When Larissa Tudor died in the small Kentish town of Lydd in 1926, she was buried in a nondescript corner of the All Saints Church cemetery. The name inscribed on her gravestone, however, and the dates listed for her birth, would end up fuelling rumours that the woman buried there had a much more illustrious past than anyone realised - one that some argued could be traced back to the House of Romanov, the last ever Royal Dynasty of Russia.
The House of Romanov came to its violent end on July 17th 1918. Having been exiled to Siberia following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II after the February Revolution of 1917, the Romanovs were then moved to Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, east of the Ural Mountains. To prevent their rescue by the advancing Czechoslovak Legion, it is widely believed that Russia’s new leader Vladimir Lenin gave the order for the Romanovs to be executed.
Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei were awoken at midnight by their physician, who was under orders to tell them to get dressed in preparation for being moved to a new location. The illusion was short-lived; they were soon confronted by their executioner-to-be - Yakov Yurovsky - who ordered the family into the basement of their home. There, the former Russian Royal Family were shot and bayoneted to death, along with their servants. The disposal of the bodies, however, was hugely chaotic, and the remains lay undiscovered for 70 years - leading many to speculate about whether all members of the family had been accounted for, or whether some had in fact escaped.
In 1921, a British Army Officer named Owen Frederick Morton Tudor - of the 3rd The King’s Own Hussars regiment - was stationed in Constantinople when he supposedly met a belly-dancer named Larissa Haouk performing in a nightclub. Two years later they had married - against the express wishes of Owen’s colonel - at a registrar’s office in London. The marriage certificate recorded Adolph Haouk as Larissa’s father and the York Hotel in Mayfair as her address. Owen Tudor was forced to leave his regiment, transferring to the 3rd Battalion the Royal Tank Corps, based in Lydd.
The newlyweds lived happily together for three years, until Larissa succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis and spinal caries in 1926. Owen Tudor was heartbroken, and had to be physically supported at her graveside during the funeral. However, it was the inscription that Owen had chosen for the gravestone that was arguably the most dramatic consequence of Larissa’s death, reading thus:
To My Very Beloved
Who Died July 18th, 1926
Aged 28 Years
The Wife of
3rd The King's Own Hussars
The most compelling element of the inscription was the choice of name - one that neither reflected her married name (Tudor), nor her maiden name as recorded on the couple’s marriage certificate (Haouk). The use of the name Feodorovna was intensely curious, particularly as it was also the surname of Alexandra Feodorovna - the wife of Romanov patriarch Nicholas II. The dates and age added further mystery to the details on the gravestone, given that when Larissa and Owen married, her age had been recorded as 27 - yet three years later her gravestone gave her age as 28.
Even more strangely, Larissa somehow managed to leave her husband an inheritance that was equivalent to a year’s pay for much of the British population - an astonishing development given that she had ostensibly been working as a nightclub entertainer when they met. Owen, for his part, remarried almost instantly and was readmitted to his regiment in 1927 - yet brought flowers to Larissa’s grave every year up until shortly before his death, and refused to ever answer any correspondence he received enquiring about her inscrutable past.
In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev’s new era of glasnost (openness) led to the disinterring of the Romanovs’ remains, and - as a result - claims by various investigators that two of the family’s bodies were missing. When the suspicious townsfolk of Lydd contacted author Michael Occleshaw about the curious circumstances surrounding Larissa’s life and death, he began to form the theory that Larissa Tudor (or Haouk, or Feodorovna) was in fact the Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna, and that she had been rescued from the same fate as her family at the behest of King George V. Neighbours of Owen and Larissa to whom Occleshaw showed portraits of Tatiana seemed to confirm this, identifying the former Royal as Larissa - and he could find no evidence of a Larissa Haouk having entered England between 1918 and 1923.
The theory was called into question dramatically in July 2007, when a builder and amateur historian named Sergei Pogorelov came across a burnt area of ground in Yekaterinburg that contained the bones of a boy and a young woman - perhaps the remains of the two missing Romanov family members, Alexei and one of his sisters. In an unprecedented twist, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was approached for a blood sample, on the basis that he is a first cousin once removed of the Romanov children. Subsequently, the remains were proved, once and for all, to have belonged to Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria, meaning that Tatiana’s remains were among those disinterred in 1991, and that the entire Romanov family was now accounted for.
All the uncertainty around the execution of the Romanovs had been put to rest - but then one burning question remains: who was the enigmatic Larissa Haouk? What secrets lie buried in her past, and how precisely did she leave her beloved Owen a small fortune upon her death? Watch Larissa: The Lost Romanov for the remarkable true story of this unfathomable woman.