Two boys

There is an apparent similarity between the ordeals of two unfortunate princes, Louis XVII of France and Alexei Romanov of Russia. Both suffered at the hands of revolutionaries, and, according to official history, both died at an early age. Both official accounts have been disputed; nonconformist historians have suggested either boy miraculously escaped death and came up with their “real” biographies. What we know for sure is that the heart of a young relative of Marie-Antoinette is buried in Saint Denis by Paris. Just that.

I don’t see why the mainstream accounts shouldn’t be trusted. Louis was taken away from his mother and first placed into a taylor’s family for “reeducation” (he was forced to disclaim his parents, among other things), then locked up in a prison until he died of TB. Alexei, the only son of Nicholas II, a hemophiliac (Queen Victoria’s genes), shared his parents’ captivity and was shot with them in a Yekaterinburg cellar in 1918.

When I was growing up, Soviet textbooks carefully avoided a discussion of how exactly the Romanovs were disposed of. Believe it or not, Communist ideologues insisted on holding the moral high ground; shooting Nicholas and his wife could be justified by their very real transgressions, but it wouldn’t be easy to whitewash the killing of a sickly boy, four young girls, a family doctor and servants–with guns and, to make sure the wounded were dead, bayonets.

When Yeltsin was the party boss in Sverdlovsk (as Yekaterinburg was officially known under Communism, Sverdlov being the Bolshevik leader who ordered the execution), they pulled down the house where the royal family died. It was too conspicuous, drawing groups of pilgrims. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad canonized the last Emperor decades ago; the Moscow Church followed recently–but that’s another story.

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