Why the Romanovs Were Executed SO Brutally

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The Romanov line ruled Russia for hundreds of years… until their reign met a violent end. In 1917, the whole royal family was executed in secret. Including Anastasia! And the details are brutal.

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The Romanovs

Mikhail Romanov via Wiki

In 1598, the Russian leader Fyodor I died which led to 15 years of chaos: the Time of Troubles. The troubles ended when Mikhail Romanov, the first Romanov ruler, became tsar in 1613. But Mikhail had a rough go of it. Just 16 years old at the time, the boy did not want the throne; stories say he cried upon learning of his role. In the end, though, he sought counsel from the previous tsars, and turned out to be a diplomatic ruler. His time on the throne solidified the Romanov family’s position for years to come.

The House of Romanov ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. During that time, there was no established order of succession with the throne bouncing between male and even female heirs. After centuries of this process, Emperor Nicholas II was eventually crowned in 1894.

He would be the last Romanov ruler.

Emperor Nicholas II — called “Bloody Nicholas” — was unpopular from the start. He led the country into an ill-fated war with Japan in 1904 and soon after, the peasants of St. Petersberg began protesting his rule. This led to Bloody Sunday, an event that ushered in the Russian Revolution. World War I broke out too, just a few years later, and living conditions worsened further in the country. Every day Russians faced famine while women went to work and soldiers deserted their posts.

Meanwhile, in his palace, Nicholas led a happy life. He loved his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and doted on their five children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and the youngest daughter Anastasia, all grand duchesses, plus one son, Alexei. Little Alexei was the youngest of the Romanov children and the sole boy was in line to inherit the throne. But he was always sickly with hemophilia, a genetic blood disorder that affected many Romanovs.

The family focused on Alexei, obsessed over his health. Alexandra even found a mystic healer for her son, the infamous Grigori Rasputin, who was brought into the family fold. Rasputin became something of an advisor to both Nicholas and Alexandria. Convincing the parents that Alexei’s health was tied to the fate of the country, Rasputin became integral in the Romanov’s plan. But his shamanic influence scared the public, and further isolated the royal family from their people.

A political cartoon from the era, mocking Rasputin’s hold on the Romanovs via johndclare.net

By 1917, the country had enough.

On March 17 of that year, when news of another ration broke, the women workers of Russia went on strike, taking to the streets of St. Petersberg. Nicholas sent troops to quell the protests, but sympathizing with the women’s cause, most soldiers joined in the fight! An uprising had begun, leaving the Romanovs with no army to protect them.

Nicholas was forced by parliament to abdicate the throne and a provisional government took over. Meanwhile, the Romanovs made plans to escape to Britain; his first cousin was King George V, and the two grew up very close. But George faltered and the relatives were not allowed to come. So, the Soviets arrested the Romanovs. While imprisoned, the Romanovs were set up in a string of homes around Russia and allowed certain comforts, bringing along many servants.

This imprisonment lasted for about a year. But when the provisional government was formally replaced by the Bolsheviks, the end was near for the Romanovs.

The Murder of the Romanovs

Emperor Nicolas and his doomed Romanov family via History.com

Vladimir Lenin, the new Bolshevik leader, planned to put Nicholas Romanov to trial — eventually. But hearing that the White Army, who was loyal to the old Tsar, wanted to free the Romanovs, the Bolsheviks issued a secret death sentence.

On the night of July 16, 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra, all five of the children, and a handful of their servants were ordered into the cellar of the house in Yekaterinburg. Then 12 armed men burst into the basement, shooting down the prisoners in a halo of messy gunfire. The firing squad was so disorganized, some of the officers were shot too. When the smoke cleared, any Romanov still breathing was handled — by whatever means necessary. 

One maid, Anna Demidova, was sliced up by the assassins’ bayonets. Alexei was finished off with two final shots. And Anastasia, the very last one living, was stabbed and bludgeoned with the butts of rifles.

The Bolsheviks’ disposal of the bodies was just as savage. First, two of the corpses were burned. Then they were all disfigured with acid. Then they were left in a pit, covered by nine more maimed corpses. Beginning the next day, the rest of the living Romanovs — outside the immediate royal family — were all assassinated in various ways.

Meanwhile, the acid-soaked pile of Romanov remains was not discovered until 1979. But the discovery was covered up until the fall of Soviet Russia in 1991 when they were honored with a public funeral. 

Anastasia Romanov

Today, the most famous Romanov is Anastasia. Most accounts cite her as the last Romanov to perish in the cellar that night in 1918. But for years, Russians believed she was still alive. There were many impersonators.

The most famous was Anna Anderson, who began to claim her identity around 1920. Anderson, who was institutionalized in Germany at the time, said she’d played dead to escape the assassination then snuck away with a sympathetic guard. Eventually, Anderson petitioned the German courts to recognize her identity; the court proceedings gained a lot of media coverage. But she was unable to provide sufficient proof.

After Anderson died in 1984, her body was cremated. DNA tests conducted in 1994 confirmed she was not a Romanov match.

The 1997 children’s cartoon Anastasia further immortalized the historic figure with the story of another (apparent) impersonator, Anya, voiced by Meg Ryan. In that movie, Rasputin is cast as the villain: an evil sorcerer.

The Romanov legend lives on. In 2018, the Amazon series The Romanoffs premiered. It followed different storylines about those who believe themselves to be Romanov descendants; it ran for one season.

On ‘The Crown’

The murder of the Romanovs was dramatized on The Crown in 2022, emphasizing the connection between King George V and his family in Russia.

Read More: Russians Used to ‘Winter Proof’ Their Babies in The Weirdest Way

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