I remember watching a programme called Russia's Lost Princesses a few years ago which was about Tsar Nicholas II's four daughters and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these girls who were the most photographed princesses of their day. I'm sure you know the sad conclusion to their story, killed almost 100 years ago, on the 17th of July 1918, at the climax of the Russian Revolution along with their parents, younger brother and some of their loyal servants.
Not long after watching the documentary I read a post by Jennifer on her Thistlebear blog, Reading the Romanovs, a wonderful review of The Romanov Sisters, a book by Helen Rappaport, and decided then and there that this would be a book which would interest me. I took history as an O Level but I've come to enjoy it so much more as I've got older. When I came across Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by the same author I didn't realise at once that it was the same book with a different title for the UK audience.
Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia are often talked about as a group, in fact, they referred to themselves as OTMA, the initials of their own names, but through the retelling of their stories, which have been researched using their letters and diaries and letters and diaries of those people who were close to them, the individual personalities of each sister is made evident.
The book explains how the family became isolated from the public due to the Tsar and Tsarina's wish to keep their son and heir's life-threatening condition of haemophilia secret and also the family's relationship and dependence on Grigory Rasputin, a Russian mystic who acted as a healer for the Tsar, his wife and son and who the sisters also looked to for advice, contributing factors to the collapse of the Romanov dynasty.
In some ways the girls were just like any other children with their squabbles and disagreements as well as teenage crushes, yet their upbringing certainly had an effect on them. After the outbreak of WWI, the two older girls served as nurses and were witness to some truly horrible injuries, and as you would expect, even death.
The family's execution at the hands of Bolshevik troops who were led by Yakov Yurovsky under instructions by Lenin was not dwelt upon in the book, but we know the family were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death before their bodies were stripped, mutilated, burned and finally disposed of in a field in the Koptyaki forest. Mystery has always surrounded the death of the youngest sister, Grand Duchess Anastasia. There were rumours that she'd managed to escape and there were even imposters claiming to be her, but this has been dismissed with DNA evidence.
This was an excellent read, well researched and illustrated with photos from the family album. As I've said previously, I rarely reread books but this is another keeper which I will definitely pick up again.
I enjoyed Helen Rappaport's writing style and I'm quite tempted now to read another of her books, Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs, which is an account of the final thirteen days of their lives. Helen Rappaport has also written Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the Monarchy which I also quite fancy.