed, you’ll very clearly see a giant black dragon tattoo on his right arm. Nicholas got the tattoo during a visit to Nagasaki, Japan where he was introduced to the artist that did the work for him.
The Bolsheviks Tried to Kill the Family Dogs
The Bolsheviks seemed to have no qualms about killing the Romanov children, so should we really be surprised that they were a-okay with killing their dogs too? But, despite their best and bloodiest efforts, there was one four-legged Romanov that actually managed to escape the killing spree.
While the Bolsheviks got most of the Romanov pets, one of their dogs, a spaniel named Joy, actually made it out alive and unscathed. Afterward, Joy was thankfully rescued and sent to England where she got to live out the rest of her life. That is one literally lucky dog!
A Modern-Day Russian Wants to Revive the Romanov Dynasty
The Romanovs might be long dead, but there are still some who clearly identify strongly with them. So strongly, in fact, that one person is actually trying to revive the Romanov Empire in the modern world. And you might be surprised at just how far he’s taken his quest to revive the Empire.
Since 2011, Russian businessman Anton Bakov has been declaring himself the Prime Minister of the Romanov Empire, a proposed state that he claims is the successor to the Russian Empire. The “nation’s” monarch is Karl Emich, who is actually a remote descendant of the original Romanovs.
The Bodies of the Romanovs Were Discovered in 1979
Investigations into the Romanovs’ murders took place in the 1990s. However, their bodies were actually found a little more than a decade earlier in 1979. The geologist Alexander Avdonin discovered the bodies in a mansion near Yekaterinburg, Russia where the Romanovs had been imprisoned. However, he smartly stayed quiet about this discovery.
When the remains were first uncovered, the Soviet Union was still firmly in charge of Russia. They were still no fans of the Romanovs, so Avdonin worried that the Party would make trouble for him if he came forward. Once the Soviet Union fell in 1991, he was in the clear and released his findings to the world.
Rasputin's Death Wasn't as Crazy as the Stories Say
Grigori Rasputin was an eccentric mystic who eventually befriended Nicholas II. Over the years, the man has gained a mythic status, with wild stories about how escaped seemingly unavoidable death multiple times. While he may have been quite a character, his death is not as crazy as the stories would have you believe.
According to the legends, Rasputin was unsuccessfully poisoned and shot multiple times. However, according to official records, there were no traces of poison in his body at the time of his autopsy and he appeared to have died from a single bullet to the head.
The Children Were Protected from Gunfire by Diamonds
The firing squad that killed the Romanovs didn’t do a great job at executing the family because, once the dust had settled, there were several Romanovs still alive. Horrifically enough, several of the children survived the first round and saw their parents murdered. However, they didn’t escape scot-free.
Several of the Romanov children had diamonds sewn in their clothing, which protected them from the bullets of the firing squad. Unfortunately, once the squad saw their mistake, the survivors were either run through with bayonets or shot in the head at close proximity.
Nicholas II Asked the King of England for Asylum
Before their murders, Nicholas II made attempts to get his family out of Russia and into a safer place, but that didn’t really work out for him. He petitioned King George V of England (who was also his cousin) for asylum in the country, but the king ultimately denied the request.
George V initially wanted to offer asylum to the Romanov family but he was forced to take back the offer when it caused him political problems at home. At the time, the English were no fans of the Romanovs, and their unpopularity would have made trouble for the king were they to arrive under his protection.
A Woman Impersonated Anastasia Romanov for Years
There has been no shortage of Romanov impersonators over the years, but one of the longest-running and most infamous frauds was perpetrated by Anna Anderson who claimed to be the Romanov daughter Anastasia for more than six decades. Unfortunately, none of what she said was remotely true.
She first began making the claim that she was Anastasia while confined to a mental institution. Despite the questionable claim from a questionable source, several people who actually knew the Romanovs were convinced she was who she said she was. Later, DNA testing proved that Anderson was lying about her lineage.
Nicholas II Was Related to Other World Leaders
Nicholas II wasn’t the only famous one in his family—although he definitely is the most infamous! In fact, he shared a family tree with royalty and leaders from several other countries. These included both King George V of England and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who were his first and third cousins respectively.
It seems like most of the family was an expert at getting into political messes. While the Romanovs were murdered by their own people, Kaiser Wilhelm was facing his own problems at home and is widely blamed as one of the main causes of World War I.
The Family was in Exile Before Their Execution
The tide had turned against the Romanovs long before they were actually executed. The road to their deaths was a long one that involved both exile and stretches of house arrest. Initially, they were sent to Siberia to live in exile.
However, at a certain point, they were later relocated to Yekaterinburg, Russia. Here they were kept under house arrest in a merchant’s home. A few months after this began, they would eventually be executed in the home that they had been confined to.
