Between 1918 and 1991 no one knew for sure what had happened to the Romanovs. The Russian government admitted that Tsar Nicholas had been executed but they were close-lipped about the fate of the others. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories sprang up and imposters stepped forward. Apart from anything else, the Romanovs were worth what would be $300 billion in today’s terms, much of it rumoured to be deposited in foreign bank accounts.
Nicholas II had been a disastrous ruler, quite willing to order his troops to fire on his own people; Alexandra was suspected (unfairly) of sneaking state secrets to her native Germany during the First World War and there was that ill-considered relationship with Rasputin. But no one had any evidence of wrongdoing by the children, the youngest of whom were just seventeen (Anastasia) and thirteen (Alexei). Who could have been barbaric enough to massacre these innocents? It was hard to accept that any government would sanction such a thing. Thus the world’s readiness to believe some or all had survived.
The best-known Romanov imposter was Anna Anderson, who turned up in a Berlin asylum
in 1920 and claimed to be Anastasia. Loads of people believed her, including the children of the family physician Dr Botkin, who had died with them in the Ekaterinburg house, their cousin Grand Duke Andrei, and even the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Anna Anderson died in 1984, still maintaining that she was the Romanovs’ youngest daughter. DNA tests ten years later showed otherwise, but as recently as 2014, Russian historian Veniamin Alekseyev claimed that the tests had been flawed, the DNA contaminated. He thinks that Anastasia probably did escape and Anna Anderson could well have been her. French historian Marc Ferro goes further by suggesting that Alexandra and her daughters might all have survived, with only the tsar and his son Alexei murdered.
There were several claimants for each of the Romanov children, and the story that particularly fascinates me is that of Larissa Tudor. She made no claims herself but after her death in 1926 rumours began to circulate that she had in fact been Grand Duchess Tatiana. Where did the large sum of money she left her husband come from? Why did he take flowers to her grave every year on the date of Tatiana’s birthday? And why did he have ‘Feodorovna’ carved on her gravestone (Feodorovna was her Alexandra’s patronymic) when according to Larissa’s marriage certificate her maiden name was Haouk?
Larissa made several contradictory claims about her own background, most famously that she was a belly dancer living in Constantinople when Owen Tudor, an officer in the King’s Own Hussars, met her in 1921. They married in London in 1923 and lived a very quiet life near Lydd in Kent. Larissa died of tuberculosis three years later but after her death rumours began to spread. When neighbours who had known her were shown portraits of Tatiana by author Michael Occleshaw, they all exclaimed “That’s her!”
There are a number of theories about how Tatiana could have escaped from Russia but Occleshaw thinks she was flown out of Ekaterinburg in early July 1918 by British agents and made her way east through Canada and hence to Britain.
What do I think happened? You’ll have to read my new novel The Secret Wife to find out.