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A Prince Who Would Not Stay Dead
by [?]

His name was Dmitri, and he was hereditary Grand-Prince of all the Russias, being the son of Ivan the Terrible, and only surviving brother of Feodor, the childless successor of that blood-thirsty czar. He was carefully killed in the presence of witnesses, during his boyhood, and duly buried, with honors appropriate to his station in life; so that if Dmitri had been an ordinary mortal, or even an ordinary prince, there would have been no story of his life to tell, except the brief tragedy of his taking off. He was no ordinary prince, however, and so the trifling incident of his death during childhood had as little to do with his career as had one or two other episodes of a like nature in the history of his later life. He was born to rule Russia, and was not at all disposed to excuse himself from the performance of the duty Providence had thus imposed upon him, by pleading the two or three thorough killings to which he was subjected. The story, as preserved in authentic history, is a very interesting one, and may perhaps bear repeating here. The reader may find all the facts in any reputable history of Russia, or of the houses of Rurik and Romanoff.

In his jealousy of the absolute power he wielded, Ivan the Terrible had made constant war upon his nobility–killing them, or driving them away, and in every way possible destroying whatever share of influence they possessed in the state. When he died, leaving as his successor Feodor, a weak prince, of uncertain temper and infirm intellect, the nobility–naturally enough–hoped to regain their ancient influence in the state, and might have accomplished their purpose without difficulty if their measures to that end had been taken concertedly; but, jealous as they were of the privileges of their class, they were even more tenacious of their individual and family pretensions. They quarrelled among themselves, in short, and, while they were quarrelling, a bold and ambitious man, Boris Godunof, who happened to be the czar’s brother-in-law, conceived the project of becoming prime-minister and actual ruler of the empire. Indeed, his ambition extended even further than this. Not content with governing Russia in the name of Feodor, he set covetous eyes upon the purple itself, and was resolved to become czar in name as well as in fact. But this was a delicate and difficult task, and could by accomplished only at great risk and by great patience. Boris was a man of undoubted genius, extreme shrewdness, unlimited ambition, and remarkable personal courage; and difficult and dangerous as his task was, he seems never to have faltered in his purpose from the instant of its conception to the time of its execution.

Knowing the power of money in state affairs, he took care to accumulate a vast sum in his own private coffers, as a first step. He conciliated the common people in a hundred ways–by wise legislation, by the reformation of abuses which pressed hardly upon them, and sometimes by the oppression of the nobles in the interest of the lower classes. He was not long in making himself altogether the most popular man in Russia. He removed, by death or banishment, those whom he could not conciliate, together with all other persons whom he thought likely to prove obstacles in the way of his grand purpose. In short, a very brief time sufficed him for the winning of a popularity which, in any country but Russia, would have been sufficient for his need. But Boris knew his Russians well. He knew that loyalty to the line of Rurik was the strongest feeling in their breasts, after that of devotion to their creed–of which, indeed, it formed a chief part. It was their fixed belief in the divine right of the legitimate princes of the House of Rurik to reign, that had kept them patient, even under the rigors of Ivan’s rule; and Boris knew well enough that no usurper, however strongly intrenched in their affections he might be, could hope to win those superstitiously loyal people to his support against any prince of the right line, however brutal, unjust, and despotic that prince might be. He knew, in brief, that so long as any descendant of Rurik should live, no other man could hope to seat himself upon the Muscovite throne. Feodor had no children, but he had one brother, the lad Dmitri, who would be his successor in the natural course of events. His existence was sure to prove an effectual bar to all Boris’s hopes; and so it was necessary to get him out of the way before the scheme should be ripe for execution. To accomplish this, the wily minister sent Dmitri and his mother to the distant town of Uglitch, and there, by his orders, the young prince was murdered, in the presence of his nurse and six other people, and buried from his mother’s residence. This was in 1591. The lad’s death was announced, of course. Indeed, it was known to nearly everybody in Uglitch, the tocsin having been sounded, and the population having gathered around the murdered boy, where they put to death a good many who were suspected of complicity with the murderers. But in publishing it abroad in Russia, Boris deemed it prudent to attribute it, some say to a fever, others to an accidental fall upon a knife with which the boy had been playing; and lest the people of Uglitch should embarrass the minister by insisting upon a different diagnosis of the boy’s last illness, that prudent official put a great many of them to death, cut the tongues out of others’ heads, and banished the rest to Siberia–laying the town in ashes. He spared the lad’s mother, but shut her up in a convent.