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Also known for her uncanny resemblance to the late film actress and director Mary Pickford, Her Illustriousness the Countess Ekaterina Alexeevna Stepanova was born on the 30th May (O.S)/11th June (N.S) 1899 in Tsarskoe Selo, St. Petersburg, Russian Empire to Elizaveta Feodorovna, born Charlotte Elizabeth Barnes of England, a lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia and Alexei Konstantinovich Stepanov, a Count and a Colonel in Emperor Nicholas II's army.
Raised by her mother and their sole governess, Viktoria Dmitrievna, with the uncommon visits from her aunt and uncle Vera and Nicholas and her cousins, Grigory, Anastasia and Tatiana she became a frequent playmate to her parents employers, Emperor and Empress' daughters Olga (1895), Tatiana (1897), Maria (1899) and Anastasia (1901). Only when the heir and only son, Alexei, was born in 1903 and his bleeding condition, haemophilia, was discovered did she become the only noble playmate and companion to the daughters collectively known as OTMA, and later on the only female friend outside the Imperial family to the Tsarevich. During this time she had also met and befriended Princess Irina Alexandrovna, Princesses Xenia and Nina Georgievna, Princesses Olga, Elizabeth and Marina of Greece and Denmark and Princess Elizabeth of Hesse and by Rhine (1903).
In 1903, the death of her mother and brother during childbirth and her father's position during the Russian-Japanese War made Tsarina Alexandra, one of her godmothers, take the five year old child under her wing and temporarily move her into an empty room on the Children's Floor of the Alexander Palace. She lived in the residence of the Emperor and the Empress until the end of the war in September of the following year, when her father returned from war and she moved back into the Stepanov Manor located on the grounds, only 'down the road' from the Palace.
During 1904-1914, she regularly accompanied the Romanovs to their holiday destinations while also focusing on her lessons by the only four teachers her father could afford for her. Her early start to learning (at the age of six compared to OTMAA's eight) made her academically smarter than her older and younger royal peers, who were developmentally stunted.
When the war began, Ekaterina was pressured by her aunt to become a Red Cross nurse and for the first few months after receiving her license travelled around to many Russian hospitals to help the injured soldiers and citizens in the crossfire. Her last stop before she was summoned back to the Alexander Palace was Rovno, where she briefly worked with Olga Alexandrovna when they came under heavy Austrian fire while attending the Grand Duchess' regiment at the front in November 1914. Because nurses rarely worked so close to the frontlines they both received the Order of St. George by General Mannerheim, who later became President of Finland.
She was brought back to the Alexander Palace after the Empress heard of her receiving the medal for personal gallantry. However, at the same time her British grandmother wised for her to travel via ship to the safety of England. Although hesitant to send her, as Alexandra thought she had a duty as her daughters' companion and sons playmate, she was sent on the 1st March, 1915 with the Imperial family excluding the Emperor, wishing her a personal farewell at the docks from Reval, now known as Tallinn located in modern day Estonia. It would be the last time she would see them alive.
Between 1915-1918 she lived with her grandmother at her country estate, and made frequent visits to many members of the British royal family, including Victoria Mountbatten, Alexandra's oldest sister. Ekaterina, during the time of the Romanov's house arrest, helped Victoria try and the girls out, even pleading to the King himself to at least allow the girls and even Alexei refugee in England with their aunt but all attempts to change the government and the King's mind failed.
Ekaterina was told of the murder of the Imperial family in August of 1918, although their murder was reported in the papers numerous times beforehand, none had predicted the killing of the Romanov daughters, all who were reported by the Bolsheviks to have been transported to Perm with their mother. Their murders were confirmed by the British government. However, according to some personal friends of hers, she was quoted of saying 'I feel a little...sad, but I don't know why' on the morning of the 18th July, 1918, hours after the Romanovs execution. She was informed by Victoria of Milford Haven personally in August, a month after the murders.
In 1921, she married a Russian emigre named Mikhail Nikolaevich and by 1928 had a son and two daughters named Alexei, Olga-Maria and Anastasia. Another daughter would arrive in 1930, named Tatiana. All were named after the Romanov children, in remembrance of them. She was present at the baptism of many royal baptisms, including the baptism of Prince Philip of Greece, and was named one of his godmothers by his mother Princess Alice of Greece, a good friend of hers. She kept correspondence with most of the Romanovs former employees, including Lili Dehn, Pierre Gilliard and Sydney Gibbes.
Horrified by their murders, she held on to some hope that one of the girls had survived like the rumors said. She was one of the last people to have known the Romanovs personally to visit Anna Anderson in 1928 after first refusing, but was eventually pressured into visiting her by Gilliard, who believed she would be able to identify a Romanov because of how much time she had spent with them.
At first she had thought Anderson had been misidentified and that the sickly woman happened to be Tatiana until she saw the rest of her face which held no resemblance to any of the Romanov daughters. After talking to her over an hour about things only Anastasia would know, she left silently not speaking a word. Although pitying her, she did not recognize her as Grand Duchess Anastasia.
She became a Red Cross nurse again during World War II, although staying in one place rather than travelling like she did in her youth. She trained many new nurses and led her own hospital.
Although reported by peers and her children to be a great mother and grandmother, she was tormented by the murders of the Romanovs. So much in fact, that she wished to change her name because of how eerily similar it was to the name of the city they had been killed in, but her husband had convinced her not to and so she was called 'Kate' from then on.
She wrote six books on the Romanovs; one each about the Romanov children and another about Nicholas and Alexandra themselves, all set with anecdotes from diaries and letters sent to her by them, all written between 1908-1918. Her books are considered to be the most reliable on the lives and personalities of the Romanovs.
She was present at the burial of the first Romanov remains in 1998 alongside Prince Michael of Kent. She was a firm believer that the monarchy was destroyed the moment the Romanovs were killed, and did not see any of the present day pretenders to the throne as legitimate in the line of Succession, which many modern day Romanovs believed and followed. Her opinion shaped many monarchists and people who believed the Russian Throne would return.
She died in London, England on the 3rd July, 2000 at the age of 101 and was buried in Windsor Castle, Berkshire by the order of Queen Elizabeth II.
Between 1991-2008, when the bodies of one of the youngest girls were missing, many people theorized that Ekaterina Alexeevna was actually one of the girls, either Tatiana or Maria, and that they took over her identity when she died during the journey to England or that she was switched before she left or before the murders. Another theory was that Ekaterina was a fifth daughter of the Tsar hidden away, either a daughter or step-daughter to Alexandra, but all these theories stopped when pressured DNA tests in 2004 revealed that she held no relation to any of the Romanov remains.
In the Romanovs: One Last Dance, however, in a world where the Bolsheviks don't exist, the Provisional government stands and the Romanovs live with their throne still theirs, Ekaterina is a completely different person.
Returning to Russia in 1918, she is a wife and mother of four beautiful girls. She returns to Tsarskoe Selo in 1924 to become the lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra, and back into the lives of the Romanovs as the marriage of Tsarevich Alexei and Princess Elizabeth of Greece and Denmark approaches.
The Romanovs - One Last Dance
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The Romanovs - One Last Dance