Anyone with a small child has probably seen the animated DisneyÂ© film “Anastasia”, a retelling of the tale of the youngest daughter of the Russian Imperial family. While highly fictionalized (to say the least), the cartoon has fueled new interest in the true stories of Tsar Nicholas Romanov and Empress Aleksandra. A recurring theme in stories of the lives of the royal family is their love for pets of all types. Historical records show that they owned a virtual menagerie of dogs of assorted breeds, as well as numerous cats, parrots and fish.
Of all the family’s dogs, few are as frequently mentioned as “Ortino”, Princess Tatiana’s French Bulldog. Tatiana was the second oldest of the Tsar’s daughters, and was seventeen years old at the time Ortino came into her life. Excerpts from Tatiana’s diary detail how she obtained him, and how very fond she was of her pet -
1914 October 12
“Anya brought me from Malama a small French Bulldog (Ortino). It is a very cute little thing – I am so happy.”
1914 October 15
“We had dinner with father, mother and NP (Sablin, a family friend). The dog was sitting with me… he is adorable.”
Tatiana, Anastasia and Ortino
on the grounds of Alexandar Palace
In the strict confines of the palace, the royal pets were allowed amazing freedom to behave just as Frenchies in the most casual households still do today. Ortino and Olga’s cat Vaska were special favorites of the family, and had free run of the palace. In a scene familiar to all owners of French Bulldogs, Ortino and Vaska would chase one another across furniture and table tops, knocking over priceless objects and scattering papers in the process. Rather than being scolded, these antics proved the royal family with a great deal of amusement.
Tatiana mentions Ortino’s playful nature in letters to her father, saying “My doggy Ortino was running about the room and playing during the teatime. It is so funny and sweet”, and “We are sitting in Mother’s room after dinner. Olga and Mother are playing “Colorito” and Ortino is running about the room like a mad dog”. Hardly a letter or diary entry fails to make some little mention of Ortino, and her words convey eloquently how much she treasured him. She describes Ortino as snoring gently at her feet, and even indulgently describes his occasional “accident”.
Ortino was Tatiana’s constant companion and she was rarely seen without him at her side. Like most Frenchies, Ortino insisted he be allowed to sleep with Tatiana at the foot of her bed every night. Apparently, some things about French Bulldogs never change – Ortino snored quite loudly, which disturbed Tatiana’s sister Olga, with whom she shared a room. Anastasia complained about it in her journal, writing “When we are asleep at night, all of us sisters are kept awake by Ortino, Tatiana’s French Bulldog, who snores. We have tried everything, but nothing works!” Ortino and Vaska would also disturb the sisters sleep with the occasional game of tag, but Tatiana could not be persuaded to have Ortino sleep with the other family dogs.
It seems even royalty are not immune to “Frenchie Fever” – the feeling that “If one is fun, more will be marvelous!” The Romanov’s owned at least two French Bulldogs, as this excerpt from Grand Duchess Anastasia’s diary details.
1914 November 30
“Now we’ve got another charming French (Bull) puppy, Bille. She is so sweet. She is so charming when she plays with (Tsarevitch) Aleksey’s dog. They are quite mad and race across the floor so fast they tumble into walls and furniture. We cannot stop laughing at them.”
As pampered imperial pets, simple leather collars would simply not do. Both Olga’s cat Vaska and Ortino wore custom collars encrusted with semi precious stones, hand crafted with Faberge, the Royal jeweler. Tatiana also had a collection of figures of Ortino carved by Faberge in semi precious stones and rock crystal. These reminders of a Princess’ love for her pet have been dispersed around the world, and one may be found in the collection of the Cleveland Museum.
The placid life of the Romanov’s came to and end after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, when they were forced into exile by the new communist regime. Even during this most difficult time in her life, Tatiana refused to part with Ortino. He is last mentioned in first hand accounts of family’s flight, which detail Tatiana “struggling to carry Ortino while dragging a suitcase through ankle deep mud and a howling crowd at the Yekaterinaburg train station”. Just two months later, at midnight on June 16th 1918, Tatiana and her entire family were executed.
In the late ’90′s, excavations were done to recover the remains of the royal family from the mine shaft where they had been flung after their executions. There, among their bones, were found the remains of what was described as a ‘small terrier type dog’ and which are assumed to be those of Ortino. His bones were taken along with those of the Royal family, and interred with due ceremony and respect in the family crypt in Moscow. Even in death, Ortino and Tatiana have not been separated.