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Peter could hardly have expected any important change in his son, but it was hard for him to come to a decision. The willingness of Alexis to comply with his demands disarmed him, and at the same time made him uneasy. This respite gave Alexis heart. He postponed the matter indefinitely, and began to think of flight, and of concealing himself somewhere abroad until the death of his father. Shortly after the Tsar's departure, his step-sister, the Princess Maria Alexéievna, went to Carlsbad, and Kikin, who belonged to her court, in bidding goodbye to Alexis, said: "Wait, I will find a refuge for you." Kikin is said further to have informed Alexis that it was the design of his father not to put him into a monastery, because there he might live a long time, but to wear him out by the fatigues of long journeys and hard work. On the 29th of June, 1716, the Princess Natalia died. Although Alexis's confidants told him that all his misfortunes had come from her, yet it is said that the Princess on her deathbed called for her nephew, and said to him: "As long as I lived, I have kept my brother from carrying out hostile designs against you. But now I am dying, and it is time for you yourself to think about your safety. The best thing would be that, on the first opportunity, you should put yourself under
the protection of the Emperor." A speedy decision of some kind was indeed necessary. The half-year given for consideration had expired, and in October Alexis received a letter from his father, then at Copenhagen, asking for his decision, demanding either that he should tell the name of the monastery which he desired to enter, and the time when he would take the vows, or, if he had chosen to comply with his father's desires, that a week after the receipt of the letter he should start for the seat of war, and take part in the military operations-in any case to send a reply by the same courier, "for I see that you only pass your time in your usual idleness." Alexis had during these months written to his father, but had said nothing of his plans.
Alexis left St. Petersburg on the 7th of October, nominally to go to his father. He took leave of the Senate, begging one or two of his friends to continue faithful to him and look after his interests. His real purpose the Tsarévitch told to but two of his adherents. His intention was to go either to Vienna or to Rome, ask the protection of the Emperor or the Pope, and there live until the death of his father. He hoped that this would occur shortly, and he then expected, with the aid of his friends, to return to Russia and become regent dur
ing the minority of his step-brother. He had resigned his claims to the crown, and he does not seem to have thought of renewing them. A few miles from Libau, he met his aunt, the Princess Maria, returning from Carlsbad. He sat for a while in her carriage and had a long conversation, broken with weeping. He told her that he was going to his father with great fear as to how he would be received, but admitted that he would be glad to conceal himself somewhere. She advised him to live in hope, and to talk with Kikin, who was still at Libau. With Kikin he had a confidential conversation, and on his advice resolved to go to Vienna, and ask the protection of the Emperor. Proceeding to Danzig, he disguised himself as a Russian officer, took the name of Kochánsky, and went by the way of Breslau, Neisse, and Prague to Vienna.
The vice-chancellor, Count Schönborn, late one evening, after he had retired, was surprised by a visit from the son of the Russian Tsar. He tried to excuse himself, but the occasion was announced to be urgent, and Alexis burst into the room before he had time to complete his toilet. The Tsarévitch, who was in a high state of excitement, at last succeeded in telling his story, and in explaining how his life was sought for by his father, by Catherine, and by Menshikóf, and begged for the protection of his brother-in-law, the Emperor. Schönborn promised to do what he could, and after a few days Alexis was sent, in disguise and under guard, first to Weierberg, near Vienna, and then to the castle of Ehrenberg, in the Tyrol, a region then little visited. After remaining here for nearly five months, he was transferred to the castle of St. Elmo, at Naples.
Meanwhile, from the time of his leaving Danzig, nothing had been heard of him by his father or his friends, who began to be seriously alarmed for his safety. Inquiries were set on foot, but nothing could be ascertained. At last, Veselófsky, the Russian embassador at Vienna, discovered his flight to that city under the name of Kochánsky, but here all trace was lost. Tolstói, the former embassador at Constantinople, and Rumiántsof were sent by the Tsar to assist Veselófsky. They traced Alexis to Ehrenberg, and stationed themselves in the vicinity to intercept him. They followed him through Italy, and finally, after many menacing letters on the part of the Tsar, Tolstói succeeded in procuring an interview with him at St. Elmo. The Emperor Charles VI.,
while wishing to protect him personally, felt disinclined to begin a struggle with Russia on his account, and Peter made vague threats of the invasion of Silesia. Tolstói frightened the Tsarévitch, partly with the withdrawal of the Austrian protection in consequence of a war with Russia, and partly with a journey of the Tsar himself to Italy, when he would not be able to avoid an interview. He guaranteed that, if Alexis returned to Russia, he would be allowed to lead a quiet life on his estates. This promise was subsequently confirmed by a letter of Peter himself. Finally Tolstói succeeded in persuading Alexis to proceed at once to Russia. At last, on the 10th of February, 1718, Alexis arrived at Moscow. On the 14th of that month there was a solemn assembly in the palace of the Krémlin, in which the Tsarévitch appeared without his sword, and formally renounced his rights to the throne. On the same day a manifesto was published, in which the whole series of facts and the conduct of the Tsarévitch were recounted, and it was stated that by them he had deserved death, but that he had been pardoned by the Tsar. At the same time, the son of Catherine, Peter Petrovitch, was proclaimed heir to the throne. During three days the people were called upon to take oath in the cathedral to the new Tsarévitch. Some refused, and a certain Dokúkin, a former official, dared to hand to the Tsar in the church his protest against the act of disheritment.
