The true story behind the execution of the Romanov family shown in 'The Crown,' including what the show left out




 
  • Season five of "The Crown" depicts in horrifying detail the deaths of the Russian royal family.

  • The Romanovs were executed in 1918 after Bolshevik revolutionaries toppled the monarchy.

  • Here's what the Netflix show gets right and wrong about the British royal family's involvement.

Episode six of the latest season of "The Crown" opens with a different royal family than the one viewers have grown accustomed to seeing over the past five seasons.

In a flashback to the early 20th century, we see King George V's (Richard Dillane) cozy breakfast with his wife, Mary of Teck (Candida Benson), and son, the future King Edward VIII (Adam Buchanan), interrupted by a rather urgent matter.

The king's aide hands him a letter from Downing Street informing him that the government wants to send a ship to rescue Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who were being held prisoner in their own country. However, they will only do so with the king's permission, given that the tsar is his cousin.

While viewers don't see the response from the British monarch and his wife, the next scene shows in horrifying detail the repercussions of King George's decision as the tsar, his wife, and five children are brutally murdered by Bolshevik revolutionaries.

Here's how the events of the episode compare with what really happened to the Romanov dynasty.

The Romanovs, descendants of Peter the Great, were the last imperial dynasty to rule over Russia.

Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia and their children, 1907.
Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia and their children, 1907.  

The Romanovs first came to power in 1613, and there were 17 Romanov rulers on the Russian throne before Nicholas II was crowned in 1894.

According to History.com, he was neither trained nor inclined to rule when he came to power at the age of 26, in the same month he married his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, also known as Alix of Hesse.

The couple had four daughters together over the next 15 years: Olga, born in 1895; Tatiana, born in 1897; Maria, born in 1899; and Anastasia, born in 1901. After that, they turned to faith in hopes of bearing a male heir and finally welcomed their only son, Alexei, in 1904.

In his public life as ruler, Nicholas also faced difficulties. He became known as "Nicholas the Bloody" for his role in the Khodynka Tragedy and the suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution.

He was forced to abdicate in 1917, thereby ending the Romanov dynasty's 304-year rule of Russia.

 

 

 

The Romanovs were held captive in the crumbling Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Russia, for 78 days before their execution.

The Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in 1919 – two years after the execution of the Romanovs.
The Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in 1919 – two years after the execution of the Romanovs.  

They occupied four rooms on the upper floor while their guards were housed on the ground floor, according to Town & Country. However, they had been held captive for much longer, having first been held prisoner in the Alexander Palace following the February Revolution in 1917.

They had just a few remaining servants with them, chambermaid Anna Demidova, cook Ivan Kharitonov, valet Alexei Trupp and physician Dr. Yevgeny Botkin.

George V and Nicholas II really were cousins and bore a strong resemblance to one another.

Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, and George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1913.
Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, and George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1913.  

The two rulers were really cousins - first cousins, in fact, as their mothers were sisters.

George V's mother was Princess Alexandra of Denmark, who was the wife of Queen Victoria's eldest son, Edward VII. Alexandra's sister was Maria Fedorovna, who married Tsar Alexander III and mothered Nicholas, who would become the last Russian monarch.

The two rulers shared a close friendship, used the nicknames "Georgie" and "Nicky" for each other, and even vacationed together.

The Windsor and Romanov families pose together for a portrait in 1909.
The Windsor and Romanov families pose together for a portrait in 1909.  

According to The Washington Post, the two men's uncanny resemblance was remarked upon when the families gathered together for events such as vacations and royal weddings. In 1909, for example, the families were photographed holidaying together on the Isle of Wight for the Cowes Regatta.

As Catrine Clay recounts in her book "King, Kaiser, Tsar," when Nicholas and his family were murdered, George wrote in his diary: "I was devoted to Nicky, who was the kindest of men, a thorough gentleman, loved his country and his people."

Yet, despite their close relationship, George V denied his cousin and his family asylum in the United Kingdom. His decision was made over several weeks. rather than over breakfast as the show suggests.

Richard Dillane as King George V in \"The Crown.\"Netflix
Richard Dillane as King George V in \"The Crown.\"Netflix  

According to Frances Welch's book, "The Imperial Tea Party," via Tatler, the British monarch was initially resolved to rescue Nicholas II but was undermined by his secretary.

Lord Stamfordham expressed concerns that bringing the Romanovs to the UK would fuel the already growing republican movement among British subjects.

The king might have faced the threat of his own forced abdication if he was seen as being too welcoming to the family, and it is possible that he wanted to maintain good relations with the new Bolshevik regime.

