Have you heard? There's a rumor in St. Petersburg....that Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna, a cousin of the last tsar, was a no-good royal. Rumor had it that she killed her asthmatic husband by pushing him off a ledge and also had an affair with her secretary, spawning a secret love child.
Our heroine was born Anastasia Mikhailovna, daughter of Grand Duke Michael, a son of Tsar Nicholas I. She grew up pretty humble for a royal, since Grand Duke Michael was Governor General of the Caucasus and raised his family in the comparative middle of nowhere, rather than in cosmopolitan St. Petersburg with his relatives. Society maven Princess Catherine Radziwill described her as "a tall, superb girl with wonderful brown eyes [others say green], slight and slim in appearance." She had a "distinguished look" which came from centuries of aristocratic ancestors
Her parents had raised her well. She consented to marry her skinny, asthmatic intended, the future Grand Duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Radziwill said he was sickly and was prone to getting eczema flare-ups all over his body; he had to retire periodically to heal. Her husband could tell she wasn't into him, but he was head-over-heels for her...and, sadly, she didn't find a happy home at the Mecklenburg court, either.
A regal Anastasia. Image via History and Archaeology blog.
As a result of FF's poor health, the royal couple had to spend time in warmer, drier climates, which Anastasia, an avid tennis player, loved. They often residedin the south of France and Italy, where they raised their children in a relaxed fashion. These were Alexandrine, future Queen of Denmark; another Friedrich Franz; and Cecilie, who would marry the son and heir of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.
But sadly, Anastasia became a widow at just 36 in 1897 when her husband was found near death. He was discovered on a road beneath a parapet of their villa (he later succumbed to his wounds). Friedrich Franz had probably committed suicide, unable to suffer through his sicknesses anymore. But Anastasia wasn't terribly popular, thanks to her spending tons of money. So rumors spread that she pushed her hubby over the edge: literally. After FF's death, Anastasia resided in Paris and spent even more money gambling in Monte Carlo. She particularly roulette, and the casino staff rigged the games so she'd win.
During this time, Anastasia surrounded herself with hot guys. A contemporary account quipped, "Her men-servants were chosen for their good looks and, if rumour [sic] said truly, each one of those ran a good chance of promotion; though her private secretary was always supposed to be the most favoured [sic] one." As a result, she got pregnant, but hid her condition. Anastasia first claimed she had a tumor; then she went into seclusion, saying she had chicken pox, when it was time to deliver.
Anastasia's most famous daughter, Cecilie, Crown Princess of Prussia. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
After her affair with her private secretary, Anastasia gave birth to a son named Alexis Louis de Wenden in 1902. She kept her son relatively secret, although a small child was often seen playing in her garden. Reports had Alexis growing up to be a well-known Parisian wine seller. Anastasia's ailment, some said dryly, ended "with an unusual and far-reaching result not always experienced by those suffering from that complaint made the whole Riviera talk and most of it smile a little maliciously, perhaps."
Anastasia was a Romanov through and through, rich, regal, and aware of her august heritage. Prince Felix Yussupov said that even after forty, Anastasia "had lost none of her high spirits; she was kind and affectionate, but her eccentric and despotic nature made her rather formidable." She woke up at eight and dragged Felix around so he "never had a moment's peace. I had to lunch, dine, go to the theater and supper with her almost every day." She went to several different theaters each day and brought along her footman, who held scarves in case she got cold. After all of this, Anastasia was still raring to go. Said Yussupov, "I could have put up with all this but unfortunately she had a passion for dancing. At midnight, now wide awake, she would drag me to a night club where she danced till dawn."
Although Anastasia had married a German royal, she despised her adopted country; at her French home, she rarely invited anyone of German descent. That made the news when her daughter, Cecilie, became Crown Princess of Germany. When there was to be a meeting of the two families, the Kaiser told Anastasia and her family to head to Florence a few weeks early; Anastasia didn't like the Kaiser telling her what to do, so she feigned illness and sent her daughter with chaperones instead. Daisy, Princess of Pless, also attended Cecilie's wedding, writing, "Her mother, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, looked handsome, cold and proud." She gossiped, "And no wonder, after what the papers said of her...Ah! What cowards! And about a widow whose daughter was just going to marry their own Crown Prince. I felt so sorry for her."
Feature image of Anastasia Mikhailovna and her kids via All About Royal Families.