Princess Tarakanova

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An 1864 painting by Konstantin Flavitsky depicts the legend that this impostor was killed by a 1777 flood. In reality, she had died in 1775.

Princess Tarakanova (c. 1745 – December 15 [O.S. December 4] 1775), was a pretender to the Russian throne. She styled herself, among other names, Knyazhna Yelizaveta Vladimirskaya (Princess of Vladimir), Fräulein Frank, and Madame Trémouille. Tarakanova (tarakan is the Russian word for cockroach) is a later name, used only in entertainment (literature, theater, filmography, pictures), apparently on the basis of how she lived her last months and died. In her own time, she was not known by that name.

Life[edit]

Tarakanova claimed to be the daughter of Alexei Razumovsky and Empress Elizabeth of Russia, reared in Saint Petersburg. Even her place of birth, however, is not certain, and her real name is not known. She is known to have traveled to several cities in Western Europe, and to have become a mistress of Philipp Ferdinand of Limburg Stirum, apparently in the hope that he would marry her.

She eventually was arrested in Livorno, Tuscany, by Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov, who had been sent by Empress Catherine II to retrieve her. Orlov seduced her, then lured her aboard a Russian ship and took her to Russia in February 1775. She was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, where she died of tuberculosis that December. She was buried in the graveyard of the fortress.

A popular theory postulated that her death was faked and that she was secretly forced to take the veil under the name Dosifea. The mysterious nun of this name is recorded as having lived in the Ivanovsky Convent from 1785 until her death in 1810.

Films[edit]

  • A play written by Ippolit Shpazhinsky was the basis for the 1910 Russian film Knyazhna Tarakanova (Княжна Тараканова).[1]
  • A 1930 French film Tarakanova in which she is played by Édith Jéhanne.
  • In 1950, a joint UK/Italian movie titled Shadow of the Eagle was produced about the seduction mission by Alexei Orlov of Princess Tarakanova, with Valentina Cortese portraying Tarakanova and Richard Greene in the role of Count Orlov. Tarakanova is painted as a real princess who is a threat to Catherine the Great both politically and in royal lineage, not a pretender to the throne of Russia. The story portrays Orlov as a much more sympathetic character, and a betrayer of Catherine the Great, in that he allies himself with Tarakanova while claiming false allegiance to Catherine. The events in the movie follow history authentically until the meeting of Princess Tarakanova and Orlov takes place, and the ending alters actual real-life events, in that Orlov rescues Tarakanova from prison in Russia in a daring raid and they live happily ever after.
  • In 1990 an award-winning Soviet film production titled The Royal Hunt was released, based on a play by Leonid Zorin of the same title. It told the story of the life and adventures around Europe of Princess Tarakanova and the operation by Alexei Orlov to trick and capture her.

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