It was difficult enough merely to survive childhood in earlier times, with nearly certain death in childbirth or later in infancy – through lack of hygiene, lack of medicine, lack of medical knowledge or simply lack of parental care and love. Our two subjects in this post had been healthy enough to survive the normal hazards of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, but they died young almost certainly for dynastic or political reasons. They did not just die – they were both murdered.
Dimitry a son of Tsar Ivan IV was a Russian prince born in 1583. His father was nicknamed ‘The Terrible’ but it appears he did not actually do away with his youngest son. Historians agree that the dirty deed was performed by the Regent Boris Godunov, about whom a great opera was composed.
When Dimitry would have been twenty years old an equally young monk who had run away from his monastery pretended to be the murdered prince, who had been done away with when he was eight. The monk, named Grigori, just one of many young men claiming to be Dimitry, actually got crowned by the army as Tsar, but couldn’t enjoy the throne very long because he was killed in a rebellion twelve months later. The same happened to most if not all the false Dimitrys.
Ivan the Terrible had indeed killed his oldest son, Ivan, in 1581, two years before Dimitry’s birth, and the infant probably knew about the infanticide. The Tsar himself died in 1584, which is why Boris Gudonov became Regent. It is possible the Regent eliminated the boy prince because he wished to continue being Regent.
Louis (Charles) XVII was born in 1785, second son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He was heir to the French throne from June 1789 – not at all a good time to be a member of the monarchy or aristocracy, as the French Revolution was under way. In 1793, when Louis was eight, the revolutionaries guillotined his father (later his mother as well) and put the little boy in a notorious prison called the Temple in Paris. He never left it alive. Mystery still surrounds his death and where his burial place is, but Robespierre and his friends knew that royalists across Europe had had their hopes of a continuing royal family dashed. The secrecy surrounding the little boy’s death led to rumours of a supposed escape, and several pretenders appeared in the years following the end of the Revolution.
Eventually the younger brother of the murdered King became Louis XVIII. He had been spirited out of France in June 1791, possibly by the celebrated ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, who though not using that name, actually existed, inspiring the successful series of novels by Baroness Orzcy. In one of these the Baroness writes about ‘the escape from the Temple’ of little Louis XVII and it is worth reading, like all the Pimpernel books, if only for the tremendous sense of atmosphere Madame Orzcy creates.
Louis XVIII was King of France in name only from 1795 to 1824, and in fact from 1814 to 1824. He had fled France in fright when Bonaparte escaped from Elba and returned in triumph to Paris in 1815. After Wellington and Blücher had at last defeated Bonaparte at Waterloo (q.v.) Louis returned to his kingdom, where he successfully introduced a system of constitutional monarchy, and other good reforms, before dying in 1824, the last of the Capets.