It’s nighttime on July 17, 1918, and the Romanov family are cowering in their basement. They’ve just been sentenced to death, and a group of soldiers are stood before them. Bullets spray across the room, and smoke soon chokes the air. But Maria Romanov, a young woman who’s not even out of her teens, hasn’t been hurt. So she sneaks toward the back doors, desperate to escape – when a gunman looks straight at her.
Before we find out exactly what happened, though, let’s first take a look at Maria’s childhood. She was born on June 14, 1899, to parents Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna and Tsar Nicholas II – the Slavic equivalent of an emperor. And when Maria came into the world, she already had two older sisters: Tatiana and Olga. Two years later, another girl, Anastasia, joined the imperial brood, followed by Alexei in 1904 – Maria’s only brother.
And as the daughter of a Tsar, Maria was officially called a Velikaya Knyazhna. Yet although the title is most commonly referred to in English as “Grand Duchess,” it’s actually closer to a “Grand Princess.” Therefore, the young girl and her sisters enjoyed a superior status to other European royals’ daughters. These other princesses were known as “Royal Highnesses” – whereas Maria was technically of a grander imperial rank.