America's love affair with royalty has taken heart with the news of a development in the Anastasia case.

A West German identity specialist now says that a comparison of ears has convinced him that Ann Anderson Manahan, 75, of Charlottesville, Va., is indeed the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia.

The teen-aged Anastasia was supposedly murdered with her father, Czar Nicholas II, and the rest of the royal family in 1918 at Ekaterinberg. But on Feb. 17, 1919, a young woman, rescued from a suicide attempt in a Berlin canal, said she was a Grand Duchess. The claim has been in and out of the courts of Germany for half a century.

Manahan, wife of a retired University of Virginia history professor, said she is sick of the whole business. But others are not.

The Czar's family, perhaps even more than other royal families, has captured our imagination. Nicholas seemed such a loving father, playing games with the children, carrying the young Czarevitch on his shoulders. We made "Nicholas and Alexandra" a best-seller. We made a hit out of the play "Anastasia," with its electrifying recognition scene between Viveca Lindfors and Eugenie Leontovich. We have always beenf ascinated with the story.

Perhaps it is because the life of a royal family seems like a dream to us: the carefree, work-free idylls at one estate or another, the yachting parties, the adulation of almost everyone allowed in contact. It is a fairytale acted out, transcending the real world.

Four previous studies of Manahan's ears with photos of Anastasia's ears were split 2-2. But now Moritz J. Furtmayr, a top German forensic expert, has made what he terms a positive identification. The negative findings, he said, were trying to compare a left ear with a right ear.

Ears have long been recognized as a reliable key to identity, for they change little during a lifetime. West German courts usually accept identity claims based on 12 different points of anatomical and tissue formation. Furtmayr claims 17 points of similarity. This week's Quick magazine reproduced the photos he used.

Detractors insisted the claimant was Granziska Schanzkowska, a Polish farm worker, who had disappeared about that time. They noted in particular her poor command of Russian. Supporters pointed to her remarkable resemblance to Anastasia and her knowledge of the Czar's court.

There is supposed to be a fortune in the Bank of England, deposited by the Czar for his children in the ominous days before the Russian Revolution. But Manahan has always rejected any notion that she was interested in that.

One longtime backer, Prince Frederick Ernst von Saxon-Altenburg, her attorney in Germany, said he thinks there is a chance that Manahan can be legally proclaimed the Grand Duchess in her lifetime. However, the claimant herself didn't seem thrilled by the idea.

"If the prince goes on misusing the power of attorney as he has, it will be taken away," she said. "He's the one behind this mess. He is after the money, and nothing else."

John manahan defended the prince, saying that even if the money exists he couldn't get at it.

With vindication closer, the would-be Anastasia had this to say, in an AP interview at her Charlottesville home:

"I am ill of this dirt . . . is my ear so important? I am ill of the constant, constant questions. Even little children ask me, 'Anastasia, when will you get your jewelry back?' I will never get it back. I have no desire for wealth I would never wear it."

What is the special fascination of Anastasia for Americans? Part of it is of course the life wish that all of us have for lost celebrities, from Amelia Earharton. There was even some talk that John Kennedy was alive in vegetable state on a Greek island. But mostly, one suspects, it is our reverence for royalty.

Was there ever a visiting duke, count, earl or lifetime peer who didn't have to hear his title repeated by his American hosts very single time he was introduced?

The British peers themselves except perhaps for a few jumped-up scrap metal-barons, would rather forget the whole thing. They can afford to. Just as the less-than-rich tend to keep closer count of a Rockefeller's cars, houses and dollars than the Rockefeller himself.

A few years ago, a canned series on the British royal family was offered to small newspapers around the country. It was a sensation. Readers wrote in for extra copies. Unbelieving editors had to bring the series off the society page and onto Page One. We knew that the British populace dotes on royalty - with spectacular exceptions - but we never quite realized that we have the same affliction.

Probably a psychologist would mutter about role models. But it goes beyond that. It has something to do with security. Wouldn't it be nice? The castles, the valets, the sense of being national mascots, protected and revered? And, like Anastasia, to escape history?