In the last installment of this fascinating story, we jumped to the chase and witnessed the actual murder of Dmitry Ivanovich, the (supposedly) spontaneous riot of the Uglich townspeople that ensued upon the knifing; and then we even sped 14 years into the future, deep into the Time of Troubles, following our lad Dmitry, now fully grown into a strapping young Pretender and enjoying a series of smashing adventures!
In other words, we covered all the headlines. But now it is time to go back to the actual crime, and dig a little deeper. Perhaps not all is as it seems.
First, a brief chronology, to make sure we get all the dates right. Cruelly omitting those of Ivan’s children who died in infancy, also omitting the girls and just focusing on the 3 viable male candidates for the throne. roughly speaking, this reality show is called “My Three Sons“. Of which the first two, Ivan and Fedor, were full blood brothers; whereas the third, Dmitry, was the brother from a different mother.
- Ivan the Terrible’s son and heir Ivan Ivanovich, the most capable of Ivan’s children, died (allegedly Papa killed him in a fit of rage) in 1581, at the age of 27. (The painter Repin’s famous depiction of this crime, was horrifically vandalized a few months back, by a maniac, while it hung in the Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow. Specialists are still working day and night to restore the painting.)
- Ivan’s youngest son Dmitry Ivanovich was born a year later, in 1582.
- Ivan the Terrible himself died a couple of years later, in 1584.
- Leaving the throne to Son #2, Fedor Ivanovich, who was 26 at the time.
- Young Dmitry Ivanovich died in 1591, which is what this series of posts is all about.
- Tsar Fedor I died 7 years later, in 1598, at the age of 40, unable to produce an heir. And Fedor’s impotence brought an end to the Rurik dynasty. What followed was the Time of Troubles, and the ascension of the Romanov Dynasty.
Sidorchik mentions the “great ambitions” of the Nagie Klan as one possible factor that set off this tragedy. Recall: Dmitry’s mom, Maria Nagaya, albeit married to Ivan the Terrible, was not considered a legitimate wife, since their wedding was not endorsed by the Church. Tsar Fedor, under the guidance of Boris Godunov made it super-clear to his step-mom and step-in-laws that their role in Uglich was to be purely ceremonial. In a way, sending them off to Uglich was a type of exile, just not quite as far as Siberia. Not that Uglich isn’t a nice town, but the point was to get the in-laws out of Moscow. “The Nagie clan,” according to Sidorchik, “starting with the Tsaritsa (Maria) was quite offended by this situation, as they had all hoped for high government positions.”
Despite their quasi-exile to Uglich, the Nagie clan still maintained some faint hope that their little guy was going to make it all the way the throne. Although Dmitry was said to suffer from epilepsy, he was otherwise sound of mind and, by all accounts, a good kid.
Or was he? Dmitry is a Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, so all the Russian sources, and the church frescoes and the like, depict him as a type of Little Angel, with an actual halo around his head. He was such a good little boy that his body didn’t even decompose when he died! And yet an English traveler of the time tells a different story. Of a Bad Apple, a pint-sized monster, an urchin who went well beyond what Americans deem a “high-spirited child” and which Russians approvingly call a “mischievous boy”. More like a violent psychopath, just like his dad – a chip off the old block! An English diplomat of the Elizabethan era named Giles Fletcher wrote about his travels in Russia, during which he heard some strange rumors about this child. I know, I know, Russophiles will object: The English always write anti-Russian propaganda! It is so, but Fletcher was not necessarily writing his treatise for the general public. He was not a reporter for the Daily Sun. His was supposed to be an accurate account to be read by actual grown-ups in the English government, who needed to know whom they were dealing with, and what was actually going on in the world.
In 1588 Fletcher was appointed English Ambassador to Russia and charged with renewing Her Majesty’s trade treaty, previously entered into with Tsar Ivan, with the new Tsar Fedor Ivanovich. In his well-researched report, Fletcher described to his boss, Queen Elizabeth, everything that he had seen in Russia, and everything that he had learned about Russia, from the lowest flora and fauna, to the highest level of people. This is what Fletcher had to say about Tsar Fedor’s kid brother (and I am quoting from Fletcher’s actual book here, not back-translating from Sidorchik, that’s why my WordPress spellchecker is going nuts):
“The emperours yonger brother of sixe or seven yeares old (as was said before) is kept in a remote place from Mosko, under the tuition of his mother and hir kindred of the house of the Nagaies [Nagoi]; yet not safe (as I have heard) from attempts of making away by practice of some that aspire to the succession, if this emperor die without any issue. The nurse that tasted before him of certaine meat (as I have heard) died presently. That hee is a natural sonne to Joan Vasilowich, the Russe people warrant it, by the fathers qualitie that beginneth to appeare already in his tender yeares. He is delighted (they say) to see sheepe and other cattel killed, and to looke on their throtes while they are bleeding (which commonly children are afraid to beholde), and to beate geese and hennes with a staff till he see them lie dead.”
If Giles is telling the truth, then the Russian people dodged a bullet, when this young serial-killer in the making, died before he was able to ascend the throne! Imagine the chaos and confusion in Moscow, with hypothetical Tsar Demetrius beating up geese and chickens inside the Kremlin! Also note the dramatic irony, worthy of a Roald Dahl morality tale: The child-monster — who took pleasure in gazing upon the cut throats of “cattel”— ended up having his own throat cut! Which, actually, come to think of it, might support the “suicide” theory – see, maybe Dima was curious, maybe he held up a hand-mirror so that he could watch his own blood gushing out of his own wound (?)
[to be continued]