Animosity toward Russia’s ruling class had already been building for centuries when the House of Romanov took power. But a series of violent suppressions and a mounting death toll during World War I ultimately led to the fall of the last empire in Russia, the final Tsar Nicholas II, and his family.
These haunting photos depict the lives of the Romanovs before their executions in 1918. The remains of the Romanov family members weren’t discovered until nearly six decades after their brutal slaying. Take a look at the shocking discovery, as well as intimate final photos of the family.
The Romanovs’ Remains Are Discovered In 1979
After the execution of the Romanov family, their bodies lay in two unmarked graves in locations which were kept secret by Soviet Leaders. It wasn’t until 1979 that amateur historians found the remains of family members, which were later reopened and confirmed via DNA testing.
The Romanovs remains were removed and relocated to a room in the Bureau of Forensic Examination in Ekaterinburg. Although the amateur historians uncovered the bodies of Nicholas, Alexandra and daughters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia—Alexei and Maria’s remains were not located until 2007. Since then, there have been numerous investigations opened and reopened regarding the murders.
A Day At The Beach
This photograph of the Romanov family was found in six recovered family albums that are housed in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Many of the photos in the recovered albums were shot by the Russian Imperial family’s head of household—Tsar Nicholas II himself.
Pictured below, the last Tsar of Russia’s children pose for a photo while standing in shallow water during a day at the beach. The photo captures three of his daughters as well as their younger brother Alexei Nikolaevich, the heir apparent to the throne of the Russian Empire. He would’ve been about 13 years old at the time.
Visiting the Troops
This photo shows Tsar Nicholas II visiting a regiment of Kuban Cossacks in Russia along with his children during World War 1. The Tsar’s older daughters and wife helped nurse wounded soldiers as volunteers with the Red Cross during the war, though Anastasia was too young to help, so she played games of checkers and billiards with soldiers to lift their spirits instead.
During the war, Nicholas II took command of the army on the front lines. The war also provided an opportunity for his wife, Alexandra, to influence him toward an authoritarian government approach. Her German origin injured the Romanov’s reputation during this time.
Empress Alexandra Walks with Her Daughter
This photograph from the Beinecke Library’s collection shows Empress Alexandra walking with her second daughter, Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna. During her lifetime, Tatiana was the best known of the Romanov family’s daughters. She was said to be the daughter who most favored her mother, Alexandra, and was often said to be her mother’s favorite daughter.
Tatiana became a skilled Red Cross nurse when the war broke out, along with Alexandra and her sister, Olga. They cared for wounded soldiers in a private hospital on the Tsarskoe Selo grounds before the Romanov family was arrested during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Tsar Nicholas II with His Daughters
In the photograph from the Beinecke Library’s collection of recovered Romanov family albums, Tsar Nicholas II is pictured with his daughters, Maria, Anastasia, Olga, and Tatiana. All four daughters were born before the heir apparent, Alexei. Olga was closest to Tatiana.
They were known as “The Big Pair.” They were always seen together. Maria and her younger sister Anastasia were known as “The Little Pair.” Like Olga and Tatiana, they shared a room and dressed alike. The four girls were raised as simply as possible, sleeping on hard cots when they weren’t ill, and taking cold baths in the morning.
The Romanov Daughters
The Romanov daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, are pictured in a formal portrait taken in 1916, just two years before their execution. With pearls on their necks, they pose in evening gowns in one of the salons, which is decorated with French furniture.
Behind them is an organ with sheet music, which all of Tsar Nicholas II’s daughters learned how to play. Tatiana was the best player of the four girls. The relaxed portrait shows no sign of the tragedy that would soon befall the Romanov girls. In just a year, they would be placed under house arrest and confined to their quarters.
The Daughters with Shaved Heads
The Romanov daughters are pictured here looking very different from the formal piano portrait they took together just a year earlier. The grand duchesses shaved their heads in the spring of 1917 after a bout with measles. Captivity certainly took its toll on the Romanovs.
Grand Duchess Tatiana was reportedly most upset that she couldn’t continue her work tending to wounded soldiers as she had as a World War I Red Cross nurse. She wrote to fellow nurse Velentina Chebotarev in April 1917, “It is strange to sit in the morning at home, to be in good health and not go to change the bandages!”
The Children Playing at Wolfsgarten
When thinking about the gruesome end that befell the Romanov children, it’s strange to look at earlier photographs of them playing. Grand Duchess Maria, Tsarevich Alexei, Georg Donatus, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse, and Grand Duchess Anastasia are pictured here playing with a toy car at Schloss Wolfsgarten, a royal hunting lodge.
The photograph was taken in the Autumn of 1910 when Anastasia was just nine years old, Alexei was six years old, and Maria was 11 years old. Tatiana and Olga were the only one of the Romanov children who would live to turn 20 years old. Olga lived to be the oldest, executed at age 22.
In Captivity at Tobolsk
The photograph below offers a glimpse into the Romanov’s captivity at Tobolsk. The former tsar, Nicholas II, sits with Tatiana, Olga, a little boy of a servant, Alexei, and Anastasia on a fence in front of a greenhouse. In August of 1917, the Romanovs were sent to Tobolsk by Alexander Kerensky’s provisional government, supposedly to protect them from the revolution.
They lived in the former governor’s mansion in relative comfort until October 1917 when the Bolsheviks came to power. Then, the conditions of their imprisonment became stricter. The photograph above was taken in September 1917, just a month before life would become even more difficult for the Romanovs.
The Last Photograph of Empress Alexandra
The photograph here is believed the be the last photograph ever taken of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She sits under an umbrella on the balcony of the Governor’s Mansion at Tobolsk in Siberia. Her daughters Olga and Tatiana are by her side. The photo was taken in the spring of 1918. The Romanovs would be executed just a few months later by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky.
Tsarina Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Her faith in the mystic Grigori Rasputin, her influence on her husband, specifically to resist surrendering Siberiaratic authority over the country, and her German heritage severely damaged the reputation of the Romanovs.
The Tsar & His Daughters On Their Yacht
Prior to their fall from grace, the Emperor and his family enjoyed incredible wealth and luxury, including luxury forms of transportation. This photo show the Tsar sitting with his four daughters while vacationing on their imperial yacht, the Standart. The Standart was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas’s father, Emperor Alexander III.
It was reportedly one of the most luxurious vessels of its time, fitted with crystal chandeliers and mahogany paneling, with the idea of making it a floating palace for the royal family. The yacht was also where the royal family were told in 1914 of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that would ultimately be the catalyst for the first World War.
Anastasia in Captivity
This haunting photograph of Grand Duchess Anastasia was taken shortly before her execution while she was being held in captivity at Tobolsk in the spring of 1918. She is sitting at a desk in her bedroom during captivity. There were many false reports of Anastasia’s survival through the 20th century, inspiring books and films. At least ten women claimed to be the Grand Duchess.
The best-known imposter was Anna Anderson. Anderson was cremated upon her death in 1984, but DNA testing showed no relation to the Romanov family. However, DNA testing at two grave sites has now identified the four Romanov daughters, their parents, and Alexei, which proved conclusively that the entire family died in 1918.