Konstantin Flavitsky, Princess Tarakanova, 1864

‘Tarakan’ means ‘cockroach’ in Russian and is the name given to this imposter woman after her death. She pretended to have been the child of Count Alexei Razumovsky and Empress Elizabeth of Russia, and therefore, granddaughter to Peter the Great. She travelled Europe under several aliases, including Fräulein Frank, Madame Trémouille, and Knyazhna Yelizaveta Vladimirskaya (Princess of Vladimir). After scandal and unpaid debts in Paris, she left for Frankfurt. There she became mistress to German Count Philipp Ferdinand of Limburg Stirum, a known megalomaniac and in major debt himself. He agreed to take on all her debts and then she skipped town for Venice. Catherine the Great, hearing of this scandalous grifter, dispatched Alexei Orlov to retrieve Tarakanova. Orlov seduced Tarakanova in Italy and managed to lure her onto a boat bound for Russia. When back in the motherland, Tarakanova was imprisoned and died of tuberculosis in 1775. Flavitsky portrays the woman as dying in an historic flood, but that happened a couple years after her death. There is another story that her death was faked and that she lived many more years as a nun in a convent.

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