You Won’t Believe these Rare Photographs Showing the Last Days of the Romanovs

Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

The House of Romanov ruled over Russia for over three hundred years, from 1613 until 1917. Some of the most famous Russian rulers were from the House of Romanov: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and the notorious Nicholas II, the last of the Russian tsars. Under Nicholas II’s rule, the Russians suffered a humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Ten years later, Russia entered World War I. Over three million Russians were killed and the high-ranking officials of the Imperial Army botched the war effort, leading to food shortages at home.

Popular opinion swayed against the royal family, which exploded into mass protests that toppled the Russian government. In February 1917, protests against the food shortages as a result of the war led to armed conflict. Nicholas II abdicated and the royal family was arrested. Initially, the new provisional government of Russia was going to send the royal family into exile, but no one would grant them asylum. In August, the new government sent the royal family to Tobolsk, Siberia, to escape the revolutionary activity. In the October Revolution a few months later, the Bolsheviks seized power from the provisional government. In April 1918, the royal family was sent to Yekaterinburg, Russia, where they were executed.

In the early twentieth century, photography became more accessible and cameras were more suited for private use. The Russian royal family enjoyed photography as a hobby and they took many pictures together. When we study the history of the Romanovs, and we learn their fate, sometimes we forget that they were a family. They laughed, played, and spent time together. They went on vacations and enjoyed spending time outdoors. The photographs of the Russian royal family that survive show that they were a family that had genuine affection for each other. Other photographs of the family that survive from the period also document their exile and imprisonment before their execution. These thirty photographs, just a few of many, give us a glimpse into the last days of the House of Romanov.

Photograph of the Romanovs, the last royal family of Russia. Seated from left to right: Marie, Queen Alexandra, Czar Nicholas II, Anastasia, Alexei (front). Standing from left to right: Olga and Tatiana. Published by Bain News Service, 1914. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.
Photograph of Empress Alexandra, signed with an inscription to Nicholas II. Unknown photographer, 1894. Romanov Collection. General Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Nicholas II and his son Alexei sawing wood at Tobolsk, Siberia. Photographed by Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, 1917. Romanov Collection. General Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Wikimedia Commons.
The Romanovs visiting a regiment during WWI. Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Nicholas II teaching Anastasia how to smoke. Unknown photographer, 1916. Romanov family, published in the Siberian Times. Zlatoust City History Museum. http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/remarkable-private-pictures-of-the-russian-royal-family-found-in-a-remote-urals-museum/. Wikimedia Commons.
The Romanovs working in the garden at Tsarskoye Selo, Russia, 1917. Copyright by Underwood & Underwood. Photographed 1917, copyrighted 1921. Library of Congress.
Grand Duchess Olga pictured looking through a family album. Unknown photographer, possibly Nicholas II. Unknown date, possibly between 1914-1916. Zlatoust City History Museum. http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/remarkable-private-pictures-of-the-russian-royal-family-found-in-a-remote-urals-museum/.
A sled for six Romanov children. Unknown photographer, ca. 1907-1908. http://www.vintag.es/2014/11/life-in-russia-from-between-1900s-and.html.
Grand Duchess Tatiana, daughter of the czar, transporting with the aid of a soldier, lumps of sod on a stretcher at during internment at Tsarskoye Selo, Russia, 1917. Copyright by Underwood & Underwood. Photographed 1917, copyrighted 1921. Library of Congress.
Emperor Nicholas II (top), Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (center), Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna (bottom), Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich (far left) boating on the Dnieper River. Unknown photographer, 1916. Wikimedia Commons.
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia and Tsarevich Alexei aboard the Russia, a ship that ferried them from Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg, Russia. It is the last known photograph taken of them. Unknown photographer, May 1918. Wikimedia Commons.
Empress Alexandra in her rolling chair embroiders while the rest of the royal family is at work in the garden at Tsarskoye Selo, Russia, 1917. Copyright by Underwood & Underwood. Photographed 1917, Copyrighted 1921. Library of Congress.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna fooling around with fake teeth. Photographed by Tsar Nicholas II, 1915 or 1916. Laksi Diffusion on Getty Images. Wikimedia Commons.
Alexandra and Alexei Romanov. Unknown photographer, unknown date. Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
The Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia with court physician Eugene Botkin. Unknown photographer, ca. 1909. Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Wikimedia Commons.