Anna Anderson, Helga de la Brache, and Arthur Orton: Greatest impersonators from history

Fareeha Arshad
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (left) and Anna Anderson, who adopted the identity of Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia (right)Flickr

There have always been impersonators throughout history. Some of them successfully managed to fool most people around them before being caught, while a few of them played big games before revealing their true identity. Let’s look at three of such imposters in history who claimed to be someone they weren’t.

1. Anna Anderson

In Berlin in 1920, Anna Anderson attempted suicide. Her failed attempt at taking her life earned her admittance to the mental asylum. Initially, she refused to tell her name.

Much later, she revealed her identity as Anna Anderson. A couple of years later, Anderson claimed to be the Russian Grand Duchess, Anastasia Romanov. However, the Grand Duchess had already been dead for four years before this claim.

In 1927, it was discovered that Anderson was actually a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska who had been suffering from mental illness. Also, the members of the Russian Imperial family, including the close friends of Duchess Anastasia, refuted Anderson’s claim.

Yet, some people confirmed and believed Anderson to be the Duchess, which gave her story widespread media coverage. Anderson herself upheld this claim until she died in 1984.

One person who did not believe Anderson’s claims was Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The fact Stalin never ordered Anderson’s assassination proves he knew she was a fraud. If Anderson had been Anastasia, Stalin would have sent his assassins after her.

On 20 August 1940, Communist fanatic Frank Jacson killed Stalin’s greatest rival Leon Trotsky in Mexico City on orders from the Soviet dictator. Stalin ordered Trotsky’s death because the rival Communist threatened his power. The Czar’s daughter would have been a far greater threat to Stalin and an obvious target of NKVD death squads.

2. Helga de la Brache
A portrait of Gustav IV Adolf, King of Sweden and Fredrika Dorotea VilhelminaPicryl

Helga de la Brache was Swedish fraud who claimed to be the secret daughter of King Gustav IV of Sweden and Queen Frederica of Baden.

She even successfully produced a royal pension that supported her claim. In her well-woven yet convincing story, Helga said that Princess Sophia of Sweden raised her after her alleged father was exiled. After Princess died in 1829, Helga was sent to an asylum to keep her birth a ‘secret’. She narrowly escaped the asylum to ‘rightfully’ inherit what was her’s.

Helga’s story was accepted by many people and earned her generous financial support from many philanthropists, including the king of Sweden. She was provided with royal luxuries and a yearly pension that sustained her lavish life.

Much later, an investigation revealed that Helga was actually a maid from Stockholm and her desire to ‘rise above her status’ forced her to come up with the story. Her trial resulted in heavy fines.

3. Arthur Orton
A signboard displaying a photograph of Sir Roger TichborneWikimedia Commons

Arthur Orton, also known as the ‘Tichborne Claimant’, was a well-known celebrity in the Victorian society of the nineteenth century. Orton claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, the missing heir to the Tichborne Baronetcy and thought to have died in 1854.

When Tichborne’s mother learnt the death of her beloved son, she refused to believe the news. She carried out an extensive investigation to find her lost son.

This is when an English butcher in Australia, Arthur Orton, came forward claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne. Being in denial and desperate to be reunited with her son, Lady Tichborne accepted the imposter as her ‘son.’

After the death of Lady Tichborne, Orton was put on trial to prove his identity. Eventually, it was confirmed that Orton was not Sir Roger and hence was proven guilty. Finally, Orton was arrested and was sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment.

Who are some of the other greatest impersonators from history who managed to fool a large audience? Do let us know in the comments section.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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