The conditions of the pardon were that Alexis should immediately declare who were his advisers and accomplices, and should conceal not even the least circumstance of what had happened. In reply to the list of questions which were given him, Alexis presented a rambling narrative of his life during the last few years, mentioning a large number of persons with whom he had had conversations about his fate, and who were privy to his flight. The Princess Maria Alexéievna, Kikin, Viázemsky, Basil Dolgorúky, Ignátief, the servant Athanásief, and many others, were arrested. Peter himself, with great coolness, conducted the whole proceedings, was present at the inquisitions, and sometimes at the tort
it soon became apparent that she had in no way conformed to the rules of the convent in which she was immured as the nun Helena, had assumed a secular habit and the state of a princess, and had had for a long time an amorous intrigue with a Major Gliebof. Eudoxia and Gliébof confessed their intimacy, and the former Tsaritsa begged for pardon in a letter in which she said: "I throw myself at your feet. I ask your pardon for my crime. Do not make me die before my time. Let me return to a convent, where I shall pray to God for you till my last day. Your former wife, Eudoxia." The Tsar seemed to lay more stress on the political bearing, and what he thought a conspiracy, than on the offense to his honor. The Bishop of Rostóf, Dositheus, then in great repute, was accused of having prophesied the death of the Tsar within a year and of having publicly prayed in church for Eudoxia. While being degraded before being tortured, he said to his brother bishops: "Am I, then, the only guilty one in this affair? Look into your own hearts, all of
What do you find there? Listen to what is spoken among the people—a name I will not pronounce." Torture, however, drew nothing from him except the vague acknowledgment of expressions of sympathy. No act of open rebellion could be proved. The council of ministers, constituted as a high court of justice, rendered a decision in the last days of March, 1718. Kikin, Gliébof, and the Bishop Dositheus were condemned to cruel death, some to death, and many others, after being publicly whipped, to forced labor and to exile in Siberia. Some women were sent to the convents of the White Sea; others were publicly whipped. The Tsaritsa Eudoxial was sent to a convent at Old Ládoga, near Schlüsselburg, where she lived till the accession of her grandson, Peter II.* The Princess Maria was imprisoned in Schlüsselburg until 1721, when she was allowed to return to her house in St. Petersburg, where she died in 1723. Gliébof, after having been tortured by the knout, by red-hot irons, by heated weights, was fastened for three days upon a plank with wooden spikes, and, as he confessed nothing, was impaled on the 29th of March, and died the next day. The Bishop of Rostóf was broken on
On the accession of Alexis's son, Peter II., the Tsaritsa Eudoxia was released, and lived at the Maidens' Convent, at Moscow, occasionally appearing at court. She died in 1731, in the reign of the Empress Anne.
the wheel and beheaded; his body was burned and his head fixed on a stake. Alexander Kikin was treated in the same way. He was tortured slowly, at intervals, so that he might suffer more. The second day the Tsar passed by him. Kikin was still living on the wheel, and begged the Tsar to pardon him and allow him to become a monk. His head was at once cut off and exposed on a stake. Dokúkin, who had protested against the oath of allegiance to the Tsarévitch Peter, died the death of a martyr; he was tortured three times and afterward broken on the wheel, constantly declaring that he was willing to suffer all for the word of Christ.
Peter returned to St. Petersburg in a gloomy frame of mind. The results of the trial had not appeased his feelings as a father nor dispelled the suspicions which haunted him as a sovereign. Nothing treasonable was proved, nothing which connected his son with a conspiracy. Alexis was given apparent liberty, and was installed in a house next to the palace. In the middle of May, Peter made an excursion to his new country residence of Peterhof, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. He took Alexis with him, for he could not leave him out of his sight, and Afrosinia was conveyed thither in a covered bark. Here both of them were examined and cross-examined by the Tsar in person. Afrosinia was not tortured. Even without that, she confessed all that she knew, recounted all the particulars of the daily life of her lover during the whole time that they had lived together, especially during their stay abroad-all his expressions of discontent, every word or act that might be deemed treasonable and that was calculated to excite still further the suspicion of the Tsar. Her revelations were deemed sufficient. She was confronted with Alexis, and in face of what she had said, the Tsarévitch could do nothing but confess. She received the reward of her service. She, alone, of all who were implicated in the affair, was released without torture or further difficulty, and lived the rest of her life quietly in St. Petersburg, where she married an officer of the guard.
