How Princess Tarakanova Died of Tuberculosis in a Russian Prison

Princess Tarakanova was a mysterious woman who claimed to be the daughter of Empress Elizabeth of Russia and Count Alexei Razumovsky. She was a pretender to the Russian throne and a rival of Catherine the Great, who ordered her capture and imprisonment in 1775. But how did Princess Tarakanova die and what was the cause of her death?

The Life and Claims of Princess Tarakanova

Princess Tarakanova was born around 1745, but her real name and origin are unknown. She traveled to various cities in Western Europe, where she used different aliases and attracted several noble suitors. She claimed to be the daughter of Empress Elizabeth, who had ruled Russia from 1741 to 1762, and Count Razumovsky, who was her secret husband and morganatic spouse. Empress Elizabeth had no legitimate children, so Princess Tarakanova asserted that she was her rightful heir.

In 1774, Princess Tarakanova was persuaded by some Polish rebels, who were opposed to Catherine the Great’s interference in their country, to pretend to the Russian throne. She also claimed to be the sister of Yemelyan Pugachev, who was leading a peasant uprising in southeastern Russia at the time. Princess Tarakanova hoped to gain support from other European powers and overthrow Catherine the Great, who had seized the throne from her husband Peter III in 1762.

The Capture and Imprisonment of Princess Tarakanova

Catherine the Great was aware of Princess Tarakanova’s claims and considered her a threat to her rule. She sent one of her former supporters, Count Alexei Orlov, to find and arrest her. Orlov tracked her down in Livorno, Italy, where he seduced her and lured her aboard a Russian ship with the promise of marriage. Once on board, he revealed his true identity and took her prisoner. He brought her to Russia in February 1775 and handed her over to Catherine the Great.

Catherine the Great ordered Princess Tarakanova to be locked up in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where she was kept in isolation and under strict surveillance. She was interrogated several times, but she refused to reveal the secret of her past or renounce her claims. She was also denied any visitors or comforts, except for a priest who tried to convert her to Orthodoxy.

The Death and Burial of Princess Tarakanova

Princess Tarakanova died on December 4, 1775, after less than a year in captivity. The official cause of her death was tuberculosis, a contagious disease that affects the lungs and other organs. Tuberculosis was common and often fatal in prisons at that time, due to poor hygiene, overcrowding, malnutrition, and lack of medical care.

Princess Tarakanova was buried in the graveyard of the Peter and Paul Fortress, without any ceremony or honors. Her grave was unmarked and soon forgotten. Her story, however, lived on in legends, rumors, and artworks. One popular legend claimed that she died in a flood that submerged her cell in 1777, two years after her actual death. This legend inspired a famous painting by Konstantin Flavitsky in 1864.

Another popular theory suggested that Princess Tarakanova’s death was faked and that she was secretly forced to become a nun under the name Dosifea. A mysterious nun with this name lived in the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow from 1785 until her death in 1810. Some people believed that she was Princess Tarakanova in disguise, but there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory.

Conclusion

Princess Tarakanova was a fascinating figure who challenged Catherine the Great’s authority and claimed to be the daughter of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. She was captured by Count Orlov and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, where she died of tuberculosis in 1775. Her life and death have inspired many myths and works of art, but her true identity remains a mystery.

Doms Desk

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