Author photo. Anna Vyrubova, a photograph taken before 1917.

Anna Vyrubova, a photograph taken before 1917. (Wikipedia)

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Anna Vyrubova, née Taneyeva, was born in Moscow to a family with connections to the Russian Imperial family. Her father Aleksandr Taneyev was a high government official and a noted composer. Her mother Countess Nadezhda Tolstoy was a distant relative of the writer and a descendant of the famous Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov. She had a privileged childhood and was a playmate of Prince Felix Yussupov, later the wealthiest man in Russia (and one of the assassins of Grigori Rasputin). At age 17, Anna made her formal debut in society and was presented to the Dowager Empress Marie at court, where she served as a maid of honor. In 1903, she fell ill and was visited by the Empress Alexandra, wife of Nicholas II. The two women developed a great affection for one another that became akin to mother and daughter. Anna hero-worshipped Alexandra, who wanted a friend and confidante totally devoted to her because she had made few friends since coming to Russia as a bride. In 1907, Alexandra helped persuade Anna to marry Alexander Vyrubov, a Russian naval officer whose ship had been sunk beneath him in the Russo-Japanese War. The marriage was unhappy from the very start, and the couple divorced within 18 months. Alexandra felt guilty for her role in promoting the marriage, and drew even closer to her friend. She never gave Anna Vyrubova a formal position at court, but assigned her living quarters near the Imperial family in their residences and took her along on family vacations. Anna's importance grew after she became an adherent of Grigori Rasputin and introduced him to the Empress. During World War I, she trained alongside Alexandra and her daughters as a Red Cross nurse. Anna was severely injured in a train accident between Moscow and the secluded Imperial estate at Tsarskoye Selo in 1915, and was left a paraplegic. Alexandra took even greater care of her after the accident. Following Rasputin's murder in 1916, his body was buried on a secret location on Anna's property adjacent to the palace. At the start of the Russian Revolution, Anna was arrested by the Bolsheviks and spent five months imprisoned in the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. Her interrogators concluded that she was too naive and unintelligent to be worth prosecuting, and allowed her to escape to Finland in 1920. There she wrote her memoirs, which provide a rare glimpse into the home life of Empress Alexandra and her family.
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