1129: Princess Tarakanova
Pretender to the Russian Throne
Born: c.1745-1753, Location Unknown
Died: 15 December 1775, St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia (Present-day St. Petersburg, Russia)
In 1772, while Catherine the Great ruled Russia, a woman whose true identity remains a mystery appeared and made a claim to the Russian imperial throne. First appearing in France, the woman who spoke with impeccable refinement and polished mannerisms was known for her beauty and grace. The woman claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Empress Elizabeth, making her a cousin-in-law of Catherine and the legitimate heir, seeing as Catherine’s only claim came from being the widow of the former emperor.
According to the “Princess”, she was born in St. Petersburg in 1753 and was raised by tutors in Persia, one of whom discovered her true parentage and informed her of the facts.
While this may seem far-fetched, in actuality there was a real illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth living at the time. She spent her entire life in a convent, with her true identity hidden from her, but while “Sister Dofiya” did not know her real parentage, the rest of European society did. The fact that so many people did know a true Princess Augusta Tarakanova did exist helped the imposter princess gain support for her claim.
While still in Paris, the princess lived a lavish lifestyle paid for entirely by other members of the nobility and elite upper class—many of whom opposed Catherine’s reign for various political reasons. However, it soon became apparent that at least one of her friends—who claimed to be a baron—was in actuality nothing more than a merchant with debts beyond his ability to pay back. The princess began to move all across Europe, assuming various aliases including Fraulein Frank, Madame Tremouille, and Countess Selinski as she went.
Catherine was so threatened by the imposter’s claims, she had her locked up in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. In order to catch the so-called Princess, Catherine had her lover’s brother set up an elaborate trap including faking his love for the princess. On the day of their wedding, instead of exchanging vows, the princess was arrested and taken to Russia.
After the princess was incarcerated, she was brutally tortured, however, the princess refused to admit to her real name or deny her royal parentage. The princess died in her cell in 1775, possible from tuberculosis, and was buried in the fortress graveyard without any ceremony.
At the time she was known as Princess Vladimir, but her name has been changed to Princess Tarakanova over time. Today, the so-called princess’s story is almost forgotten, but the painting of her by Konstantin Flavitsky is known in art circles around the world. Dating from 1864, Konstantin was forced by the Russian royal family to say the painting was based on a novel and not either of the possible Princess Tarakanova stories. The painting remains in a gallery in Russia today.
Located In My Personal Library:
National Geographic History Magazine Article: “Princess Tarakanova, Pretender to the Russian Throne” by Maria Pilar Queralt del Hierro (July/August 2019 Edition)