The case was now strong enough. The Tsar issued a manifesto, drawn up by his own hand, in which he recited the certainties which had been arrived at during the investigation, the deception practiced by his son in his previous depositions, and concluded that, as the pardon promised him had been on condition only of a full and
sincere confession, it was no longer valid. The bishops and clergy were called upon to indicate to a father what he ought to do with regard to the criminal violation of all laws, and he asked the ecclesiastic tribunals to take his place, in judging this Absalom. The bishops endeavored to evade the question, and in their reply brought many examples, from both the Old and the New Testament, to show that such a case should be judged by the secular, and not the ecclesiastical, courts. They showed that, if the Tsar wished to punish his son, he had authority from the Bible; and, if he deigned to pardon him, he had the example and precepts of Christ, especially as set forth in the parable of the Prodigal Son. A second manifesto was then issued to the Senate and the civil functionaries, ordering them to judge his son without feebleness, as well as without flattery. On the 28th of June, the high court of justice assembled, composed of one hundred and twenty-seven members, senators, ministers, officers of the guard, and most of those who were personally devoted to the Tsar. On the 30th, the torture was applied in the usual way to the Tsarévitch, and he received twenty-five blows of the knout. On the 2d of July, he was required to write answers to some further questions proposed by his father. Tolstói, the terrible Tolstói, who had overcome him at Naples, was charged with the whole investigation; and this time Alexis gave answers which were so apparently sincere that, had Peter taken advantage of the favorable moment, he might, perhaps, have brought his son to obedience. On the 5th of July, torture was again applied, and the Tsarévitch received fifteen blows. But he was exhausted, and little or nothing more could be obtained from him. That same evening the high court assembled, and declared the Tsarévitch culpable of having deposed falsely; of having concealed his attempts premeditated long before against the throne, and even against the life of his father; of having put his hope in the populace; of having desired the death of his sovereign, and plotted the ruin of his country, of his lord and father, with the aid of foreign arms. Unanimously, and without discussion, it condemned him to death. Peter was in great perplexity. He could not bring himself to sign the sentence, and, at the same time, he believed that his plans and the work of his life would be ruined if his son ever came to the throne. In spite of the sentence of death, Alexis was again interrogated. The next morning
he was asked whether the extracts which he had made from Baronius were intended to be distributed among the people. To this he replied that he had made them only as memoranda for himself. The 7th of July there was a new interrogatory, attended by torture, in the presence of the Tsar and most of the members of the court, which lasted for three hours. Alexis was taken back to his cell very weak. In the afternoon his feebleness increased, and at six o'clock he expired, before his father, who had already received intelligence that he was dying, was able to reach him.*
It would appear to us that propriety, if not decency, demanded that a proper respect should have been paid by Peter to his dead son, even were he criminal. The day after the death of Alexis was the anniversary of the battle of Poltáva. The festivity was not postponed, but the day was celebrated in the usual manner, in the presence of the Tsar. That evening, the body of the Tsarévitch was transferred from the cell where he died to the house of the Governor, and on the next day to the Church of the Trinity, where it was exposed to public view. The subsequent day, the 10th of July, was the birthday of the Tsar. A new vessel, the Forester, designed by him, was launched at the Admiralty. Peter assisted at the ceremony, with all his ministers. There was a merry banquet, and the drinking was kept up until two o'clock in the morning. the next evening, the 11th of July, the body of the Tsarévitch was buried by the side of his wife, in the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, within the fortress, with the usual pomp, in the presence of the Tsar, the Tsaritsa, and of the ministers and high officers of state.
The people, however, refused to believe in his death, and for many years pretenders to the name of Alexis appeared in various parts of Russia.
The little Prince Peter, the step-brother of Alexis, who succeeded to his rights, survived him but a year.
There can scarcely be a question that the death of Alexis occurred as a consequence of the torture inflicted upon him. Many versions, however, immediately became current, and it has been believed by many that the sentence of death was actually executed. Others have said that, in order to avoid it, the Tsarévitch was poisoned. Bruce and Rumiántsof both claimed to have been ocular witnesses, and to have taken part in the murder of Alexis; but their stories are utterly at variance, both as to the manner and the circumstances of his death, and it is impossible to give them credence.
WITH here and there a hover,
What shall the burden be,
I charge thee, bright-eyed top,
Flown-vanished-gone his way.
Some deathless aim doth sorely tease
With loveliest of lovely things?
Perchance he was a dazzling thought
In plumes of azure and of fire.