The Tsarevich’s Dog

Crown Prince Alexei with his dog, Joy

Crown Prince Alexei with his dog, Joy (picture from The SIberian TImes)

We all love a good mystery, and if it’s tied to an historic event then even better. From Roswell to JFK, the theorists have had a field day speculating on endless scenarios and supposed cover-ups.

Such momentous mysteries are few and far between, but there was one which over the decades generated as much fodder for conspiracy theorists as the Kennedy assassination or UFOs.  It concerned the fate of Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter to Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra of Russia.

The story begins on July 17, 1918 when the Tsar and Tsarina, their son, the Tsarevich Crown Prince Alexei, his four sisters, and four servants were ruthlessly gunned down and bayoneted by Red Army soldiers in the cellar of Ipatiev House, in Yekaterinburg,  just as opposing White Army forces were closing in.

It was a brutal act that stunned many in a time when brutality was the norm. The youth of the victims – the Tsarevich, Alexei, was just 13 years old – together with the allure of their royal pedigree and the ruthless nature of the executions made for a compelling reading.

Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and their family

Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra and their family

Gathered together in that cellar, unaware of their fate until the last moment, the royal Romanovs were wiped out in a hail of gunfire. Some died instantly. Others took a little longer. The Empress’s maid, Anna Dermidova, was stabbed trying to defend herself with a cushion stuffed with jewels.

Alexei was shot twice in the head after the killers noticed that he had survived the first bullet.

Grand Duchess Maria is said to have been the last to die, protected as she was by diamonds sewn into her clothing. She cowered against the wall, covering her head in terror before being stabbed with a bayonet.

For years after this brutal event, however, rumours circulated that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, had actually survived the cellar atrocity. Over time, a number of women came forward claiming to be her, each one offering a story as to how she had survived the killings of the rest of the family.

Anna Anderson became the best known. She first appeared publicly between 1920 and 1922, asserting that she had feigned death amongst all the bodies in the cellar, and had managed to flee with the help of a compassionate guard.

Anderson was a stubborn  (or just deluded) woman, and her legal battle for recognition lasted from 1938 up to 1970. It only ended with her being deemed having failed to provide sufficient proof that she was indeed the Grand Duchess.

She died in 1984 and her body was cremated. Ten years later, DNA tests compared a tissue sample from Anderson, located in a hospital, with that of the blood of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a great-nephew of Empress Alexandra. There was no match.

It had taken over 70 years to finally put the speculation to rest. The experts agreed that there never was a survivor from the Yekaterinburg executions.

But the experts were wrong…a flop-eared spaniel called Joy – the beloved pet of the Tsarevich Alexei – really had been there that day.

Two other dogs present in that cellar weren’t so lucky to escape the revolutionaries’ bullets, but Joy was somehow overlooked. According to The Siberian Times, a week after the royals were murdered, he was found by a soldier in the yard of Ipatiev House.

The malnourished dog was eventually homed with Colonel Pavel Rodzianko, a member of the British Expeditionary Force in Siberia, who took Joy back to England with him.

In his book Tattered Banners, Rodzianko wrote: ‘With heavy hearts we sailed away from Vladivostok. Joy, the little ill-named spaniel who had seen his master murdered, that fateful night, traveled with me. I have never seen Russia again.’

Joy lived out his days in a house on Clewer Hill Road in Windsor, in a happy, safe environment.

It was all a far cry from the horrors of those final moments in Yekaterinburg when he saw the Russian royal family shot and bayoneted before his eyes.

The little dog was eventually buried close to Windsor Castle, home to the Duke of Edinburgh – great-cousin to Joy’s beloved master, the murdered Tsarevich.

Whenever you hear of the Russian royals, remember Joy – the Crown Prince’s dog who survived a massacre… and lived to bark another day.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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19 Responses to The Tsarevich’s Dog

  1. John L. Monk says:

    A very sad tail. *rimshot*
    I hope the family managed to take a few of the bastards with them.

  2. Louis says:

    Funny reading this today – I just saw “Doctor Zhivago” on Turner Classic Movies this morning. That film makes it pretty clear that zealots like those in the Russian Revolution would have thought nothing of killing dogs just because they belonged to the royal family. I suspect Anna Anderson is one of those phonies who started to believe their own lies but I’ve never understood why she happened to pick out Anastasia. Thanks for an interesting post, David.

  3. Lindy Moone says:

    Awww, you made me weep for Joy. Thanks for another great post in my in-box.

    Sent you a message and a friend request on facebook (as my not-so-secret identity, Aimee Louise Ay). The message will be hiding in your “other” messages, since we aren’t friends, yet.

  4. Well, we’re friends now. Looking forward to your reply to my questions, AImee. I see you’re in Bodrum. I was in Iliche (is that how you spell it?) and went to the hot srpings at Pam…Pamuch… oh, you know where I mean!

  5. Lindy Moone says:

    Pamukkale! The “cotton castle”. I don’t know where you mean by “Iliche”, but my better half probably will. I’ll ask him when he comes home.

  6. rhchatlien says:

    How od. I was just thinking about Anastasia yesterday (as I watched the last part of Zhivago on TV). Didn’t know about the dog though. I’m glad he found a happy home.

  7. See Louis’ comment above, Ruth… he must have been watching ‘Zhivago’ at the same time as you 🙂

  8. Vivien Gould says:

    The brutal murder of the Tsar and his family, carried out in such disgusting fashion, always brings tears to my eyes, and shockingly it was just one of so many horrible atrocities to be committed in those days. Reading about Joy brought a smile to my face. It’s those little anecdotes that one doesn’t find in history books but that make history come alive.

  9. Denise says:

    What a lovely story! I had read about the dog in Helen Rappaport’s book but am so glad to hear how he ended his days.

  10. The Anderson story was so fascinating. In fact the whole business is fascinating. I’ve a lot of books on it but you know something, I have just learned something new and that’s about the dog. Thanks for another great post.

  11. sheetal says:

    so sad about the family ……the way they were killed…………..and how the other 2 dogs died too……… so sad……….cant shake it off either…………they should have spared the daughters at least…………….so sad..i hope the executioners are rotting in hell…………

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