Additionally, there was also the problem of Tsarina Alexandra's nationality. She was German, and granting her asylum would have been unpopular given that World War I was still raging on. In the end, the offer to rescue the family was rescinded.

 

In the early hours of July 17, 1918, the family and their servants were awoken and told to dress and gather their belongings. They believed they were being rescued.

A scene depicting the massacre of the Romanov family in \"The Crown.
A scene depicting the massacre of the Romanov family in \"The Crown.  

Just like "The Crown" depicts, the family really did think they had been rescued by "cousin George" or someone else when they were roused from their beds.

Under the guise of taking photographs to prove their safety, they were led into a small basement room in the house and instructed to wait.

According to Town & Country, Alexandra was sick and requested a chair, while Nicholas asked for another one for 13-year-old Alexei.

Once in the basement, they were told: "Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you."

Cellar of Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, after the Execution of the Romanov Family in the night on 16-17 July 1918,
Cellar of Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, after the Execution of the Romanov Family in the night on 16-17 July 1918,  

According to "The Fate of the Romanovs" by Greg King and Penny Wilson, Nicholas and his family were so confused they asked Yakov Yurovsky, the chief executioner who had read the order, to repeat it.

11 or 12 heavily armed men then filed into the room and opened fire on the family. It was a frenzied massacre, and many of the guards injured themselves due to ricocheting bullets. As shown, some of the younger members of the family were bayonetted.

 

Their remains were eventually discovered and identified, but much earlier than the show suggests.

Royalist supporters stand in the street with portaits of the last Russian Tzar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra during the burial ceremony of the Tzar
Royalist supporters stand in the street with portaits of the last Russian Tzar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra during the burial ceremony of the Tzar's family remains in 1998.  

The Romanovs were buried in two unmarked graves, one containing Nicholas, Alexandra, and three of their daughters and another containing Alexei and one of his sisters.

In "The Crown," the remains of the Romanovs are shown to have been discovered, excavated, and identified only after Russian president Boris Yeltsin's visit to London in 1994.

However, according to History Extra, the final resting place of the family was first located almost two decades earlier by an amateur archeologist. They were then excavated in 1991 and the process to identify them began in 1993.

Similarly, the timeline of the reburial has also shifted for the purposes of the drama. It took place several years later, in 1998, per the BBC, only after Nicholas' remains were verified, not in 1994 as the show appears to suggest.

There is also no evidence to suggest that Queen Elizabeth II personally asked Yeltsin to give the Romanovs an official burial, and she did not plan her three-day visit to Moscow in 1994 to coincide with seeing the family buried.

Prince Philip's involvement in identifying the bodies, meanwhile, came much later than "The Crown" claims.

prince philip
prince philip  

The late Duke of Edinburgh did indeed give a DNA sample for the scientific inquiry to identify Nicholas, but not until 2007.

It was actually the body of Nicholas's brother that provided the missing link in confirming that the bodies did, in fact, belong to the Romanovs. According to The Washington Post, Grand Duke George was exhumed to provide a DNA match for Nicholas's remains.

Although Philip and the Queen were both distantly related to the Romanovs, Philip's connection came through his maternal line which proved invaluable in verifying the bodies of Alexandra and her children.

The tsarina was Philip's great-aunt, meaning that she shared mitochondrial DNA - DNA inherited exclusively from the mother - with him. As a result, his blood sample was able to confirm beyond a doubt that the remains were indeed those of the Romanovs.

 

There is no evidence that the final decision on whether to save the Romanovs was made by Mary, as "The Crown" suggests.

Mary of Teck (1867 - 1953), queen-consort to George V circa 1912.
Mary of Teck (1867 - 1953), queen-consort to George V circa 1912.  

In the episode, Penny Knatchbull (Natascha McElhone) posits a new theory about why the British royals didn't extend a helping hand to their Russian relations. She suggests that it could have been due to some jealousy of Alexandra on Mary's part.

"You see there was a rivalry between the two women," she tells the Queen, explaining that it went all the way back to their time as young German princesses before they were married.

"Alexandra was prettier, and from a grander family," she said.

Penny also suggests that Alexandra rejected the proposal of Prince Albert, King Edward VII's eldest son, before Mary became engaged to him. Albert died when he was 28, resulting in Mary then marrying his younger brother, George.

However, there is no evidence that this was the reason behind the decision not to give the family asylum, nor that Mary had any say in the matter, which was ultimately decided by the king.

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