On the night of July 16, 1918, a Bolshevik assassination squad executed Czar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children, putting an end to the Romanov family dynasty that had ruled Russia for more than three centuries.
The murder of the Romanovs stamped out the monarchy in Russia in a brutal fashion. But even though there is no throne to claim, some descendants of Czar Nicholas II still claim royal ties today.
So do a handful of imposters. Since 1918, people all over the world have come forward claiming to be the young crown prince, Alexei, or one of his four sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. So who are the real Romanovs?
LIVING DESCENDANTS OF THE HOUSE OF ROMANOV
At the time of the executions, about a dozen Romanov relatives were known to have escaped the Bolsheviks, including Maria Feodorovna, the mother of Czar Nicholas II, her daughters Xenia and Olga, and their husbands. Of the 53 Romanovs who were alive in 1917, it’s estimated that only 35 remained alive by 1920.
For Russian royalists, the continued existence of Romanov descendants keeps hope alive that at some point someone in the royal family might reclaim the throne—if only they could work out which member of the family has the strongest claim. As it stands, two branches of the Romanov family disagree on who is the legitimate pretender, or claimant to a monarchy that has been abolished. Here are the people alive today with ties to the ill-fated imperial family.
Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna
Maria Vladimirovna is the most widely acknowledged pretender to the throne of Russia. This great-great-granddaughter of Alexander II, who was Emperor of Russia until his assassination in 1881, now lives in Spain. Her father, Vladimir Kirillovich, was born in exile in Finland in 1917, and from 1938 claimed to be head of the Russian imperial family. When Grand Duke Vladimir died in 1992, his daughter succeeded him in this claim, and calls her son, the Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, the heir apparent. However, Maria Vladimirovna has never belonged to the Romanov Family Association, founded in 1979 to unite descendants, because its members include non-dynastic Romanovs (those whose ancestors married outside the dynasty), whom she and her supporters believe do not have a legitimate claim to the throne.
Prince Andrew Romanov
Andrew is the great-great-grandson of Nicholas I, who was emperor of Russia until his death in 1855. He is also the grandson of Duchess Xenia, who fled Russia in 1917 along with her mother and others on a warship sent by her cousin, Britain’s King George V. Born in London in 1923, he has lived for years in California, and is an artist and author. After the death of Prince Dmitri Romanovich in December 2016, Prince Andrew inherited the rival claim to the throne supported by the Romanov Family Association.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
The husband of Queen Elizabeth II is a grandnephew of the last czarina, Alexandra, as well as a great-great-grandson of Nicholas I. His two-part Romanov connection means that his son Prince Charles and his grandsons, Princes William and Harry, are all Romanov relatives. In 1993, after the unmarked graves believed to contain the remains of Nicholas II, Alexandra and three of their daughters were exhumed, Prince Philip even offered a blood sample to scientists seeking to identify the remains. His mitochondrial DNA matched that of the bodies believed to be those of Alexandra and the three girls, helping to confirm their identity.
Princess Olga Andreevna Romanoff
A British socialite and organizer of London’s Russian Debutante Ball in London, Olga is the daughter of Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, the eldest nephew to Nicholas II. Born in 1950, she is the only child from his second marriage (and a half-sister to Prince Andrew). In 2017, she became president of the Romanov Family Association, founded in 1979 to unite descendants. Olga Andreevna has four children, including Francis-Alexander Mathew, a photographer who appeared in the TLC show Secret Princes, where he was billed as Prince Alexander of Russia.
Prince Michael of Kent
A minor royal in Britain (he’s a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II), Prince Michael is celebrated in Russia for his connection to the Romanovs, and his resemblance to Czar Nicholas II, who was a first cousin of his grandmother. In July 2018, he joined Olga Andreevna and other Romanov descendants in St. Petersburg to mark the 100th anniversary of the royal family’s execution, and visited the cathedral where the remains of the czar, czarina and three girls are buried. (Two more bodies, uncovered in 2007 and identified through DNA comparison with living Romanov relatives as two of the murdered children, Alexei and Maria, have not been buried, as some within the Russian Orthodox Church have refused to accept the identification.)
Prince Rostislav Romanov
The great-grandson of Grand Duchess Xenia, Rostislav was born in Chicago and grew up in London. Unusually among Romanov descendants, he has also lived and worked extensively in Russia. An accomplished artist, he also works with the Raketa Watch Factory in St. Petersburg, founded by his ancestor Peter the Great. In 2017—the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution—he designed a special watch stained with a drop of his own blood to commemorate the bloodshed and sacrifice of the revolution and the violent end of Romanov rule in Russia.
King Constantine II of Greece
The king’s great-grandmother was a Romanov grand duchess, and his grandfather was King Constantine I of Greece, making him a cousin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1967, he fled from a military junta in Greece and lived in exile in London until 2013, when he moved back to Greece with his Danish-born wife, Anne-Marie.
Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster
A descendant of Czar Michael I, the duke inherited a fortune worth some $12 billion at the age of 25, becoming one of the world’s youngest billionaires when his father died in 2016. The duke is godfather to Prince George, who is currently third in line to the British throne. The duke is also descended from the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who squared off against Nicholas I during the latter’s reactionary reign.
The great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Nicholas I is a TV and movie actress, and has collaborated with the jewelry company Damiani on a Romanov Collection line, showcasing the name and mystique of her famous family.
CON ARTISTS CLAIMING TIES TO THE ROMANOV FAMILY
Deliberate misinformation from the new Bolshevik regime, combined with the fact that no bodies were found for decades, fueled persistent rumors of survivors among the royal family. Here are the most intriguing imposters to the Romanov name.
Anna Anderson/Franziska Schanzkowska
Dozens of women claimed to be the youngest Romanov princess, Anastasia, but the most famous was Anna Anderson, who surfaced in 1920 in a German mental hospital after jumping off a Berlin bridge. Anderson stuck to her claim, even after evidence surfaced to suggest she was in fact a Polish woman named Franziska Schanzkowska. When she died in 1984 in Charlottesville, Virginia, her death certificate recorded the name, birthdate and birthplace of the Russian princess. Later analysis of her DNA matched her with a descendant of Schanzkowska, not the Russian royals.
A Polish intelligence officer, he worked as a spy for the Soviet Union but ended up passing information to the CIA, helping to expose KGB mules inside Western governments and intelligence agencies. When he defected to the U.S. in 1961, Goleniewski told his CIA debriefers that he was actually Alexei, the young czarevich thought to have been killed with his family in 1918. Though he gave his age as 18 years younger than Alexei would have been, and doctors could not confirm that he had hemophilia, like Alexei had, Goleniewski continued to claim his Romanov identity until he died in 1993.