The Bodies of the Romanovs Were Buried Multiple Times
When the Bolsheviks killed the Romanovs they wanted them gone for good. This led to a relocation of their remains to ensure they remained dead and buried. Initially, the family’s bodies were tossed into a mine, but their killers wanted to do more than that.
So, they next exhumed the bodies from the mine and placed them in an unmarked grave. To add more insult to injury, their bodies were partially dissolved with acid to make identifying the remains even more difficult. It wouldn’t be until 2007 when all the remains of the Romanovs were accounted for.
Alexandra Was Queen Victoria's Favorite Grandchild
Nicholas II came from a very high-profile family and could boast about cousins as famous as King George V of England and Wilhelm Kaiser II of Germany. However, he wasn’t the only one who came from extremely royal blood. His wife Alexandra descended from major royalty too.
It turns out that Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, but the crazy facts don’t stop there. She wasn’t just any granddaughter—she was the favorite grandchild of the English queen. Like Nicholas II, Alexandra kept the family tradition of ruling a country alive.
Alexandra's Family was Ravaged by Diptheria
Despite coming from royal blood, Empress Alexandra’s upbringing wasn’t always a happy one. Lots of tragedy befell her family during her early years. This included a period when Diptheria ravaged her family and almost cost the Empress her own life as well. At first, she, her siblings, and her father fell ill.
Eventually, Alexandra, most of her siblings, and her father would recover from the illness, but her mother wouldn’t be so lucky. She also caught the disease in the course of caring for her family and died, along with Alexandra’s sister, Marie. The loss clearly affected Alexandra’s attitude and behavior.
Alexandra Met Nicholas II at Her Sister's Wedding
The love story between Nicholas II and Alexandra has a long history. The two first met years before they began a relationship while at the wedding of Alexandra’s sister. At the time, Alexandra was only 12 years old and Nicholas II was a mere prince. However, the relationship continued to grow.
Over the course of years, the two became closer and more in love, and the marriage between the two eventually seemed inevitable. Nicholas II caught the love bug so bad that he even wrote about Alexandra (then Alix) in his journal: “It is my dream to one day marry Alix H.”
Nicholas' Parents Didn't Approve of Alexandra
While Nicholas II and Alexandra were madly in love, not everyone was excited for the happy couple. Specifically, Nicholas’ parents were strongly opposed to their union. Nicholas’ mother, the Grand Duchess Maria was particularly opposed to the wedding because she disliked Alexandra’s personality.
Maria (rightfully) saw Alexandra as a moody, stubborn woman, but those personality flaws weren’t the only thing she hated about her. She also disliked that Alexandra’s heritage was German and had a sneaking suspicion that Alexandra carried the gene for hemophilia (which was also correct).
Both Nicholas II and Alexandra Were Unpleasant People
Nicholas II’s mother may have thought that Alexandra was an unpleasant person, but she was far from the only one. After the death of her mother and sister, people immediately noticed a change in her for the worse. She was allegedly very emotional and stubborn to almost a ridiculous degree.
Like his wife, Nicholas II was no saint either. During his childhood, people frequently commented on his bratty nature, and, later in life, he would earn the nickname “Nicholas the Bloody” which was a pretty accurate way to describe the violent, impulsive ruler. The two were made for each other, in the worst way possible.
Nicholas and Alexandra's Wedding was Rushed
Even though they had known each other for years, the wedding between Nicholas II and Alexandra was a rushed affair. When Nicholas’ father became deathly ill, his parents became more amenable to his relationship because they knew he would soon be tsar and need to produce heirs.
Only a week before his death, Nicholas’ father gave the approval for his marriage to Alexandra. After he passed, the two were married about a week later without the normal pomp and celebration, since it was still technically during the mourning period for his father the former tsar.
Nicholas II Thought He Was Ordained by God
It should have been pretty obvious from the get-go that there would be trouble for the Romanovs. Because despite his inexperience, Nicholas II sincerely believed that he was an agent of God and had been supernaturally ordained to be the tsar of Russia. And Alexandra believed this just as strongly as her husband.
God may have ordained them to rule Russia, but he obviously ordained for them to be murdered for it as well, because, as we all know, things did not end up well for this power couple or their family, and some of it had to due with Nicholas II’s delusions of grandeur.
There Was Drama After the Birth of the First Romanov Child
It did not take long after their wedding for Nicholas and Alexandra to start producing potential heirs. Within months of the marriage, Alexandra was pregnant with their first child. She gave birth to a girl, Olga, but not everyone was thrilled for them and their new arrival.
Most upset was Nicholas’ mother, the Grand Duchess Maria, who had been hoping for an immediate male heir to the throne. The couple themselves had hoped for a boy too, but were still happy with a girl, saying, “We are grateful she was a daughter; if she was a boy she would have belonged to the people, being a girl she belongs to us.”