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Four Sisters: The untold story of the doomed Romanov girls

Four Sisters

In a guest article, award-winning historian, Helen Rappaport, discussses her new work, Four Sisters, a reappraisal of the lives of the four Romanov daughters executed along with their parents and brother by Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution of 1917 - 1918.

On 17 July 1918 Russia’s last Imperial Family – Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexey – were all brutally murdered in Ekaterinburg, Western Siberia. It is an event that has gone down in history as one of the most infamous acts of the Russian Revolution, an act that initiated a period of turmoil, terror and murder as Russia descended into a bitter civil war between the new Bolshevik government and the remnants of the old order. 

In the ensuing years since 1918 much has been written in the West about this tragic family, but most of the published work on the Romanov family till now has focused on the two flawed monarchs, Nicholas and Alexandra, their love story and their horrifying demise – a fall from power that was a great deal of their own making. Interest too has generally focused on their only son and heir, Alexei, the longed-for boy whose life was blighted by the curse of haemophilia, passed unknowingly to him by his mother Alexandra. 

In the midst of so much tragedy too often the four lovely and devoted sisters who were also caught up in this story have been relegated to a minor role. But it was they, in fact, who were the mainstay and support of their frequently sick mother and ailing brother, as well as an unquestioning loyal back-up to their father the tsar. There is no doubt how much they adored Nicholas and he them. But the four Romanov sisters also had a profound attachment to each other and to the close friends and retainers who served them. In many words, theirs is a story of quiet devotion behind the scenes that too often has been overlooked. 

For too long history has consigned Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanova to a subsidiary role.

For too long history has consigned Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanova to a subsidiary role – as the pretty, uncontroversial and interchangeable backdrop to the much bigger story of their parents and brother. Four Sisters, is an attempt to change the public perception of the Romanov sisters who till now were portrayed as a boring and bland collective, whose lives offer little of interest. 

The Romanovs
The Romanovs, 1913 from left to right): Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Livadiya.

Exploring the stories of the four sisters against the backdrop of the private, domestic life of the Romanov family has unearthed a wide range of fascinating and  revealing new material that sheds light on the four very different personalities of the daughters of the tsar – their hopes, dreams,  aspirations,  not too mention their disappointments in love   – which in turn illuminate the dynamic of  this family’s till now untold private life.

July 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the murder of the Romanov sisters. The Russian Orthodox Church abroad canonised them along with their parents in 1981; after the fall of communism ten years later they began appearing with increasing regularity in a proliferation of new icons that can now be seen in churches across Russia. 

These four beautiful young women in their white lace dresses and big picture hats have long also been immortalised in the hundreds of photographs of the Romanov family preserved in family albums in the State archives. But both incarnations present an idealised version of these women. At heart, they were very down to earth and much more rounded and engaging. Four Sisters presents an unvarnished account of their story and seeks to restore them to their central role in the life of Russia’s last Imperial Family.

Helen Rappaport

By Helen Rappaport

Monday, July 16, 2018

Helen Rappaport is an award-winning historian and the author of many books, including Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy. Her most recent is The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family.